On a clear day you can see right down the length of Italy to the boot tip from the balcony of the Santa Caterina. The hotel hugs a cliff just outside the ravishing Mediterranean resort town of Amalfi, a coastline containing many beauties including nearby Positano and Ravello. A series of descending terraces and gardens drops down from the late 19th-century villa to the rocky coast. There are lemon and olive groves, flower gardens and vineyards crammed on to every inch of space, all utilised to produce something delicious for you to eat or drink. A tiny lift takes you down to the sea, pool-side restaurant and beach club, although the vertiginously challenged may like to shut their eyes.
This is a family-run hotel of the old school (Giusi and Ninni Gambardella are the grand-daughters of the hotel's founder) and has a quaint, personal touch. The style is classic southern Italian, glossy tiled floors, white sofas, gilded mirrors and plenty of courteous staff to cater to your every need. There is a gym and a spa for the motivated but really this is the ideal place to lie around reading novels, merely moving from one veranda to another, depending on the time of day and your feeding requirements.
The pastry chef must be accorded a special mention. The contents of the breakfast bread basket changed daily: miniature doughnuts, mille-feuille cornets of English custard (a local speciality called sfogliatelle), tiny Danish pastries of such lightness and delicacy, even Hercule Poirot's fastidious standards would have been satisfied.
Santa Caterina, S S Amalfitana 9, Amalfi, Italy (00 39 089 871351; hotelsantacaterina.it ). The hotel is 90 minutes' drive from Naples airport or train station; a shuttle service is provided. Once at the hotel, ask for Roberto di Palma who speaks English like a Londoner and will take you on an excursion for €40 an hour: Pompeii and Paestum are easy drives.
Amalfi is 10 minutes' walk – ask Roberto to take you to the Ristorante Lido Azzurro, which serves fresh fish daily, overlooking the water (00 39 089 871384; ristorantelidoazzurro.it ).
We stayed in room 28, with a lounge, bathroom with Jacuzzi bath, and a large terrace. Rooms either look over the gardens or the sea and most have a terrace or balcony. Superior quality mattresses, down pillows and fine linen sheets and towels were noteworthy. Thoughtful touches included a constant supply of (free) water and a beach bag. The décor follows the general style of tiled floors, dark wood furniture and a breezy colour scheme.
Freebies: complete set of toiletries.
Keeping in touch: free internet connection, direct-dial phones and TVs in all rooms.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Double rooms start at €350, including breakfast.
I'm not paying that: Hotel La Bussola (00 39 089 871 533; labussolahotel.it ) is on the Amalfi seafront and has doubles from €98, including breakfast.Reuse content