The fabulous coastline between Sorrento and Ravello, with its switchback road that hugs the cliff and curls around the deep bays that protect the towns and villages along the way remains as glamourous, compelling and historic as any summertime destination in Europe, with breathtaking views, jewel-like colours and hillsides spilling with citrus groves, olives and vines. Happily, the hotels along the way live up to their surroundings with ease. Many of them are family-run, sometimes for generations, and display an integrity and depth of service – family values and warmth mixed with professionalism – rarely seen in the United Kingdom. Begin with a night or two in Sorrento, move along the coast between Positano and Amalfi, then finish in Ravello and you will have an exceptional holiday or honeymoon experiencing the whole glorious stretch. These hotels have a short season, from Easter to October, and the earlier or later in the season you can visit, the better, as July and August become very busy and the road prone to hold-ups.
Monastero Santa Rosa, Conca dei Marini
A renovated 17th-century monastery lavished with top-quality furnishings and set in gloriously scented tiered gardens. Perched dramatically on the edge of a sheer cliff above the blue Bay of Salerno and the fishing village of Conca dei Marini, both the 20 ocean-view rooms and the Santa Maria Novella-stocked spa are remarkably spacious and romantic. The best feature is the heated infinity pool, more like its own shoreline melting into the azure Amalfi sky-meets-sea horizon, with unfettered panorama from Ravello to Positano. The restaurant serves the flavours of Campania simply but perfectly, with many ingredients from the hotel’s gardens.
La Conca del Sogno, Nerano
In its own hidden cove, this is an in-the-know gem. Primarily a restaurant serving the catch of the day, the local speciality of pasta with zucchini, pitchers of white wine flavoured with peaches and other delicacies, this family-run institution also offers simple, fresh and pretty bedrooms. With free Wi-Fi, TVs and air-conditioning as well as private terraces, they make a refreshingly inexpensive and charming base, with a solarium and a private beach, plus the distinct possibility of a celebrity or two arriving for lunch.
Casa Angelina, Priano
If you are old, you’ll say it’s style over substance (and comment on the ‘bubble effect’, hemmed in as it is by ordinary houses). If you are young and modish, you’ll say it’s the coolest hotel in Campania, a breath of fresh air compared to the traditional alternatives. Whichever, it works, mainly because the incredible all-white interiors, including bedrooms, are both stunning and superbly kept, as fresh as the day they were finished, and the artworks, particularly the Cuban Murano glass sculptures, are perfect adornments. Add to that an excellent rooftop restaurant, breathtaking views that take in Positano, the private Li Galli islands and Capri, and relaxed yet superb service and you have a rare contemporary hot spot on the Amalfi coast.
Villa Treville, Positano
You are unlikely to have heard of this exceptional small hotel, a five-minute boat-ride from Positano (also reached from the road) as its American owners prefer to keep it ‘under’ the radar. Until five years ago, it was the home of Franco Zeffirelli till the steep stairways became too much. Exquisitely decorated and full of beautiful things, including the director’s collection of 18th century Caltagirone pottery, it retains the feeling of a luxurious home rather than hotel, with the kindest of staff. There’s no pool to speak of but deckchairs on the flat rocks, wonderful herb and vegetables gardens, romantic terraces and a ‘family’ kitchen where you can ask for anything, anytime.
Bellevue Syrene, Sorrento
Built as a Count’s summer retreat in 1750 on the foundations of a Roman villa, this “Grande Dame” hotel opened in 1820 and stands in a magnificent clifftop position. Inside, it has never looked more stunning, its flamboyant interiors making the most of Sorrento’s dazzling palette of colours, with bedrooms that drip with Italian elegance. There’s a spa with hammam, superb restaurant and terrace, quick dip pool and private deck by the sea. The hotel is now owned by renowned local hotelier, Giovanni Russo, and has been run for many years by the dedicated Nello Pane and his team.
Le Sirenuse, Positano
Of all Positano’s lovely hotels (and there are, for one small town clinging to the hillside, many), Le Sirenuse is the most compelling. Filled with many lovely things, it feels like a mix of living museum of decorative arts and private home of an aristocratic family – which is exactly what it is. The summer home of the Neapolitan Sersale family, it became a hotel after the Second World War and is run today by Antonio Sersale. Over the years it has expanded to include a web of public and private terraces, a lovely pool and top-flight restaurant, as well as cool, heavenly bedrooms.
Casa Buonocore, Positano
For something with the feel of an old-fashioned pensione, look no further than this charming, family-run, orange blossom scented old 17th century house tucked into the hillside amongst Positano’s steep streets and alley ways. Bedrooms are very pretty, homely and comfortable, with lace curtains, cushions, antiques and old tiled floors. One has a huge terrace with views of sea and mountains; another overlooks the orange and lemon trees. A delicious breakfast is taken on the terrace and staff could not be kinder.
Hotel Santa Caterina, Amalfi
A superlative example of the best hotels, not just on this coast but in Italy, run since 1904 by a family who mix warmth and devotion with professionalism and the highest of standards. Add to that a handsome, intriguingly laid out 19th century building; standalone folly-suites tucked amongst the gardens, citrus groves, pergolas and arbours that tumble down the hillside to the sea; a glass lift that whooshes guests down to the pool and beach club (the best seaside set-up of any Amalfi Coast hotel), balconies that jut over the water and classic white Amalfitana interiors splashed with Mediterranean colour on tiles and fabrics and furnished with family heirlooms and you have an address that joyfully combines personality with glamour and integrity with charm.
Villa La Tartana, Positano
I discovered La Tartana when it first opened in 2000 and it remains as fresh, clean, welcoming and affordable as it did then, run by Beniamino Caldiero and his family. Its good vibrations emanate from the fact that all the decorative features have been chosen with an attention to detail, an eye for quality and are locally made. Gaily tiled floors, white walls, floaty curtains, a vase of flowers, a sherbet lemon tiled reception lobby and little terrace overlooking the sea where breakfast is served…delightful.
Villa Cimbrone, Ravello
It’s hard to imagine a more romantic setting, in the fabulous gardens laid out by English aristocratic Lord Grimthorpe in the late 19th century, culminating in the unforgettable view from the Terrace of Infinity. A 12th century building, the villa is equally atmospheric, if sober, with abundant period features such as tiled floors and stone fireplaces and 19 comfortable, individually decorated bedrooms. Crammed with antiques and knick knacks, it feels like an unchanged private house, but one with a Michelin-starred restaurant and a lovely swimming pool set in a jewel-like lawn.