The Santa Caterina is one of the most famous hotels in Italy. It is also one of the best. Like an exquisite white lily in a verdant garden, it is the focal point of the Amalfi Coast. Even if you have never been to the Amalfi Coast, you will know the area. It is, we might say, ‘photogenic’. Hundreds of advertisements and dozens of feature films (many of them including open-topped motor cars) have used its combination of ragged cliffs, blue sea and a road with hundreds of sharp beds to communicate an image of luxury and exclusivity. For once, the reality matches – even exceeds – the fantasy. That is why the Amalfi Coast draws me back year after year. And right at its heart is the Hotel Santa Caterina. Everyone who travels in Italy knows the Santa Caterina, and those who have had the privilege of staying in its rooms regard it with real affection.
The Casa Angelina is very white and very modern. It occupies a spotless villa in one of the very best locations on the Costa Amalfitana. From its elevated position, it provides the guests in its 39 rooms with a panorama which embraces Positano, Capri and a substantial stretch of the most famous coastline in the world. Reached by a vertiginous private road, it has the feeling of a luxurious private retreat. In the mornings I counted just three sounds: the bell of the local church calling the faithful to the divine mysteries, the birds singing to welcome the new day and a distant cockerel proclaiming his masculinity. Now that my visits to hotels tend towards the ontological rather than the existential – that is, I prefer to be, rather than to do – this sense of pampered isolation appealed to me very much indeed. I enjoyed my time at the Casa Angelina.
On my travels I like to think of my influence, such as it is, as invariably benign. I try to help, even if my help is not always greeted with that degree of enthusiasm for which I might have wished. But the very best establishments, be they hotels or restaurants, always share one important characteristic: they welcome constructive suggestions. When I met the delightful General Manager of the J K Place on Capri – a young man who is as charming as he is efficient, and he is very efficient – I saw at once that he was without a tie. (As readers of Bown’s Bespoke will know, the wearing of a collar and tie is one of my sartorial Ten Commandments.) Immediately, I expressed my alarm – to general amusement. The following day, the bearded Mr Martino Acampora – for it was he – appeared dressed properly (and very smartly). My picture shows him thus attired, alongside myself and the maitre d’ from the restaurant. This modest tale of the triumph of Virtue takes us to the heart of why the J K Place is such a good hotel: nothing is too much trouble if it will please the guests.
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See also Dining in France & American Farm to Table