Stunning scenery, azure sea, rich culture, sunny climate, scrumptious food and some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. Stef Bottinelli paid a visit to the Amalfi Coast, and decided it was the perfect holiday destination.
The scent of citrus fruit, the salty air, the brightly coloured buildings perched on a cliff, yachts floating on the azure sea: Amalfi – and the whole Amalfi Coast – is considered one of the most beautiful and romantic places in the world. It’s easy to see why.
Amalfi lies at the mouth of a ravine and was once a rich and powerful maritime republic with 70,000 inhabitants. The town and the area surrounding it have kept their history and traditions alive and the Byzantine, Arabic and Norman influences are still very much intact.
The Amalfi Coast is hugely popular with tourists from all over the world, especially with British and American visitors.
Easy to reach by sea or plane – just over an hour’s drive from Naples airport – this enchanting corner of southern Italy is the perfect romantic and relaxing break.
What to see in Amalfi
Its mild climate makes it a popular destination year round – but particularly from April until October – while the calm blue sea makes it a sailing paradise. The locally-produced food and drink (this is the birthplace of limoncello) are to die for, its natural beauty is simply breathtaking and there are plenty of things to do, with many of cultural offerings, unspoilt treks for hikers and, of course, a vast array of watersports.
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Locals are friendly, polite and helpful, always eager to share their knowledge and love for this beautiful place. The area is well looked after, clean and with very low crime.
The coast is home to some truly stunning towns, villages and islands. Amalfi, Positano, Ravello, Maiori, Atrani, Minori, Praiano, Cetara and Vietri sul Mare are a stone’s throw away from each other, and easily reached by car, public transport and by sea.
The island of Capri, whilst technically not part of the Amalfi Coast, is also nearby, and every year in May it hosts the Rolex Capri Sailing Week, a real spectacle not to be missed. Sorrento and Ischia are also nearby and well worth a visit.
Amalfi itself is an ideal base to explore the coast. Whilst small, it is one of the largest and most vibrant towns in the area and offers plenty to do and see.
Unmissable are the Cattedrale di Sant’Andrea – also known simply as Il Duomo, and which overlooks a beautiful piazza in the heart of Amalfi – il Chiostro del Paradiso and the Paper Museum.
The main square is dotted with boutiques, restaurants, bars and cafés, gelaterie (ice cream parlours), pasticcerie (patisseries) and shops that sell local produce, such as limoncello, citrus jams, pasta, fine leather goods and locally made ceramics, painted in bright hues of yellow and blue.
Go off the beaten track and explore the hidden corners of Amalfi. Take any stone staircase or vicolo (lane) and you’ll discover some veritable gems, such as homes built in the rocks, family-run restaurants where the locals eat and pretty boutiques and local workshops.
Around the Amalfi coast
Don’t miss a boat trip to romantic Positano or Capri, or if you prefer, you can charter a boat and enjoy a spot of sailing in the stunning Mediterranean sea. Amalfi Marine offers cruises, watersport excursions, boat rentals and day trips.
If you prefer to sail to the Amalfi Coast on your boat, there are several marina options, including Porto di Amalfi, Marina Piccola in Capri and Marina D’Arechi. And once you’re there, all you have to do is kick back and enjoy the beautiful Amalfi Coast life.
Where to stay
There are several fine hotels in Amalfi, but for that veritable dolce vita experience, look no further than Hotel Santa Caterina. Built in the late 19th century, this Liberty style five star hotel is family run and it certainly shows in its character, service – which is discreet, personal and never intrusive – and the luxurious and elegant touches throughout the hotel.
Perched on the clifftop above Amalfi, Santa Caterina offers stunning views of the coastline and it’s only a 10 minutes walk from the town centre, although for guests who prefer not to walk, there is also a free of charge regular shuttle bus.
The hotel boasts the beautiful and award winning Restaurant Santa Caterina, located on the terrace – which is sheltered by a wisteria-covered pergola and offers stunning sea views – the Terrazza Bar, perfect for an aperitivo and a well stocked wine cellar.
Take the glass lift down a couple of floors and you’ll find yourself at the private beach club with sea water pool. The Beach Club’s Ristorante al Mare and Bar is on another lower terrace overlooking the sea, and there is also a fitness centre and a spa, where guests can enjoy face and body treatments that use local Mediterranean herbs and citrus fruits.
The hotel also has its own lemon grove and sweetly scented, colourful gardens, with a spectacular sea view.
Designed in classic Italian architecture and decorated with the colours of the Mediterranean, the rooms are light, elegant and refined, with a wealth of different choices of room – depending on whether you want a suite, a room, a sea view or a spot overlooking the gardens.
There are further rooms in the two adjacent villas owned by the hotel, the Villa Santa Caterina and the Villa Il Rosso. Like the rooms in the main hotel, all are beautifully done-out with lovely touches – Bulgari toiletries in bathrooms, for example.
Food and drink
Whatever you do, don’t miss breakfast on the terrace. The first meal of the day is taken seriously here, with a huge selection of delicious homemade pastries and cakes (the lemon drizzle one, made with locally-grown citrus, is not to be missed – light and airy with the perfect tang of Amalfi limone) as well as the local specialities you’d expect.
Italian cured meats, smoked fish, local cheeses, fresh and dried fruit, nuts and seeds and Italian yogurt (we highly recommend the coffee-flavoured one) are all on offer, as are staples such as freshly baked breads, jams and preserves, cereals, eggs and sausages, all to be enjoyed with a strong Italian coffee, tea and freshly squeezed juices.
Snacks such as sandwiches, fresh salads and platters of fish are available throughout the day, and be sure not to miss the typical Italian aperitivo.
The Santa Caterina barmen are justly proud of their cocktails. Try a Bellini, made with Prosecco and freshly squeezed peach juice or one of the many varieties of Aperol Spritz, with the saffron and rosemary one being of particular note. The wine list is also excellent and the staff will be able to help you choose.
Make sure you leave room for dinner as it’s not to be missed. Served on the terrace, supper consists of freshly caught fish, homemade pasta, meats, salads and mouth-watering desserts, all to be enjoyed by candlelight with the faint sound of live guitar music being played in the background. Finish with an local limoncello and an espresso for a real Italian experience.
Hotel Santa Caterina can also book excursions for guests and advise on bus and ferry services to nearby villages.
Stef Bottinelli is managing editor of ybw.com
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