The Select Cities
LA DOLCE VITA
At the beginning of last summer, we took a family trip to Positano, which Marc wrote about for Conde Nast Traveler (see below), but for those looking for some quick recs, here are the links to all of the places we went and loved.
Via Cristoforo Colombo, 50
+39 08 98 75 130
It isn't the fanciest hotel on the coast, but as far as I'm concerned, it's the best. Perfect location, incredible views and amazing staff. Plus the prices can't be beat.
Via del Brigantino, 19
+39 08 98 75 036
It might feel touristy, and I guess it is, but it's been around forever and the food is good. The location right on the beach is great and you have to love a restaurant that is (supposedly) names for the perms-tan of its owner.
Via Laurito, 40
+39 08 98 75 022
The stuff of Instagram dreams. Accessible by boat only, it's as low key as Positano gets and the food is amazing.
Via Pasitea, 242
+39 08 98 12 35 16
More contemporary than most places here, the food is amazing but the only place to sit is on the terrace.
HOTEL BELMOND CARUSO (POOL RESTAURANT)
Piazza San Giovanni del Toro, 2, Ravello
+39 08 98 58 800
Far from the average hotel pool restaurant. Maybe the most picturesque and perfect lunches ever.
IL CAPITANO AT THE HOTEL MONTEMARE
Viale Pasitea, 119
+39 08 98 11 351
The terrace. It's all about the terrace. And also the pizza.
On the Beach in Positano (no address)
+39 08 98 11 177
The perfect spot on the beach to get out of the sun and have some food.
Via Tagliata, 2B
+39 08 98 75 872
The ride up to this mountain top restaurant is not for the faint of heart (or weak of stomach), but the payoff once you get there, is huge.
LO SCOGLIO DA TOMMASO
Piazza delle Sirene, 15, Massa Lubrenese
+39 08 18 08 10 26
I saved the best for last. Rent a boat, buy a boat, steal a boat - do whatever you have to do to get here. It's the best food I have EVER had. Anywhere. Plus, I have heard the hotel is pretty awesome, too.
This is an article that Marc Murphy wrote for Conde Nast Traveler in June 2015.
I am very fortunate that my family loves to travel – my wife and kids are always up for an adventure and every trip we take is a great way for us to get back to the basics of being together – to be really present with one another and to leave the stress and noise of our daily lives behind. With that being said, my wife and kids have been on me recently to take a “beach vacation.” It’s true that the last two New York City winters have been pretty brutal and everyone was feeling like a dip in a crystal blue sea might be the perfect antidote. But the truth is, I’m not a beach vacation kind of guy – I’m more than happy to find a great surf spot and spend a week or two in the water, but the idea of being stuck on a lounge chair somewhere- no matter how beautiful the spot – sounds like purgatory to me. I’m a doer and I love nothing more than the spontaneity of where the day can take me when I’m on vacation, but I need more than a towel, beach chair and bottle of sunscreen. It was with this in mind, plus the fact that I am currently doing some menu research for a Mediterranean inspired restaurant, that we planned our “pre-kids are leaving for camp getaway” to the Amalfi Coast in Italy.
I was born in Milan and grew up all over France and Italy, but somehow I never made it to this area and neither had my wife, so it seemed like the perfect compromise of activity and that crystal blue sea we were all longing for. This is also the first year both of our kids will be heading out to sleep away camp, so we really wanted to find a way to spend a week together with no other care in the world, except, maybe, what kind of pasta to have for lunch.
Here’s an admission: I don’t plan our family vacations. I am involved in the choice of location, but after that I generally only speak until spoken to. My wife Pam is a better travel agent than anyone I’ve ever met, and her ability to seek out the best, most authentic places is unrivaled, so we all put ourselves in her hands (here’s a shameless plug: in case you’re interested in seeing some of her greatest finds - in travel as well as food, design, fashion, beauty and family check out her website, The Select 7, which will go live at the end of September!). In any event, she spent a good deal of time researching where to stay, where to eat and what to do, and I am thrilled to tell you that her selections did not disappoint. It was a perfect week, spent in the most perfect way: with my family, perfect weather, perfect food and a perfectly clear, crystal blue sea.
