That’s it.” K announces, guidebook in hand, her free arm flailing about in front of her. She is pointing skywards and I wonder for a second if the heat has sent her a bit loopy. “I think that’s our hotel!” I gaze up to where she is pointing, to the top of a high peak, one of many in the Costiere Amalfitana. I gaze high above the waves to see a building perched on the edge of the hill, so old (16th Century I later learned) that it seems as if it has sprung from the very rock itself — It’s not clear where the building ends and the rock begins. And it is beautiful, even from all the way down here on this boat, cutting through the sea on our way to Amalfi, our port of call for the next four days.
Gazing as I am at the stunning scenery, the shimmering sea, the rocky outcrops, Amalfi slowly coming into focus and a bottle of rapidly warming Peroni in hand, I wonder if life could truly get any better. It could, as it turned out when one is a guest at the hotel on a hill.
As I despatch the remainder of my lukewarm beer, the boat, stern first crawls towards the dock, the ailing engines heave sending plumes of black smoke into the cloudless sky. Eventually, the boat comes to a shuddering halt aided by two cigarette smoking attendants who yank the two dock lines and tie them to each of the metal cleats, before lowing the exit ramp onto the dockside. Grabbing our luggage, K and I enter the mêlée. We are being herded off the ferry onto the dock like mountain goats. The crowds, coupled with the ferocious sun, the trail of cigarette smoke flitting about our nostrils and the veil of thick black diesel that hangs above us like a rain cloud fit to burst, makes me feel rather nauseous and I want for the fresh sea air. At the end of the ramp, we are summoned to show our tickets before being allowed through the barrier. And we are free, I gulp down the fresh air as we make our way towards the square and at once feel better.
It quickly becomes apparent, that without the boat’s awning slightly filtering out the sun, it is hot, fiendishly hot, especially for an Englishmen with an already ‘Rudolfesque’ coloured nose. So we dive for cover into a little café, where a pizza, a fourth in three days and a granita di limone, known locally as slushy seems to refresh us. While eating, K points out the hotel again, from a different angle than before. Now we are at the hotel’s side and from this vantage point, it seems the hotel is perched even more perilously at the very edge of the mountain. It seems that at any moment it could slip off the edge, tumbling down to the water and the rocks below.
A Note on Amalfi…
For me, Amalfi isn’t as striking as Positano or even Sorrento, but like the whole of the Amalfi coast, each town has its own charm. Amalfi is a bustling, yet a quite small port town. Its most famous landmark the stunning Cathedral in the Piazza del Duomo, built in the 9th century the Roman Catholic building predominately of Arab-Norman Romanesque styling, with Byzantine, Gothic and Baroque elements added later. It is certainly worth a visit, as are many of the region’s churches, which are ornately decorated and quite beautiful to look at. Where we were staying was a short drive out of Amalfi along the regions famous and extremely hairy winding roads to a small village nestled high up in the hills called Conca dei Marini.
Before our food arrives K makes a call to the hotel to arrange a car to come and collect us. By the time we have eaten and paid up we notice a black car waiting in the car park, a few metres from our table, the words Monastero Santa Rosa, emblazoned in gold on the side. Upon entering the car, cool from the air conditioning and a welcome relief, we are offered a bottle of water, room temperature but hitting the spot all the same.
The driver navigates the winding lane expertly and we look down to our left as the port begins to shrink away into the sea. The drive takes us around ten minutes and as we pull up outside the hotel where a reception party is awaiting us.
‘Welcome to the Monastero Santa Rosa.’ Are the words we are met with and we nod in return.
‘And now to welcome your arrival, we will ring the monastery’s bell.’ The bell chimes three times, and we stand there somewhat awkwardly, not sure what to say.
One of the reception party ducks away for a moment returning with a silver tray in hand,
‘And now we would like to offer you a refreshing towel.’ My first thought at this juncture is that I am wildly underdressed, wearing my pale green shorts, white t-shirt and scruffy boat shoes. I feel as though I should be wearing chinos, a perfectly pressed shirt and a pullover, casually yet perfectly placed around my shoulders. I dismiss my concerns; I’m being silly I think. My second thought is what do I do with this towel. I am holding it in my hand, its cool and it has a wonderful aroma. Whilst flirting with the towel, the reception party still stands in a line, peering at us with slightly reserved smiles. It makes one feel somewhat awkward. It makes me feel rather reticent to reap the full rewards of the towel. If unobserved I think I might have pressed it against my face and held it there for some time. I even might have contemplated slipping it between my armpits, which after the morning’s exploits were in real need of a refreshing towel. Instead, I unfurl the perfectly folded cloth and gingerly dab at my face and wipe my hands.
