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Hotel Santa Caterina, Amalfi Coast

Perched on the clifftops of the captivating Amalfi coast, Hotel Santa Caterina overlooks ‘the most dazzlingly blue Mediterranean Sea’ says Kristin Atherton as she explores ‘this stunning part of Italy’

The credentials:

The Amalfi Coast has long been a draw for artists, poets, honeymooners and holidaymakers; a dramatic coastline dominated by razor sharp cliffs, fragrant lemon groves and impossibly blue ocean waters. And surely one of its best located properties is the palatial Hotel Santa Caterina. A late 19th century liberty style villa, standing regally on the clifftops, overlooking the most dazzlingly blue Mediterranean Sea, and surrounded by perfumed wisteria and luscious citrus groves, the Hotel Santa Caterina couldn’t be better placed for exploring the joys of this stunning part of Italy.

The hotel overlooks its own estate of sweet-smelling fruit trees and natural terraced gardens, with any number of shady spots to sit with a good book and forget the cares of the day. It also has an exclusive Beach Club, with a heated sea-water filled swimming pool and rows of sun loungers, and the ocean itself a small flight of steps away if you’re feeling brave. Their wellness centre offers a whole range of massage and beauty therapies, and exclusive use of the Turkish bath, sauna and Scottish shower can be booked for €25 per person. They also have two drinking spots; the elegant Terraza Bar for a delicious candlelit cocktail, or the Grottini Bar overlooking the Beach Club under a canopy of stars.

Sleep:

As you would expect from such a grand hotel, the Santa Caterina has a whole range of accommodation on offer; thirty-six rooms (all with at least partial sea views) and thirteen suites within the hotel itself, with a further seventeen deluxe rooms, suites and junior suites spread across the hotel’s separate ‘Villas’. Not to mention the ‘Special Suites’ nestled in the gardens; the secluded Torrino Suite (with the most stunning views of Amalfi), the Follia Amalfitana Suite (with its sunken whirlpool jacuzzi overlooking the sea), and the spectacular Giulietta e Romeo Chalet (set over two floors, with its own private garden and infinity pool). All rooms and suites are tastefully styled after the traditional villas of Amalfi and feature quintessentially Mediterranean architecture. Though they each vary slightly in style, all rooms are spacious and flooded with light. The floors (and sometimes walls) feature hand-painted majolica tiles, the bathrooms are marble fitted, and every room has either a balcony or terrace with a view over the sea or gardens.

We were given an airy sea-view suite, which was a delightfully lovely space to just sit and relax and felt beguilingly private. And it is impossible to overstate the joy of standing on our balcony as the sun went down, with a complimentary glass of prosecco in our hands, and the curling wisteria filling the warm evening air with perfume. The bed was vast and comfortable – though the sheets were a little too crisply starched for my taste – and the complimentary fruit and constant supply of fresh mineral water was a hugely welcome addition to the room.

The bathroom was one of the most spacious I’ve been in and the supply of gorgeous Bvlgari bath products was fantastically generous. However, the shower wasn’t the most modern (I’ve been spoilt by many a good waterfall shower), and as excited as I was by our separate whirlpool bathtub, sadly I couldn’t seem to get the jacuzzi feature to work!

Dine:

Hotel Santa Caterina has two restaurants both with panoramic sea view, the upmarket Ristorante Santa Caterina in the main building, and the more laid-back Ristorante Al Mare overlooking the Beach club. Sadly, the latter is only open from May to October so we weren’t able to try it for ourselves, but it serves traditional wood-fired pizzas and grilled fish during the season. But we were lucky enough to dine at the former on our second evening, with the twinkling lights of Amalfi through the large windows providing the perfect backdrop.

The menu keeps it simple and local, with about six dishes on offer for each sitting (though I’ve never managed to eat my way through the traditional Italian Antipasti, Pasta, Secondi, Dessert without admitting defeat by course three). You will find the traditional Lasagne (€24, and meltingly delicious), raw fish carpaccio (€42, sweet, fresh and delightful) and Neopolitan fried fish (€38) you would expect from this part of the world, alongside creative takes on traditions such as the  flavoursome Candele Pasta with fish ragout and pesto (€26) or the smoky and moreish grilled octopus on potato veloute (€34). And I’ve never eaten anything quite like my ‘Dessert of the Day’, a gorgeous marriage of lemon posset and strawberries served several ways (€14). By comparison the wine menu was intimidatingly vast and a little confusing, so thank goodness for our excellent sommelier who picked a perfect local white that married with everything. Though many dishes were excellent, just one or two didn’t set my world on fire, which for a relatively pricey restaurant was a slight shame. But the atmosphere of gentle calm and the sparkling lights of Amalfi down below us were beguiling enough for that not to matter.

When it came to breakfast, with the sun streaming through the balcony of the Ristorante Santa Caterina and the blue of the ocean stretching all around us, we were truly stunned. The coffee and fresh-pressed juice were so excellent I overdosed on both. And the selection of fruits, pastries (including a huge gluten free section), cheeses, meats, fish, salads, fresh waffles and bespoke omelettes was so bountiful that having lunch simply wasn’t necessary!

Who goes there?

This is an extremely family- friendly hotel; many of the rooms are adjoining, and when we were there it seemed that several extended families had chosen the hotel as home for the week. It is also a dream location for both honeymooning couples (which we were instantly assumed to be upon arrival), and retired couples. The atmosphere is one of laid-back calm rather than upmarket fussiness so it’s easy to see how the appeal is so broad.

Out and about:

Although slightly outside of Amalfi itself the hotel provides a free hourly shuttle into the town (ceasing briefly in the early afternoon), which is a delightful place for a stroll or an ice-cream while you dip your toes in the ocean. While not vast, Amalfi is a shopper’s paradise, particularly for local delicacies and there is also the breath-taking and inexpensive Duomo Di Amalfi for both art and history l overs. Or from Amalfi it is easy enough to catch a ferry or a local bus to any of the other famous towns (Positano, Sorrento, Salerno or even stunning Capri) peppering the coastline.

The worst thing:

The attentiveness and friendliness of staff unfortunately seemed to vary more than I have found at similar establishments. Some – such as our welcoming host – were warm and wonderful and couldn’t do enough for us, whereas others verged on the slightly sniffy side, most notably the staff at the Beach Club (as a woman I felt slightly uncomfortable having so many men around who seemed to be doing nothing other than standing and staring).

The best thing:

The Hotel Santa Caterina as a building itself. The public spaces were some of the most pleasant I’ve come across; just sitting and looking out at the sea on either the garden terrace, the restaurant balcony, or from the privacy of your own room was a simple and unalloyed joy. The beautiful gardens felt like paradise, and the cocktail bar of an evening was such a comfortable space I could have happily sat there for hours!

The details:

Double rooms start at €360 in the low season/€1038 in high season, suites start at €495 in low season/€2442 in high season (all including breakfast) Hotel Santa Caterina, Via Mauro Comite, 9, 84011, Amalfi SA; 089 87 1012;

www.hotelsantacaterina.it

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