DAY 1 — Monday June 15
Having grown up in Europe, I am comfortable on the roads here and we wanted the freedom of having our own car to tour at will, so we landed in Rome and picked up a rental van at the airport and headed towards the Amalfi Coast.
Before we get to Positano, let me tell you something about road travel in Italy: Any rest stop, and I do mean ANY rest stop, will have some of the best food you have ever eaten. Anywhere. So should you ever find yourself in a car in Italy at any mealtime, don’t kill yourself to find a restaurant somewhere off the highway. Honestly, we stopped at a random rest area somewhere about 2 hours south of Rome and I can’t even tell you how good the prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich was. Add to that the fact that every rest stop has a proper espresso bar better than any Joe’s Coffee (or whatever the NYC coffee place might be of the moment right now), and an enormous selection of artisanal products – pastas, cheeses, and desserts – for sale, and it’s the perfect stop when trying to get from point A to point B.
Now back to the trip. I have always heard about the Amalfi Coast, about the winding mountain roads with views of the sea below, dotted with yachts and fishing boats, but nothing really prepared me for the reality of it. I mean it is both breathtaking and breathtaking. As I said, I am a seasoned Italian driver, but these roads are no more than a glorified one-lane street and they are shared by smart cars, vespas, vans, tour buses and bicycles going in two directions, around blind turns with the only thing between you and the 500 foot drop to the sea being a waist-high guard rail. But, the incredible beauty of it matches the incredible insanity of the drive. Because no matter how many pictures you’ve seen, or movies you’ve watched, the view in reality is more exceptional than what you can imagine. So promise me that should you find yourself on these roads, you’ll open your eyes at least once or twice.
We chose Positano as our home base as it seemed to us to be the most centrally located for what we wanted to do, which was mainly take day trips by car and by boat to various meals. And after much research, we landed at the Hotel Marincanto, high above the Mediterranean (365 steps to be exact) with the friendliest staff, an infinity pool and dining terrace boasting the infamous view, and the most perfect room (number 255 – a 2 bedroom “apartment” which was the ideal set up for our family). We arrived in the late afternoon, settled in and headed to the beach for a swim (tip: the “beaches” of Amalfi are more rock than sand, so flip flops or water shoes are a must. I learned this the hard way), and then to the pool for a glass of rosé and a quick snack before dinner.
Our first dinner was planned at one of Positano’s institutions on the main beach, called Chez Black. Chez Black has been around since 1949 and the rumor is its named for its owner’s perma-tan. I’m not sure how much truth there is to that theory, but I do know that the spaghetti with sea urchin they are famous for is well worth the trip. It’s served in a giant sea urchin bowl and you are forced to wear a ridiculous bib when eating it, but I promise that both are offenses you can easily get past once you have your first taste of the sublime flavor, as are the view and location, right on the main drag, which was a perfect introduction to the colorful world of Positano. We were fortunate enough to have arrived on the evening of the Festival of San Vito, so after enjoying our pasta we went back to our room and were treated to most incredible fireworks display right in front of our terrace on the water. It was a flawless welcome.
DAY 2 — Tuesday June 16
After an incredible night sleep (doors open, ocean breeze and sound of waves gently crashing), we woke up to brilliant sunshine and the incredibly happy surprise of a breakfast buffet served on the outdoor terrace. I have to admit that while my wife is a true sucker for a buffet, I’m not usually a fan – there’s usually too much to choose from and I hate the feeling of eating random things in random order. But the buffet at the Marin canto, was perfect, as so much in Italy really is. There was a beautiful selection of meats and cheeses, hard-boiled eggs, fruits, yogurts, pastries and cereals – something for everyone. We tried to take it easy as today’s excursion was to a restaurant called Da Adolfo, a short boat ride just south of Positano and north of Praino in a “town” called Laurio. Da Adolfo is a restaurant and beach club that has an incredibly authentic laid back vibe. The restaurant shuttles guests (with reservations only!) back and forth from Positano’s main beach on the famous “red fish” boat run by a guy who will also be your waiter or your busboy or your bartender for lunch. The trick is to arrive early (we took the 10:15-ish boat) to secure a beach chair and umbrella and spend the morning swimming in the cove so you can work up your appetite for lunch in the open-air dining room.
