PRAIANO, ITALY: Tramonto D’Oro is a magical hotel high above the Amalfi Coast in the gorgeous little town of Praiano. This beautiful family owned establishment has been a fixture above the cliffs of the Mediterranean for over 60 years. It captures the ephemeral romantic soul of the Amalfi coastline with a transformational energy that is like lightening in a bottle.
With just 38 rooms and a perfect location, Tramonto D’Oro is the quintessential passageway to capturing the true meaning of La Dolce Vita in Amalfi, without losing its sense of a genuine family establishment. Owned and run by the extended members of the Esposito family, they have created an extraordinary environment to explore the wonders of Amalfi, the joys of Positano, and the quietude of Praiano.
Tramonto D’Oro in beautiful Praiano
Praiano is a coastal village built on a promontory midway between Positano and Amalfi. It is far less crowded than Positano, far more quaint than Amalfi, and retains its character as the place to stay in the Amalfi Coast if you want to find the Italian Riviera that is closest to the way it was 50 years ago before the tourist invasions.
Tramonto D’Oro is in the middle of Praiano, next to the ancient parish church of San Gennaro. Its gleaming white exteriors tumble down the hillside for 4 stories. It looks out over the Mediterranean, facing Positano across the bay and with Capri in the distance.
Tramonto D’Oro: An Esposito family establishment for 66 years
The lobby is quaint and welcoming. Carmela Esposito is at the front desk and greets her guests like returning family, with warmth and effervescence. The hotel was founded by her father, Donato Esposito, 66 years ago.
She shows pictures of what Praiano was like back then, before Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton thrust the Amalfi Coast into the international spotlight in 1962. It is a window into another time and place, but one that is remarkably intact today, still, in Praiano. Unlike the overdeveloped slopes of Positano, Praiano retains its charm and gentle village feel.
Tramonto D’Oro: The Golden Sunset
At dinner later that evening one of the waiters, Pietro, who has been here for many years, relates that he celebrated his marriage here 31 years ago. His daughter will celebrate her wedding here next week. That is the type of place this is. A slice of real life, lived by local people, where family is everything, and emotional ties are strong.
Tramonto D’Oro literally means Golden Sunset, and the hotel is famous for this daily spectacle. The view of the Mediterranean, the cliffs of Positano and the island of Capri is priceless. It is the stuff of romantic dreamscapes and picture postcards and it does not disappoint. The view is inescapable, from every corner of the hotel.
Tramonto D’Oro: The pool and the room
On the level above the lobby is an expansive swimming pool and sun deck. This is the perfect place to while away a summers day with a swim, or an Italian beer while sunbathing.
On the three floors below the lobby are the hotel guest rooms. Our room on the second floor is both quaint and spectacular. Beautifully appointed, it has a sumptuous bed under a stirring white wooden arch, with built in armoirs on either side.
White tiles with red, blue, and yellow flowers cover the floor. White plaster walls with arched doorways under 10 foot vaulted ceilings lead to the bedchamber. Translucent curtains and French doors with white slatted shutters open up from the room onto a private balcony with a floor of golden tile.
View from the room
From there the world opens up into the most sensational view imaginable. The Mediterranean stretches out before us in all its glory. The cliffs of Praiano loom on either side. In the distance is the glittering hillside of Positano. Beyond are the sheer cliffs of the coast, and on the horizon is the island of Capri.
The sun is a blazing fireball looming in the sky. The feeling of serenity is overwhelming. Settling into the room, a cold Moretti beer in hand, it is a contemplative moment of sheer joy as the sun slides over the distant cliffs and into the sea.
Brilliant yellow changes to azure orange and fiery red. The amber glow is everywhere, gleaming off the sea, filling the air with streams of light. Tramonto D’Oro, a golden sunset indeed.
The Church of San Gennaro in Praiano
Next door the Church of San Gennaro is preparing for a fall festival feast. Upstairs the wedding party is in full swing. A roomful of revelers dancing a conga line with the bride and groom.
The festival goers at San Gennaro are filling the square in front of the church below us. A small band is playing, and children are line dancing. It is if Italian life has embraced us and made us a part of the family. The smile on our faces as we watch the sunset and take in the revelry is priceless.
Dinner at Tramonto D’Oro
Dinner that evening is a wonderful affair of exquisite food and casual beauty. The restaurant fills the back of the top floor, with a beautiful main room with high ceilings, and a balcony stretching the length of the restaurant.
