We are not even half way into our trip but we have already stayed at and visited so many unforgettable places. Without a doubt though, the place I was most excited about visiting before our departure was the Amalfi Coast. Gianni had boasted about it many times as his descendants are from around that area and I had seen plenty of amazing photos so I really wanted to visit. He did also though warn me about the very narrow, winding, cliff-side roads and the tour buses that hurtle around them almost on two wheels with their horns blazing; and he was actually not exaggerating at all. This coastal region near Napoli is where the steep mountain cliffs dive into the vast blue ocean and it is littered with absolutely beautiful port-side towns such as Positano, Ravello and Amalfi itself. These towns were well-known jewels of Italy that were really made famous in the 1950's by Hollywood stars. Amazing blue coastlines and scenery are ofcourse a major draw card but for me, much of the areas charm in fact is not simply of geographical consequence but of the history both ancient and recent.
Much of the hospitality industry has frozen in time as a tribute to its peak of fame in the 1950's which makes this coastline a phenomenal place to visit. I love modern minimalism however to truly experience Amalfi you need to stay at one of the few infamous 5 star establishments, even if just for one night! We checked in with a huge grin to the Hotel Santa Caterina in Amalfi which is one of those hotels that is possibly just as famous as the area itself (the infamous Burj Al Arab in Dubai might be a modern equivalent). I could not think of any words to describe this hotel than in the words they use themselves on their postcards, "a late 19th century Liberty style villa immersed in the beautiful scenery of the Amalfi Coast, an elegant seaside residence surrounded by the perennial blue of the Mediterranean Sea and sky, by luscious bougainvillea and by lovingly cultivated olive groves and fruit orchards. This is Hotel Santa Caterina of Amalfi, a special place to experience the finest of Italian hospitality and lasting sensations of wellbeing".
What looks from the road to be a single, grand hotel building on the mountain-side in fact turns out to be a much more grand, luxury expanse of a hospitality experience laid out over cascading lemon and vegetable gardens reaching out all the way down to the private pool and cliff-side beach at the waters edge. Inside is the timeless 1950's charm and silver spoon service beyond even my imagination and high expectations. Our amazing suite was made up of four individual rooms, a separate living area, bath and shower and a king sized bed beside a private balcony and the postcard view that dreams are made of. You could sit on your balcony and order room-service for days and not get sick of that view; but we wanted to try the restaurant ofcourse!
First, some traditional aperitifs on the terrace (ok, so we actually had some pretty heavy cocktails instead, I am on holidays ok?!) watching the last of the sunset while our table in the VIP corner closest to the views over Amalfi was prepared. It was here that we were greeted by 'Pino', the 70 something maitre'd who you could instantly tell epitomised that old silver-service mentality; who spoke 8 languages just so he could greet every person in their native tongue, who probably had worked here most of his life off the genuine satisfaction of making every guests dinner as perfect as possible. He insisted on a glass of local red wine to accompany our entrees of minestrone soup and the beautiful light, crunchy battered zucchini flowers stuffed with lemon perfumed ricotta and salami. Before they even arrived though we were treated to a Parmesan cheese creme brûlée served with an edible biscuit spoon! We needed no assistance choosing our main though as the chateaubriand is one of our go-to dishes. A beautiful fillet of beef roasted inside a bread crust so that not a single drop of juice or flavour escapes; cooked perfectly medium rare and falling apart it was carved table-side by our waiters and plated up with a myriad of vegetable accompaniments and absolutely perfect béarnaise sauce.
We were certainly satisfied with what was a delightful dinner that could finish perfectly with a small shot of Limoncello. But not on Pino's watch! He instead offered us a dessert, compliments of the house; a lemon soufflé that he insisted was better than a limoncello, and Pino was not lying! Served with custard as a relief from the intense Amalfi lemons it was perfection and proved to be the standout of the night for me. Yes, this restaurant has the type of menu that has no prices listed, but you can rest assured that anything you order will be well worth it; and if it's not they will bend over backwards and do absolutely anything necessary to make sure it is! Walk off your dinner afterwards around the Piazza and shops of Amalfi (as we did) and take a trip back up on the hotel's free shuttle transfer.
The breakfast buffet is ofcourse just as amazing as the restaurant and served up with the same principles. Whilst Gianni took off for a quick gym session in the morning (yes, their treadmills have 180 degree views of the ocean) I decided to work off my dinner and breakfast by sitting with a coffee and watching the free yoga class (exercise on holidays isn't really my thing).
From our room set up high in the lemon gardens, the walk down to the private beach is a beautiful stroll through a sheltered wonderland of tiered plantations where you can see staff picking food and herbs fresh for that nights dinner. Down by the waters edge the attentive service continues, with towels and deck chairs laid out so you don't have to lift a finger. Gianni dove in and did some snorkelling around the cliffs as I floated in an inflatable ring lapping up the sun rays. Lunch can be served right there on your very own private piece of Amalfi coast cliff-side real estate if you wish! On the way back up you probably won't want to take the stairs though so they have two little elevators built into the cliff side and through the glass you can watch as you scale the heights of the mountain! Just when you feel like your in the Willy Wonka elevator that will take off at the top and keep on flying... it comes to a halt at a lovely boutique store, part of the hotel with designer brands and local handmade products.
Understandably, this is one of the most iconic hotels of the entire Costiera Amalfitana but if this is out of the budget then don't worry, you don't have to miss out! If you want to experience all of the things that the Amalfi Coast has to offer, we suggest you take 4 or 5 days and look at staying in Maiori or Minori. These two towns are the next best thing to the big name port-side marvels and are where the locals from Salerno and Napoli prefer to come visit to avoid people like me (tourists)! Unfortunately for them, Gianni knows about this place too and has stayed before in a casa vacanze (holiday home) there before! Maiori has the longest stretch of uninterrupted beach (think black sand, not Australian beach) on the entire coast and you can rent a holiday apartment there for a fraction of the price of the big 5 star hotels (try Casa Vacanze Maiori from the link below). From there you can visit all the tourist hot spots like Positano by boat, bus or if you are really game, hire a Vespa!
Tomorrow we are hopping on a hydrofoil to shoot across to the island of Ischia for two nights, a day trip to Capri and a return finally to a very special place in Conca dei Marini. Stay tuned!
Special Thanks to: