Whizzing around another hairpin bend, I gasp at the sheer drop from this coastal road to the Med. There’s no denying this is a trip already high on drama. A swarm of Vespas zips past. Below us the gozzi – brightly coloured wooden boats – bob in the sapphire-blue water. It’s everything I dreamed of. Uh oh.
As anyone who works in travel will know, you see a lot of images of sleek minimalist bedrooms and turquoise pools in the course of your day, which, I confess, can blur into one. Yet I distinctly remember the first time I saw a photo of the blue-and-white tiled kitchen at La Minervetta. It was 2005, it had just opened, and my eyes boggled. That shot – and one taken looking over the red parasols on the hotel’s terrace down to Sorrento’s harbour and out across to that big blue gulp of the Bay of Naples – has been nagging me ever since. The problem with these kinds of fantasies? When you’re lucky enough to make them a reality, there’s a danger they’ll fall short of your expectations. So it is with bittersweet anticipation that we approach La Minervetta.
‘Turn now!’ I screech, spotting its sign as we climb the hill out of Sorrento. Mr Smith swerves onto a tiny rooftop carpark on the cliff’s edge. ‘Hang on. Where’s the hotel?’ Spotting a lift protruding like a pretty white tardis, I twig it’s right below us. A small set of stairs tempts us into the hotel’s glossy sky-blue lounge.
Ocean-themed objets d’art, witty artworks and mountains of books and magazines confirm this is somewhere considered and cultured. It calls to mind the only internet date I had where the chap who turned up was actually
as handsome as his profile picture: it’s a huge effort not to jump up and down, clapping my hands, and cry, ‘It’s as lovely as I’d hoped!’ (Looking back, it might have helped if I hadn’t done that on the date.) We’re here anonymously and I need to play it cool. Too late. Mr Smith is already gushing about how gorgeous it all is.
Clutching the heavy key to our room, our delightful Sorrentine host escorts us down a flight of stairs. La Minervetta isn’t a fancy-schmancy five-star hotel where they dazzle you with their big talk of facilities and activities: it’s a family-owned boutique bed and breakfast that makes you feel as though you’re residing in their stylish holiday home. Our eyes are drawn by a cute collection of quirky finds on the way to our room. But the sharpest intake of breath is yet to come…
We’re on a corner, and the door opens to reveal a double-take eyeful of that staggering panorama. The vista comes at us in full floor-to-ceiling-window glory. A model sailboat on the sill is all that interrupts the sea – an unashamed nod to the nautical theme. No wonder they’ve positioned two armchairs right there, facing out. What else is there to do but flop into one and admire Capri and Vesuvius in full splendour? I reach for my phone, quickly snap a shot, and upload it to Facebook faster than you can say ‘I’m not being smug; it would just be selfish not to tell the world how wonderful this room’s view is.’ In the time it takes for me to freshen up for supper, 13 friends have hit the ‘like’ button. OK, maybe I am a little smug.
One off-season perk is that this most beloved of destinations is free of the tourists that converge on the Sorrentine Peninsula and Amalfi Coast in summer. We’re a week too early for the lift down to the harbour to be running or the pool to be open, but it seems a fair trade-off for people-free peace.
We ditch the option of taking the 300 steps down to the quiet port and instead drive to Bellevue Syrene, a waterside hotel off a piazza in Sorrento’s centre. Having parked next to a church, we pass a nun and then a monk, both wishing us buona sera – someone up there must want all our dream-holiday wishes to come true. We toast them with a prosecco as a pianist tinkles out a rendition of ‘Tonight, I Celebrate My Love’ on the baby grand.
You might think having a bed that big in a room with that view would make getting out of it challenging. Or that the five courses we ate quite late last night might prompt a lie-in. But remember: I’ve been dreaming of eating in that kitchen for years. The Breakfast Table I’ll Never Forget is piled high with sticky pastries and every possible biscuit, making it look like a cookery-book cover shot. We park ourselves next to an Australian family living in Switzerland, who are just as enamoured with La Minervetta’s colourful, quirky decor and relaxed atmosphere as we are.
Next comes another long-awaited lifetime goal: visiting Positano. The Amalfi Coast drive is in itself celebrated, twisting along the rock’s edge. We wend our way round the waif-thin roads, narrowly missing big buses that confidently hurtle past. When John Steinbeck visited in the 1950s, it was only populated by a few fishermen and lemon farmers. He predicted in an article for Harper’s Bazaar it was too unlikely a candidate for development to ever get busy. Ahem.
Tell you what Steinbeck also said: ‘It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.’ He got that right: it’s truly magical. All I’m wishing now? It won’t be long until it’s very real all over again.