Hotel Sirenuse in Positano.
It was love at first sight, years ago, when I first stayed at the hotel Le Sirenuse, in Positano on the Amalfi coast. The core of the hotel had been the Sersale family's summer home in the 18th century. The Sersales converted it to a hotel in 1951, as Americans (following their army, which had its bivouac in nearby Salerno after World War II) began to visit this precipitous seaside village. Over the years, the Sersales incorporated other buildings and added rooms, creating a labyrinth of corridors and stairways. The stroll to the beach is a charming, steep descent through town, down dozens of steps. Being perched so high gives the hotel the best view of Positano.
Le Sirenuse is still the domain of the hyperhospitable Sersale family, and it still feels like a home, complete with antiques, botanical watercolors, and charming details. A rug in the elevator is printed with the appropriate day of the week in Italian. Espresso cups have lids to keep caffè hot from maker to drinker. In the evening, the dining room is illuminated by 400 candles, which require more than two hours to light.
The restaurant, in a glassed veranda, has an unforgettable view of Positano and the sea. Diners are serenaded by a guitar/mandolin duo in the evening. Now it has a hot new chef, Enrico Crippa and he has energized the kitchen, previously on automatic pilot. Enrico cooked in starred kitchens in Italy and Japan and has a great feeling for local seafood, vegetables, and regional cooking generally. Friends and I recently started with a Neapolitan cooked-vegetable salad topped with quickly marinated fresh anchovies. It was followed by fresh tuna flavored with orange and fennel, spaghetti with shelled clams and slivers of zucchini, and a superb rockfish cooked acqua pazza-style (literally "crazy water," it involves a salty broth flavored with garlic, chili pepper, and tomato). The cheese and dessert carts tempted me, but I opted for homemade gelato and sorbetto.
The wine list is delightful, with a fine regional selection from Campania including single-vineyard Greco di Tufo Cotizzi from Feudi di San Gregorio and Vigna Caracci from Villa Matilda.
Hotel Le Sirenuse, via Cristoforo Colombo 30, Positano, tel. 39-089-870-066, fax 39-089-811-798.
April 27, 2000