AMALFI, ITALY, May 22, 2014 – 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.
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 charm, Santa Caterina cast its magic spell once again. Brangelina have been an item ever since.
Kim Kardashian probably spent more time at Santa Caterina on her honeymoon than being married to Kris Humphries. On a tamer note, First Lady Hillary Clinton and daughter Chelsea were 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 reveal views combining mountains, gardens and the sea.
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.
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.
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.
Less commercial than Positano, its sister city down the coast, Amalfi offers superb restaurants, lively ambiance, 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 take 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 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 includes emphasis on 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.
Dual elevators burrow through sheer rock before opening into a small grotto that leads to the exercise room and pool. Many female guests enjoy the freedom of topless sunbathing, while the poolside bar is well positioned for male American visitors to gawk in relative anonymity.
Santa Caterina is open year-round. Depending upon the exchange, rates for a Double Superior room with a sea view range from about $475 to $1,190 a night. Suites are between $775 and $2,800. Breakfast and service are included, but there is a 10% VAT.
One cautionary note when traveling along the Amalfi Coast. Use local transportation, buses or taxis. Driving the narrow roads with hairpin turns can be a nightmare for unsuspecting motorists, and you’ll be thankful you didn’t try it yourself.
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 that those new found friends on the staff will be right there waiting to greet you again.
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com).
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime
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