Early morning in Amalfi and the sun is nearly melting the tiles on my balcony. It is however a small price to pay for such a heavenly view, on the cliff top some 80 metres above the town and the endless expanse of the Mediterranean. The NH Collection Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi has had to endure this same view for over seven centuries, when it was originally a monastery and I have to admit, right now, I am having something of a religious experience myself.
The Amalfi coast is just completely intoxicating in its ridiculous beauty. Despite its obvious attraction to tourists, it still somehow manages to retain its dignity and breathtaking natural splendour. Amalfi and Positano have their commercial trappings, but their centuries old pastel coloured houses and cobbled courtyards have undeniable romantic charm.
But there can be no denying that up here, high up on the rugged cliffs is where the Amalfi coast takes centre stage and the NH Collection Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi has an enviable position to take full advantage.
The Convento is the flagship property of Spanish hotel group NH Hotels and the crown jewel of its NH Collection portfolio. Formerly known as the Convento dei Cuppuccini, NH has invested heavily to transform this stunning historic monastery into a five star luxury hotel, while still managing to retain its monastic heritage.
The ancient cloisters and fully functioning Franciscan church are not simply props but provide an immersive historical experience. You are literally walking in the footsteps of its former residents in the Monks Walk, a beautiful bougainvillea-lined pillared passageway to the infinity pool area. Most of the 53 guestrooms are the former monk’s cells, albeit somewhat more luxurious thankfully. The corridors have elements of its former life, a well worn bench here, a wooden pulpit there. There are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore and indulge in your own meditative experience, although the top floor spa will perhaps be a far better road to inner contentment.
Restaurant Kyushu, in keeping with the whole property, is another welcome surprise. A fusion of Mediterranean and Japanese cuisines. A partnership with acclaimed Spanish chef Julian Marmol creator of the new Japanese-inspired Madrid restaurant scene showcases a menu of traditional regional dishes with more than a few Japanese twists.
There is something rather special sitting out on the restaurant terrace for dinner overlooking the lights of Amalfi below and munching on sushi with local Mediterranean flavours. Like Nigiri hamachi yellowtail with Perlage truffle and chives, or Shiso miso marinated black cod. Marmol manages to pull it off with style and panache, using some highly imaginative plate designs. Although using chop sticks in a region famous for its lemons and buffalo mozzarella makes me feel a little treasonous despite the delicious food.
My regional guilt evaporates the next day at lunch in La Locanda, the poolside restaurant where Campania specialities abound. Delicious pasta straight from Gragnano made simply with tomatoes and olive oil, perfect caprese salad with local mozzarella and tomatoes and basil from the hotel’s herb garden. Maitre d Alfonse is quick to point out why Gragnano is so special. “it is too difficult to explain in English.” He tells me, “just trust me when I tell you it is very special!”
While we are on the subject of food, the breakfast buffet at Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi on the terrace is epic. Fresh fruit, fresh eggs in every variety and a bounty of freshly baked savoury pastries are particularly memorable.
The drawback for such an amazing bird’s eye view of Amalfi is you have to get down to earth at some point. It takes not one but two lifts to get to road level, and even then, a steep terrace of ancient steps to reach sea level. Thankfully the hotel provides a free shuttle into town for less able guests.
I take a more adventurous route and journey a well worn path down aged stone steps and through narrow alleys between ancient dwellings. In less than ten minutes I’ve arrived at the centre of town, in Amalfi’s famous Piazza Duomo, it’s a bit of culture shock, from the serenity of The Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi to Amalfi’s busy piazzas and traders hawking everything from leather to Limoncello. Despite the hubbub, there’s no denying Amalfi’s charm; the narrow whitewashed alleys and centuries-old houses are exactly why UNESCO deems the Amalfi coast such an important example of a Mediterranean landscape.
Taking a somewhat slower return back up to Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi, I finally reach the terrace and Davide is on hand to administer the perfect recovery tool; a nice cold beer.
Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi is even by Italian standards, a true five star hotel. I could say the bedrooms are perhaps not as spacious as I might prefer, but then again you can’t play around too much with 13th century architecture; I also think a restaurant specialising in Italian regional cooking would be a perfect alternative to Restaurant Kyushu’s obvious Asian influence. Delicious but not what you would expect to eat for dinner every night in Italy.
For me, these are small points when the bigger picture is so magnificent. It is also a surprise and a pleasure to find a hotel team so willing to provide service of the very highest quality.
Tell me more about Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi
Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi, Via Annunziatella, 46, 84011 Amalfi, Italy
Tel: +39 089 873 6711 , E: email@example.com
Premium room with breakfast from €413
Not to be missed on the Amalfi Coast
Atrani, the tiny fishing village next door, is accessible via a pedestrian tunnel from Amalfi town.
Hike or drive up to the mountain town of Ravello with its artisanal ceramics, amazing views and postcard piazzas and alleys.
Getting to the Amalfi Coast
Gatwick Express, the non-stop rail-air service between Victoria station and Gatwick Airport, departs every 15 minutes with a journey time of 30 minutes. Gatwick Express is the fastest and best way to travel between central London and Gatwick Airport with return tickets starting from £27.40. With an ongoing 10% discount, it is always cheaper to buy your ticket online at www.gatwickexpress.com