Down and Out in Praiano, a stairway for each place
You can’t go wrong: all the walks in Praiano cross a stairway. The town is full of steps, even because some lead to the beach of Vettica, eighty meters lower than the town centre. Indeed, Praiano stands on a promontory: from the main square, Piazza San Gennaro, you admire the most complete view of the Amalfi Coast and beyond, from Capri to the Cilento region.
The name Praiano may derive from the Latin Pelagium (open sea), but there is no certainty. From the time of the Maritime Republic of Amalfi, Praiano is divided between the town itself and Vettica, the sea-side area: the mountain was dedicated to pasture and agriculture, while downstream was devoted to fishing activities. Trade in agricultural products with the nearby Amalfi and other towns by the sea has been for a long time the main business of local merchants: the tower called Assiola, dating back to the XIII century, was built near the docks where ships loaded and unloaded the goods. Until 1700, flax processing, and filo torto (twisted wire hair nets, very popular at the time) were flourishing activities in Praiano, and coral fishing was practiced until the end of 1800. Nowadays, it is a quiet village with a strong vocation for tourism, with hotels, bars and restaurants open all year. On the beach of Praia, which is equipped in the summer, the boats of fishermen still come daily selling their catch.
Walking in Praiano, amid stairways and views
Stairways are a symbol of Praiano. They lead to anywhere, are essential means of communication between the houses and along the tourist routes. Getting lost on the steps is a pleasure, as well as walking along the paths that lead around the town towards beautiful landscapes. The most popular walks are: Terramare, one called dei Panorami (of Landscapes) and San Domenico.
The path known as Passeggiata di Terramare starts from the beach Marina di Praia: from here you take a passageway carved into the rock to reach, along a hill adorned with ceramics, a place called Torre a Mare which boasts one of the classic views over the Amalfi Coast.
Passeggiata dei Panorami is a bit hidden, but it deserves to be found: in the direction of Positano, just before the tunnel, starts the stairway called Via degli Ulivi, which runs over Vettica. Taking Via Croce you reach Tuocco. From here you can admire the first view along your route, stretching from Positano to Capri. Then you come to the Church of Santa Maria di Costantinopoli, and from its square you can enjoy the second superb view over the Gulf of Sorrento. Behind the church appears the third spectacle of this walk, a view from Praiano to the Fjord of Furore, up to Sorrento and the coast of Cilento.
Finally, the Passeggiata di San Domenico, all adorned with paintings and ceramics, leads to the quite “spiritual” view over the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Castro, a walk to be enjoyed in the early morning or late afternoon. The Passeggiata di Grado is very romantic, starts in Piazza San Gennaro and from via Masa reaches a stairway that descends to the sea and the Tower of Grado.
The churches and shrines of Praiano
Praiano has several churches: both upstream and downstream. Upstream is the Chapel of St. Luke, a baroque structure with tiled floor and an interesting statue of the Madonna dating back to 1700, which dresses as a shepherdess. Downstream, in Vettica, you can visit the main church dedicated to San Gennaro, dating back to 1600, which features a dome made of multicolored ceramic tiles. The Church of St. John the Baptist, instead, is located in the town centre, has a terracotta tiled floor and a magnificent pipe organ dating back to 1800.
Walking through Praiano, amid the narrow streets and steps of the village, you can admire one of the peculiarities of Praiano, named aediculae (small shrines.) You can find dozens of these small temples with colored frescoes or ceramic. The most ancient aediculae were built between 1700 and 1800, but some are more recent. They were generally built in sacred places, where there was a chapel or where there had been a particular event or incident. In the past, the little lights of these shrines were the only source of enlightenment and guidance.
The beaches of Praiano
Passing through small streets and stairways between the houses of Praiano, you reach the lower part of the town Marina di Praia. This is a very attractive place, because the small beach is enclosed within the walls of sheer rock. At the edge of the beach stand whitewashed houses that seem to form a Nativity: in some of these are local restaurants, diving centers and boat rentals. From Marina di Praia boats depart for excursions to the Grottos called grotte di Suppraiano and Grotta dell’Africana. Marina di Praia was the landing place for boats in ancient times, protected by the medieval tower a Torre a Mare. From the path along the cliff you can reach a vantage point overlooking Conca dei Marini.
The other beach of Praiano is in the area of Vettica, on the other side of the headland. Cala della Gavitella, protected by the Spanish tower Grado, is a very quiet beach, well equipped in the summer and full of excellent restaurants. From here you can admire a wonderful panorama from Positano to Capri and Li Galli islands. Near the Gavitella you will admire a natural pool inside a grotto, called Fontana dell’Altare that is, the Altar’s Fountain.