Too much work and winter-induced malaise means these Mr Smiths are due a holiday. An empty long weekend and some last-minute flights to the Amalfi Coast present themselves, and we pounce. We’re on that plane faster than you can say ‘Andiamo!’. The second we come soaring into the shimmering haze of the Bay of Naples, all work stresses dissipate, replaced by thoughts of oranges plucked from the tree, pizzas pulled from the wood-fired oven, and Campari, well, straight from the bottle.
Though we’d planned on renting a car, the prospect of tackling the coast’s notoriously zigzagging roads brings out the scaredy cat in me, and we decide to take a taxi. A little flirt with car sickness and a near miss with a giant lemon (actually a lemonade truck) aside, the journey is smooth and pleasant – thanks mostly to the eye-popping view. Panoramas of this glistening gulp of the Med and its dramatic coastline hit us from every angle as we wend our way round the Gulf of Naples down to the southern coast of the Sorrentine Peninsula.
Positano marks our penultimate pitstop before the tiny village of Praiano. Hanging on the craggy landscape, tiers of pale apricot abodes seem on the brink of tumbling into the crystalline sea beneath (Mr Smith goes as far as describing it as ‘impossibly sapphire’). The first thing that strikes you about this rugged corner of Amalfi is how astonishing it is that people ever came to live here: incredibly steep and impassably rocky, it is mind-boggling to think the Italians made it this far.
A whitewashed stalagmite of minimalist luxury on this rocky edge, Casa Angelina is invisible from the road, thanks to the near vertical cliff-face. To reach it, our taxi twists its way down a road that a limber mountain goat would find challenging. Before we’ve made it out of the car and passed Angelina’s swishing electric doors, we’ve had our bags prised from our dragging fists, replaced by glasses of fresh almond milk straight from an ice-bucket.
On initial inspection, Casa Angelina is how I would imagine Rupert Everett’s house to have looked in the 1990s: all whitewashed walls, clean lines and busts of beautiful women. And this is no bad thing: the Nineties’ look is back, after all (and I imagine Everett’s got impeccable taste). Our celestial casa is an art hotel, and colourful contemporary paintings and sculptures by Tim Cotterill, Gina Nahle Bauer and Sergio Bustamante are bright and intriguing. These fantasy-world bronzes, Murano glass sculptures and papier-mâché figures, if not to everyone’s taste, make for engaging eye-stops between white spaces and cerulean sky-and-sea views beyond.
Our spacious, light-flooded bedroom also has a small, sea-facing balcony, which we quickly take to with glasses of free champagne. Frankly, we are desperate to get our alabaster bodies into the sun – even if it is by now already 5pm. A quick shower in the well-proportioned, very white, beautifully tiled bathroom, and we’re ready for a stroll down to the sea. ‘A hike!’ declares Signor Smith. The walk is worth it. A trip down in the elevator and then we follow the steps down a meandering, olive-tree-lined path to a secluded beach bar. Negronis in hand, we plot up and open the floodgates to some serious awe, inspired by watching the Mediterranean sun sink into that mesmerising sea.
Strolling, and pausing intermittently for a little breath to be stolen, is what mostly fills our time in Praiano. Orange-tree-shaded lanes, an aquamarine-sea-facing church – it’s a landscape that is unspeakably beautiful. We eat our way through Praiano’s handful of restaurants, perhaps peaking with the massive, tasty pizzas from Trattoria San Gennaro. Traveller-beloved tiny towns litter the Amalfi Coast, and Positano, despite being full of Italian tourists and their little pooches, is soul-stirringly pretty and welcoming. Amalfi itself is worth a visit alone for its unparalleled gelato.
When it comes to our last night, our freshly uplifted hearts plummet briefly: it’s too nice here. We’re sad to be departing Casa Angelina, so we savour our stay down to the very last drop by dining at the hotel’s own restaurant, Un Piano nel Cielo. Feeling romantic, full by now with great food, wine and sun, Mr Smith and I plump for the tasting menu and a bottle of delicious local Aglianico. From the off – a meltingly fresh monkfish, juicy pancetta and tasty sautéed broad bean salad – each of the seven dishes is among the best we’ve had on our trip: no small claim in this gourmet’s paradise.
Praiano’s scenery has been some of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen, the food is universally faultless and our hotel is a dream. Thinking back to those initial weekend aspirations, we’ve successfully ticked a lot of boxes. At least 20 oranges were devoured straight from the tree; maybe five chewy yet crispy pizzas were wolfed direct from the oven. Campari bottles slugged? Too many to mention. And as for our trip away… it was one in a million.
This review was first published in 2019 so some hotel details may have changed
Teo van den Broeke‘s Italian obsession took root aged 10 when studying the Romans opened his mind to the joys of eating lying down. After three years studying fine art (Italy cropped up a few times), he moved into writing – for Wallpaper* (where frantic calls to Milan were not uncommon), Esquire, The Financial Times, and currently as the award-winning style director for GQ. These days, he’s a regular on the Italian peninsula and as long as he’s got a Campari in one hand and a Neapolitan pizza in the other, he’s a happy ragazzo.