How to live like a prince on Italy's Cilento coast

It's not only rich families who holiday in palazzos, says Kate Simon. You can hire just a bit of this revamped one on Italy's Cilento coast
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The Independent Travel

Strictly speaking, football isn't allowed in the square at Santa Maria del Castellabate on Italy's Cilento coast. Tell that to the local kids. Tell that to my six-year-old son! The local polizia may try to shoo away offenders (when they can be bothered to emerge from the station at the edge of the piazza), but once their backs are turned the kids return, wannabe Del Pieros practising their skills for a future World Cup.

The international language of football may be what they speak on this small town's piazza, but just a few yards away, inside the gates of Palazzo Belmonte, where we are staying, the language is almost exclusively English.

That's no surprise. The 18th-century former hunting lodge, standing in five acres of gardens, offers just the sort of grand old Italian setting that the British chattering classes dream of holidaying in. And the fact that you can afford a bit of it for a week, and bring the children along is, well, perfetto!

Yet Palazzo Belmonte isn't new, it has been open to guests since 1981, when the prince, who is still in residence, saw the potential in its thick stone walls and transformed part of it into a hotel, later adding a modern block in the grounds to bring the room count up to 50.

So what's it doing in our preview of 2007? Because times are changing at this firm favourite, which fills up each year with returning guests and those they deem fit to be let in on the secret. Currently closed for winter - the palazzo opens from Easter to October - the builders are in, updating the tired décor and remodelling the suites, creating a restaurant and bar off the courtyard around which sits the main house, and elevating the pool bar to overlook the beach.

They are necessary improvements. Palazzo Belmonte was designed to be a grand type of aparthotel, offering suites with a kitchenette for those who wanted to self-cater, and the more convivial option of a restaurant for the family chef's night off. Quite a few of those kitchens will go in the revamp; the restaurant, which is excellent and genuinely welcomes children, tempts enough of the guests to have made self-catering a diminishing attraction. And its relocation from a hillside at the top of the property to the main courtyard, will create a sociable hub that the palazzo lacks (they could do with putting on a bit of music in the evenings, too).

Of course, the area's delights will remain the same. There are trails to follow in the national park within which the palazzo stands, the surrounding coastline and its pretty villages to explore, and for the swots in the family ancient Paestum's marble temples, dating from the 7th century BC, are a few miles away, and Pompeii is just a little further.

But the palazzo's best feature is its proximity to the beach, which is just beyond a door in the garden wall. In true Italian style, regimented rows of sun-loungers, shaded by umbrellas, are laid out along the shore. Yet the atmosphere is relaxed. This is where ordinary Neapolitans come to play in the summer, leaving the prettier scenery yet more polluted waters of the Amalfi coast, just to the north, to their richer neighbours.

They're a friendly lot and our son, Quincy, takes full advantage of creating a new social circle in the surf. Just like on the piazza, there is no language barrier when it comes to playing volleyball in the sea or building sandcastles on the beach.

THE COMPACT GUIDE

HOW TO GET THERE:

Kate Simon travelled to Palazzo Belmonte with CV Travel (0870 606 0803; cvtravel.co.uk), which exclusively offers rental of 19 suites, sleeping two to five guests. A week's stay costs from £441 per adult, 8-12s £406 and under-8s £315, including flights, car hire and b&b.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

Holiday Extras (0870 844 4186; holidayextras.co.uk) provided airport hotel accommodation at the Radisson SAS Stansted, available from £149 per night with 15 days' parking.

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