The past three days we had in Ischia and Capri were really beautiful, but I would be lying if I said I didn't already miss the Amalfi coastline. There are so many beautiful little towns to visit that I haven't yet seen so I am glad that we are back again, but staying in a different area this time at another ridiculously amazing hotel that my in-laws had insisted we try.
If you only had a single day in Amalfi and want to get a taste for this beautiful part of Southern Italy, I would suggest you splurge for one night and follow us to the town of Conca Dei Marini to the beautiful Monastero Santa Rosa Hotel and Spa. Perched at the highest point of the town, seemingly suspended between sky and sea above a natural cave this 17th century monastery and its manicured gardens can be spotted from far away in the bay of Naples. In fact Gianni had pointed it out to me on our boat trips to Capri and Ischia.
Originally filled with priests and nuns living a life of prayer and solitude away from the masses of Italian society it was once left abandoned and destitute in the 1900's until it was bought by its current owners and restored lovingly over 10 years. Opening only recently in 2012 (yes, this place is probably the newest five star hotel on the Amalfi Coast) it has become a place of luxury and ultimate relaxation and it has helped put the town of Conca dei Marini on the map of the most discerning tourists (ahem!).
The beautiful town jutts out into the Mediterranean and it is a tranquil alternative to the very busy Amalfi to one side and Positano to the other. This makes it the perfect vantage point for a short stay on this gorgeous coastline. The local phrase to describe the town of Conca is 'in ogni finestra il sole, da ogni finestra il mare', which means “in every window the sun, from every window the sea” and it is certainly a warranted description. Being a monastery with small cloister rooms laid out side by side it's floor plan was intelligently manipulated and rooms combined such that every hotel room has a separate ensuite as large as the bedroom and each room boasts a large window (ours had three!) for the sun to pour in above the blue of the ocean so you cannot avoid the breathtaking views nor the fact that you are sleeping on the edge of a cliff.
Our first day here was spent by the amazing infinity pool and when you scroll down to see the photos you will know why. Much like the crazy gorgeous pool in Ravello at the Hotel Caruso this is an exclusive, relaxing, warm alternative to swimming in the cliff-side seas. We learnt our lesson though and had our swim first and our lunch second this time!! The restaurant at the hotel is set on a terrace by the old refectory where the priests would gather to eat. It's simplistic decor and aura is a tribute to its history and that carries through to the food on offer.
Our antipasto platter was enough food to sink a Saracen pirate ship. Filled with more meats and cheeses than I could even name that were all locally sourced (the waiter could literally recite the towns and distances that each were from)! A fresh traditional bruschetta and a caprese salad on the side with juicy buffalo mozzarella (my favourite along with the ricotta and spicy 'Nduja' spreadable salami). When we met the lovely German chef I commended and asked him if he was responsible for this huge amount of delicious food, his response? 'No, it's mostly the animals!' A response in jest that was a mix of modesty but also honesty because we all agreed that there is not much you need to do to make these products shine! In saying that, the sardines stuffed with mozzarella then crumbed and fried were a very welcome addition.
We tried two pasta dishes (albeit smaller than regular serves) for entree or 'primi' which were both handmade. The sedanini were long bent tubes like penne with a simple, spicy tomato sauce with tomatoes from heaven (well, almost) grown on the grounds of the monastery. Then the campotti were large round tubes shaped like a figure 8 that soaked up a beautifully light and aromatic lemon-infused olive oil sauce with wilted spinach and shrimp. My main was lemon marinated, mixed, grilled seafood served with beautifully soft butter lettuce fresh straight from their gardens. The trio of lemons continued (Amalfi's coast line is littered with lemon gardens and abnormally huge lemons thanks to the volcanic soil) with Gianni's main which was a scallopini of veal with roast potatoes. The meat was so tender is almost fell apart like a carpaccio! We stuck to half portions of everything because the chef insisted on a dessert (and who are we to say no to dessert?!).
We asked him to surprise us and ended up with two masterpieces that were almost too pretty to eat... Almost. A chocoholics delight with chocolate biscuit, pear gel sandwiched between chocolate mousse, topped with choc ganache and finished with berries, crisp pear and wafer. But the highlight of our lunch without a doubt was the chestnut mousse log topped with pomegranate jam, scattered with chocolate soil and decorated with poached chestnuts, berries and pomegranate sauce. Without a doubt one of the best desserts we have ever eaten!
We had no room for dinner after that so we spent our night in the indoor wellness centre in beautiful new spas, saunas and ice-showers. The next day a trip to nearby Positano, to tick that one off my bucket list. Another scenic drive with my lead-foot husband and on the way you pass over the beautiful mini town of Furore. It is easy to miss so make sure you keep a lookout for beneath the coastal overpass is an amazing fjord with a tiny beach, some boats and Fishermans houses sandwiched between two giant cliffs. Continuing on through the cute little town of Praiano you will reach the infamous Positano which is a charming vertical town. With only one road down (around and around) and back up again in only one direction it can be difficult to navigate so we parked at one of the secure (and chaotic) car-parks and spent the day strolling down the streets into the main old town which is lined with colourful boutiques. A quick swim and lunch at the beach (yes I had another pizza, don't judge me) and before I knew it the sun had gone down and we were exploring the same beautiful streets in a different light by night on the way back up.
If you have more time you can take a trip down to the 'Grotta Dello Smeraldo' which lays at sea level in Conca Dei Marini. It is a grotto cave which was discovered only 50 years ago by a fisherman as the waters entrance is in fact below sea level meaning only some fish and an abundance of natural blue sunlight ever comes in! Access is from above by an elevator so you don't need to get wet and the stalactites surrounding the emerald green glowing water is a sight you won't forget.
I really do not want to leave the beautiful Amalfi Coast so I was a little sad on our final morning at the Monastero. Although, unlike most, this hotel doesn't have a buffet but rather an all inclusive menu for you to select what you like, made fresh to order. Gianni turned my frown upside down by ordering some Sfogliatelle Santa Rosa, which if you have been following my photos on Instagram you may have noticed is a pastry typical of this region that I am in love with. I knew these little pastries were a gift from God... it is said that the Sfogliatelle was actually 'invented' at this very monastery by the nuns in this area and the hotel has a cute little statue to prove it!
And so our amazing time on the Amalfi Coast has come to an end but the adventures continue as we head to visit the capital Roma!
Thank you to: