“The prima donna of Positano is as classy and comfortable as ever, and still the only outstanding hotel in town”
After the dim corridor, bedrooms come as a wonderful surprise: bright white walls with a scattering of rustic portraits, gleaming Vietri-patterned floor tiles, a few antique pieces of furniture (a wave-fronted dresser and small desk, both in polished walnut), and shuttered French windows to a private balcony which looks out over the pool to a sparkling sea. It's a great spot for a sundowner - you'll find the minibar disguised in a marbled cabinet. The only sound, by day, is from the harbour dredger which seems to have become a permanent fixture in Positano; at night, it's astonishingly quiet (with windows shut and air-conditioning on). The bed, thankfully, is not antique, but a broad kingsize with firm mattress and buoyant pillows.
The Sersale dynasty has not shied from new technology in their 18th-century family palazzo: you'll find a big TV with DVD (choose from 500 titles in the 'multimedia centre'), a Bosé iPod sound-dock and pay-as-you-go WiFi connectivity.
In the bathroom, clad in streaky grey marble and old-fashioned chrome taps, they have installed Jacuzzi tubs across the board. There are excellent bespoke toiletries and perfumes from Eau d'Italie (and, as a man, I'm not normally moved to such observations), which combine scents of bergamot, blackcurrant, incense and the ubiquitous lemon.
The majority of rooms are classified as Sea View, which deliver their promise to a T, and are the ones we'd recommend. Partial Sea View rooms are smaller and look straight onto the pool terrace - good for checking on kids, but less private and lacking those elevated views (generally the higher the room number, the better the view). Standard Rooms are as unexceptional as they claim - 'fine for babysitters', we were told. Inner Courtyard rooms lack both balcony and view. Junior Suites are larger than Sea Views, with their sofa and armchairs in a separate space. Superior Junior Suites get larger balconies (some big enough for a family to sit out); one has a picture window by the Jacuzzi tub, so you can gaze out to sea while you soak. There are some communicating suites, which can be arranged to offer spacious 1 or 2-Bedroom Suites.
On the pool level is the gorgeous, Michelin-starred La Sponda restaurant, no doubt the family's winter limonaia judging from the arcade of sea-facing windows and the potted lemon trees, still heavy with fruit in April. With the addition of elegant leafed chandeliers and vivid bougainvillea fanning up the vaulted ceilings, it feels like a cross between a botanic garden and a Baroque church.
Either way, it's a splendid setting for a refined, candlelit dinner, with occasional live guitarists to complete (one hopes) the romantic ambiance. Cuisine is delicate but not snobbish: roasted sea-bass sits alongside a classic Neapolitan scorfano all'acqua pazza (literally 'scorpion in mad water'), which is a local rock fish in light tomato sauce. Rack of lamb comes with fennel and Amalfi-style ratatouille, while desserts include a sinful almond and chocolate cake. It's not cheap but it is unfailingly good, if the comments of our co-diners were anything to go by.
One of the best breakfast buffets we've seen is laid out here on blue-white ceramic bowls and silver-domed stands, with everything a hungry Odysseus could have dreamed of and more: piping hot eggs, bacon and sausage, succulent melons, kiwi, strawberries and pineapple, patterned roundels of cottage cheese, long strips of prosciutto crudo, tender slivers of salmon and all manner of pasticcerie, from mini pains au chocolat to maxi jam tarts. You'll find jugs of freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juice, pineapple and carrot squashes, even a bottle of cava on ice. And it all tastes as good as it looks.
In high summer both breakfast and dinner move outside to the lemon-scented terrace, where there's also the fabulous Champagne and Oyster Bar. And of course there are plenty of other eateries in town, most of them offering Neapolitan-style seafood, pasta and pizzas at Positano-style prices. Reception staff will be glad to offer recommendations to suit your appetite and budget; a favourite is a meat-fest at one of the mountain taverns in the cliff-hanging village of Montepertuso (most offer transport to and from Positano).
Children over 6 are welcome year-round. NB under 6s are only accepted out of season (i.e. in March, April and October) by arrangement, though not by the pool or in the restaurant at dinner time. Cots and extra beds (both subject to a supplement) and baby-sitters can all be arranged. Extra beds are available in sea-view and junior suites only.
Cots Available, Extra Beds Available
Babysitting available by arrangement
Baby cots available on request
Remember baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking