January 07 2012
It’s that time of year again, when the forecast and the view out of the window indicate that there’s nothing to look forward to except a steep decline into colder climes. Everyone is recovering from the excesses of the holidays, and the word “detox” becomes even more annoying than usual.
You may start waxing your snowboard and checking the powder conditions on the back bowls in Telluride. But the slopes hold little appeal for me. (Too cold.) As for the islands – and I mean any island, because when it’s February, a St Barths is a Seychelle is a Lord Howe – they’re just a short-lived tease.
No, I put on another sweater and start counting the days until I can get to the Amalfi Coast. Or, more specifically, to Lo Scoglio, a family-run restaurant and hotel in Marina del Cantone, a tiny fishing village in the second cove south of the point where the Bay of Naples meets the Bay of Salerno in the shadow of Capri. There’s no end to the scenic details when the geography is this poetic. The tourist hordes beat a path from Sorrento to Positano, completely bypassing the Sorrentine peninsula. Which means that the only people around here are Italians.
And I’ll take it, and in fact I’ve been taking it for the past decade, because I’m only too happy to lap up what everyone else is missing as they cram into the funicular up to Capri.
Life is pretty mellow at Lo Scoglio, and the DeSimone family are blessedly unobtrusive in their care. You wake up, have cappuccino and brioche with homemade jam, and read a book until lunch on the dock. Wild arugula salad or fava beans and artichokes? Spaghetti with zucchini, the famous house special, or seafood risotto? A plate of tartufi di mare and sea urchin to start: the 70-year-old fisherman in the teeny orange bikini bottoms just plucked them from the water. The fava beans, by the way, were still in the ground when you were waking up. Many talk a big game about locavorism, but it’s another level of freshness and integrity when basil is growing outside your window.
In the afternoon, you take a walk around the cove and climb up the crumbling Saracen tower, imagining that the ancient soldiers on lookout must have bribed their captains for that duty. Or a small wooden sailboat takes you around the coastline. You dive in hidden grottoes and swim off Li Galli, the island where Nureyev used to live. Oh, dinnertime. Spaghetti alle vongole? Have it macchiato, with a few cherry tomatoes. Roasted whole branzino, with stuffed braised escarole served on a copper terrine. For dessert, the heavenly chocolate cake they call caprese. Go to bed, do the same thing tomorrow.
Marina del Cantone is an excellent base for exploring the Sorrentine peninsula – most notably Don Alfonso 1890, one of Italy’s best restaurants, a 10-minute drive uphill in Sant’ Agata sui due Golfi. The cuisine is just as fresh and local as Lo Scoglio, but the experience is much more refined – in décor, cuisine, and style.
And of course the Sorrentine peninsula is easily accessible to Campania’s attractions to the north and south, such as Pompeii and Ravello. But I’ve had weeks when I tried to leave Lo Scoglio and just couldn’t. Not even to try the Michelin-starred restaurant next door. (When Michelin inspectors come to Lo Scoglio, they literally get chased away.) I’ve sent dozens of friends here over the years, and everyone, from hard-driving venture capitalists to curious journalists, reports the same blissful inertia. It’s easy to let the mind wander. Though the mind always wants to wander back here.