In a rare break from his intense world of work, Raymond and family snatch a few days of rest and relaxation at the Hotel Caruso Amalfi, one of the most enchanting properties in the Orient-Express Collection, perched on the Amalfi cliff tops where they find a heaven above the glittering Mediterranean Sea.
My working life is a whirlwind of activities. Every hour of every day is planned, scheduled, then rescheduled. It can drive you crazy, but it was not until the prospect of a real holiday opportunity came up that I realised just how frazzled I was. This was to be a three-day get-away-from-it-all on Italy’s gorgeous Amalfi Coast, with my Natalia, and daughter, Natasha.
We become like kids, hugely excited about the trip and the prospect of staying at the magnificent Hotel Caruso Amalfi. Of course the anticipation is always a big part of the fun, but how often is one’s vision of how it will be disappointed by the reality? But it was not to be so with Amalfi and the Hotel Caruso—everything we had imagined, everything we had hoped for was more than matched by the reality. Here are some of my recollections of that memorable visit.
Here we are, the three of us standing at the oyster bar in the airport. Tall and beautiful Natalia, little Natashinka, and in between these two, an excited Frenchman with eyes wide open to the hustle and bustle of travel. We downed oysters and Sancerre—we were on holiday, we were on our way to Amalfi!
British Airways swish us through and we are soon landing at Naples’ Capodichino airport. Napoli! What joy. And, awaiting our arrival is an immaculate limousine kindly sent by the Hotel Caruso Amalfi. Chauffeured by our charming driver with his wonderful and eclectic music selection and hi-tech iPodery, we are certainly arriving in style, as we run the smooth hour-and- a-half journey across the flat valley of Naples, that great empire of famous pasta making and equally famous tomatoes. Once off the motorway, how charming are the winding Italian country roads, passing through one village after another, each as attractive as the last. “Stop! Please stop for a moment!” I’ve just spotted a village market stall laden with huge knobbly lemons and beautiful ripe oranges. Of course we buy a few kilos for the journey, for we are right in the heart of Amalfi lemon country.
Up and down the steep mountain roads we travelled. Everything was perfection, the scenery, my girls by my side, the oranges and the lemons with their magnificent aromatic zest. I was in heaven even before we had arrived!
We come smoothly to a stop outside the hotel and, as I know so well from my own experience that, to arriving guests, great first impressions are so important. And we’re not to be disappointed. Awaiting our arrival are the hotel managers Franco and Juliet, with a very warm welcome. This nice touch, together with the private limo transportation certainly works for us, and I enter the hotel feeling almost as important as Michael Winner.
Was this just VIP arrival treatment or was it the welcome the hotel extends to all its guests? I just don’t know, but what I do know is that the culture of welcome so evident at the Caruso is a vital element to cultivate in all leading hotels.
Tucked within the medieval village of Ravello, perched on a high cliff top, Enrico Caruso, Margot Fonteyn, Humphrey Bogart and Jackie Kennedy have all stayed here, hence the hotel is named after that most famous of Italian tenors. The poet, André Gide, who visited in the nineteenth century, described this place evocatively as being ‘nearer to the sky than to the shore’, and many great artists still come here today for inspiration. Incidentally, just a ten-minute drive from the Caruso we have the Villa Rufolo which hosts the Ravello music festival each year to celebrate the life of Richard Wagner, who was inspired to write a number of his operas when he first visited in 1880.
The coast of Amalfi is famous for its rugged coastline of dizzily high cliffs—and what a magnificent and immense view there is from up here, 350 metres above the azure blue Mediterranean! Surveying all this splendour from this peaceful terrace—ah! the world is truly perfect at this moment!
The hotel itself has been carefully restored in minute detail, and you may be sure I have a sharp eye for these details and I take in the love, the care and attention that must always go into this work—the ornately painted ceilings, the local terracotta tiles, the corridor of sweet-smelling wisteria leading to one of several shaded and elegant piazzas and terraces.
We find great luxury, style, and cool comfort in the suite we’re shown to. There’s light and airy space, all connected to a view to die for, as butterflies and swallows flash past the open windows in the wonderful fragrant warmth of Amalfi in early spring time.
And here on one of the terraces, above a great drop down to the ocean below, we find Leo demonstrating how to make the perfect pizza. Now here comes this Frenchman who’s determined to show off his pizza-making skills! Oh hell! This is not working! I can’t quite get it right, try as I might, causing a good deal of laughter all round. But thanks, Leo, thanks for the lessons, and I’m still practicing.
I feel that sometimes hotels can over-reach themselves by attempting gastronomic experiences that are perhaps a step beyond. Not so in the case of the Caruso. Here we found intelligent menus, suitable for romantic al fresco dining, fine dining to be sure, with local ingredients true to the Italian tradition, not over complicated in the cooking process—a pure and simple style, just as you like it.
We have the nearby ‘Mountain of Milk’ from where the wonderfully rich mozzarella is produced; ‘Barbara’, along with the very finest cherry tomatoes with a heavenly flavour. And here we also have a great foraging region for wild produce such as herbs, and fungi. An abundance of sweet chestnut trees, from which are produced the most enormous marron glace, prized by the gourmand. A massive variety of fresh fish, line caught, are delivered daily to the hotel. The fishermen bring in their catch such as monkfish, sea bream, sea bass, and so on, which is then beautifully cooked, on the bone, my preferred way of cooking fish because cooking on the bone always enhances the favour. Why must fish be filleted? Surely we can cope with a few little bones! (And of course I had to call in at the kitchens for a chefs’ tête-à-tête on this and many other topics!)
Then come some lovely desserts to choose from. And with all this we drink the local wine, of course, with the local grape varieties giving a rare richness and strength. I tried two memorable white wines that were truly superb. Cheese, too! The famous pecorino. Here we are then, with all these riches, floating in this heaven about Mediterranean Sea! Yes, we are chilling out at last, with our holiday books (so unique for me to find a space for leisure reading), appreciating the tranquillity, and of course enjoying the food and the wine.
Out and about
But time is indeed short, so one evening we take the rocky descent down to the local harbour with its colourful waterfront packed with Revallo fishing boats. A picturesque trattoria gives us a taste of local dishes, then we are on our way again, back to the Hotel Caruso for our farewell evening.
How tough is our departure from the luxurious and friendly atmosphere of the Caruso! But we shall return, to be sure. The time spent here has not only been superbly relaxing, for me, there have also been some inspirational moments. Travelling to new destinations has frequently informed and inspired me with creative thoughts and ideas and this inspiration is such a vital part of progress and development—and our visit to the Hotel Caruso on the Amalfi coast has indeed provided a much needed period of rest and relaxation, as well as some renewed inspirations. Finally, a most sincerely thank you to the hotel managers and staff for giving us such a memorable time at the Hotel Caruso.