An Amalfi Bolthole

by wandering freditor / Jun 08, 2009 / 0 comments


It was the capstan that caught my eye and ear, sky blue and creaking. And the three old fishermen who groaned at its handles while moving round and round as though forming a crop circle. Slowly the little dory, a rope from its bow spitting droplets of seawater, inched up the beach of pebbles, a rasping sound accompanying its journey. A capstan probably designed by Leonardo, a ritual probably thousands of years old, the bringing in of the catch. La Pria Priano is not so much a cleft in the rocks as a pillar box slit, one that even Google Earth would have trouble finding, a small spot on the Amalfi coast that you twist by in the lean of a Lambretta. And yet to do so, is to miss much.


Priano, Italy - Winfred Peppinck

Our beach, Priaino


No words or pictures can fully prepare you for your first sighting of the Amalfi coast, for it is all that the poets say, and ah more eh. Love at first sight. The water is the bluest blue, the limestone cliffs which fall to the sea like a lightening bolt, are a honey glow, the road is like a knife cut, and the houses look nailed to the shore, hanging over the abyss like a parachutists toes. It is simply stunning. You and your car ‘breathe-in’ in unison when approaching a veritable conga of corners, most of them blind, and generally an Italian motorista, at speed, in all of your half of the road. Here, every Fiat transmogrifies into a Ferrari. People who drive the Amalfi coast are often scarred for life, and little wonder that the brakes on your Bambini need to be good, and the reverse gear slick when the prospect of head-butting an impossibly large tourist coach is likely at every turn. For make no mistake, at many times of the year the Amalfi coast is wall-to-wall people, cars and buses. Oh the hassle; pushing pedestrians in Positano, aimless amblers in Amalfi, reckless ramblers in Ravello. But then there is quiet La Pria Priano, and all is forgiven.


Coastal Priano, Winfred Peppinck

Coastal Priano


The road winds around La Pria Priano like a coil of a slithering snake, and emerging into dazzling light from a rock tunnel, we almost missed the ramp-road which snakes its own way a few hundred metres to a car park. It really is a pinkie-nail car park so in summer, many leave disappointed as parking is at a premium, but if you are in luck, the freshest seafood on the coast awaits you. You pick your way between upturned boats of bright and garish hues, small little doreys for one or two men, and on to a roughly concreted apron where people sit alfresco under colourful umbrellas at La Pirata, or on the outdoor terrace of the Alfonso a Mar Bar. Nothing too fancy, waiters who are family members and say Si a lot, without the hint of a notepad, and bring you carafes of green wine which they pour into tumblers. Get your timing right and you will even see a boat come in, a fisherman standing amidships looking over his shoulder to see which wave to take to the shore, and then moments later, there is your waiter examining his catch. And before you can say ciao, the fish is there in front of you.


fishing, Coastal Priano, Winfred Peppinck

Bringing in the catch


While nearby Priano is full of expensive (Eu 5000 – 10,000 a week) exclusive villas and similarly priced hotels which tumble down cliff-faces, La Pria offers only a few small, reasonably priced, apartments and B&B’s. There are no views other than at the little pebbly ‘beach’, which is little wider than the length of a cricket pitch, but most of the people here are locals, bent on getting away from the tourist-gorged villages. The atmosphere is light and tinkly, and people sit on their espressos for long hours with just the sound of conversation and laughter and the frequent baarp of bus-horns, reverberating from the cliffs. Up behind the beach, the villas clasp the crag, and stepped pathways make you exhale rather loudly as you lift that impossibly heavy suitcase. But at night, when the tourist buses stop their trekking, and the fisher-pot lights come on, you sit on your terrace and over a cold limoncello, watch the velvet night come.

Settlement at La Pria Priano dates from Roman times when they built a high arched bridge across the narrow ravine. Beyond, the cliffs rise almost vertically to a 1,000 ft. In 1896 part of the cliff crumbled and crushed the residence which previously stood where we now sleep, but after a few limoncellos under a huge walnut tree, all such thoughts are pushed aside. We follow a concrete path beside the little harbour, ducking under a rock overhang and climb a pathway up to cliff-perched restaurants, being led by the nose by the smell of warm bread, roasted garlic and strong cheese. We watch the lanterns on the fishing boats, swaying like pendulums, and in the distance the shimmer of the lights at Amalfi. Across the water comes the sound of ‘squeeze-box’ music and I am half inclined to break into Pedro the Fisherman, but my tortellini comes just in time and saves me from embarrassment. The rocks grow blacker, the sea swishes below, the wine grows better by the glass, and we sprout philosophy like Cicero. The busy Amalfi coast seems a world away.

In the morning, before breakfast, we follow ancient goat-tracks up the cliffs, pausing every few strides to gaze down on beauty personified, our breath only partly taken by the climb. Nearby, a stone Martello-type coastal tower, looking like a rocky thumb, juts into the air, its recesses long turned into hollow-eyed windows, now an artist’s abode and gallery. There are little villas with only a puffing pathway to the door, with little front gardens full of onion stalks and tomatoes. A cat watches our progress, disdainfully reminding us that it is a resident, we merely passers by. The sputter of a Vespa tells us that others are up here too, and when we stop at a hole-in-the-wall shop with strings of onions hanging from hooks, the shopkeeper sets out two espresso cups and pours in the dark syrupy liquid. There is no need to ask, or speak. There is only espresso. That is the way it has always been here.


Priano, Italy - Winfred Peppinck

Coastal Priano


La Pria Priano is a twenty-ish place; twenty minutes from Positano, twenty minutes from Amalfi and the bus comes every twenty minutes. No-one in their right mind would contemplate driving into each place as the parking is impossible. The bus, mind you, has more rock and roll than Elvis and with huge cliffs mere inches away, there is a lot of collective leaning, but you finish up right in the centre of both places. There are ferries too and it is great to see the coastline from the sea, but La Pria Priano’s little harbour is unsuitable for large craft and these can only be caught in Positano or Amalfi. And from both those places, the beautiful Isle of Capri is only an hour by speedboat. You need a car to get to wonderful Ravello with its belvedere which tastes of Browning, Keats and Byron, Oscar Wilde and Gore Vidal. “The best view in the whole world” some have claimed. And beyond there is Pompei, and Pasteum, full of Roman splendour, and Naples for the hardy.


Yet, in among all this rush and titter, traffic and people, there is a little, much bypassed oasis. Oh yes, La Pria Priano is well worth a look.




Winfred Peppinck is the Wandering Freditor Editor for Wandering Educators.