Long a favorite of the off-duty famous and rich, Conca dei Marini (the name means "seafarers' basin") hides many of its charms, as any sublime forgetaway should. On the most dramatic promontory of the coast, the town was originally a province of ancient Rome called Cossa and later became an important naval base of the Amalfi Republic. Much later, it became a retreat for high-profile types, including the writer John
Steinbeck, automaker Gianni Agnelli of Fiat, and film producer Carlo Ponti, who erected a white villa here by the sea (for his first wife, not Sophia Loren). You can see why: the green of terraced gardens competes with (and loses to) the blue sea, while the town's distinctive houses flanking the ridges have thick, white walls, with cupolas, balconies, and external staircases, testimony to former Arabic, Moorish, and Greek settlements. Below, on Capo di Conca, a promontory once used as a cemetery, a 16th-century coastal tower dramatically overlooks the sea. On a curve in the road sits the village's most noteworthy attraction, the Emerald Grotto. Coral is still harvested in the waters off the coast here, and boats fish for sardines and squid through the night, their prow lanterns twinkling as if stars had slipped into the sea.