We place the towels back onto the tray, and they are handed off to a porter and swiftly removed. It’s strange that all of these gestures are to welcome us to this special hotel, yet in fact, they make us feel slightly uncomfortable. K has many special qualities and one of them is not giving one iota of thought about what people think of her. I on the other hand constantly take into account the thoughts I think other people are having about me, it’s silly I know but I can’t help it. So I am standing here feeling a little uncomfortable when I should be feeling lucky, and well looked after. I am thinking that they know, that I know, that they know that I don’t really belong at a hotel like this, that we are a cut below their usual clientele.
This was, of course, all in my head and later I as I settled into the hotel it was soon forgotten.
The man who gave us the towels discreetly asks K for our passports, we are ushered across the hallway to a small balcony, not half a metre wide and moulded directly out of the side of the building. The view is mesmerising. Many an adjective one could use to describe the view, but none could do it justice. With this in mind, gazing hungrily at the view, I plumb somewhat unimaginably for, ‘Wow!’
A Note About Service…
I don’t want to give the wrong impression here about the hotel. It is truly wonderful, and the reason for feeling a little awkward on our part is down to us not being used to this kind of service. The way you are treated at the hotel is the way people who have a great deal of money want to be treated. And we are just not used to that. It’s the same when you go to eat at a Michelin starred restaurant. The service is very in your face, wait staff are always there. It can seem stiff, even oppressive. And if you are not a person who frequents these types of establishments it can feel a little alien. A little awkward, that is until you get used to it, by the passage of time, as in our case as we settled into the hotel, and got used to someone always being there to cater for ones every need.
The Garden of Eden…
The balcony looks over the hotel’s terraced gardens and pool area. And of course the sea as far as the eye can see. I could almost cry sat here as I am in front of my laptop typing up the notes that I made thinking about that view.
We are taking photos and attempting to keep our emotions in check. It wouldn’t do, I think to let one’s emotions spill out in such an establishment. We are looking at the pool we would soon be enjoying when our passports are returned to us with a sheet of paper to sign, and we are checked in. That’s it, no waiting at a desk for the computer to load our details. That’s the difference I thought, between a run of the mill hotel and here. The man takes away the signed piece of paper and our attentions return to the view, the man then returns with two glasses of water, flavoured with mint and lemon, and very nice it is too and very refreshing.
After admiring the view for perhaps too long after noticing the man discretely waiting for us to disembark the balcony we were led to our room, via a grand tour of the hotel / 16th-century monastery. You would be forgiven for thinking you have been transported in time to when it was a working monastery due to the hotel’s desire to have the monastery as an integral part of the stay. The curved ceilinged corridors, the original confession chamber’s that line the way all offer a mystique and intrigue of what it will have been like. It’s an inherently peaceful place and it smells amazing. No matter where you are in the hotel, whether dishes piled full of their own cinnamon enriched blend of pot pure or the huge bowl of fresh Amalfi lemons the smell is exquisite. Reaching our room, named Orchis — (all of the rooms are named after flowers, plants and herbs) we were shown around, the bathroom, with a walk in wet room style shower, an inviting bath and making a point of showing us a fragrant wax rectangle hanging from a hook on the wall. Lemon slices and pink peppercorns visible. It made the room smell wonderful, as did the small pouch of pot pure that was in the wardrobe, filling the room with its fragrance when getting dressed as well as passing it onto the clothes themselves.
To Infinity & Beyond…
After he departed, and our bags had been delivered we did what anyone would do. We launched ourselves on the bed to check its buoyancy, unbelieving that we were actually staying here. Out of the window we were met with a similar view of the garden’s and pool area but from a closer vantage. Directly ahead we could see the private balcony of the best room and below that the terrace of where we would have meals. After a shower, I couldn’t get into my swimming attire quick enough. We made our way onto the terrace and then down the stone steps, past the spa and down to the pool. An infinity pool no less. A pool attendant brought over some towels and asked us where we would like to be seated. After choosing which would prove to be ‘our spot’ he laid the towel over the sun lounger and then a thin sheet over the bottom half of the chair.
