Quite simply, Il San Pietro is among Europe’s most iconic luxury hotels. Each time we visit we’re embraced by old-world hospitality entwined with subtle contemporary luxury. Uniquely, in our experience, the property has the air of a grand home rather than a hotel, which is hardly surprising as it was originally built as a home for the founder’s family.
The hotel’s cliff-side location is outstanding. Carved out of the rocks, it cascades down to the rugged shoreline. The bedrooms and suites occupy layers of terraces, each with private outside space and glorious views of either the open sea or – our preference – the spectacular bay of Positano. Restyled in recent years to incorporate hand-painted ceramic tiles, bright, sunny fabrics and eclectic antiques, the spacious rooms conjure up an air of chic, understated opulence. All aspects, from the bathrobes to the Bang & Olufsen televisions, are of the highest quality.
We describe the cuisine at Il San Pietro as ‘fine dining in a humble way’. At gourmet restaurant Zass, Michelin-starred chef Alois Vanlangenaeker and his 32-strong team conjure up dishes that embody his quest for purity, harmony & refinement. His creations recall contemporary paintings while seeking to maintain Italian gastronomic tradition. “My aim is to enhance the existing product. I have great respect for the ingredients”, he says.
Most of the products used in the state-of-the-art kitchen come from Il San Pietro’s organic vegetable garden or local growers and suppliers.
The last time we visited Carlino’s, the hotel’s casual restaurant down by the beach, our waiter said “The local fisherman caught a big tuna today – I would like to offer you a salad with this amazing tuna”. We replied “Yes”, of course. It was amazing. Fresh from the sea. Service from the heart, accompanied by the relaxing sound of the waves.
A stay at Il San Pietro is all about the incredible views, the warm hospitality amid restrained elegance and the beauty of the Amalfi Coast. We adore the natural aromas of lemon trees, the ancient olive groves, traditional white houses and picturesque villages – this is a lifestyle to savour. Occasionally, we like to step aboard the hotel boat and cruise down the coastline to the Gulf of Naples or sail to Capri. The boat will also take guests to lunch or dinner at shoreside restaurants along the coast.
It’s tempting, on the other hand, to simply relax on the terrace, take in the stunning views and order a perfect Bellini or limoncello. Service, under the watchful eye of Swiss-trained family member Vito Cinque, is discrete and gracious. No wonder many guests return season after season. The staff, too, show outstanding loyalty to Il San Pietro…many have been with the establishment for decades.
Among the many features of the hotel we admire is the fact that it refuses to rest on its laurels. Back in 2008, the Cinque family launched an ambitious 12-year plan to renovate the entire hotel one section at a time. Together with interior designer Fausta Gaetani and her team of architects, renovation work took place each winter season during the five months the hotel shuts annually. This major series of upgrades, including the installation of a brand new 400 sq.m. kitchen, was completed on schedule in time for the hotel’s 50th anniversary.
We also admire the hotel’s aura of unpretentious sincerity. Despite its Michelin star, the Zass kitchen is as happy to serve an awesomely perfect pizza margherita as a dish representing the pinnacle of fine dining. Such elegant informality is in evidence throughout the hotel, from the understated luxury of the rooms and suites to the friendly yet utterly professional staff.
The gardens are one of the most interesting aspects of the Il San Pietro environment, not only for their layered terraces that are typical of the Amalfi Coast, but for their cultivation of organic produce used daily in the hotel’s restaurants and bars, and the flowers used to decorate the halls and rooms. The Maitre’d is happy to accompany guests through the gardens along a scenic path that gradually descends to the sea, while describing the production and harvesting of seasonal vegetables.
Below the gardens, the hotel’s private Beach Club is an inviting spot to soak up some sun and, for the intrepid few, to take an exhilarating leap into the cold, clear water. This is the perfect place to pass a day of southern Italian “dolce vita” simply relaxing on the Costiera. For guests seeking more strenuous activity, a workout in the outdoor gym amid the scent of lemon blossoms is recommended.