There on the balcony, on a railing overlooking the sea, a glorious evening of fine Italian dining unfolds. Our waiter, Giuseppe, resplendent in a white dinner jacket and black tie, has been with the hotel for 40 years. He was a close friend of the original owner, and has a wonderful presence with a great sense of charm.
An opening round of seafood crudo is fantastic. Tuna tartare, yellowtail tartar, mackerel carpaccio, and chopped raw shrimp are as beautiful to look at as they are to eat.
Pasta, lobster, and sea urchin
Fettuccelle pasta with fresh lobster in the shell is spectacular. The lobster is rich and meaty, yet tenderly succulent and beautifully cooked. The pasta is incandescently fresh, bursting with garlic in a rich sauce.
Spaghettoni with sea urchin, dried tomatoes and lime is absolutely otherworldly. The pasta is almost like picci, thick spaghetti noodles, obviously freshly made, wrapped up in a cluster filled with generous helpings of urchin intertwined throughout.
The sea urchin is both bountiful, and completely wonderful. Just slightly cooked, with a tangy flavor, and powerfully incandescent as it explodes across the palette with each sumptuous forkful.
Amarone in Amalfi
An amazing bottle of Amarone Valpolicella 2012 from the Veneto region is a fabulous accompaniment to a delightful meal. Full bodied, with a hearty fruit forward taste, it epitomizes the classic Valpolicella style.
Grapes are left on the vine until late in the harvest, concentrating the flavor, but not the sweetness. The result is a dry red wine of intense concentration, but not heavy like a Cabernet. We linger over dinner sipping the harvest of the gods as the night sky fills with stars.
Carmela and Mama Teresa: The Esposito family legacy
Carmela walks through the restaurant Making sure each guest is well taken care of. With her is her adorable 87 year old mother Teresa, still spry and beautiful, full of life and memories of the hotel she and her husband started back in 1952.
Theresa was but a young bride of 21 that year. Now she presides in the twilight of her years over the institution she built, and the legacy Carmela continues to bring alive. It is a lovely reminder of how this really is a family establishment, in every sense of the word.
Tramonto D’Oro: life along the Amalfi Coast
The paternal respect of the staff for Teresa is touching and palpable. Carmela and Teresa stop by our table for a lingering conversation and some photos of the gracious matriarch and her daughter.
Teresa grabs my hand as we speak like she is my own mother. It is a priceless moment where the whole history of Tramonto D’Oro comes to life with vivid clarity. Carmela beams as she sees that we understand what her hotel is all about.
Life is about the genuine connection we make with people, and how we sustain that feeling in the appreciation of the beauty inherent in every day. That feeling is alive and well tonight.
Lingering over dessert
Desert of panna cotta with Greek yogurt and vanilla with passion fruit sauce and a salty crumble is fantastic, a perfect finale to a lovely evening. The rich Italian coffee permeates the contrast between the rich panna cotta, the sweet passion fruit, and the salty crumble.
Lingering over the last glass of wine, the sky is inky black on a moonless night, while the lights of Positano twinkle from a distance, filling the far hillside with sparkling orange and white dots.
Tramonto D’Oro: The night sky and the Amalfi Coast
Sitting on the balcony afterwards time stands still. Curtains flutter in a soft breeze, while the running lights of a dozen small boats fill the sea below in spaced intervals. It is a moment of epiphany, where every dream of the Amalfi Coast ever imagined is now spread out in panoramic glory.
Drifting off into rapturous slumber, it is as if we have to rise every two hours just to stand on the balcony for a timeless moment and contemplate the beauty around us. The sense of romance is abundant. The serenity of the experience is a memory that will never fade.
Morning comes and rising just as the sun comes up reveals a spectacular light show of deep cobalt blue in the sky as the first light illuminates the peaks of the cliffs above Praiano.
Tramonto D’Oro: The Soul of Praiano
Another day begins at Tramonto D’Oro, followed by yet another spectacular golden sunset. Timeless beauty in midst of eternal peace. The Mediterranean has a golden glow as the first boats of the new day make their way across the bay toward Positano.
Breakfast on the patio overlooking the sunrise is an immersive world of earthly delights. Guests stream in giddy with the prospect of another day along the Amalfi Coast. The trip to Praiano may be a long journey of many steps, but the emotional reward of spending time in this precious space is incalculable.
Two days pass like a flower in the wind, but each moment is suspended in the amber of our memory. Tramonto D’Oro feels like a gorgeously serene home away from home, with our adapted Praiano family, Mamma Teresa, Raffaele, Carmela and all the staff of the hotel awaiting our eventual inevitable return.
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles. @JoelBerliner
All photos by Alison Reynolds @BigAlPeoplesPal