Destination: Italy: Amalfi Coast
Il San Pietro
In eternal competition with Le Sirenuse for the most romantic setting, Il San Pietro is run by another formidable Amalfi Coast family: the Cinques, whose patriarch Carlino opened the hotel, formerly his private villa, in 1970. A short drive from Positano and perched on the edge of a stunning cliff 240 feet above the sea, the sprawling property has some of the best views along the coast. The fantastic outdoor spaces include a large terrace, lined with majolica-tile benches, where cocktails are served; a separate pool patio; beautifully planted gardens; and a small lemon grove. A James Bond–like elevator runs through the cliff and lets out onto a private “beach” (in Amalfi-speak, this means a short stretch of sand and a rocky plateau lined with umbrellas and lounges). New for 2008 is a beachside restaurant on a raised candlelit deck, which will be for guests only and which will surely be one of the dreamiest spots for a special sunset meal or cocktail (those wanting to pop the question can request a private dinner).
Compared with the San Pietro’s truly great outdoors, the guest rooms and indoor spaces are less inspired. The lobby, decorated with an eclectic mix of antiques, including two large Balinese doors that serve as tables, has an unfocused feel, though the views from the floor-to-ceiling windows prove utterly distracting (a great touch is the bougainvillea that literally grows through openings in the walls, bringing nature inside). The sixty-two-room guest rooms, each unique in layout and design scheme, have balconies and terra-cotta-tile floors, and many showcase hand-painted furniture. Like the Sirenuse, the hotel doesn’t assign rooms until guests arrive, but do request a deluxe on one of the upper floors (and if you want privacy, ask for a room that isn’t directly above the restaurant terrace). Those in need of technology should book at the Sirenuse, as the San Pietro is—perhaps intentionally—an old-fashioned kind of place (in one room, I spotted a boom box that looked like a relic from the ’80s).
The size of the property and the setting are really the draw here; on-site activities include a spa (with La Prairie treatments) and a fitness center (housed in a separate building), as well as tennis courts. A nice touch is a complimentary cruise offered to all guests (you can also arrange private ones along the coast through the concierge). The restaurant with a view has one Michelin star. Rooms from €530 ($827).
A Capri local once told me, “Positano is Le Sirenuse,” referring to the legendary hotel that has been expertly run by the Sersale family for nearly six decades. Since it opened as an albergo in 1951 (in one of the town’s most beautiful private homes), the Sirenuse has garnered an international reputation that precedes any stay here, but it lives up to the hype with Italian aplomb. The sixty-two-room property is built into the steep hillside of Positano, whose stacked tangle of pastel-colored houses, lush gardens and crumbling palazzos look like a cross between Egon Schiele’s dramatic cityscapes and the colorful whimsy of Dr. Seuss. In contrast to the frenzied setting—Positano’s narrow streets are eternally overrun and overheated and, for a first-time visitor in particular, can be overwhelming—the Sirenuse exudes an uncanny mix of serenity and elegance; it’s the kind of place where you audibly exhale upon arrival and vow not to leave for the remainder of your stay (it helps that the views, suspended between sea and sky, are stunning).
Many details remind that this was once a handsome private estate: rooms throughout are filled with museum-worthy antiques (guests can take a self-guided art tour, which leads past treasures like a framed passport, issued to a member of the Sersale family in 1754, and a large panorama of Rome dating from the 18th century). The many terraces, patios and sitting areas are lined with heavy terra-cotta pots and urns, which are planted with lemon trees and fragrant flowers. But even though the decor is classic Positano, with ceramic-tile floors, antiques and tasteful furnishings, the Sirenuse is not stuck in the past, thanks in large part to its dynamic general manager, Antonio Sersale. Under his guidance, a high-tech spa and buzzy Champagne and Oyster Bar were added in recent years, and both draw a chic young crowd. There’s Wi-Fi throughout the hotel, and guest rooms come with flat-screen TVs, Jacuzzis and iPod docking stations. Of course, considering the spectacular views (all but five standard rooms open onto the sea), you may forget all about these amenities.
The pool area, on a large terrace overlooking the sea, is one of the most delicious spots for reading and relaxing: sitting on one of the white poolside lounges, it’s easy to feel like you’re on the deck of a giant boat. While honeymooners figure prominently among guests, many of them rarely emerge from their suites; though the lovely staff is happy to arrange day trips, including boating excursions, considered by many the only way to “do” the coast (there are few pebbly beaches along the Amalfi Coast, and the one in Positano gets very crowded in summer). The floor mats in the tiny elevator, printed with each day of the week, are changed daily—a whimsical touch that shows how easy it is to lose track of time here. Rooms from €500 ($780).
WHO SHOULD STAY: Romantics, sybarites, art aficionados and those willing to splurge on one of Italy’s most iconic resorts.
WHO SHOULD NOT STAY: Families with children under the age of eight (they’re not permitted during the high season, May–September).
ROOMS TO GET: Each room is different, and return guests all have their favorites (you can make the request, but the hotel does not confirm room assignments until you arrive). Luckily, all the sea-facing rooms are charming. One-bedroom Suite 74-75 has a spectacular bathroom with a double Jacuzzi from which to take in the views; spacious Suite 85 comes with an ultraprivate corner terrace. There are five standard rooms that do not have sea views; if those are the only ones available, book elsewhere. For the ultimate hideaway, request one of the nine Junior Suites.
WHAT TO KNOW: Even if you’re not staying here, come for an aperitif at the Champagne & Oyster Bar and make a reservation for dinner at the uber-romantic La Sponda.
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