Italy: Amalfi Coast: Where to Stay: Luxury: Le Sirenuse
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.— Simone Girner 08/01/2008