Stylist’s acting deputy editor Alix Walker braved the perilous roads of the Amalfi coastline to find respite in an Italian monastery
ABOVE: The terraces at Monastero Santa Rosa : gardeners with vertigo need not apply…
Oh, it was beautiful. Properly pinch yourself, do-a-little-dance-and-pretend-this-17th-century-converted-monastery-is-yours-to-roam-at-will-beautiful. I don’t really think my pitiful words will do it justice, but I’ll try.
Hundreds of years ago, some very lucky nuns walked the limestone floors of the Monastero Santa Rosa, perched high in the hills between the Italian towns of Amalfi and Positano. This time last year, following a 12-year, multimillion pound restoration by American businesswoman Bianca Sharma, it was me.
We arrived after a rather bumpy – the Italians, it seems, don’t feel the need to fear oncoming cars or terrifying drops – 90-minute taxi ride from Naples airport. No bother, this is scenic driving at its best. Italy’s Amalfi coast is punctuated by pretty little fishing towns with lemon and olive groves lining the roads – not the worst thing to see before you plummet over the side of a cliff… As I walked into the monastery (it doesn’t seem right to call this just a hotel), the view from the first window was so beautiful my legs went a bit wobbly. There are just 20 bedrooms, each named after a local flower, and accessed by giant keys you could imagine the nuns carrying around. Rooms are spacious, beds are super comfy and fresh fruit, carefully chosen antiques and Santa Maria Novella beauty products are nice touches.
ABOVE: It's a hard life: the thermal suite spa is built into the original monastery stone
I’m not sure if it’s a hangover from the nuns who used to roam the corridors (they were working nuns who made sfogliatelle, a shell-shaped, cream filled pastry which became known as Santa Rosa) but the whole place is peaceful and calm; we barely saw another soul while there. It’s steeped in history with the nuns’ original confession box and a turntable in the front door where parents would drop off unwanted babies. Of course, this is sympathetically mixed (as Kevin McCloud would say) with modern luxury fittings.
This place is set up with one thing in mind – utter relaxation. Giant canopied sunbeds pepper the tiered gardens which blanket the hillside, while the smell of lemons, giant bougainvillea, jasmine and herbs waft through the air. Then there’s the infinity pool. Carved out of the cliff side, it’s perched so precariously over the twinkly blue Bay of Salerno that you feel as if you took just one more stroke you’d end up in the Mediterranean. Sunloungers line it and somehow, at just the right time, a light mist of water appears from the cliff behind you to cool you down. The waiter uses similar timing when appearing with sorbets and fresh fruit kebabs.
Unsurprisingly, this being Italy, the food is special too. We had buttery pastries and fruit while staring out across the ocean for breakfast and alternated between Caprese and Parma ham and melon salads for lunch – the freshest, cleanest and tastiest versions I’ve ever had of either. Chef Christoph Bob, who heralds from Alain Ducasse in Paris, knocked us up a tasting menu on the first night, including fish soup and a beautiful burrata cheese risotto.
ABOVE: A night view that's *very* easy on the eye...
If you only do one thing
Unlike the 17th-century nuns, we were allowed out of the beautiful walls and on our second night we headed into the town of Amalfi (2.5 miles away; hotel guests can use the free shuttle service). We went straight for dinner at Da Gemma, a family restaurant with a pretty lantern-lit roof terrace overlooking the central square and gorged ourselves on lemon risotto, smoked mozzarella and grilled squid. Midway through bruschetta, we spotted Sam Taylor- Johnson honeymooning with her new husband, Aaron. Afterwards we strolled around the tiny fishing town (you can do the entire loop in 15 minutes) and tried to decide which of the 17 gelato flavours to stop at (blood orange sorbet worked for me). Eolo was another brilliant find with amazing dishes like chocolate eggplant dessert (try it!) and a fantastic wine list.
The next day I made time in my now familiar routine (wake, eat, laze by the pool, accept the various free fruit treats, sleep, eat, sleep) to go to the spa. Yet again I was unprepared. Both for the sheer beauty of the treatment room (essentially a giant, candlelit cave like something out of a James Bond film) and the ‘intimate’ nature of the treatment… If you’re a prudish Brit like me, then it’s probably best to let them know in advance.
ABOVE: Stylist’s Alix leaves London far behind
Practical And Useful
The location is perfect for exploring the beautiful towns of the Amalfi coastline with Positano 25 minutes away and Ravello 15 minutes away, but we only had time to make it to Capri. It takes 50 minutes to get there on the ferry service from Amalfi (reception can organise a private boat if your finances are healthier than mine) and the trip alone is worth it. I fell a little bit in love with the island as it pretty much caters to my every whim: great shopping (try Canfora for handmade sandals); amazing food (spaghetti with clams at Da Paolino; fritto di mare at L’Olivio); people watching (there is some serious money on the island meaning more than a few face lifts and gobstopper engagement rings to gawp at); and jaw-dropping scenery. White buildings snaked by violet petals surrounded by the bluest water make you literally stop and stare.
I think I’ve possibly failed in telling you quite how beautiful the Monastero Santa Rosa is, so there’s only one thing for it… you’ll just have to check it out for yourselves.
Rooms from €375 (£318) per night B&B plus tax; monasterosantarosa.com