Ah! The Costiera Amalfitana! That famed expanse of Italian coastline on the Tyrrhenian sea. That collection of small towns and hamlets with character big enough to inspire writers the caliber of John Steinbeck and William James. Yes, the one and only Amalfi Coast that was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
There is a reason that thousands of tourists flock to its pebbled and sandy shores annually—or perhaps there are thousands of reasons—and that is because it’s one of the most breathtaking swatches of the planet, endowed with heart-fluttering views of sea and cliff alike and a food culture to match. The gourmands go for the spaghetti alla aragosta of fables; the horticulturally-inclined may visit to experience its wealth of gardens pruned to perfection; the purveyors of luxury arrive in their yachts to sojourn in the glow of its glitz and glamour.
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Located some 175 miles south of Rome, the Amalfi coast can be reached by taking a high-speed train to Naples’ Centrale station and then continuing the journey south by car—or for the adventurous, taking the Circumvesuviana commuter train from Napoli Centrale to Sorrento. I made the trip by flying directly to Milan from New York on Emirates Airlines, spending a luxurious two nights at the Bulgari Milano hotel, and then connecting to Napoli by train.
The journey may be labyrinthine, but in the end, the Amalfi coast proves to be worth the effort of getting there, if not the allure of its villages and the taste of its cuisine alone, then certainly for promise opulent hotels which are undoubtedly some of the most beautiful in all of the country. Here are 5 of the Amalfi Coasts most stunning hotels, sure to abate your breath.
Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, Sorrento
The town of Sorrento, while not technically on the Amalfi Coast, is a perfect base from which to explore the region, whether by land or by sea. No lodging in Sorrento makes a more splendid base and reason for visiting than the historic Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria.
The hotel was founded in 1834 by the Fiorentino, who remain at its helm today. If its frescoed walls and filigreed balustrades could talk, they’d sing the tales of the stays of such Italian royalty as Luciano Pavarotti and Enrique Caruso, the latter of the two guests having stayed in a suite now named after him in 1921, Such Hollywood heavyweights as Pierce Brosnan also called the Excelsior Vittoria home for a month while filming in the area.
With its panoply of antiques and classical design, the 5-star hotel is the stuff from which romance is spun. Be certain to indulge in an al fresco dinner overlooking the water at the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Terrazza Bosquet.
Belmond Hotel Caruso
Upon a cliff, crowning a vertiginous drive from the village of Amalfi, lies the quiet and graceful village of Ravello, known especially for its Villa Rufolo, an Arab-style villa surrounded by picture-perfect gardens overlooking the sea. The jewel in the diadem that is Ravello is undoubtedly the Belmond Hotel Caruso.
Etched into a precipice some 1000 feet above sea level, the 5-star Hotel Caruso is an unassumingly elegant beauty steeped in the tradition of impeccable hospitality that is synonymous with the inimitable Belmond group. The 11th-century palazzo-turned-hotel is set within a swath of terraced gardens that border a blistering view of the Bay of Salerno.
No detail is left untouched: in-room TVs rise, at the touch of a remote, out of their hiding place in a traditional credenza, so as not throw off historic fantasy of the Caruso’s hallowed rooms with such a necessary 21st-century anatopism as a flat-screen. Marble hallways, vaulted ceilings, grand arches, antique paintings by the old masters— the Belmond Hotel Caruso has got all the hallmarks of traditional Italy.
Above all else, the hotel’s infinity pool will defy your belief: it drops off the edge of the cliff with the seeming abruptness and wonder of a breath cut short, reflecting it its classy waters the soft clouds above.
The Cliffside fishing and now resort town of Positano is known for a number of things: its pebbled beaches, its narrow, serpentine streets that were invoked in the film The Talented Mr. Ripley, and the majolica-tiled dome of its Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta, which is its unmistakable oriflamme. The other thing Positano is known for? Le Sirenuese.
The 58-room resort was founded by a group of Neapolitan siblings: Franco Paolo, Anna and Aldo Sersale, who transformed their summer house overlooking the Bay of Positano into the hotel. Good but never boring taste abounds in this whimsical establishment, with majolica-tiled rooms that are redolent of the dome of the village’s famous basilica.
Not to be missed is an alfresco lunch at the hotel’s restaurant, overlooking both its lemon-tree-lined pool and the color-laden cliff-sides of the village. Be sure to sample the melazane alla parmigiana, for its legend precedes it and it will not disappoint. Can’t make it to Positano today? Le Sirenuse has a restaurant outpost at the Four Seasons Miami. The melazane is not quite that of its Amalfitana sister but it sure comes close!. You will not be able to resist this siren’s call.
JK Place Capri
Capri, while being an island and therefore not strictly settled on the Amalfi coast, is easily reached from the coast by hydrofoil, private boat, ferry or helicopter—and is a must-visit when exploring the area. Should you wish to stay at the Island’s most exclusive lodging, however, be sure to book well in advance because the superbly stylish and ineffably sophisticated JK Place has only 22 rooms—20 with sea view.
This escape is run with gracious perfection by General Manager Martino Acampora and his staff. Its interior design and structural form, the work of Florentine architect Michele Bönan, are characterized by crisp, clean lines brought to life by a vivacious nautical color palette.
In the morning, enjoy a coffee on the balcony of your room and watch the bathers on the beach below and you will feel as though staring at a Massimo Vitali photograph. Then spend a chunk of the day luxuriating by the pool, drinking in the subtle scent of citrus wafting from the surrounding trees. And while you should not miss seeing the coast by sea, who will blame if you never leave the luxurious caress of JK Place?
Monastero Santa Rosa
Monastero Santa Rosa is a secluded gem of a hotel near the quaint fishing village of Conca Dei Marini, found along the well-known meandering Blue Highway, which boasts views of the villages of Amalfi and Positano. You’ll be swept off your feet by the hotel’s gardens, rendered in 4 strata that culminate in a cliff-side azure infinity pool.
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Inside, its rooms are appointed an eclectically classical manner with pieces hand-selected by owner Bianca during her travels around the country. Monastero Santa Rosa is home to Michelin-starred restaurant Il Refetorio, where executive chef Christophe Bob employs a 100 percent Italian olive oil, produced especially for their kitchen, in his Mediterranean gastronomic delectations. The entire edifice of the hotel is a marvel to see by night as its terraced gardens and pool area are gently lit like something out of a fairytale.