OTHER FAVORITES ON THE COAST
The Hotel Cappuccini Convento (46 Via Annunziatella, Amalfi; 39-89/871-877, fax 39-89/871-886; doubles from $134) and the Hotel Luna Convento (33 Via Pantaleone Comite, Amalfi; 39-89/871-002, fax 39-89/871-333; doubles from $154) are bookends to the town of Amalfi. At the Cappuccini, a lofty 13th-century landmark, meals are served outdoors in good weather, under one of the highest pergolas on the coast. Vertigo sufferers, beware: to reach the hotel's 54 charming cells, guests take an elevator, then cross a glass-enclosed catwalk. The Luna Convento sits closer to the ground— it literally straddles the road— with 45 rooms and suites arrayed around a peaceful mountainside cloister. Across the street, a 16th-century tower has been turned into a restaurant and bar, with a pool and beach below. An alternate restaurant, Da Gemma (9 Via Fra Gerardo Sasso, Amalfi; 39-89/871-345; dinner for two $80), in town, serves the lightest seafood fritto misto ever. Brothers Franco and Mario Grimaldi, as sweet as their octopus is tender, also cook up a savory paccheri di Gragnano, broad noodles with baby tomatoes, tiny shrimp, and delectable little fish.
Every visitor to Positano who makes his way down to the main beach passes the Hotel Palazzo Murat (23 Via dei Mulini, Positano; 39-89/875-177, fax 39-89/811-419; doubles from $163). Few, however, imagine actually sleeping in this elegant house spied through a grand portal. The18th-century palazzo and two-tiered garden that seem fit for a nobleman were, indeed, once the summer residence of Joachim Murat, king of Naples. In the five guest rooms of the original building, the ceilings soar; 25 newer rooms have balconies to compensate for more-modest dimensions. Even if you don't plan to stay, duck into the entry loggia to witness a bougainvillea vine that would put the giant's beanstalk to shame.
BEST BOOKS ON THE COAST
Cadogan Guide: The Bay of Naples & the Amalfi Coast by Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls (Globe Pequot Press)— Entertaining cultural and historical insights, detailed sightseeing information, and extensive hotel recommendations.
Knopf Guides: Naples and Pompeii (Alfred A. Knopf)— An encyclopedic reference to the history, art, architecture, monuments, and natural history of the Amalfi Coast, illustrated with photos and floor plans.
Italy for the Gourmet Traveler by Fred Plotkin (Little, Brown)— A gastronomic tour that delves into each region and includes listings of favorite restaurants, trattorias, inns, bakeries, food festivals, and outdoor markets.
Ramage in South Italy edited by Edith Clay (Academy Chicago)— This humorous, perceptive travel journal, written in 1828, describes a trying journey south from Naples.
— Martin Rapp