The painstaking renovation of Monastero Santa Rosa, a 17th-century monastery, has resulted in a unique Amalfi boutique hotel steeped in history, lavished with top-quality furnishings, and set in gloriously scented tiered gardens. Perched dramatically on the edge of a sheer cliff above that blue, blue Bay of Salerno in the fishing village of Conca dei Marini, the 20 ocean-view rooms and Santa Maria Novella-stocked spa are remarkably spacious and utterly romantic.
Double rooms from £440.91 (€495), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €4.50 per person per night on check-out.
Rates usually include breakfast.
Prince Albert of Monaco was one of the first guests when this pocket of heaven opened, naturally.
At the hotel
Spa and fitness facilities, free WiFi throughout. In-room: flatscreen TV, mini fridge.
Our favourite rooms
Each of the former nun’s quarters are named after herbs grown in their own private gardens, and each space is treated to a big bathroom and heart-stirringly beautiful sea views.
Infinity pools don’t come more stunning than the heated one here that is more like its own shoreline melting into the azure Amalfi sky-meets-sea horizon: Wander onto its beach-like edge then perch and enjoy an unfettered panorama from the direction of Ravello to Positano. Inside the spa there is a heated hydrotherapy pool.
Ditch the heels – this is steeply stepped terrain.
No pets are allowed at the hotel. The spa is a destination in its own right, if only for a noseful of the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella unguents and a whirl in the thermal spa (Finnish sauna, steam room, ice fountain and more).
Over-16s are welcome, the hotel is more suited to romantic escapes.
Since the hotel’s terrace enjoys one of the most special Amalfi Coast views possible, if the weather lets you go alfresco, any of the sea-view tables are benissimo. Inside, a corner of the intimate vaulted dining room is especially romantic.
No need to be catwalk-fit: off-duty but elegant should do the trick.
Santa Rosa Ristorante wows with Campania flavours done simply but perfectly, many of the organic ingredients picked from the hotel’s own gardens. When it’s chef Christoph Bob who is behind your homemade spaghetti with vegetables and baby squid expect the spectacular; even his wild strawberry take on cheesecake is an extraordinary interpretation – he was plucked from Alain Ducasse’s thrice Michelin-starred restaurant at the Plaza Athénée in Paris. As one might expect, the wine cellar has among its 400 varieties some incredible local wines such as Furore’s DOC white or red are delicious, as well as world-famous award winners.
Take one relaxed lounge bar, add a watery sunset or starlit sky and you may concur that all that’s missing from toast-worthy scene is a Monastero Martini (vanilla vodka, white cocoa cream, limoncello, fresh cream milk) or a Conca cosmopolitan (vodka, Cointreau, limoncello, cranberry juice). Local wines weren’t worth mentioning until recently: now the hotel can showcase an excellent new generation in its presentation wine cellar.
Breakfast ends at a civilised 10.30pm; lunch is flexible throughout the day and dinner runs 7.30pm–10.30pm.
Pick at sandwiches, pasta, bigger-deal meals and sweet treats around the clock.
The airport in Naples is 70 kilometres from the hotel and has regular flights from the UK, Geneva, Milan, Madrid and Berlin.
There are train stations in Naples and Salerno, served by Trenitalia trains (www.trenitalia.com) that will get you around the country, including direct services to Rome.
The drive to Naples should take an hour and a half; to reach Salerno, allow an hour. Amalfi and Positano can both be reached in under half an hour, but you may even prefer to visit the other towns along the coast by boat.
Worth getting out of bed for
Sea-lovers can skip touring the coastline by winding, vertiginous road and hop on a boat to Positano or Ravello. The town of Ravello is brimming with beauty, including the gardens of the Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone and the heart-beating views out to sea. While there, pop into the 11th-century Duomo in Piazza Duomo – Ravello is one of the few villages on the Amalfi Coast to boast an ancient cathedral. Catch a classical concert in Ravello (www.ravelloarts.org), where there’s a festival every summer. The Amalfi Coast’s incredible scenery has lured many an artist to the area – independent art galleries pepper the path to Positano. The coast itself is riddled with caves – most famous are the Coral Caves and La Grotta Blanca, where the water perfectly reflects a painting of the Virgin Mary. Capri is a great day out from here – the island is only 40 minutes away. Landlubbers, the Sentiero degli Dei (‘Path of the Gods’) is a spectacularly scenic trek along the cliffs. Starting from Praiano, walk a few hundred metres towards Bomerano, until you reach the marble plaque commemorating Giustino Fortunato, the economist who named the path, then follow the mountainside track to the monastery of San Domenico. It’s a strenuous hike, all right, but more than worth the effort for the views alone. Go in the late afternoon for the added bonus of a stunning sunset. Interested in the ancient? Head north to explore the ruins at Pompeii (an hour’s drive from the hotel), or to climb Vesuvius (an hour and a half away).
In Amalfi, romantic Lido Azzurro is a favourite for fine dining (+39 08 987 1384): needless to say, fresh fish is a speciality. For a chic eat, try Da Gemma on Via Fra Gerardo Sasso (+39 08 987 1345). Pasticceria Pansa is the famous traditional patisserie and café (+39 08 987 1065). In Positano, La Sponda restaurant at le Sirenuse is no secret but it is world famous for a reason. Fresh, local, seasonal, and Michelin-respected sure – but when it comes to 10-course affairs in candlelit settings it’s easy to see why it is up there as one of the most celebrated spots to eat in the world (+39 089 875 066).
