Widely recognized for over a century as one of the crown jewels of the much-vaunted Amalfi coast, the Santa Caterina Hotel has consistently garnered so many accolades from the travel press, industry rating organization and its own delighted guests that I approached it with the highest of expectations. All of which were surpassed by the time I was ushered into my suite.
As is the case in most densely visited area anywhere, Italy’s Amalfi Coast abounds with local eateries eager to introduce hungry tourists to the local fare. On a recent visit to the area, it quickly became obvious that although the quality of food and service could vary wildly, menus were virtually interchangeable from one restaurant to the next; until I reached the Santa Caterina Restaurant. Located in the legendary five-star hotel that gave it its name, this superb formal restaurant welcomed its guests with the same flawless service, exquisite décor and eye popping views of the Amalfi coastline that have made the property famous for over a century. And best of all was Chef Domenico Cuomo’s menu: classic southern Italian cuisine, created from the freshest local ingredients and fish just out of the Tyrrhenian Sea. There were also sublime pasta dishes, homemade of course, the likes of which I hadn’t tasted since my Tuscan paternal grandmother made them for me when I was a child.
Although we were only scheduled to remain on the island of Ischia, known for its beautiful vistas as well as its thermal waters and spa offerings, for three nights we had set aside some time for treatments. The spa was conveniently located between our building and reception at our hotel. Just after breakfast we met with Constanza Popolano, Msc., the very busy spa manager, and Paolo Magrassi, M.D., the spa’s United States trained medical director. A man of subtle charm and a passion for travel to exotic locales he made time to tell us about the spa’s thermal waters and mud and the menu options available to visitors. Although the spa was undergoing renovations while we were there, we were fortunate to find treatment time available.
The departure point to Ischia was so close to our Naples hotel that we walked there with our luggage. We arrived on the northwestern corner of the island of Ischia on a cool and sunny spring day following an hour long ride in an air conditioned and comfortable hydrofoil boat that departed from the port in Naples. As soon as we descended from the boat in Ischia we saw a representative from our hotel holding a sign with our names. With his help we wheeled our luggage to his air conditioned van for the five-minute drive to our home of the next three nights, L’Albergo della Regina Isabella.
Our first impression of the Romeo Hotel was in an unexpected venue. As we exited our high speed train from Rome we met Antonio Deperte, the newly appointed general manager of the hotel who had volunteered to pick us up at the train and personally introduce us to the much maligned Italian city. His warm greeting, in American English, and the short drive from the station to the hotel in a vintage Jaguar together set the tone for our lovely two-night stay at the art filled property.
Our week-long trip aboard the SeaDream II was reminiscent of the by-gone days of classic ship travel where passengers had an opportunity to meet each other while sharing time and space with fellow travelers and crew members. In an era fraught with time constraints our “cruise” aboard SeaDream II provided us the luxury of meeting like minded people while enjoying a leisurely and luxurious voyage along the coast from Italy to Spain in the prime of the area’s tourist season.
We thoroughly enjoyed the pluses the sailing offered such as a limited number of passengers (there were 108 of us) and high crew to passenger ratio (there were 96 crew members).