The Amalfi coast and its dramatic mountains dropping a thousand feet into the blue sea, epitomise a classic Mediterranean holiday.
While the middle ages and the renaissance brought riches to the towns of the Amalfi coast, more recent history has brought movie star glamour – the Amalfi Coast began to attract Hollywood A-listers in the 1950s and the steady flow has continued ever since.
The main gateway to the Amalfi coast is through Naples, which is 90 minutes away by car, although we decided to spend a few days in Rome beforehand – the trip from Rome to the Amalfi coast is approximately 3 and a half hours of fast motorway driving.
Hotel de Russie, Rome
For those opting to use Rome as their springboard, a top tip is the Hotel de Russie, a grand, elegant hotel with a modern, stylish twist.
The Hotel de Russie is placed in Rome’s upscale shopping area close to the main historical attractions, but perhaps its best selling point is its hidden garden at the rear of the hotel – a delightful calming sanctuary after a busy day in town.
In the summer months, the hotel’s gourmet restaurant, Le Jardin de Russie, spills into the garden and offers arguably Rome’s most romantic dining experience. The food is a well executed rendition of Italian classics: simple dishes with a focus on fresh, high quality ingredients.
The Amalfi Coast
Driving around the Amalfi coast is a memorable experience: A solid half an hour is spent testing the car’s gearbox to steadily climb the wall of mountains standing between the Italian mainland and the coast.
The mountains are high enough that their peaks are generally surrounded by gently caressing clouds, which open to reveal one of the world’s most spectacular vistas.
A steep drop to the blue and brightly shimmering Mediterranean Sea, with villages dotted around the hills and terraced vineyards and citrus orchards as far as the eye can see.
Monastero Santa Rosa, Amalfi
My first stop was at Monastero Santa Rosa just outside the town of Amalfi. The hotel is housed in a 17th century convent that dangles on a cliff between the road and the sea.
The nuns have long since abandoned the premises, but there are reminders of the building’s past at every turn: small prayer rooms, frescos and paintings point to the religious past and the interior design has a certain simplicity to it.
The bathrooms are finished in beautiful marble with room-sized shower stalls and bathtubs large enough for two nuns, with a generous supply of bath products to remove the day’s sins.
Rooms are simple and on the small size, but many have terraces with mesmerising views.
Monastero Santa Rosa’s grounds spread over several terraced levels edging closer to the sea with the focus on the sea view from every point. The lowest level contains a gorgeous infinity pool that appears to be suspended above the cliff edge, with various lounging areas to relish the sunny afternoons.
The next level up contains the outdoor terrace bar, indoor bar and library, and the outdoor gym – pick your poison to watch the sunset.
A short walk up the stairs will lead you to the hotel’s gourmet restaurant, which has a heavy focus on local produce. As the hotel has only recently opened, there are no Michelin stars to speak of yet, but this is certainly one to watch.
Monastero Santa Rosa was spotted by its current owner as she passed by boat from below – 13 years later, her vision had transformed a forgotten building into one of the area’s chicest new addresses – this obvious love, care and attention to detail permeates throughout the property.
Hotel Caruso, Ravello
My second stop on the trip was in Ravello, formerly home to Noblemen and their lavish properties high above sea level and the commercial towns of Positano and Amalfi.
Ravello remains a small town of winding stone lanes and large historic mansions that sit behind stone fences in their orchards. Many of these stately homes have been converted into high-end hotels and restaurants over the years.
Unlike the busy towns on the coast that have a frantic air of tourism and sightseeing, Ravello maintains an air of aristocratic elegance where people come to relax – this is exactly what I did at the Hotel Caruso, which is a part of the Orient Express group and occupies the former house of a local nobleman.
The hotel is an intimate property of 50 rooms that are housed either in the main building or around the grounds towards the swimming pool, in the case of some of the suites with private gardens.
Our junior suite had glorious views over the cliff toward the sea and generous outdoor space to allow the view to sink in.
The interior of the Hotel Caruso is true to its history: elaborate frescos have been restored to their original glory, original terracotta floors repaired and cleaned and the furnishings are all traditional and in keeping with the historic feeling of the building.
