SCIALATIELLA TO SFOGLIATELE; PACCHERI TO PROVOLA..and plenty of sfusati and sfizzi fritti:
Seven Delectable Days in Amalfi and Naples
We just arrived back in the US from a glorious week in Amalfi and Naples and while my memory is fresh, I will attempt to share the highlights, with plenty of details about food. I want to thank SeaUrchin, Weadles, Steve James, Dayle, Caroline Edinburgh, Traveler1959, Waldo, Vicenzo, and everyone else everyone who was so patient and forthcoming with help during the planning phase.
We left JFK on the last Saturday in April, flying Iberia to Naples with a connection in Madrid. The Madrid airport is truly spectacular and, more important, it is an excellent point for connections. (For more about the airport, see my report from 2006:
This is the only airport that I can remember that is actually worth visiting even if you do not plan to fly! The efficiency here would be even more important to us on the way home, when we had only 70 minutes in which to connect to our JFK-bound flight; we made the connection with a half hour to spare! Certainly worth keeping in mind for future trips. (Iberia had the best prices and the best connections from JFK-Naples)
We arrived in Naples at midday on a Sunday and were met at the airport by Renato Cuomo, who we had hired to drive us to Amalfi. Mr. Cuomo was unable to make the drive, but introduced us to his fellow driver, Raffaelo. The price for the transfer was 100 Euro.
The ride of about an hour, took us past through some of the less attractive communi Vesuviani, where about a million people live within the danger zone of a future eruption, many in blocky concrete post-war housing blocks. During the ride, I asked the driver about a fall off in tourism from the US due to the poor exchange rate and he confirmed that this was true and that his bookings had fallen off tremendously. This was echoed by other we spoke to during the week. (We found prices to be surprisingly reasonable..more on this later..)
After Castellammare di Stabia the road begins to rise and the scenery improved immensely. We drove through Agerola, famous for its mozzarella, and Furore, where we got our first glimpse of the Costiera Amalfitana! And finally, into Amalfi itself, where we had booked five nights at the Hotel Floridiana, which currently holds the #1 position for Amalfi hotels on Trip Advisor:
As some of you know, I vacillated endlessly about an Amalfi hotel for quite awhile prior to departure. We had originally planned to stay at the Luna Convento but were a bit put off by a few poor reviews. After having visited the Luna, I now realize that it would have been just fine, but at 220 Euro for a standard room at the Luna, versus 140 for a superior at the Floridiana, we were very pleased with our decision.
As soon as we arrived in Amalfi, the driver phoned the hotel and Agnese, the young owner, met us in the main square and helped us with our bags. The location of the Floridiana is ideal. Although only about a two minute walk from the piazza, it has a secluded feeling due to its position behind the bustle of the main street and up a few steps. We were given Room #1, a superior room with a terrace overlooking the main street. The room was simple and very comfortable. (We were never bothered by noise form the street but if you are a light sleeper you might want to forego the terrace rooms)
The hotel was formerly a residence for priests and has been in the present owner’s family for about 100 years; she has run it as a hotel for about 4 years. The public areas are lovely; a glorious frescoed ceiling highlights the dining room where breakfast (included) is served; seating is on transparent Ghost chairs which provide a foil for the gilt-accented furnishings and brocade silks. (take a look at the website for an idea of the dining room and guest rooms)
More important than the ceiling and the chairs was the personal attention given us by Agnese and MariaRosa. Both of these women made our stay one of our most memorable in many, many trips to Italy. Both speak English well and were always on hand to give information and advice or just to chat. They made us feel as if we were their guests in a private home, a feeling accentuated by the fact that we rarely came in contact with any other guests during our 5-night stay.
From the minute we left the hotel, we were also convinced that our choice of Amalfi was a good one. We remarked about this to each other many times during the trip. I suspect that people who cautioned against staying here have not actually lodged in the town. While the area on the coast road where the buses and cars park seems a bit hectic, and the main square and the artery leading north away from the sea were often crowded with daytrippers, these do not represent Amalfi as a whole. There is an entire other world away from these areas and along the narrow covered lanes that stretch up the hillside on both sides of the main street. Time and time gain we commented on the resemblance to Andalucia’s “white villages” , and I was also reminded of whitewashed Moorish architecture in the Maghreb. But with pointed arches for window openings.
After a quick stroll around town (no shortage of shops selling lemon soaps and limoncello and a surprising number of items with Mussonlini’s portrait..I made a private note to consider an Il Duce apron for a cook friend of ours) and a short rest, it was time for our first Amalfi coast dinner. Through the hotel, we had reserved a table at A Paranza, a SlowFood pick in neighboring Atrani, about a 15 minute walk (along the main road or on the stepped passageways along the hillside) from the hotel. Atrani is a sleepy sister town to Amalfi; even on this busy Sunday, we saw very few people as we walked along the narrow streets and the covered lanes. We met up with another couple and decided to share a table; at 7:30 the four of us were the only diners but the restaurant filled to capacity by 9:30pm. Most of our fellow diners were Italian. Here, and elsewhere, we found it best to reserve ahead the day before.
A Paranza proved to be one of our favorite restaurants of the trip and we would return here on our last night in Amalfi.
Here and at other local restaurants, most diners did not consult the printed menu but consulted, instead, with the owner in planning their meals. We peeked at the menu but let him guide us to the best dishes of the day. My partner, who does not eat fish, would often leave the selection in the hands of the waiters entirely. We were never disappointed.
Here is what we ate on this first of two dinners at A Paranza:
Fiori di Zucca Ripeini in Pastella (fried zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta and anchovies).. Excellent! My partner, the fish-hater, also loved these!!
Spaghetti vongole.. with two types of clams, vongole veraci and tartufi…wonderful.
Grilled Scampi…Simple and excellent. (served with their heads, which hold the tastiest meat).
Scialatiella a al Siciliana. This was my first experience with this thick, flat long pasta which is a mainstay of Amalfi dining. House made here, with a sauce of eggplant (the “Siciliana” is a key) mozzarella di bufala and cherry tomatoes. Wonderful, marvelous!!!
The house white is a 100% Falanghina from Campania, Falango.
With wine, cover and water, the bill for two persons totaled 55 Euro ($85 US at today’s exchange) By and large, our meal prices remained within the 55- 68 Euro range; we drank only house wines.
After dinner we strolled back to the hotel with a stop for gelato off the main square in Amalfi. Maria at the hotel had recommended a gelato shop at the Porta Marina entrance to the town, on the right as you face the sea.
I will return soon with an account of our first full day in Amalfi, with side trips to Ravello and dinner in Cetara..
SCIALATIELLA TO SFOGLIATELLE; PACCHERI TO PROVOLA: 7 Delectable Days in Amalfi and Naples
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