I hadn’t been to the Amalfi coast in almost a decade. My last trip was under very different circumstances: I spent my time sweating away in the galley cooking for a boatful of above-deck guests. For this visit, I’m happy to report, the tables were definitely turned in my favour. This spring holiday weekend was to be our first proper Mr & Mrs Smith-style escapade in over a year, so I wanted it to hit all the right notes.
Expectations were super high, which is never the best starting point. But from the moment we arrived at Monastero Santa Rosa we were far from disappointed. Since the Amalfi Coast always headlines in the glossiest travel magazines as the place to be and be seen, one has such romantic notions of this celebrated Italian coastline. Images abound of Sophia Loren sunbathing her chestnut skin, dramatic winding roads overlooking the coastline as far as the eye can see, beautiful tables laid out with the best Italian fare, and of course endless blue seas and skies.
Conca dei Marini itself is a sleepy fishermen’s village 4km from Amalfi with cobblestone and lemon grove clichés that have international jetset flocking. Having just driven around countless bends like an ageing Stirling Moss, we were both feeling a little off-colour. The SatNav indicated that we had arrived, so we pulled up by an entrance, marked by a discreet tiled sign: Monastero Santa Rosa. We walked though a small archway and up a few steps, and as soon as the hotel staff caught a glimpse of us, they rang the monastery bell to signal our arrival. From this moment onwards, the experience did not resemble anything I usually associate with a hotel…
In the absence of a formal check-in, we were greeted by the large welcoming smile of a smart-looking concierge who plied us with fresh lemonade made from the hotel’s own huge Sorrento lemons. Standing in the vast majestic vaulted hallway of the monastery, a small door beckoned us onto a tempting terrace of majolica tiling. Stepping out here we were able to get a full view of the alabaster-toned splendour and tiered landscaping. Plush and immaculately groomed gardens burst with orange and lemon trees, herbs of all aromas, full-bloomed roses and endless walls festooned in fragrant jasmine… and of course there’s that dazzling panoramic view over the cliff across the blue Bay of Salerno. And there is also an infinity pool like no other – it literally appears to drop into the ocean.
As you can imagine, by now we were desperate to dump our luggage and hit that water. 27 degrees, not one cloud in the sky – this was better than any May weekend back in London. Walking down one flight of stairs and down the hall towards our suite, was enough to have us amazed by the attention to detail. Original decorative pieces dating from Monastero Santa Rosa’s original 17th-century incarnation as a monastery, and there’s even an original confession booth. Old black-and-white pictures treat guests to a clearer idea of what this unique building and its interior used to look like.
Flowers have inspired the names of all the suites, and we quickly twigged that despite the grandeur of this Amalfi hotel, there are in fact only very few bedrooms (a mere 20 in total, all ocean view). Stepping into our Sea View Deluxe Suite and we were met by wide vaulting and four windows overlooking the sea and simple but very luxurious furnishings. Once again God was in the detail: wonderful bed linen, juicy just-picked strawberries, and extremely efficient WiFi – which despite the incredibly thick walls works throughout the hotel and even by the pool. A credit to the American owner perhaps? More on that in a minute.
Filipo was at the pool to greet us, and he couldn’t have been more charming or helpful. He set us up in no time and even arranged a simple and delicious lunch from the pool menu, which offers simple classics as tomato and mozzarella and melon and Italian ham. We’d heard that the food was not too formal in the way some Italian restaurants can be. The German chef focuses on Campania flavours using local ingredients – don’t expect all the bells and whistles from the à la carte menu in the evening, just five or so choices for each course. And while this terrain never used to boast any respectable vintages, Amalfi now yields some world-class wines made from grapes grown not far from the hotel itself.
Enthused by the whole experience so far, we grilled poor Filipo about who could have been behind such a gargantuan project. We were informed that the hotel was acquired a dozen years past by an American heiress who had seen the castle-like silhouette from her boat as she sailed along the coast. Bianca Sharma fell in love with the property and set about acquiring it immediately. Its South Carolina owner then executed a 10-year renovation programme to transform the property using local artisans and craftsmen. Grazie mille for such an amazing labour of love.
Yes, the pool was wonderful, warm and oh-so inviting – who could ever tire of being perched on its edge taking in those incredible sea views? It could only take a Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella spa to tempt you inside on days like that. This too was mind blowing – particularly the couples’ facilities. Fans of the Florentine apothecary will thrill too at the treatments using the aromatic ancient-recipe products.
Little surprise then that we could have easily stayed put on the premises for all three days and nights, but since the hotel’s location is so well positioned an explore of the Amalfi Coast is irresistible. Particularly when the concierge recommends you rent a boat. On our second day we cruised to Positano and had lunch at Conca del Sogno – a beach club restaurant especially wonderful when accessed from the water. But on our way back, as we saw Monastero Santa Rosa reappear high up on its cliff, our hearts lurched again for our very special home for the weekend.