It was a beautiful Neapolitan day in August 2005 when we decided to venture out onto the Amalfi Coast to explore this famous winding corniche. Wishing we had a sixties convertible with the top down, a chic headscarf and huge “Do you know who I am?” sunglasses, I couldn’t believe that this area really was as beautiful as it appears on film.
When we reached Positano, I had a pinch-me moment. Could this place be real? We parked at a guarded lot, walking the rest of the way down the cliff on a path or “perron” lined with galleries and souvenir shops filled with all things lemon – limoncello, painted ceramics, lemon sweets and tea towels bearing yet more yellow citrus. Only at the bottom of the cliff did we look up and realise how special this place was. The hillside was littered with houses painted in pastels. Against the azure sky, the view was stunning.
By the beach, artists stood at their easels, daubing paint on canvases that would one day sit in pride of place above visitors’ mantelpieces. We chose a restaurant with windows opened wide to the sea and watched as the little world of Positano passed us by. A sixty-something couple walked along the little esplanade, he in a sandy-coloured linen suit and she in a candy-pink trouser ensemble, dripping with gold jewellery. Day-trippers squeezed themselves into rare patches of space on the public beach, and those who could afford it paid to go private. The painters continued with their daily work and boat owners hassled tourists to take a trip on their vessels. to quieter, neighbouring bays. It was a mesmerising scene.
Even lunch at Positano was memorable. My Capri salad consisted of the juiciest mozzarella I have ever eaten, bearing a light tang from the basil garnish and flavoursome beef tomatoes. It only added to the afternoon we were about to have.
There was no room for us on the public beach so somewhat reluctantly, we forked out for two loungers on the shingly private section. This was money well spent, however, as we enjoyed the shade of an umbrella once the sun became too strong. Trotting down to the sea, we were safely enclosed in a roped off swimmers’ area as we enjoyed a refreshing dip. Then, floating on our backs, we gazed at the backdrop of the town. All those beautiful houses creating a rainbow cascade down the cliff inspired a surge of positive emotion, the sort of feeling you never forget because it happens so seldom. Once back on the beach, drying off on our bright orange loungers, I knew that this would go down on the list of one of the best days of my life. That is what I call the Positano Effect: for a place to have such a strong and energising impact on a person that it will become part of their personal history.
Back in London, the Positano Effect remained. I put a picture of the town on my desktop. I sought out films featuring the fishing village – Under the Tuscan Sun, Only You, The Talented Mister Ripley, just to glimpse Positano again. A 1953 quote by John Steinbeck expresses such a reaction:
“Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”
With a fascinating history stemming from ancient times when Positano provided the Emperor Tiberius with flour whilst he holidayed on Capri, to legends of a miraculous Madonna, from the poverty which forced many of its inhabitants to emigrate in the 19th and early 20th centuries, to the riches of tourism drawing all sorts of visitors and artisans to its shores, Positano has an unexpected and lasting effect. As we drove away I was already conjuring luck to bring us back. One day, Monsieur, one day.