“A medieval palazzo with sumptuous suites, panoramic pool, formal gardens and "the most beautiful panorama in the world".”
The building was never intended as a hotel: it started out in the 12th-14th centuries as a patrician villa for the aristocratic Pitti of Florence and the royal d'Angio family of Naples, then was incorporated into the adjacent monastery of Santa Chiara, before becoming the residence of Lord Grimthorpe and the summer haunt of the Bloombury Set and other 20th-century artists. Only in the last decades have mere mortals been allowed the chance to stay in its huge and atmospheric rooms.
As you'd expect, no 2 rooms are the same: some have frescoed ceiling vaults, others a monumental carved-tuff fireplace or an arched opening to an elegant sitting room. Floors gleam with patterned majolica tiles from nearby Vietri, their colours picked out in the bed fabrics and curtains. You might find a sculpted walnut wardrobe, a tall gilded mirror or a massive desk with heraldic side-panels, all gently evoking its noble and historic heritage. But it's not overdone. Walls are white or pale-pastel with a sprinkling of botanic prints (each room is named after a flower which grows in the park); the furniture (mostly antique pieces bought by Grimthorpe) sits fittingly and modestly in the huge space; and the overall impression is one of airy comfort which needs no gimmickery to underline its privilege.
There are some concessions to modernity: satellite flatscreen TVs, laptop connectivity, TVs, inbuilt heating / air-conditioning, and, in most bathrooms, whirlpool bathtubs or hydro-massage showers.
You pay extra for sea views, of course, but don't under-estimate the garden views here! The pink camelia which fills the window of 'Dahlia', for example, is almost as overwhelming as the blue of the sea. Deluxe Rooms are larger - in the case of 'Tulipano' it's a full 4m high, while 'Pervinca' at the town-ward tip has long views to sea and mountains. Junior Suites are larger still (around 40 sq.m.), with a (partly) separated sitting room. One is high and airy, while another has a secluded terrace where you can enjoy breakfast or a light lunch. The 2 suites are real honeymoon stuff: Camelia has high painted ceilings, pink walls, a terrace and a sunken bathtub in the bathroom; Greta Garbo (also known as Iris) has a pretty private terrace too.
Three of the loveliest rooms - Magnolia (Junior Suite), Pervinca (Deluxe Room) and the Camelia Suite - are in the wing near the cloisters, and can be booked as an independent apartment for 4-6.
One of the luxuries of this place is the sense of space, which extends to the restaurant: you can dine at wicker tables by the pool, on a stunning terrace overlooking the gardens and vineyards, indoors in a vaulted hall, or even have meals brought to your room on a tray.
When we visited the gourmet Il Flauto di Pan restaurant we found the service to be impeccable, and the cuisine both delicate and unpretentious. But be aware that there are occasions when large wedding or party groups can take over somewhat.
It's no surprise to hear that it was awarded its first Michelin star in 2012. The young chef uses vegetables and herbs from the hotel's organic garden, combined with local recipes (and lots of homemade pasta), to prepare dishes which are light, tasty and beautifully presented. We enjoyed bersagliera (large macaroni) with aubergine, tomato and freshly plucked basil, then tender smoked salmon with capers and scallions, accompanied by an easy white 'Tramonti' recommended by the maitre.
Light lunches are also available - soups, salads, pasta, sandwiches - but, lest you imagine white-bread triangles with tasteless cress, we're talking homemade ciabatta with parma ham and buffalo mozzarella. And the breakfast spread is excellent, particularly the fruit platter.
There's also a café directly below the main belvedere, whose tiny tiled balcony is the most romantic spot for a gelato; and a tea room on the shady lawns behind. Both of these are liable to get busy in the middle of the day.
If you fancy eating out, we recommend Rossellini's in the Palazzo Sasso (expensive), cheffed by Pino Lavarra who worked with Raymond Blanc in the Manoir aux Quat'Saisons; Mamma Agata (moderate), which has just 6 tables and specialises in vegetable antipasti and lemon cake; Cumpà Cosimo (moderate) which is good but perhaps over-recommended (the rotund proprietress is full of 'mamma mias' and has a habit of telling you, rather than asking you, what to eat); and, for an informal pizza among the locals, Da Vittoria near the duomo.