When pondering life in a monastery, images of stoic monks engaged in the pursuit of tireless abstinence come to mind; perhaps you conjure their unfulfilled passions, heavy sacrifices, and somber dutifulness underscoring a lifetime of pious devotion. Well, you shall have to park those preconceptions to one side the moment you hear the Monastero Santa Rosa‘s bell welcome you to the Hotel – a charming and sonorous tradition ringing out from a simpler era. Whilst an ancient spirituality pervades Monastero‘s stone corridors, this is perhaps the most well-invested, immaculately finished gem on Italy’s glistening Amalfi Coast, and was the scene of my latest wellness pilgrimage. Blending the owner’s meticulous eye for detail, a masterpiece organic vegetable garden nourished by lashings of Italian sunshine, a ‘gourmet heavyweight’ chef, a heavenly infinity pool, a sumptuous spa complex, and exquisitely appointed rooms, the hotel nails the very essence of Amalfi magic. I visited in order to road-test their newly launched ‘Health & Hike’ package, and am thrilled to recount the special experiences I encountered over my 3 days. Read MORE to see all the glorious details…
… is unusually rich at this castle hotel, and to perceive its heritage is to understand it’s magic. Magnificently perched 500 meters up, nestled atop a rugged outcrop of Paleozoic Limestone, standing tall with both an imposing majesty and elegant simplicity, this was once home to the Santa Rosa nuns of the Dominican order. In the 17th Century through their isolated correctional activities, they gained celebrity for two things; i) the effectiveness of the herbal medicines they whipped up in the monastery’s apothecaries, and ii) inventing the Sfogliatella Santa Rosa, a super-delicious hybrid of a croissant and a crispy custard pastry, garnished with a noble glacé cherry. In their time were both angelic healers and demonic bakers!
Fast-forward to the new millennium, and current owner Bianca Sharma, previously a Montessori school teacher, passed by on her first trip to the Amalfi Coast, looking up from the sea, and was ensnared by its magic. It has taken a degree of vision and tenacity that I can’t relay in a blog post, for her to establish this remarkable institution. Her strength of will and warmth of character has imbued this hotel with the passion to do its heritage justice. Strangely, I know what she felt on that first trip, as I also took that same boat excursion 3 years ago whilst in Positano – I was struck with intrigue by the Monastero’s muscular structure, enquired about it, and mentally noted it for ‘later’.
Whilst they might appear to have existed as a hotel forever, the 20-room Monastero first opened its doors only in 2012. This means that the finish remains high-quality and relevant in a way that many other Italian hotels won’t ever achieve, and yet the rooms lose none of their charm because of it; the discerning traveler will absolutely appreciate this.
I stayed in their signature Rosa suite and was bowled over by the limestone bathroom – a masterpiece of elegant lighting, underfloor heating, feng shui views and architectural design.
The room’s floors are beautifully crafted solid oak. The bedside tables provide for USB charging (YES!), and the sockets by the armoire refreshingly cater to all national plug types. That flavor of innovation is blended with traditional touches such as actual keys with weighty brass fobs engraved with the room name, wooden confessional furniture, the delicious Santa Maria Novella cedar potpourri harking back to monastic days, and that simply absurd, timeless ocean view presiding over the plunging depths of the Gulf of Salerno. Unadulterated view porn.
This hotel boasts a remarkable culinary pedigree which should make Ristorante Il Refettorio at Monastero ‘worth a detour’. The sprawling zonal kitchen is run with precise Teutonic oversight by the endearing and charismatic Executive Chef Christoph Bob, a titan of gastronomy who’s worked with Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenee, Torre del Saracino in Naples, Taillevent in Paris, and Petermann’s Kunststuben in Zurich – we’re already up to 10 Michelin stars in that background, and there’s far more to go! Here, his entire gourmet operation is run with the same weighty seriousness as any of those kitchens, and the results speak delicious volumes. There is a complete fixation on freshness, quality and local sourcing of ingredients – three virtues I constantly push to my PT clients in London, so Christoph’s Mediterranean style immediately caught me.
However, that was magnified after he took us on a superb guided tour of the ‘Chef’s Vegetable and Herb garden‘, which sits on the sunny, north facing slope above the Hotel. Back when the monastery was in the business of religion, nuns would plant their own foods in this very garden; their cuisine was reportedly quite dull and mainly consisted of broths, soups, and stews; yet even then it was a lush plot, blessed with the same unspoiled Vesuvian soil that hosts today’s garden. There I sampled many of the ingredients I reassuringly recognized from my meals; fresh sweet peas from within their bitter husks, intensely flavorsome strawberries, peppery rocket, artichoke, lemons, rosemary, thyme, verbena, basil, chamomile, lettuce, fresh garlic, almonds, and tomatoes. There are countless more treasures planted beneath the volcanic soil waiting to sprout as the season unfolds, but the dedicated gardener for this organic facility will see to that! I can attest that it leads to the highest-quality, local freshness and superb cuisine; this is precisely how I have always aspired to cook myself, but the practicalities of England render it pretty difficult!
