La dolce vita: part three

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

Looking for somewhere stylish to stay in Italy? Boutique travel experts Mr & Mrs Smith have recently published their first Italy guidebook, and to celebrate CD-Traveller has teamed up with them to reveal three special stays. Today: Casa Angelina

STYLE All white now
SETTING On the rocks

Too much work and winter-induced malaise means these Mr Smiths are due a holiday. An empty long weekend and some last-minute flights to the Amalfi Coast present themselves, and we pounce. We’re on that plane faster than you can say ‘Andiamo!’. The second we come soaring into the shimmering haze of Naples Bay, all work stresses dissipate, replaced by thoughts of oranges plucked from the tree, pizzas pulled from the wood-fired oven, and Campari, well, straight from the bottle.

Though we’d planned on renting a car, the prospect of tackling the coast’s notoriously zigzagging roads brings out the scaredy cat in me, and we decide to take a taxi. A little flirt with car sickness and a near miss with a giant lemon (actually a lemonade truck) aside, the journey is smooth and pleasant – thanks mostly to the eye-popping view. Panoramas of this glistening gulp of the Med and its dramatic coastline hit us from every angle as we wind our way round the Gulf of Naples down to the southern coast of the Sorrentine Peninsula.

Positano marks our penultimate pit stop before the tiny village of Praiano. Hanging on the craggy landscape, tiers of pale apricot abodes seem on the brink of tumbling into the crystalline sea beneath (Mr Smith goes as far as describing it as ‘impossibly sapphire’). The first thing that strikes you about this rugged corner of Amalfi is how astonishing it is that people ever came to live here: incredibly steep and impassably rocky, it is mind-boggling to think the Italians made it this far.

A whitewashed stalagmite of minimalist luxury on this rocky edge, Casa Angelina is invisible from the road, thanks to the near vertical cliff-face. To reach it, our taxi twists its way down a road that a limber mountain goat would find challenging. Before we’ve made it out of the car and passed Angelina’s swishing electric doors, we’ve had our bags prised from our dragging fists, replaced by glasses of fresh almond milk straight from an ice-bucket.

On initial inspection, Casa Angelina is how I would imagine Rupert Everett’s house to have looked in the 1990s: all whitewashed walls, clean lines and busts of beautiful women. And this is no bad thing: the Nineties’ look is back, after all (and I imagine Everett’s got impeccable taste). Our celestial casa is an art hotel, and colourful contemporary paintings and sculptures by Tim Cotterill, Gina Nahle Bauer and Sergio Bustamante are bright and intriguing. These fantasy-world bronzes, Murano glass sculptures and papier-mâché figures, if not to everyone’s taste, make for engaging eye-stops between white spaces and cerulean sky-and-sea views beyond.

Our spacious, light-flooded bedroom also has a small, sea-facing balcony, which we quickly take to with glasses of complimentary champagne. Frankly, we are desperate to get our alabaster bodies into the sun – even if it is by now already 5pm. A quick shower in the well-proportioned, very white, beautifully tiled bathroom, and we’re ready for a stroll down to the sea. ‘A hike!’ declares Signor Smith. The walk is worth it. A trip down in the elevator and then we follow the steps down a meandering, olive-tree-lined path to a secluded beach bar. Negronis in hand, we plot up and open the floodgates to some serious awe, inspired by watching the Mediterranean sun sink into that mesmerising sea.

Strolling, and pausing intermittently for a little breath to be stolen, is what mostly fills our time in Praiano. Orange-tree-shaded lanes, an aquamarine-sea-facing church – it’s a landscape that is unspeakably beautiful. We eat our way through Praiano’s handful of restaurants, perhaps peaking with the massive, tasty pizzas from Trattoria San Gennaro. Traveller-beloved tiny towns litter the Amalfi Coast, and Positano, despite being full of Italian tourists and their little pooches, is soul-stirringly pretty and welcoming. Amalfi itself is worth a visit alone for its unparalleled gelato.

When it comes to our last night, our freshly uplifted hearts plummet briefly: it’s too nice here. We’re sad to be departing Casa Angelina, so we savour our stay down to the very last drop by dining at the hotel’s own restaurant, Un Piano nel Cielo. Feeling romantic, full by now with great food, wine and sun, Mr Smith and I plump for the tasting menu and a bottle of delicious local Aglianico. From the off – a meltingly fresh monkfish, juicy pancetta and tasty sautéed broad bean salad – each of the seven dishes is among the best we’ve had on our trip: no small claim in this gourmet’s paradise.

Praiano’s scenery has been some of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen, the food is universally faultless and our hotel is a dream. Thinking back to those initial weekend aspirations, we’ve successfully ticked a lot of boxes. At least 20 oranges were devoured straight from the tree; maybe five chewy yet crispy pizzas were wolfed direct from the oven. Campari bottles slugged? Too many to mention. And as for our trip away… it was one in a million.

NEED TO KNOW
Rooms 39, including a junior suite. There are also four Eaudesea Experience Rooms, with private-beach access.
Rates €250–€675 (€750–€1,150 for the Junior Suite); rates exclude buffet breakfast (€25 a head).
Check-out 3pm; later check-out is subject to availability and, if it’s busy, an extra charge. Earliest check-in, 12 noon.
Facilities Spa with sauna and gym, cigar room, CD/DVD library, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, CD/DVD player, iPod dock (on request), minibar, L’Occitane bath products. Higher-category rooms are also graced with B&O entertainment systems, Nespresso machines and laptops. Private yoga classes and personal training can be arranged.
Poolside Inside the hotel, a heated hydrotherapy pool bubbles away under a constellation of fibre optics on the ceiling. Out on the deck, a sun-warmed counter-current pool is surrounded by stylish sun loungers and parasols.
Children Mini Smiths are welcome in low season (November and April), for €110 a night; it’s over-10s only in high season. Babysitting costs about €40 an hour – give half a day’s notice. The restaurant has a children’s menu.
Also A shuttle bus runs to and from Positano five times a day, and the hotel has a fleet of private boats for zooming along the coast. The hotel closes in the winter (mid-November to March), but reopens briefly to bring in the New Year.

IN THE KNOW
Our favourite rooms With views of Praiano from its Starck-designed bath tub, Junior Suite 401 has to be the most reach-for-the-camera impressive; it also has a vast private terrace offering 180º views of Positano and Capri from the comfort of a luxurious lounger. Beside a private beach and with access to their own club lounge, airy Eaudesea Experience Rooms are former fisherfolk dwellings set apart from the hotel, incorporating the cliff face into their whitewashed walls.
Hotel bar The small Moroccan-influenced bar has a terrace on the cliff edge scattered with teak tables and umbrellas. The staff certainly know their way around a mojito (they slug in a dash of limoncello). Drinks are served until 1am.
Hotel restaurant Un Piano nel Cielo (‘a floor in the sky’) is just that: a top-floor terrace with yet more amazing views of the Amalfi Coast. The indoor area is fitted with wide windows, so you can still admire the vista when the wind’s up. The kitchen makes the most of the hotel’s coastal setting: expect a high-end, seafood-heavy Mediterranean menu.
Top table Ask for a spot on the edge of the terrace overlooking the ocean – dining doesn’t get more dramatic.
Room service Drinks, snacks and light meals can be summoned 24 hours a day.
Dress code White summer wraps to blend in – or vibrant sarongs to stand out. Gigantic sunglasses are de rigueur.
Local knowledge Hire a Vespa from Praiacosta (+39 089 813082) and tour the coast in true Italian style. The nearby village of Nerano is famous for its spaghetti con zucchini, so stop there for lunch before heading up to Ravello, the hilltop town famed for its amazing viewpoints.

LOCAL EATING AND DRINKING
A two-minute wander away on Via Gennaro Capriglione, La Brace (+39 089 874226) is a charming family-run trattoria, with home-made dishes, fresh fish and excellent pizza. At night, you can see the lights of Positano twinkling across the bay. Nestling in a quiet cove, a short boat ride from the hotel, Trattoria Da Armandino (+39 089 874087) is another family-run eatery on the seashore with a very local flavour: recipes have been handed down the generations, and diners are often serenaded by local musicians. Meat, wine and views is La Tagliata in a nutshell; this hilltop restaurant near Positano serves plate upon plate of expertly barbecued farm-style fare in simple surroundings (+39 089 875872).

GET A ROOM!
Hotel details 147 via Gennaro Capriglione, 84010 Praiano (+39 089 813 1333; casangelina.com).
To book Please visit mrandmrssmith.com or call 0845 034 0700.  Anyone making a booking can expect champagne and fresh fruit on arrival; a romantic bath drawn for you on your first night; and a gift bag of Casa Angelina’s traditional home-made pasta on departure.

Mr & Mrs Smith: Hotel Collection Italy (£19.95, Spy Publishing) is available from mrandmrssmith.com and all good bookshops nationwide.

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