”Shall I bring you some water?” he asked and we acquiesced, going for aqua naturale. The pool area was fairly populated but it only made us feel somewhat more inadequate. Stick thin, pert bottomed model like ladies, alongside their six-packed, well tanned hunky looking chaps made us look wearily down at our own inadequate stomachs, bulging with a barrel rather than a highly toned six-pack. It all added to the feeling of unease that people would look upon us as not befitting a place like this. I say we, but really I mean me. K has always had a knack of not giving any thought to what people may be thinking of her, whereas I often dwell on these things. The feeling didn’t last long and soon we felt quite at home at this magnificent hotel on a hill.
The pool itself is the most glorious one you could ever see. The poolside, like the terraced gardens, has paving stones with curved edges and through the gaps between them, there is the lushest green grass growing. It has a wonderful effect and makes the whole place more paradise-like. The pool slopes gently in, with a few steps cut in the rock. There are no white and blue coloured tiles here, its as if the pool itself is naturally made, an inlet in the surface of the rock, filled with water, slightly warmed. A pile of rocks sits in the pool to further accentuate the feeling of a natural existence. It is so glorious up here, literally suspended on the edge of a cliff that even the seagulls come to experience the pool. Whether perched on the edge or indeed taking a dip. Once in the water is when the magic happens, the defined layers of the ocean, horizon, sky blur and become one. Its impossible to see where one ends and the other begins. It’s a truly mesmerizing effect and indeed if I was a religious man I would think with a little stretch I could indeed touch the entrance of heaven.
The Italian Art of Gesticulation…
After our four day stay it was time to say goodbye, a terribly sad goodbye. On that particular day, the sea was rough and the ferry wasn’t running so it was a bus, a bus drive through the windy, quite slim roads. With a bus driver, who clearly lacking any regard for fellow road users, reversed his bus into a motorcyclist. The cyclist thankfully was unharmed and after somewhat excessive gesticulation, including that of other drivers not involved with the accident, everyone was able to get on their way.
Food for Thought…
The €16 Sandwich
Whilst at the pool and one evening in the bar I had the most delicious sandwich I have ever had, and I am in no doubt that I will quite possibly never taste another as good. At €16 one would expect it to be good, and by Jove it was! It became the second most eaten meal of my holiday totalling at 3 compared to the 9 or so pizzas I devoured. Within the toasted, crispy ciabatta bread housed a thick spread of n’duja, a spicy spreadable pork salami made with chillies, which if you have never tasted it you must seek it out. It is also great spread on Pizze. Next was a sheet of red pepper that had been roasted over a flame and its skin removed. On top of that there were some chopped black olives and then a generous amount of Pecorino from Calabria, which was melted and oozing.
The €3 Pizza
Pizze goes hand in glove with the Amalfi coast, namely because just across the water astride the awe-inspiring Vesuvius is Napoli, the birthplace of pizza. And it was here that I ate the most delicious pizza I have ever eaten. I know the said pizza wasn’t consumed at the hotel on a hill but it just had to be mentioned.
If you have ever been to Naples you will know that unlike the rest of the Amalfi coast it isn’t exactly tourist friendly and the advice is not to stay out long after dark. It is, however, a beautiful city. We knew, K and I that we just had to eat pizza, it was our last night before travelling back to the UK in the morning and already sharing a Neapolitana for lunch we decided it was only right to sample another pizza.
K sought out a restaurant famed in one of the guidebooks. An unimposing little restaurant, bursting from the seams, tables and chairs crammed into every available space. As it happened we timed our entrance perfectly, shortly after we sat down a queue had formed that snaked from inside and out onto the street. We ordered within minutes of being sat, K a Margherita and me a Prosciutto and it arrived all 20 inches of oozing thin-crusted goodness within five minutes. Needless to say, it was delicious, the best pizza I’ve had hands down. And it cost a meagre €3. Heaven.
I am in no way affiliated with the hotel, it’s just the best hotel I’ve stayed at and the stay there inspired me to write this essay.