Chef explained that in factories, vegetables are covered up and pumped with extra water and chemicals – water obviously doesn’t taste of anything and the chemicals aren’t always good for you. Here the gardeners allow the vegetables to take their time; there’s no external help given. This ensures all the vegetables planted are absolutely bursting with maximum flavor, and here I discovered the most delicious lemons I’ve ever sampled. In fact, they were so delicious you could eat it with the pith and waxy skin still on! Drizzle a little honey on top and you’re in citrus heaven.
Layer on the health credentials of the Mediterranean diet, plus some broader ‘hipster’ touches, and then we’re cooking with gas. Gourmet egg-white omelets, multi-grain porridge with new textures, whole grain croissants! Hands down my favorite 3 dishes were;
- IL PASSAGGIO NELL’ORTO (pictured below) – A mixture of seasonal vegetables from their garden prepared in various ways and mixed with a dried fruit granola and goat cheese mousse.
- LA PEZZOGNA ALL’ACQUA PAZZA – Local sea bream cooked “Acqua Pazza” style served with a parsley flavored potato mash over a Vesuvian cherry tomato sauce.
- LO SPAGHETTONE DI GRAGNANO (Pictured below) – Whole grain Gragnano pasta (considered amongst the highest quality produce in the world) made especially for the Monastero, generous amounts of Lorenzo No.5 olive oil, local Salerno tomatoes, and a sprig of basil from the garden. As well as a dry rich Parmesan from the south of Italy and a sprinkling of good old British Malden sea salt. Authentic simplicity at its best.
Other delectations we sampled over the time:
A key part of the Health & Hike package, it’s a 2-3 hour excursion around the mountains, followed by a picnic lunch. I was quite overwhelmed by the dramatic, diverse and at times challenging landscape of the Amalfi coast, not to mention the sheer beauty of the waterfalls in the national park. April is a particularly stunning time of the year to visit, as nature is just waking up after the short winter; the most delicate wildflowers are slowly unraveling for the new season.
Our exceptional guide Marco (an accredited natural biologist) led the small group up winding paths, through hidden forest tunnels, and onto the crests of great mountains. I discovered a completely different aspect of the Amalfi beauty, not just the type you’ll find [legitimately] admiring the waterfront towns from the ocean, nor the view you get from sitting on a hotel terrace, but a view from high above in the pristine woodlands looking down onto endless forest and vegetation and observing a much more distant, soft shoreline.
Tour guide Marco possessed Italian charm and passion, paired with great knowledge of the natural landscape and its history. This was not just a tour of the natural, but the historical too, and I feel I’ve taken much away from it. These are ancient unspoiled paths; old stone steps carved out of the mountains which a thousand years ago were used by the medieval citizens of the Republic of Amalfi to go about their business of paper making and ironmongery.
After a gorgeous hour of walking the sound of water grew altogether stronger. It’s an intensely soothing song and the sanctuary of this protected Nature Reserve with its gushing falls was quite spectacular to behold.
Altogether the tour left me with a far greater understanding of this part of the world – the history and culture of the people who once lived there and who now live here. Aside from that, it’s not just a walk to condition the physical skeleton, but for the soul too. The pure, fresh air, the closeness to nature, the heights, smells and sounds. It’s extremely invigorating and I couldn’t recommend it more!!
THE WELLNESS FACILITIES
- SPA: Following my Hike, I enjoyed an hour-long Arnica Body-Wrap Treatment at the hotel’s award-winning spa. As one would always hope, this is one of the best-invested parts of the hotel. The concept is one of a labyrinth of chambers, each serving a functional purpose, be that tepidarium with scented-salt foot wells, the beautifully lit nest of saunas, the experience showers, the room temperature re-acclimatization zone, or any of the treatment areas.
- GYM: On an outdoor terrace with bamboo roofing to protect from the sun, this is one of the most scenic workout views I’ve encountered, and watching the ocean traffic chug past helps while away the minutes on the bike!
- INFINITY POOL: Words will only do it a disservice…
- SUNSET TERRACE: The highest point of the hotel, there’s a >180-degree panoramic vista from here, with an all-day gentle ocean breeze to cool you. I found this a superb place to take it all in; of course, one can never really take it all in, as there’s simply too much breathtaking beauty on offer here. None of the photographs in my piece do the coast justice, but the best place to struggle with that conundrum is on this terrace!
Like the nuns in solitude, the Monastero Santa Rosa offers something quite private, an opportunity to escape your worldly concerns, and instead focus on fusing yourself with the beautiful Mediterranean lifestyle, to reconnect with some truly restful tranquility. The Health & Hike package is not cheap at EUR 2,490 per couple (3 nights in a deluxe sea-view room, inc. gourmet breakfast, hike, spa treatment, guided garden tour, and meal), but to my mind, that is genuinely superb value for money relative to the other top-end Amalfi coast destinations; Monastero’s very much the new kid on the block, and a future classic. You have the distinct impression they’re sitting on something very special here which, like the trees in their olive grove, will grow ever richer with each passing season.