It’s been a while since Ian and I had a week’s holiday overseas. We’ve taken a few long weekends here and there but it has been eight years since we'd packed our bags and escaped for seven whole nights away from it all. Starting a business has been a labour of love and a little more demanding than we had initially imagined, so planning a proper holiday has felt like a bit of a milestone and such an exciting treat.
We wanted to stay somewhere pretty without spending a fortune but we’d left booking quite late, so after hours of searching, I came across an interesting place in Italy. An old fortress built in the 1500s, which had been extended by the owner in the 1950s to house his guests, and ultimately turned into a hotel (apparently to help the family pay a large tax bill) called Villa Scarpariello Relais.
^ the saltwater swimming pool at Villa Scarpariello Relais (near Ravello)
It was such a delightful place to stay and since a few friends have asked about our recommendations for the Amalfi Coast, we thought we’d share our experience.
2 nights in Positano
4 nights at Villa Scarpariello Relais (near Ravello)
1 night in Naples
The coastline is stunning and Positano is picture postcard pretty, with buildings in shades of cream and pink draped in bougainvillea tumbling down the hillside towards a neat little sandy beach. We didn’t have a pool at our hotel so spent one full day on the beach, where we hired sun loungers for €17.50 each, and felt very spoilt to have waiters bring us cold beers. Positano has plenty of souvenir shops selling linens, straw hats and limencello. It's bustling with tourists; food and drinks are pricey but the pizza and seafood is very good. There are lots of steps so leave your high heels at home.
Our tip: enjoy a cocktail in the courtyard at the Palazzo Murat. It’s an elegant, luxury hotel but you don’t have to be a resident to while away an hour in this dreamy oasis.
Two nights felt like the perfect amount of time to soak up the atmosphere of Positano. We hopped on a bus towards Amalfi for our next hotel.
Villa Scarpariello Relais is about 1.5km east of Amalfi and has 11 rooms and apartments that are built into the cliff face overlooking the sea. A historic building in an incredible location, it really does take your breath away. Paths and steps wind around the grounds, offering a different view at each turn, leading down to a saltwater pool and further downwards to a diving platform over the sea.
The way the rooms are dotted about means it’s quiet and although we saw other guests at breakfast, we were pleasantly surprised to have the pool to ourselves. We ate breakfast and lunch under a pergola covered in lemons the size of melons with a view to rival any on the coastline.
^ Villa Scarpariello Relais (near Ravello)
Although beautiful charming, this is not a luxury hotel - the room prices are reasonable and bedrooms are decorated modestly. Ours was bigger than expected and situated directly over the water with waves crashing under us. It's a special place where the staff are helpful and very friendly.
^ Villa Scarpariello Relais (near Ravello)
Villa Scarpariello Relais is at sea level; look up and at the top of the hill is Ravello. When we arrived at the hotel we asked about the best way to get there and were advised to get the bus, to definitely not take the steps. So of course, we took the steps!
Not for the faint hearted, we climbed hundreds of steps, past front doors to homes perched on the hillside, under washing blowing in the thankfully cool breeze, past barking dogs and elderly Italians (who no doubt walked up a hundred years ago and got stuck there : ).
^ walking up to Ravello
The gardens at Villa Rufolo, famed as ‘the jewel of Ravello’ were the real reason for our climb and, although smaller (and busier) than I had imagined, the exotic plants and colourful blooms planted amongst pillars and ancient walls prettily framed what is a spectacular view. It’s also worth appreciating the view from the square in the centre of Ravello towards the lush green hillside – a few less tourists photographing it and definitely best appreciated with a melting ice cream in hand.
^ the gardens at Villa Rufolo, Ravello
If you are ever lucky enough to stay at the Villa Scarpariello Relais, walk to Atrani for dinner. It’s smaller and less well known that its neighbour Amalfi, but was one of our favourite spots. We got lost in its maze of streets (it’s tiny so you won’t get lost for long) and there seemed to be more locals than the other places we visited. We drank Aperol Spritzes at a small bar next to the beach and ate the most delicious seafood at the family-run Restaurant Savo in the square.
Our last night was spent in Naples, where we skipped dinner in favour of people watching whilst nibbling on complimentary buffets that accompany drinks in busy Chiaia. The heat of Naples felt a little oppressive after the open coastline but we would recommend visiting Complesso Montale di Santa Chiara, a peaceful monastery with a courtyard garden covered in majolica tiles and frescoes.
Our tip: we took a taxi on the meter from Naples airport to Positano, which ended up costing considerably more than we’d hoped, so it’s worth asking the place you're staying to pre-book a fixed rate driver to collect you (we did this on the way back), or there’s a train to Sorrento, which would no doubt be a lovely place to start a trip. You can hire a car but parking looked tricky and not something I’d like to attempt.
Villa Scarpariello Relais www.villascarpariellorelais.it/en/
I discovered Villa Scarpariello Relais via i-escape.com
Lonely Planet: Naples, Pompeii & the Amalfi Coast (2016)