Along with the grand discoveries that I make from Italy’s deep and rich history, there are culinary and beautifully odd little ones that I seem to make while I am there. Come to think of it, these probably also happen because of the Bel Paese’s incredible history, cuisine and beauty. The last time I was in Rome with my family, we decided to get out of the city for a few days. We chose the Amalfi Coast for its lush verdure and spectacular vistas as much as for the sea. Plus, with kids, the beach is always a winner.
As we all know, the town of Positano is one of the Amalfi coast’s biggest draws. Climbing up the rocky cliffs, the town shows off its irresistible, colorful charm. Even so, that’s not why we decided to go.
One of our odd little discoveries pointed us to Positano. An avid non-fiction reader, my husband Fred particularly likes the work of Tom Reiss who has penned unusual biographies including The Orientalist. Incidentally, Reiss garnered the Pulitzer Prize for his riveting biography The Black Count. Deliberately referencing Edward Said’s seminal work, Reiss traces the true story of Lev Nussimbaum who, born Jewish, transformed himself into a Muslim prince in Nazi Germany. What, you might rightly ask, has this to do with the splendid Positano? Travelling the world over, Nussimbaum took on various names including both Kurban Said and Mohammed Essad-Bey and at the end of his life fled to Positano where he died at a young age. Fred was curious to visit the cemetery where he was laid to rest and we all agreed.
As a family of four, accommodations can be dicey, but we were delighted to find a bed and breakfast that could offer us one large room with beds for everyone. We stayed at La Maliosa d’Arienzo which is open year round. Although outside there is the main foot traffic of Positano, it offers a fittingly winding walk into town and has access to the private Arienzo “300-step” beach. My kids experienced the rocky beaches of the Mediterranean and had a blast diving into the cold sea. My son George particularly liked swimming around 4pm when the water made big enough waves to crash into him and send him careening back to the beach. All four of us also enjoyed the owner’s simply prepared dinner of fresh branzino fish. Then, he offered Fred and me his in-house limoncello which, not being a big fan due to its sweetness – grappa is my digestivo of choice – I have to admit that it is the best I have ever tasted. Of course. I was on the Amalfi coast. And it was homemade.
Our trek to Positano’s cemetery involved untold numbers of snaking stairs that led us higher and higher up the cliffs. We met helpful townspeople along the way when we stopped for some much needed rest, gulps of water and a bit of local knowledge on which twisting stairs to take next. One of the friendliest of all the people we encountered was the cemetery’s caretaker. He guided us to the grave we sought, a fitting resting place for a man who lived such an unusual life. Sitting high up in the cliffs, the cemetery overlooks the sprawling, sparkling Mediterranean Sea. The kids complained a bit about the hotness of the climb but it was nothing that after we made it back down into town a little lemon ice and some gelato couldn’t fix. They even managed to join a lovely walk along the sea on the Via Positanesi d’America. Along the way and past the old defense tower Torre Trasita, we stopped for lunch and enjoyed some pasta, fresh fish and local wine as we looked out over the Mediterranean.
We might call Italy the Azzurri because of sports teams but one look at where the sky meets the sea on the Amalfi coast and we remember the real reason why. Bellissimo!