It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Italy is a glutton’s paradise; the Canederli of the South Tyrol to Puglia’s deliciously simple Orecchiette alle cime di rapa, every region is as tantalising as the next. It’s impossible to visit this gastronomical Disneyland and leave with a rumbling stomach.
A springtime sojourn may be far from one’s mind during the winter months, but given the shortest day of the year is mere weeks away and ergo the days shall once again start to get that little bit longer, now is the perfect time to start planning for warmer climes to drag us through the dark hours of January and February. Always good to have a little something in the diary to look forward to...
A brief summer fling this year with the Amalfi Coast ignited a new kind of love affair, but given the heaving cobbles and snail’s pace roads, this year I’ll be booking in my return visit for earlier in the season; head in April or May and you’ll be rewarded with the sunshine but minus the hordes of tourists that saturate the area come July and August.
The diamond in the crown of this dream stretch of coastline holds court amid the clifftops above Amalfi; perched overlooking the glistening expanse of blue stretching to the horizon is the Monastero Santa Rosa
, a luxurious hotel and spa escape homes within a spectacular 12th century monastery. You’d be forgiven for driving past it given its subtle facade, but the moment you cross the threshold you’re in some kind of Italian Narnia.
The hotel, its one Michelin Star restaurant Refettorio
, it’s sun-drenched terraces and it’s infinity pool cascade down the clifftop into infinity; it would be entirely possible to spend a day simply gazing at the limitless ocean, but you should at least indulge in a Michelin starred lunch while you do so.
The Executive Chef Christoph Bob, an alumnus of some of the world’s most celebrated restaurants, has created a menu packed with the freshest ingredients and bursting with flavours inspired by the surrounding Campania region; think richly sun-ripened fruit and vegetables, herbs plucked from the hotel’s own gardens and plenty of seafood from that dazzling coastline.
With specialties like the appetizer trio of crustaceans, lobster with chickpea puree and smoked olive oil broad bean salad with Colonnata’s bacon and king prawn ravioli with Corbara’s tomatoes and candied lemon - and that’s just to start - each and every dish on the menu combines the freshest local, organic ingredients of the local fishing village of Conca dei Marini.
A summer’s lunch proved a midpoint in our twisting journey south from Sorrento, the perfect pit stop to take away the stress of the road and a welcome respite from Amalfi Coast driving. Even at a busy lunchtime with a few large tables the dining room still seemed a serene oasis in stark contrast to the honking streets below it.
Given my penchant for a caprese salad (essentially having one with every meal during my week in Italy...) it had to be done. With tomatoes mellowed with months of Italian sunshine, the flavour in every mouthful was sensational, cutting perfectly through a creamy chunk of mozzarella drizzled in extra virgin olive oil. The il Crudo di Parma con Burrata spread of melt-in-the-mouth Parma ham, oozing burrata and a crisp bruschetta with yet more of the divine tomatoes was a hit, though a salad of rocket, tossed in lemon vinaigrette and topped with grilled prawns, figs and toasted pine nuts was less of a success; at first arriving minus the prawns, it appeared their flavour didn’t quite work with the accompanying fig.
For heaven in dessert form, the semifreddo with raspberry coulis and was divine; fresh and fruity, with exactly the right juxtaposition of sweet and tart. It’s probably worth stopping for lunch just for that to be honest.
Given the boutique hotel only boasts 20 rooms, the culinary team can cater dining experiences to guests’ wants and needs, taking into account individual tastes and palates, meaning not only is the a la carte option a sublime choice but you can indulge in a totally bespoke gastronomic experience, should your heart desire, not to mention the master Sommelier that will be at your fingertips. Admittedly I can’t pass comment on the wine - given I had another portion of Amalfi Coast ahead of me and three more hours of driving, I didn’t feel wine with lunch was the most sensible option - but with a cellar containing everything from local Italian reds to vintage French champagne to fine chardonnays it’s worth staying over to be able to indulge (or at least arranging a transfer to your next spot location…)
Halfway between the sea and the sky, Refettorio is a slice of tranquility a million miles from the coastal road below with a heavenly menu to match.