Duchesses of Amalfi

The Italian coast serves up sublime seafood with seasonal porcini and game in the last vestiges of summer

I have no way of knowing, as you read this, whether you are basking on the veranda in the soft glow of an Indian summer, or whether the frosty face of autumn is already pressing its nose against the window. Presuming the latter, might I suggest a brief escape to the Amalfi Coast? The last couple of weeks in October can be the best time to visit: gloriously sunny weather, warm seas and a pleasing absence of tourist hordes.

It is a great time for food, too. Late summer fruits, pumpkins and other squashes, game from the hills, and – best of all – wild mushrooms, especially the first porcini of the season, are abundant. And the seafood is – as ever – sublime. All you need is a good restaurant or two.

Montepertuso – the “hole in the mountain” – is a bracing, uphill hike from Positano, a good way to work up an appetite for lunch at the excellent Donna Rosa (pictured). I last ate there in spring, at a table at the front of the handsome restaurant: there were no porcini, of course, but there were some of the fattest, sweetest mussels I have ever eaten, cooked simply in garlic and white wine, and the first really ripe tomatoes of the season: roughly chopped, anointed with peppery olive oil and piled on bruschetta. Simple, but fabulous.


Two sisters, Erika and Rosida, run the show. Mamma Raffaella looks on benevolently as plates of impeccably dressed homemade pasta are served from the open kitchen. There is terrific fish, too. I had some long, tender fillets of what is known locally as bandiera – a scabbard fish – followed by braciola, a kind of beef olive made with pine nuts and herbs, slow-cooked in a rich, sunny tomato sauce, and scattered with excellent chips. A shot of lethally delicious essenza di nucillo – a spirit distilled from green walnuts – rounded off a splendid lunch.

A lazier lunch-bound journey is to hire a boat in Positano and bob along the Homeric coast to Nerano, where you can moor in the harbour. One of Maria Grazia’s little boats will speed you to your table, on which a jug of light, local white wine, slices of fresh peach adding fragrance and sweetness, will be rapidly plonked.

I am not sure there is such a thing as a bad meal at Maria Grazia. Gaze into the tanks for the freshest of shellfish – perhaps a much-prized local lobster – and make sure you have the spaghetti with courgettes. Little fried squid are lovely, too, as are the substantial arancini (fried rice balls) generously filled with warm, stringy cheese. And, as you bathe in the autumn sunshine, checking the London weather forecast might well see you end your meal with a smile.


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