La Dolce Vita
Photos by Rochelle Cheever & AJ Parker
The pastel cliffside of Positano along the Amalfi coastline is known as one of the most beautiful in the world. Thousands of visitors from all over the world flock to this Italian paradise, seduced by its legendary villas, classic Italian cuisine, and the world-renowned friendliness of its locals. Its popularity as an Italian hotspot led me to question if one location could actually live up to such high expectation.
Looking out the car window and onto the coastline of Sorrento only got more beautiful as I pulled into the narrow, winding streets of Positano. The lemon trees glowed in the golden hour of sunlight, Italian jazz was echoing from parallel streets, and wine glasses sparkled throughout the well-dressed crowd. Not a bad idea for a solo trip. The scenery of Positano presented a beauty second only to the love of community echoed in the worldview of the ones who call it home.
Believed to be founded in the ninth century, the rich history of Positano includes all of the dramatic ups and downs of a classic European romance. As the Southern Italian city of Paestum began to decline from deforestation and disease, the remaining inhabitants fled to Positano after repeated sieges from Saracen pirates. These displaced people greatly increased the area and are believed to have founded the beginnings of Positano. Its name is linked to a legend of a painting depicting the Virgin Mary whispering “Posa, Posa” (“set me down, set me down”) to the captain of a Turkish ship beached along the Amalfi coast. When the captain obediently set the painting down, the ship began to float. A church was built on the painting’s resting spot to pay homage to a sign of the Virgin Mary choosing this special place to call home. Perhaps the most enchanting of all legends is the view of the islets of Li Galli, known to be inhabited by sirens whose mysterious beauty and songs seduced the ships that passed in the night. With countless poets and artists falling madly in love with the beauty of this seaside escape, the term “willing prisoners” became used to prove the coastline’s captivating nature.
The personal surrender of this willing captivity may just come from the culinary experience of Positano. While all of Italy is well known for its culinary appeal, there is something about the view from the cliffs of Positano that makes anything taste a little bit better. The cuisine of Positano is abundant in fresh seafood and vegetables ripened to perfection in the Mediterranean sun, along with meats and cheeses provided from the local farmers in the Lattari Mountains. The local ingredients become immaculate media for the culinary artists of the area.
I was fortunate enough to be connected with a local chef at La Taverna Del Leone. Sisters Fortunata and Filomena own and operate this local favorite. As Filomena showed me around the restaurant, I realized that this was a family affair. Filomena’s nephew answered the phone while making cappuccino, her father peeled almonds and smiled at me with the toothless Italian grin of a proud father in his 90s. Filomena spoke more English than did her sister, so she translated the family stories that came from years of running a kitchen together. While we peeled potatoes and measured out flour, we shared stories of raising children, death, divorces, and the hopes for the future that reside in the people of paradise just as much as those of the suburbs. The mozzarella was from a friend’s farm, the wine was from a local vineyard, and the conversation was from women who shared a love for family and food. The most endearing thing about Filomena was how much she loved her life. She worked long hours, had never been married or had children, and had no complaints. She loved her family and loved to feed others. Asking to learn the art of gnocchi, she taught me that and also gave me her recipes for potato croquettes, focaccia bread, lobster ravioli, and homemade marinara.
What I assumed would be an hour turned into an entire afternoon. Although I had made other plans for that afternoon, I had become a willing prisoner to the generosity and wisdom of two Italian sisters, and I ended up staying for dinner. Fortunata’s husband gave me a quiet ride home as neither of us spoke the other’s language. We tried to converse, but our words were followed by confused nods and the conceding laughter of people who had no idea what the other was saying.
Positano’s ancient legends, natural beauty, and thriving culture are the recipe for its romantic reputation. For me, one of the most photographed and Instagrammed locations in the world truly lived up to its expectation. What I took home was the reminder of how much I love home. It’s where the memories and people I love are, and no pastel cliffside can compare to that. I also had the stories and recipes to share with my own kids in hopes that they will one day be willing prisoners of the place they call home.
Must-see spots around Positano:
• Le Sirenuse Hotel - Even if you don't stay, make sure you pop into this Positano classic. Each floor feels like it's own world with outstanding cocktails, food and views!
• La Taverna del Leone - Homemade Italian dishes are the staples of this local favorite. Make sure you try one of Filomena's famous desserts.
• Emporio Della Ceramica - Filled with hand painted ceramics, this local shop carries the most beautiful souvenirs. Owner, Lorenzo, is always there to help you pick the perfect pattern.
Fortunata and Filomena's Gnocchi Recipe:
About 6 yellow potatoes
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup semolina flour (preferably an Italian brand)
1. Peel and quarter the potatoes and boil until soft. 2. Using a Potato Ricer, mash all potatoes into a bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon to break potatoes down even more. 3. Add both types of flour to bowl and mix using hands (make sure you do this while potatoes are still warm) until flour absorbs into potato and creates a play-doh like texture. 4. Smooth into a dough ball. Cut into 2” wide sections with a pastry slicer (slice like thick bread). Tear pieces off and roll into .5 inch thick rolls making sure to flour. 5. Lay out rolls next to each other and slice into .5 inch pieces. 6. Roll each piece down a gnocchi board for texture (This step is optional). 7. Place Gnocchi pieces in boiling water until they float to the top, remove and GENTLY mix into your favorite marinara sauce. 8. Top with fresh basil.