Praiano, Day One: Less Fretting, More Prosecco

2 04 2012

It’s good to wake up to your own private cliffside paradise.

The Amalfi coast is known for its ceramics, and the tilework in Villa Benadetta is quietly spectacular.

Sea breezes swirl around our espresso steam. The kitchen has come stocked with the utter basics – olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a cupful of ketchup packets, and coffee – but acquiring proper sustenance is going to require some doing.

Maria informed us last night that the local grocer will deliver goods to you free of charge, or upon request will deliver you to the goods instead. We opt for the second, requiring us to brave a Skyped phone call. After a few dialing mishaps which make full use of every single Italian word I’ve managed to pick up, we think we’ve arranged for someone to arrive to our gate within ten minutes.

Sure enough, a van pulls up shortly and we hop on. I make further use of my paltry Italian with the driver.

In addition to a decent supply of fresh and packaged goods, tutto X tutti houses a beautiful bodega in its basement. We stock up on prosecco, plus breakfast goodies.

The driver then expertly shuttles us back to the Villa and refuses to accept a tip.

We happily munch fresh bread with daubs of raspberry jam plus slices of a mild local cheese, while contemplating the murmured activity taking place on the beach below.

Breakfast needs sated, showers taken, and blog posted, we venture down. Marina di Praia is a natural fjord cut into the coast, dotted with rowboats, bordered by teeny terraced restaurants, and overlooked by–

–why, what’s that up there?–

–hello, home. Villa Bendetta has quite the perch.

We’re called by the thought of a little lunch at Armandino’s before wandering too much further, so settle in and ask for vino rosso. We seem to be getting good at this.

Armandino himself helps us figure out a series of house specialties to share, starting with an array of stuffed and roasted vegetables. The smoky zucchini slices are particularly pleasing.

The veg is followed by a plate of cold marinated ‘chovies and octopus, drizzled with a blend of vinegar, olive oil, and parsley.

The clam and rocket pasta dish is well-executed, reminiscent of the sea in all the right ways.

But the shrimp and lemon risotto is by far the standout. The Amalfi coast is internationally renowned for its crop of lemons, and here their acidity lifts away any heaviness from the creamy rice, allowing the shrimp, garlic, and parsley to shine. Janet points out that we should be eating the bowl – why aren’t we eating the bowl?? – which turns out to be constructed from a salty, crisp sheet of parmesan cheese.

There is little question who will be eating the whole shrimp poking its head out of the rice. However, Janet’s not too sure about my little shrimp brain fixation.

A lunch so exquisite deserves a bit of dolci to close. The extensive selection at Armandino’s borders on the absurd given its tiny size. We manage to quickly hone in on a local specialty, a pear-ricotta-almond mix sandwiched between chocolate cookies.

Choosing was simple; cutting is hard.

It would be far too easy to fall into a post-lunch stupor, so we instead elect to make our way into Praiano proper. First stop: the sea.

Just a toe.

And that’s about enough of that.

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.
– Isak Dinesen

The first two have their time and place, but we are dedicated creatures of the coast this week, soaking up the essence of all the waves have to bring us.

The sky isn’t half bad either.

We happen upon a staircase that is simply all too inviting. Where might it lead?

The answer: up.

Branching support for the curls of grapevines crisscrosses all over Praiano’s teeny sky-high walkways.

When we make it back to the principal road, there’s rhythm emanating from the church.

A youth festival has kids pulling coordinated dance moves and streamers coloring the breeze.

You never know who you’ll see in Praiano.

We’ve been seeing these Fermata Sita signs everywhere, and finally figure out that they’re bus stops. Gonna have to work out how they function for tomorrow’s excursion to Positano.

For today, Praiano will simply have to do.

There’s an entry in the Villa Benedetta guestbook: “Came for a wedding, stayed in a postcard.”

As if the town weren’t whimsical enough already, an artist has replicated it in miniature roadside.

Evening falls slow upon the Villa, and we spend some downtime blogging, reading, and absorbing. It’s pleasurable just to exist in this place.

Rounding up on seven or so, the trio begins to discuss the night’s plans, and the unknown bus factor, and what’s coming up for the rest of the week, and hunger budgeting, and ohmygod when and where and what are we going to EAT????

I remember the bottles in the fridge just in time, and declare: Less Fretting, More Prosecco. All merrily agree.

Cork disaster is narrowly averted.

Italian wine, Moroccan olives, Portuguese photos. I sell MP and Janet on next year’s trip.

Sometime past nine we decide we could, indeed, munch – and why not, given the practically private beach restaurants awaiting just below? We select Bar Mare this time, having read heaps of glowing reviews online and in the guestbook alike. We are welcomed by Salvatore, plus a glass jug of house red.

I need bruschetta (that’s “broo-SKET-uh,” not “brushetter,” a slender piece of ciabatta toasted and brushed with garlic and oil and covered in fresh tomato and basil– the chunks inevitably fall off the bread and the olive oil runs over your lips and down your chin. The whole thing is delicious, deeply physical and delightfully undignified, and a woman who can eat a real bruschetta is a woman you can love and who can love you. Someone who pushes the thing away because it’s messy is never going to cackle at you toothlessly across the living room of your retirement cottage or drag you back from your sixth heart attack by sheer furious affection. Never happen. You need a woman who isn’t afraid of a faceful of olive oil for that)
-Nick Harkaway

Salvatore: “Do you like fish?”
SHL: “SI SIGNORE.”

Paradiso di pesce.

That one sticking up in the middle is a needlefish, which I didn’t even know was edible. Its bones are translucent blue.

The fish banquet is simply grilled; the best fresh catch requires little preparation. We’re offered a pitcher of garlic, parsley, white wine, and olive oil sauce made by Salvatore’s Mamma as an accompaniment, which is so marvelous we consider drinking it.

Mamma also makes the dolci, one a dense and rich chocolate cake, and the other a fruity (fig?) tart special for Easter.

Bar Mare’s take on the limoncello digestif is a crema di limon, which is thickly sweet to counterbalance the acidic citrus. It too is accredited to Mamma, upon whom we lavish well-deserved compliments.

The lauding and the lingering may be what net us a post-digestif, Mamma-made meloncello. I don’t even tend to favor melon, and this is immediately something very special.

We tuck Bar Mare into its sandy bed, and then ourselves into our nest just above.


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2 responses

3 04 2012
Shawn

You know how to do a trip! Everything in this post is appealing.
Excellent, excellent.

4 04 2012
contomates

thanks! we three make a top-notch travel team; everyone’s strengths meld pretty seamlessly. copious prosecco helps too.

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