Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - The Escape Bazaar -

early al­ways when you find a place as beau­ti­ful as Posi­tano, your im­pulse is to con­ceal it,” wrote John Stein­beck in the May 1953 is­sue of Harper’s BAZAAR. At that point, the Amer­i­can author was at the height of his fame – East Of Eden had been pub­lished the pre­vi­ous year, and The Grapes Of Wrath was al­ready part of the lit­er­ary canon – and so his widely read ar­ti­cle in BAZAAR drew im­me­di­ate at­ten­tion to this small town on the Amalfi Coast. Yet, for the rea­sons that Stein­beck him­self iden­ti­fied at the time, Posi­tano has re­mained as ap­peal­ing as it was when he first vis­ited, pro­tected by its ex­tra­or­di­nary po­si­tion on the pre­cip­i­tous hill­sides above the bay, where there is no space to build tourist re­sorts, car parks or new roads.

“Posi­tano bites deep,” ob­served Stein­beck in BAZAAR. “It’s a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and be­comes beck­on­ingly real af­ter you have gone. Its houses climb a hill so steep it would be a cliff ex­cept that stairs are cut in it … The small curv­ing bay of un­be­liev­ably blue and green wa­ter lips gen­tly on a beach of small peb­bles. There is only one nar­row street and it does not come down to the wa­ter. Every­thing else is stairs, some of them as steep as lad­ders. You do not walk to visit a friend, you either climb or slide.”

This de­scrip­tion still holds true to­day; and the ho­tel where Stein­beck stayed, Le Sirenuse, re­mains at the heart of Posi­tano, as al­lur­ing as its name sug­gests. In ev­ery bed­room, there is an el­e­gantly bound copy of Stein­beck’s es­say, along with an­other small book, en­ti­tled A Jour­ney To Posi­tano, its pages blank, invit­ing each guest to write their own story. Much is un­changed since Stein­beck’s day, when he and his wife were en­chanted by “an old fam­ily house con­verted into a first class ho­tel, spot­less and cool, with grape ar­bors over its out­side din­ing rooms. Ev­ery room has its own lit­tle bal­cony and looks out over the blue sea to the is­lands of the sirens from which those ladies sang so sweetly.”

Now, as then, Le Sirenuse is owned by an aris­to­cratic Neapoli­tan fam­ily, the Ser­sales, who con­verted their 18th-cen­tury sum­mer home into a ho­tel in 1951. When Stein­beck vis­ited, it was su­per­vised by March­ese Paolo Ser­sale, at that time the mayor of Posi­tano, and a con­nois­seur of an­tiques and paint­ings, whose col­lec­tion of heir­looms con­tin­ues to give the ho­tel its re­mark­able charm and char­ac­ter. Since then, Paolo’s nephew, An­to­nio Ser­sale, has taken over from his fa­ther Franco, who died in Jan­uary this year. Franco’s pho­to­graphs of his jour­ney around the world – to Ethiopia, Pa­pua New Guinea, Ti­bet, and Afghanistan add an­other el­e­ment of in­ter­est to the dis­tin­guished fam­ily por­traits that hang on the walls (one of the ven­er­a­ble Ser­sale an­ces­tors was a car­di­nal; an­other a sea-far­ing no­ble­man of the 16th cen­tury). Mean­while, An­to­nio and his wife Carla (who is also re­spon­si­ble for the ho­tel’s stylish bou­tique) are adding to the eclec­tic col­lec­tion with con­tem­po­rary pieces, in­clud­ing a new work by the Turner Prize-win­ning artist Martin Creed that will be in­stalled later this year.

A charm­ing sit­ting area to take in the ma­jes­tic views of Posi­tano

The pool­side at Le Sirenuse

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