Sunday, July 12, 2009

Baia di Puolo: Another Golden Find off of Italy's Beaten Path

Five years ago, Susan and I celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary in style. It was the first time she and I got to go to Italy sans enfants, thoroughly enjoying a glorious three weeks together in which we cruised up and down the Italian boot in a rented Peugeot 307 (Okay, maybe we could have done without the French car, but I must admit it was fun to drive). We started north of Milan on the picturesque Lago Maggiore, one of the lakes that straddle the Italian-Swiss border, and spent our first week southbound, stopping in Venice, Rimini, San Marino, Assisi and the Amalfi coast before spending a week in Sicily and another week northbound through Pompeii, Rome, Florence and Genoa.

Every stop, including the places we had been to before, had a new and interesting discovery, but the one that stands out in my mind was on the Amalfi Coast. In fact I had never been there before and—like most first timers who drive the narrow roads that hug the mountainside hundreds of feet above the crystal clear waters of the Tyrhennian Sea, my mouth hung open in amazement at the breathtaking panorama. But I’m getting ahead of myself, because our adventure started well before we reached the Amalfi Coast.

We had spent a couple of days in Assisi and were hunkering down for a long drive to Sorrento. I was a little nervous because we were to stay at a bed and breakfast that I had booked sight-unseen via the Internet. As we cleared the Rome beltway, I called the number of the bed and breakfast to give an approximate arrival time and to ask for more specific directions.

“No problem,” the kind gentleman answered. "When you approach Sorrento, follow the signs for the Sorrento Hospital. Give me a call when you get there and I will meet you in the parking lot. I will be riding a Vespa motor scooter.”

Everything went according to plan except when I rolled down the window and the gentleman pulled up on his Vespa, he started off with an apology: “I am really sorry, but we had a problem with the rooms at the bed and breakfast and you are not going to be able to stay there. However, I can take you to my uncle’s hotel, which is just as nice, and you can stay there for the same price.”

“This doesn’t look too good,” I thought, but what choice did I have? I followed him down the coastal roadway, continuing to enjoy the breathtaking view from about 300’ above sea level as we went past the Sorrento city limits and toward the next town, Massa Lubrense. The Vespa suddenly signaled right, and I followed it through a non-descript gateway onto an even narrower road that started hair-pinning precipitously downward. Hmm! Did he not say we are going to a hotel? It seems like we are heading away from civilization. These still cerebral questions going through my mind started to give way to mild panic as the narrow roadway switched from asphalt to dirt. By this time I was thinking it only a matter of time before the motor scooter driver (and possibly some lurking companions) would stop and surround us with weapons drawn, and we would possibly not be heard from again.

As we got down to sea level, we noticed the island of Capri a few miles off shore, as well as Mt. Vesuvius, which looks like it comes right out of the water across the Bay of Naples. We continued to follow the Vespa past a boat yard and stopped at the edge of a picturesque cove. With a secluded sandy beach on one side and a practically vertical mountainside on the other, the only buildings in sight were a couple of restaurants, with lots of outdoor tables ready for the evening dinner crowd, and the “Hotel Baia di Puolo.”

Though it does not appear terribly inviting at first glance, the Hotel Baia di Puolo is definitely a golden find. Inside, the rooms are simple yet spacious, and the balconies overlook the breathtaking Bay of Naples. The beach is also a major plus if you are into swimming and sunbathing, because sandy beaches are rare on the otherwise rocky Amalfi Coast. The restaurants adjacent to and associated with the hotel serve the sumptuous fare you would come to expect in Italy, plentifully and for a very reasonable price. And the price of a night’s lodging is also quite reasonable, less than half of what you would pay at the more touristy places in Sorrento proper.

Like many of our best finds in Italy, we found this one quite by accident but are ever so glad we did. We made it a point to return again in 2007, and will do so yet again at the next opportunity. For more information, check out their website at .

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