We sat for lunch at 12:30 and were treated to the picture-perfect first lunch: a crisp rosé from the region (Il Rosé di Casanova), grilled anchovies, spaghetti with artichokes and shrimp and their two most famous dishes: the grilled mozzarella in lemon leaf (which looks less than appetizing on the plate, but is perfectly infused with the smokiness of the grill and the zest of the lemon) and the mussel soup, the Campania way of saying mussels steamed in fresh tomato sauce. The meal was impeccable in its simplicity- and so of the place. We spent the rest of the afternoon lazing on our lounge chairs (yes! I did it!), reading, swimming and watching guests come and go on the red fish boat until we were ready to head back to the reality of getting ready for our next meal.
Dinner tonight was at Next2, one of the newer spots in Positano, and certainly one of the more upscale, but it had been recommended by a local friend, and we were promised a sublime experience, so we made the trek, happily on foot, down one side of the mountain and up the other to their beautiful terrace (note: when you make your reservation, make sure to request the terrace, as with so many European restaurants, the lighting inside is impossibly bright, and while the room is pretty, it can feel a bit like an operating room inside).
We started with an incredible amuse bouche of simple tomato bruschetta with a perfect basil pesto on the plate. It was a definite foreshadowing of things to come: a flawless balance of simple ingredients re-imagined to be so much more than simple. We started with pizzettes – perfectly fried pizza dough with a center of warm mozzarella and tomato, a homemade tagliolini with bitter greens and garlic, smoked mozzarella and vegetable croquettes (very reminiscent of my smoked mozzarella and ricotta fritters at Landmarc but with a coastal twist). Main courses were a mixed grill of seafood, tender meatballs served over crispy polenta, lamb chops with a cauliflower purée and hearty cannelloni with beef ragu. Desserts included a plate of cookies, a strawberry mille feuille and a Caprese Tart – something I saw a lot of in this part of Italy – basically a tart of almonds and dark chocolate.
What we quickly learned in Positano is that many of the restaurants here are family run businesses, often over generations. Next2 falls into that category with the front of house now being run by Carmela Vanacore and her husband, while her mother, Tanina who had been the Chef and owner, now owns a restaurant and market farther down the hill called Casa e Bottega. She stopped by to tell us about the place and mentioned that she will soon be opening an outpost in New York City.
Day 3 — Wednesday June 17
Having looked ahead at the weather forecast, we knew there was a chance for rain so we made it our car trip day. We woke up to some serious weather – crazy rain and thunder, which was actually a pretty cool experience from our room. Luckily the rain let up around 11 and we were able to head further South down the coast.
The destination was Ravello, the Hotel Belmond Caruso to be exact, where there is a restaurant there called The Belvedere, which we had read a lot about. The drive was as harrowing as we thought it would be, but once we arrived in Ravello we were met with a clear blue sky and the sad news that the restaurant’s outdoor seating area was closed, but they could offer us a table at their more casual restaurant by the pool if we wanted to dine outside. We opted for the pool, and all I can tell you is WOW. This was no ordinary hotel-restaurant-by-the-pool. For starters, this pool is an infinity pool that literally stops at the top of a cliff with a soaring view of the sea below. Surrounding it are incredibly lush gardens with a few of the terraces to the north and the town below. And the restaurant. Oh, the restaurant! An open kitchen with a pizza oven and a salad bar like I have never seen (only in Italy – three kinds of anchovies one including steamed broccoli which was outstanding, handmade mozzarella knots, perfectly fried zucchini chips). It was amazing. We had a beautiful rosé, also from the area, and the most perfect lunch under the pergola: a light and crispy pizza margherita, fried anchovies, linguine con vongole, steamed clams and mussels with tomatoes and a moist whole fish steamed with lemon. For dessert we had a Delizie al Limone (an individual sponge cake filled and topped with lemon cream). Notice a lemon trend? Yes, lemons grow in abundance in this part of Italy!
