November 29, 2022

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Borgo Santandrea review: ‘The hotel the Amalfi coast has been waiting for’ | Travel

Why would anyone want to “disrupt” the Amalfi coast, a place so revered for its beauty that it is regularly described as the most romantic destination on earth? It’s a question that was pondered by the owners of Borgo Santandrea, the first luxury hotel to open on this iconic coastline in 15 years. When faced with perfection — and an area dominated by grandiose hotels, steeped in Italian glamour and nostalgia — what should one do? Apparently, create a property that’s completely, utterly and sublimely different.

For the Orlacchios and De Sianos, two families who run neighbouring hotels on nearby Ischia, the chance to be disruptive came when the ageing Il Saraceno Grand Hotel appeared on the market. Set beside the charming little fishing village of Conca dei Marini and emerging from the mouth of a gargantuan cave above, it was an imposing property with a medieval façade and heavy Moroccan-inspired decor. But if you could look beyond this unconvincing aesthetic, its foundations revealed its 1960s roots, hinting at the more modernist renovation its soon-to-be-owners had in mind.

A suite at Borgo Santandrea

A suite at Borgo Santandrea

Over the next four years — longer than intended, thank you Covid — they stripped out the Moorish interiors, replacing them with marble columns and arched windows reminiscent of the classical architecture of ancient Italy (the research for this now forms a private photo collection on display in the hotel, and can be purchased by guests). Walls were knocked down to create far more generous guest rooms: 45 in total, including 16 suites, eight with private plunge pools. Floors were ripped up and in their place myriad tiles laid. Thirty-one different geometric designs, from chevrons to herringbone to basketweaves, were conceived for the property, all in varying shades of blue and white, and handmade and painted by local artisans. They now stretch out before you in lobbies, terraces and suites, a sea of colour perfectly complementing the ocean view beyond. A hanging installation of 450 handmade ceramic anchovies took a painstaking two years to complete and now sways in the light breeze that whispers through the hotel, its spherical shape recalling a shoal of fish rushing to the surface of the sea.

Equally impressive is the mid-century furniture. Each corner of the newly renovated hotel is filled with armchairs by Hans J Wegner, Erik Worts or Fredrik A Kayser, reupholstered in 1930s fabrics designed by Gio Ponti and reproduced by the Venetian textile brand Rubelli. The concierge desk is an original Carlo Mollino glass-topped dining table; a Gerald Thurston table lamp sits atop the check-in desk. Extraordinarily, each piece is from the Orlacchios’ own private collection — one can only imagine how empty their home must be right now.

Conca dei Marini village

Conca dei Marini village

ALAMY

Yet for all the beauty inside — the milky-white walls, sea of blue tiles and highly covetable furniture — it’s still the outside that truly takes your breath away. Oh, to wake every day with the view from our bedroom window! (If you can, request room 608, a corner suite with double- aspect views and the most beautiful bathroom ever.) To the left one can see Amalfi town (it’s two miles by a winding coast road), to the right the handful of buildings that appear to have tumbled down the cliff is Conca dei Marini, and in between is the infinite blue of the Tyrrhenian Sea dotted with yachts and fishing boats, some gliding through the water, others bobbing lazily.

Forget people-watching — which is what the Amalfi coast has been famed for since Jackie Kennedy and Sophia Loren holidayed here in the 1960s — to come to Borgo Santandrea is to spend your time marvelling at its lack of people. It manages never to feel busy (during my visit I had no clue the hotel was almost full). Whether you’re sipping a homemade Amalfi lemonade on the terrace, swimming lengths in the pristine pool or stretching out on the private pebble beach, there’s plenty of space for everyone. A path zigzags from the hotel (a perilous 90 metres above sea level) down to the beach, weaving through fragrant lemon trees, climbing jasmine, roses and blue myrtle, all perfuming the air. Its 300-plus steps give you a workout, and also ample photo opportunities. At the bottom you’re rewarded with a stylish beach club with striped changing huts, paddleboards to loan and a to-your- sunlounger drinks service.

It’s here you’ll receive the most laid-back culinary offerings too. The hotel has three restaurants: one by the shore serving salads and spaghetti (and which will have a pizza oven this summer), while back at the top of the hotel Alici delivers a modern spin on classics, from deep-fried courgette flowers stuffed with ricotta and anchovies to the area’s iconic delizia al limone, a mini sponge cake filled with lemon custard. La Libreria is the hotel’s grandest offering and the acclaimed chef Crescenzo Scotti’s chance to get really creative. His eight-course tasting menus are inspired by the region, featuring tiny morsels of ossobuco, scamorza cheese (still smoking inside lemon leaves) and a deconstructed version of a pudding his nonna used to make.

Despite all its quiet luxury, Borgo Santandrea is a family-run business and that’s the vibe its owners hope to create. The staff are warm and convivial; the co-owner Maurizio Orlacchio, who honed his hospitality skills at Four Seasons hotels across the US and Europe, welcomes guests to breakfast every morning. The magnificent buffet of fruit, cold meats, local cheeses and a bounty of breads and pastries is served inside the chef’s kitchen, to further encourage guests to consider it a home from home. This is a place where the waiters remember your name and chocolate cakes with “Happy anniversary” in loopy writing appear in your bedroom.

