Thursday, August 21, 2014

San Pietro: The invisible hotel on the Amalfi Coast

Spectacular Amalfi Coast with Hotel San Caterina sitting within the rock  (Photo: San Pietro
POSITANO, ITALY, August 22, 2014 – Think of a deluxe, five-star hotel and you conjure breathtaking scenery, superb cuisine, elegant accommodations, first-rate service and romantic ambience all combined in a singular atmosphere of luxury.  But Hotel San Pietro, on the outskirts of Positano, Italy, takes the concept one step further, into a whole new dimension.  How?  Because, simply put, this magnificent family run hotel is…well…it’s invisible!
Balcony at San Pietro  (Photo: San Pietro)
Whether you approach San Pietro from the road or the sea, you have to look for the hotel to find it.  REALLY look.  But when you find it, that’s just the beginning.
Situated about two kilometers east of Positano, the tiny Chapel of San Pietro (St. Peter) perches at the edge of what is little more than a wide spot in the road that bends along the serpentine rock face of the coast. Use the chapel as a landmark.  Otherwise you’ll miss the hotel. 

Walk to the left of the church and go behind it.  Then take the steps through a stunning array of fragrances emanating from bougainvillea, hibiscus and grape arbors that line the stairway to an elevator.  Better yet, stroll leisurely among the terraces of flowers that lead to the lobby, known as the Hall.

The Hall at San Pietro  (Photo: San Pietro)
In moments you are surrounded by Italian marble, cool tile floors, cantilevered terraces, sloping gardens and sweeping views of the Bay of Positano that point a perpetual face to the sun.  You have entered a world where luxury and simplicity blend harmoniously to create an atmosphere of casual charm and elegant perfection.
It all began in 1962 when Carlo Cinque decided to build a private villa and bought some land at the peak of a rocky cliff face where only the tiny, ancient Chapel of San Pietro existed.  At the time, Positano was just a sleepy fishing village that had gradually started to attract the attention of tourists in the previous decade.          
John Steinbeck visited Positano in 1953 describing it as “a dream place that isn't quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.” 

Soon after, the community became a haven for writers and artists.  The hidden treasure had been discovered.  It was no longer a secret. Positano would never be the same.
The Grand Terrace at San Pietro  (Photo: San Pietro)
Shortly after Carlo purchased the land, he went to work on his dream, literally carving his imaginative ideas into the rock.  Overcoming overwhelming obstacles created by the sheer logistical difficulties of elevation and excavation, Cinque eventually completed a small apartment and garden.
Gradually, he added more rooms and more gardens. 

Room at San Pietro  (Photo: San Pietro)
Little by little, the idea of transforming his craggy precipice into the most perfect hotel on the crest of a cliff was born.  With determination and imagination he burrowed his masterpiece into the rock without disturbing the natural beauty of the surroundings.

After 8 years of incredibly difficult work, 33 rooms facing the bay were opened along with a large lobby and a spectacular terrace.  Today, the hotel is a myriad of 62 rooms cleverly tucked into the cliffs in a series of nearly a dozen ledges.  Each room is completely private with its own balcony and stunning view. 

Dining under the stars (Photo: San Pietro)
Carlo wanted his “small Eden” to have minimal separation from the exquisite plants and flowers outside, so those same exotic garden plants and fragrant flowers appear inside as well, spilling in abundance from planters.  Vines trail along the interior ceiling, while bougainvillea cascades from balconies and other varieties of vegetation span shaded terraces.

Hotel San Pietro is an architectural wonder.  Rooms are seductively appointed with antiques, hand-painted furniture, ceramic tiles and terra-cotta floors.  Some rooms have no curtains in either the bedroom or the bathroom.  The concept allows guests to see out, while no one else can see in; creating an ambience of being totally alone within nature.

Simple elegance  (Photo: San Pietro)
"Special” rooms all have features that set them apart, be it the largest windows, the most sumptuous decor, or the most expansive bathroom.  Experience a bed so large that it had to be constructed inside the room.  Or enjoy the luxury of a sunken marble bathtub next to a giant picture window.  The tub is big enough to accommodate you and three of your most intimate friends.   There’s even a bedroom featuring a full-sized marble sculpture of a male figure with water streaming from a strategic and rather indiscreet location.
Perhaps the most amazing construction project was the delicate blasting that took place to install the elevator that travels from the main lobby to the private beach below.  From the Hall, the lift descends 290-feet through solid rock before opening into a huge grotto on the beach.  From the cave, a 25-yard stroll leads to a walkway that goes to a sunbathing platform and bar on the rocks which are surrounded by flower-filled terraces.  There is also a nearby tennis court and rose garden.

The story of the creation of the Hotel San Pietro is the tale of one man's realization of a dream -- a family saga with elements of adventure, fantasy and flair plus inexhaustible commitment and dedication.  Carlo Cinque was not an architect or a designer or a technical engineer.  He was a man with an idea and desire to demonstrate how tenacity and determination could unite a sense of beauty and intelligence into a living paradise.  That is the genius of Carlo Cinque and Hotel San Pietro.

One final element sets San Pietro apart, and that’s the undeniable hospitality that was a hallmark of Cinque’s personality; a characteristic that perpetuates his legacy today.  After Carlo's death in 1984, his nephew and niece, Salvatore and Virginia Attanasio, took over the property.  They have successfully carried on the tradition, maintaining the same affection, personable charm and ongoing friendships with their guests that was so distinctively typical of their beloved uncle.
Upstairs pools at Hotel San Pietro  (Photo: San Pietro)
San Pietro celebrates a symphony of life, where dawn doesn’t break. Rather, it eases gently up hillsides, caressing each little nook and kissing every tiny contour.  Here you can follow the celestial rhythms of the day as glittering paths of golden sunlight yield to sparkling moonbeams that dance like liquid stars on the surface of the sea.
Hotel San Pietro may indeed be invisible, but it is definitely a place where “seeing” is believing.