Modern touches creep in where needed – polished marble bathrooms with standalone showers and soaking tubs provide the necessary creature comforts as do discretely hidden climate control features.
The pool is set to the side of the hotel, requiring a meander through the manicured and enchanting gardens of hanging wisteria, orange and lemon trees (you can sample the lemons in the lemonade served at the reception upon arrival) and fragrant honeysuckle.
The pool is unsurprisingly designed to focus attention on the view, with a poolside restaurant famous for its Neapolitan pizzas from its on-site wood-fired oven.
In the summer months, guests have the option of taking dinner on the main restaurant’s terrace, but our evening was met with rain, so we dined inside the formal dining room instead.
The food had its roots in the local traditions but was refined to be perfectly appropriate to the formal surroundings of the dining room. My pasta with lamb ragout was one of the culinary highlights of the trip; its simplicity being its biggest accolade.
Guests are encouraged to take a nightcap after dinner in the main salon of the mansion with live piano music, creating the ambiance of a 1920s Agatha Christie novel, minus the murder.
Palazzo Avino, Ravello
Right next door to the Hotel Caruso is the Palazzo Avino, which shares the spectacular cliff side views with its neighbour. We dined at Palazzo Avino’s 2 Michelin starred restaurant, Rossellinis, where the food is a delicate and refined twist on the traditional Italian.
The formality of the dining room and the food was nicely broken by two musicians entertaining the guests, as a reminder that while this is formal fine dining, it’s a restaurant where you come to relax and enjoy dinner with friends.
My last stop on the Amalfi coast required a boat ride across the choppy channel separating the mainland from the Island of Capri.
The main town of Capri sits on a mountain above the port and is peppered with upscale boutiques, cafes, ceramic shops, and gelaterias. I stayed at the Capri Palace Hotel in the sleepier town of AnaCapri, which can feel like a welcome refuge from the crowds of tourists around the port of Capri.
The Capri Palace was built in the 1960s and maintains a mid-century glamour which has been updated throughout the decades. The interiors are decorated with the owner’s personal collection of art work, sculptures and quirky installations.
Anacapri’s location on a hilltop means that is physically removed from the cooling waters of the Mediterranean, but the Capri Palace’s shuttle service will take you to the hotel’s dedicated beach club, Il Riccio.
Designed in cool whites and blues, we enjoyed Michelin starred food in relaxed surroundings with a position right on the water’s edge, with the knowledge that a sun lounger was waiting on the terrace for a post-lunch snooze.
Simple dishes where the ingredients are the stars are the focus at Il Riccio – a starter of caprese ravioli with tomatoes and basil was followed by salt encrusted cod in sweet pepper crust.
Portions are true to the area’s roots, but leave room for dessert: a willy-wonka style room of desserts will leave you struggling for words. Literally. Service was friendly yet firm; efficient yet effervescent.
If Il Riccio’s Michelin star isn’t enough for you, you may wish to dine at the Capri Palace’s main restaurant, L’Olivio, which has 2 Michelin stars and offers a refined, elegant evening in stylish surroundings.
Capri Palace has a wonderful spa, which, although offering the usual rage of facials, massages and beauty treatments, also specialises in advanced treatments including the popular ‘leg school’ – a series of treatments aimed at treating and preventing cellulite.
A short walk from the town of Capri is the stylish JK Kitchen, the restaurant inside the JK Capri Hotel. With a gorgeous design of a fabulously stylish townhouse, JK Kitchen continues the area’s tradition of menus of simple, well executed dishes.
A starter of pasta with lobster and tomatoes was followed by sea bass fried with capers, olive oil and potatoes, paired with robust local wines.
JK Kitchen has a large terrace that opens up from the hotel’s living room and library, which makes is an ideal spot for a pre or post dinner drink with Capri’s busy port in full view in the distance.
With its meandering roads connecting quaint villages, its rugged sea shore, dramatic hills and ceremonious cliff edges, the Amalfi Coast is as romantic and timeless as you could ever hope for.
For help with planning your next trip to the Amalfi Coast, contact Bon Vivant’s luxury travel team here.