It provided the perfect hideaway for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in the early days of their relationship, while four decades earlier Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton began their tumultuous on-off romance here. Kim Kardashian spent her first honeymoon - with former husband Kris Humphries - in a waterfront suite, while Hillary and Chelsea Clinton found tranquility here during Bill’s presidency.
So when I was lucky enough to be invited to spend a weekend at the beautiful Hotel Santa Caterina on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, I was following in some very well-heeled and famous footsteps. Pulling up at its chic and elegant façade after a 90-minute drive from Naples airport along the breathtaking coastal road and stepping inside its marbled entrance hall, it’s easy to see why the Hotel Santa Caterina is a favourite destination not only for the rich and famous, but returning guests from around the world.
Hotel Santa Caterina has been visited by stars including Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie
A family-run hotel for more than 100 years, it is built into a cliff side and enjoys magnificent views over the sparkling Tyrrhenian sea. The property dates back to 1880, when it was a house, and it has remained in the Gambardella family ever since, with successive generations adding guest rooms expanding and improving the site over the years.
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Today, the five star hotel is the epitome of understated luxury, boasting 66 rooms and suites, two top notch restaurants, terrace bar, a gym, spa and a private beach club with a heated saltwater pool and direct access to the sea. Beautifully decorated with colourful Vietri ceramic tiles and furnished with family pieces, the rooms have terraces and balconies overlooking the Amalfi coast and no two are the same. Suites such as the Romeo and Juliet has its own private heated infinity pool to ensure complete privacy should any star-crossed lovers come to stay!
The Romeo and Juliet suite has its own private heated infinity pool
Amalfi is famous for its lemons (they were imported to make Harry and Meghan’s lemon and elderflower wedding cake) and Santa Caterina has its its own lemon grove, which fills the air with a delicious citrusy scent as we walk amongst the trees. As well producing local liqueur Limoncello, the lemons are a key ingredient in some of the mouth-watering dishes on the menu at the hotel’s restaurants and I couldn’t resist squeezing a few into my suitcase to take home.
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Food is one of the highlights of the trip and there are two excellent on-site restaurants serving fresh, local produce which tastes all the better when enjoyed with ocean views. At Al Mare, we enjoyed long lunches of fresh fish platters, pizzas and handmade pasta, while dinners at the al la carte Santa Caterina restaurant included king prawns wrapped in spinach leaves, medallion of beef with basil-scented olive oil and my personal favourite - ravioli filled with zucchini and ricotta and served in a creamy lemon sauce. The friendly, attentive staff couldn’t have been more helpful and clearly feel they’re not just employees but part of a family, with one waiter who has worked there for decades telling us how much he loves his job.
The beach club and pool overlooks the sea
The hotel makes the most of its enviable south-facing waterside position and its beach club features a sundeck with loungers, bar and a ladder into the sea. The descent to the beach club from the hotel’s upper levels is an experience in itself - a ride in a glass lift that’s cut into the cliff, giving fabulous views across the bay.
Hard as it may be to tear yourself away from the Hotel Santa Caterina, there are lots of reasons to go out and explore. From my balcony I can see the medieval town of Amalfi - a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was maritime trading powerhouse in the Middle Ages. The town is about a 15 minute walk from the hotel or reached by shuttle bus and here we browsed the shops and cafes around the central square - the Piazza Duomo - explored the Sant’Andrea cathedral and strolled by the port. As well as its rich history, Amalfi has a cosmopolitan, lively atmosphere and it’s easy to access the nearby cliffside village of Positano and the island of Capri from here, while trips to the ancient sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum are also possible.
The rugged Amalfi coastline is best explored from the sea, and we took in the breathtaking views during an afternoon cruise with premiumboatcharter.com, which also took us to the famous Emerald Grotto - an underwater cave where shards of sunlight give the water a jewel-like quality. As we headed back to Amalfi we sipped prosecco on the deck as the water glistened in the sunlight, having thoroughly enjoyed spending the last couple of days living like film stars.
Rooms at the Hotel Santa Caterina start at 365 Euros per night. For more information go to hotelsantacaterina.it.