Amalfi town

We could have happily stayed put in this white and blue haven, but the lure of the neighbouring towns was too much to pass up. We spent one afternoon wandering around Amalfi town, where the pasticceria Andrea Pansa is a must for espresso con panna, a short coffee with sweetened whipped cream, and a Santa Rosa, a pastry horn filled with custard and cherries, first created by the nuns in the nearby monastery. From here we take a 20-minute ferry ride to Positano. It’s far quicker and cheaper to travel by boat as the summer months bring more coaches, scooters, hire cars and polizia — along with a cacophony of horns — to the solitary coast road.

21 of the most luxurious villas on the Amalfi Coast
Fun things to do on the Amalfi Coast

Positano lives up to the hype, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. Its tiny spaghetti streets are as filled with tourists as its beach is with uniform, sardine-like sunloungers. It’s a riot of restaurants, boutiques and ceramics shops, yet while there are about 4,000 residents, an additional 12,000 tourists visit every day during the summer months, so expect a squeeze. Join the queues at Gelateria Buca di Bacco — it’s worth it for the homemade ice cream, with flavours including hazelnut, pistachio and, of course, Amalfi lemon. Then find a restaurant that serves spaghetti alla Nerano (with fried courgettes), the dish made famous by Stanley Tucci on his recent BBC series Searching for Italy. Luckily it’s a local speciality and on most menus — I ate a huge, delicious plate of it at La Cambusa, near the seafront. It’s deceptively simple yet totally moreish.

The Alici restaurant at Borgo Santandrea

The Alici restaurant at Borgo Santandrea

We couldn’t visit Positano without also checking out Le Sirenuse, the town’s most famous hotel — and arguably Borgo Santandrea’s biggest rival for the It crowd. It’s where John Steinbeck, Elizabeth Taylor and Reese Witherspoon (who honeymooned here) have stayed since it opened in 1951. Fascinatingly, the two properties couldn’t be more different. Apart from both being family-run hotels, Le Sirenuse is everything Borgo Santandrea is not: saturated with rich colour, eclectic and eccentric, layering the family’s historic paintings with modern art (Martin Creed’s neon “Don’t Worry” sign in a bar and Matt Connors’s laminated panels in the lobby), floor-to-ceiling handpainted murals, a jungle of foliage and an attitude that more is more. It is beautiful and bustling. A place to see and be seen. The latest addition, Franco’s Bar, an alfresco cocktail lounge with a citrine-yellow neo-baroque fountain, dubs itself “Positano’s coolest meeting place” and has queues outside an hour before it opens.

It’s hard not to fall in love with it too, but Le Sirenuse offers a very different experience to Borgo Santandrea. The buzz of one contrasts with the serenity of the other. How perfect, then, that these two luxury hotels can coexist in happy harmony — one for people who are looking to have their spirits lifted, the other for those looking to have their souls soothed.

If you’d have asked visitors to the Amalfi coast if it needed another new hotel, I imagine they’d probably have said no. But that was before Borgo Santandrea. Now its modern, airy interiors, uninterrupted views and laid-back service act like a tonic to the more full-on parts of this fabled coastline.

A disruption? Yes. But undoubtedly for the better.

Sarah Tomczak was a guest of Borgo Santandrea, which has B&B doubles from £450 (borgosantandrea.it). Fly to Naples

The pool at Baglioni Masseria Muzza Puglia

The pool at Baglioni Masseria Muzza Puglia

Three more Italian stays

Baglioni Masseria Muzza Puglia

The latest from the luxury hospitality group with hotels in Rome, Florence and Venice, Baglioni Masseria Muzza opens this month. It dates back to the 17th century and is surrounded by five acres of countryside. Rooms are dotted around the original courtyard and have high vaulted ceilings and views across the Alimini Lakes or Mediterranean gardens and olive groves beyond. There’s an impressive spa and nearby golf course — “we are offering our guests a five-star resort that is wholly immersed in nature,” the owners say.
Details
B&B doubles from £390 (baglionihotels.com). Fly to Brindisi

Tenuta di Artimino, Tuscany

Tenuta di Artimino, Tuscany

Tenuta di Artimino, Tuscany

Among the hills and vineyards of Montalbano, just 20km from Florence, is the Medici villa La Ferdinanda, built in 1596 by the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Alongside it you’ll find this estate of 102 rooms, suites, villas and lodges, as well as a winery, gourmet restaurants, a swimming pool and spa. Designed in a Tuscan Renaissance style with terracotta floors, wooden beams and Tuscan sandstone, this property promises to reflect the historical and cultural legacy of this unique spot.
Details
B&B doubles from £207 (melia.com). Fly to Florence or Pisa

The pool at Passalacqua, Lake Como

The pool at Passalacqua, Lake Como

Passalacqua, Lake Como

Grand Hotel Tremezzo, that old-school landmark, has a sister property opening this month. An 18th-century villa on the lake, it has been reimagined by the team behind Tremezzo and will offer eight rooms in the jewel-toned Palazz, plus four rooms in Casa al Lago. There’s also an olive-grove gym, lakeside tennis courts and an open-air cinema.
Details
B&B doubles from £854 (passalacqua.it). Fly to Milan

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