The Amalfi Coast
Writers, poets and artists have tried for centuries to capture the beguiling essence of la dolce vita along Costiera Amalfitana. A coastline so renowned for its divine allure that John Steinbeck rhapsodized in 1953, “a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there but becomes beckoningly real after you are gone.” The picture-perfect towns along Italy’s Amalfi Coast do belong solely to the angels in their otherworldly beauty. Visit Costiera Amalfitana and you too will succumb to its transcendental nature.
Monastero Santa Rosa stands secluded along the famed Blue Highway near the quaint fishing village of Conca dei Marini. Centrally located, the hotel is just a 20-minute car or boat ride from the most scenic towns along this glamorous coastline—notably Positano, Amalfi and Ravello. Although the villages of the Amalfi Coast are a magnet for the wealthy with their luxury hotels and million-dollar yachts sprinkling the sea, what characterizes the region is its effortless Mediterranean simplicity—cobblestone streets, fresh seafood drizzled in olive oil, bougainvillea-covered villas, sweet citrus scents wafting from abundant lemon groves, and unrivaled views.
Spread your wings along the dramatic Blue Highway serpentining its way south of Sorrento. The Amalfi Drive, “the road with 1,001 turns,” is the most precipitous road in Europe with vertigo-inducing vistas plunging down jagged cliffs into the azure Tyrrhenian Sea. Levitate over heavenly Positano from the perch of the Madonna which reigns over the town’s tiered cascade of salmon, cream and vanilla houses tumbling like a waterfall into the Bay of Positano. Built vertically on the face of a mountain, Positano began as an isolated fishing village but became the favorite of the international jet set in the 1960s after the Kennedys came to stay. The prime way to see Positano is on foot via its famous scalinatella. Wind your way up and down endless staircases around the Piazza dei Mulini stopping to shop for linens or custom made sandals, savoring an espresso along the way at the Marina Grande’s seaside cafes flanked by hundreds of bobbing colored boats. From any vantage point, gape in awe at the town’s stunning church, the Santa Maria Assunta. Its green and gold majolica tiled Duomo is Positano’s most coveted landmark. For another perspective of the town, curve past the Covo dei Saraceni (where the ferries depart for Capri along the Via Postinesi D’America near Trasita Tower) to find Fornillo Beach. Fornillo Spiagga boasts a large pebbly beach situated between two ancient watch towers, ideal for contemplating all this beauty while enjoying grilled fish, authentic Neapolitan wood-fired pizza and a limoncello. At night join locals at disco and piano bar Music on the Rocks ingeniously carved into the cliffs at the end of the main spiagga.
For walkers, the hamlets of Montepertuso and Nocelle in the hills above Positano provide dramatic ancient trail terrain. The Sentiero degli Dei, Path of the Gods, lives up to its formidable name. The route is suitable for all hiking levels and stretches from Agerola to Praiano to Positano through blissfully quiet mountains with haunting panoramas.
Viewed from the terrace of Monastero Santa Rosa, facing the southern sun, lies Amalfi, the first of the Maritime Republics of Italy. Summer brings the Festival of Sant’Andrea, named for the town’s most famous landmark 11th-century medieval cathedral. Shop the historic paper mills for precious souvenir stationery in the Valle dei Mulini, then ascend to the castle of Pogerola showcasing the town’s finest view of the Gulf of Amalfi.
Literally above Amalfi, take the stairs or ride up to Ravello, a balcony for the entire Amalfi Coast with celestial views stretching from Atrani to the temples of Paestum. A tiny, utterly charming village 350 meters above the sea, Ravello represents nature’s music. Hanging in the clouds, Ravello is most famous for hosting summer classical concerts alfresco in its beautiful patrician villas with spectacular gardens, the Rufulo and Cimbrone, one stepping closer to the sky than the last. Linger near the cathedral of San Pantaleone or shop for colorful ceramic dishes. Afterwards, take a refreshing mile walk to Scala, the smallest and oldest of the Amalfitan towns.
Easily accessible from Amalfi or Positano via a 20-minute ferry is the Bay of Naples’ most exquisite island Capri with its picturesque cobblestone alleys and piazzettas, churches and mysterious blue grottoes. Capri’s appeal lies not in the endless rows of petite designer boutiques along the Via Camarelle or in the Marina Grande’s and main Piazzetta’s madness, but in its secluded hotels hanging over cliff faces, peaceful vistas, spectacular gardens and off-the-beaten-track walking trails. Stroll to the end of Via Tragara for a mesmerizing glimpse of I Faraglioni’s three gigantic limestone pinnacles jutting up through the blue-green sea. Then continue on Giro dell’Arco Naturale’s scenic cliff hugging trail which loops past Capri’s most beautiful turn-of-the-century villa, Villa Solitaria, as well as past the ancient Roman natural cave, Grotto di Matermania.
On a clear day ascend to Anacapri to visit Villa San Michele, the pearl of the island’s villas. Built in the late 19th century, Villa San Michele was once the ancient site of the villa of Emperor Tiberius. Legend says the ringing of the chapel’s bells is supposedly the spirit of Tiberius begging forgiveness for sentencing Jesus. Villa San Michele is now the queen of Anacapri’s houses filled with Gothic furniture, an abundance of ornate antiquities and marble busts. The villa is most famous for its stupendous outlook to Calabria best viewed from its pergola covered in wisteria, roses, honeysuckle, and bougainvillea. At the end of the colonnade is a belvedere which houses a stone sphinx. Legend has it that if you stroke its hind legs, your deepest wishes will come true.
So surrender to the magic of Costiera Amalfitana. Be seduced. It is certainly no coincidence that in Homer’s epic The Odyssey he calls the entire Amalfi Coast the “Land of the Sirens.”
Return to Monastero Santa Rosa, your sanctuary in the sky, and remind yourself how sweet it is to do nothing. Embrace la dolce far niente….