After lunch we took a walk around the beautiful town of Ravello and then made our way back up the coast.
Back in Positano we took a swim and then got ready for dinner at Il Capitano, a place we had happened upon during our walk up to Next 2. We had no idea what to expect, but chose it more for its incredible dining terrace high above the water with completely unobstructed views. It is, honestly, possibly one of the best views you can have while dining in all of Positano.
Dinner here was just right. Another simple meal, but the warm service and view made it that much more special. The menu is large- they do everything from pizza to whole fish, and it’s safe to say we sampled a good deal of it: grilled shrimp with salt and pepper, prosciutto with melon and pear, octopus salad, arugula and tomato salad (I should make a note here that the arugula in this area is really special: super spicy and so fresh. And the cherry tomatoes that so often accompany it strike a perfect balance of sweet and spicy. It’s so flavorful that dressing isn’t even needed!), a homemade ravioli filled with eggplant and ricotta and a gnocchi with sausage and clams. And the dessert menu is almost as large with a dozen or so types of tartufo (we had a dark chocolate and coconut) and again, a fantastic Delizie al Limone. The owner brought us some limincello to round out the meal, and we quickly decided that we would revisit Il Capitano again before the week was over.
DAY 4 — Thursday, June 18
The storm from the day before had passed, but the water was still pretty choppy and the winds were strong, so our plan to spend the day going to Capri on a private boat were quickly rearranged. Instead we simply sat. On a lounge chair. On the beach. Yes, that’s right – I did it for a second time and to be honest, I liked it. I’m not saying I could do it every day, but it was welcome respite and allowed me time to relax and read (If you’re looking for a good read, you should really check it out – Front of House by Jeff Benjamin with a forward by Marc Vetri). In any event, we secured some chairs on the beach deck of our hotel (yes, we walked those 365 steps up and down every day!). We also took a couple of walks down the beach and watched the ferries come in and out from Capri and Amalfi. It’s an incredible scene with literally boatloads of tourists coming in and going out every 15 minutes, and my son and I loved to watch it all happen.
As lunchtime rolled around we decided on a place on the beach called L’Incanto that we had walked by and were drawn to because of the pizza oven. There are a few places along the stretch of beach in Positano, and I can’t tell you what makes any of them different from one another as they all seem to have the same types of menus, but this one turned out to be pretty extraordinary. In keeping with the anchovy theme of the week, we had marinated anchovies and a pizza Napolitano (anchovies), a pizza alla carbonara (bacon and eggs!) as well as the mozzarella grilled in lemon leaf (and if I have to be honest, this one was far superior to the one at Da Adolfo), and the mussel “soup”. It was great surprise and a great location right on the beach.
We spent the rest of the day on our chairs reading, playing cards and swimming in the sea.
Dinner was at La Tagliata, and as usual, was arranged by my wife who had made the reservation via email. She had read a bit about it – that it was a family run restaurant and had great views, but that’s all we knew. And, that a shuttle would pick us up at the hotel to take us there. We were warned, however, by a friend, that it was a bit of a tourist trap and that the food wasn’t really worth it, but we had committed and were curious to know what it was all about.
The shuttle picked us up and the bus was already mostly full. Everyone was speaking English – Australians, Americans and few people from England. It wasn’t a great sign, but I’m relatively open-minded, so I tried to sit back and relax. I got stuck in the front seat (I always do- I speak Italian, so it’s my job to make conversation) and proceeded to bear witness to what I can only describe as the most frightening experience of my entire life. Here’s what you need to know about me: I’m a speed demon. I drive a motorcycle and I love nothing more than to feel the road slip away under me, but this type of speed on these types of roads, in this type of bus, was sheer torture. We whipped around curves, hung perilously close to the edges of cliffs and wound our way up so high that we literally thought the trip would never, ever end. And once we arrived, one of the poor kids in the back (thankfully not one of mine) celebrated by puking all over himself. Not a terrifically great way to walk into a restaurant. But here’s what I can tell you: Don’t let ANY of what I have just told you dissuade you from coming here. The view alone is truly spectacular, and the restaurant is like a tree house perched on top of a mountain. I cannot fathom how they ever built it, or how they get their deliveries, but it is amazing. And the food! I have never been so happy to have not taken someone’s advice. Served family style (a relief to not have to make any decisions!), the food started and just kept on coming: fresh vegetables: peas and bacon, sautéed spinach, zucchini salad, eggplant parmesan; homemade pastas: gnocchi in tomato sauce, ravioli filled with zucchini and ricotta, cannelloni with ricotta; and then a huge platter of grilled meats: chicken, lamb, beef, rabbit, pork sausage, with homemade fried potatoes and a mixed green salad. To me, the meal was such a welcome change from what we had been eating all week, but it was also just so well done, and with such an authentic and friendly hand. We really really loved it. And here’s the trick to getting here without the accompanying anxiety or sour stomach: take a taxi. We opted off the shuttle on the way home, and it made for a much more comfortable ride – both physically and emotionally!
