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Great Getaways : Times Correspondents' Course in Favorite Weekend Escapes : ROME

October 19, 1986|Don A. Schanche

The 43-mile Amalfi Coast between Sorrento and Salerno is among the world's most spectacular shorelines--deep gorges, weirdly shaped limestone formations, and rugged cliffs that plunge into a blue crystal sea.

Around each turn of the tightly winding Amalfi Drive, hewn into the rock hundreds of feet above the water, time and nature have carved enchanting natural sculptures in the steep, wooded mountainsides.

Villages and towns along the coast--including Amalfi, Ravello and Positano--are living museums of a rich past. Best of all, it is only a 2 1/2-hour drive from Rome--perfect for long weekends of sunbathing, sightseeing, and seafood that is among the best in the Mediterranean.

My favorite retreat there is the Grand Tritone, a luxurious but relatively inexpensive hotel that hugs a near-vertical cliff on the edge of the village of Praiano, between Positano and Amalfi.

Like its far more expensive and only slightly more elegant near-neighbor, the Hotel San Pietro, the Tritone is built literally against the face of the cliff so that it appears to cascade part of the way down the precipitous 100-yard drop to the sea.

To reach its pebbly beach far below, a modern elevator slides smoothly down a shaft in the rock. Or one can bathe in the large, seawater swimming pool on the cliff side, two levels below the Tritone's lobby, with a breathtaking view of the sea and the coastline.

Bars and snack bars at beach, pool and lobby levels are good, and so is the dining room, but I rarely take more than breakfast at the hotel, preferring to hunt new discoveries among the Costa Amalfitana's numerous excellent seafood restaurants. My favorite is Zacharia, half dug into a limestone cave on the edge of Amalfi, and prized for its shellfish pastas and grilled fish, crayfish and shrimps.

Grand Hotel Tritone, Costiera Amalfitana, 84010 Praiano (SA), Italy. Telephone (089) 874333. (Telex 770025 TRITON-I.) Cost: about $75 per couple, with continental breakfast.

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