Friday, September 18, 2015

Hotel Santa Caterina: Amalfi, Italy’s cliffside gem

Ride the elevator down through the cliffs where the pool and sea beckon at Hotel Santa Caterina  (Santa Caterina) 
AMALFI, ITALY Hotel Santa Caterina on the Amalfi Coast of Italy is one of those places where you feel you belong from the moment you cross its portals.

Arriving by car from Positano, Santa Caterina appears to be little more than a gleaming white façade at a curve in the road to Amalfi.  From the Amalfi side, it looks more like a hotel.  A lovely hotel, to be sure, but not nearly as majestic as it is in reality.

A deceptive entrance leads to breathtaking beauty  (Santa Caterina) 
It was at Santa Caterina in the 1960s that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton began their tumultuous relationship while filming Cleopatra.  Decades later, when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were captivated by each other’s charms, Santa Caterina cast it’s magic spell once again.

On a tamer note, First Lady Hillary Clinton and Chelsea were even guests during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

So what is it about the Santa Caterina that makes it so infectious?

Like most places along the Amalfi Coast, Santa Caterina is a family operation.  Tracing its roots to 1880, Giuseppe Gambardella built the original structure just outside the village of Amalfi on a hillside overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.

In 1904, Giuseppe’s son, Crescenzo, redesigned the property with six guest rooms.  Today, the resort features 66 rooms and suites, most with southern exposure that peer out to views combining mountains, gardens and the sea.
Santa Caterina's lemon grove meanders from the hotel to the pool  (Santa Caterina)
Day-to-day operations have since yielded to Cescenzo’s daughters, Giusi and Ninni Gambardella, along with other family members, who delight in taking personal interest in the comfort and enjoyment of their guests. 

Amalfi nestles between mountains and sea  (Taylor)
Visitors come, and visitors go, yearning to return, but the staff remains virtually intact to preserve the hotel’s trademark style and service.  As one staff member said, “when you live in paradise why go anywhere else?”

The result?  No matter when guests return, familiar smiles greet them, and that continuity has major appeal.

Resting at the summit of an expansive stretch of land along the Amalfi road, Santa Caterina is deceptive in its spaciousness. 

Once inside the white tiled lobby, a short walk past the restaurant to a lovely balcony that overlooks the sea, reveals a series of landscaped terraces, a serpentine citrus grove and jagged rock-bound cliffs that plunge into the water a thousand feet below.

The hotel points a perpetual face to the sun  (Taylor)
With its southern exposure, Santa Caterina points a perpetual face to the sun, taking advantage of every ounce of daylight from sunrise to sunset.  So familiar do guests become with the peaceful stream of liquid stars that dance across the water during the day or night, that the hotel has adopted the phenomenon as the symbol of the property.

Just down the hill, Amalfi buzzes with the same daily routines that have endured for centuries.  The hotel offers regular drop-off and pick-up service to and from the village, on the half-hour, for guests who choose to ride rather than walk into town. 

Ravello has the most spectacular views on the coast  (Taylor)
Less commercial than Positano, its sister city down the coast, Amalfi offers superb restaurants, lively ambience, plenty of shopping and easy access to Capri, Ravello, Positano, Maori, Minori, Atrani and Vietri.  Not quite as accessible, but easily arranged for day trips, visitors can also do tours of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Paestum.

Passageways to Santa Caterina’s rooms are miniature labyrinths leading to accommodations that offer individuality in each chamber. 

Most bedrooms feature balconies with a sea view and brightly colored tiles from nearby Vietri.  Many travelers enjoy an excursion to Vietri’s shops where they can purchase unique souvenir tiles as mementos of their trip.
Santa Caterina's citrus grove and cliffside elevator as viewed from the sea  (Taylor)
Santa Caterina’s kitchen is arguably the best in the area, which makes dining a delight for guests. 
The menu features a wide range of classic Amalfi Coast recipes which naturally emphasizes the local fish.  Pastas are a staple, of course, and other items such as chicken and veal are available for variety or for those who don’t enjoy seafood.

Dining is exquisite at Santa Caterina  (Taylor)
Dual elevators burrow through sheer rock before opening into a small grotto that leads to the exercise room and pool. 

Santa Caterina is open year-round and rates vary according to season. Breakfast and service are included, but there is a 10% VAT.

One cautionary note when traveling along the Amalfi Coast.  Opt for local transportation, buses or taxis.  Driving the narrow hairpin roads can be a nightmare for unsuspecting motorists, and you will thank yourself for not accepting the challenge.
Take time to explore all the nooks and crannies of Santa Caterina. If you get lost you have done yourself a favor  (Taylor)
The staff and hospitality at this little gem of a hotel nestled atop the craggy hills of Amalfi are a sure-fire guarantee that one day you’ll be back.  It even works better than throwing a coin over your shoulder at Trevi Fountain in Rome.

Best of all, no matter when you do return, chances are those newfound friends on the staff will be right there waiting to greet you again.