Day 5 — Friday June 19
Finally! A day on the water. We rented a private boat (don’t get too excited, it was a VERY small boat!) from Lucibello and set out for a tour of the coast. We went south to Praino, stopped for a swim, drove by Rudoplh Nuryev’s private island and then headed out towards Narano where we had made a lunch reservation at a place called Lo Scoglio.
Let me just say that this very well may be my favorite restaurant in the world. Seriously – of every place I have ever been, this meal was the absolute best. The restaurant is housed in the Hotel Lo Scullion and was founded by the De Simone family in 1958 and is still completely family-run. This is from their menu, and speaks volumes to the type of place it is:
"Everything we serve is planted, grown and harvested by Pepping De Simone and prepared by our cooks. Our amazing produce is grown on our farms on the peninsula in Pontone and Villagio Caso in Massa Lubrenese. Our fish comes from the surrounding waters, delivered fresh daily by our fisherman. Lo Scoglio is dedicated to the quality, simplicity and authenticity of our products."
We pulled up to the dock and were greeted by Antonia DeSimone, Peppino’s daughter. She couldn’t be more delightful and is quick to introduce us to her father, her sister, her cousin, another cousin who is related only by marriage, and everyone in the kitchen – all related in one way or another. The menu is large but the list of daily specials is larger and the smartest move is to order from what they have fresh that day. Today’s antipasto included marinated anchovies, arugula with baby tomatoes, and large tomatoes with basil, fresh mozzarella, raw sea urchin and baby clams. And then there are the pastas. WOW. We had 4 different spaghettis- each one better than the next: zucchini, basil and parmesan, yellow tomato and basil, sea urchin and, of course, alla vongole. And then for our main course we shared a whole fish baked in the oven with lemon, olive oil, capers and potatoes, which, as the waiter described was prepared “the way we should die.” RIDICULOUS. All of it. Trust me, truly spectacular. This is the type of place you hear about but can only dream of ever really finding. Please promise me that if you are ever in the area, you will visit Lo Scoglio.
It’s our last night in Positano and after a leisurely boat ride back with a number of swim stops (we are all getting very good at the cannonball off the boat), we go back to the hotel for some sunset prosecco and dinner back at Il Capitaine so we can take full advantage of the view before heading to Rome.
Day 6 — Saturday June 20
Off to Rome we go! I grew up in the city and went to school there for many years, so Rome holds a very special place in my heart. We stop along the way for sandwiches at the Autogrill and get into town as fast as we can so we don’t miss the opportunity for some gelato before dinner. We head to Giolitti near the Pantheon, which is over 100 years old and shouldn’t be missed. Not just for the incredible gelato, but for the old school waiter service as well.
We walk around town, hitting the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, some churches and some shops and then make our way to a very residential neighborhood where one of our all-time favorite restaurants, Ambasciata d’Abruzzo is located. We have been eating here for the past 15 years and are never disappointed. The food is old school with each meal starting with a basket of cured meats and sausages served with a huge knife and a cutting board. Pastas are large and delicious and the roasted meats (maialino-roasted pig and lamb!) are perfection and a great change from all of the incredible fish we ate on the coast.
We head back to the hotel for a few hours of sleep before heading back to New York.
This trip was extraordinary in its beauty, its tastes and our time together. I will be back!