So, we're heading for the Amalfi coast, after a detour to Pompeii, which this Mr Smith (no fan of a crumbling Doric column, me) hopes will be brief. My fellow traveller, however, has other ideas, confessing to a hitherto unrevealed fascination with the Romans. Seems he’s hooked on classics, and a whistle-stop tour to tick the history box turns into a marathon expedition.
When we roll up at La Minervetta, all parched and sun-weary, the turquoise-tiled lobby and white walls feel cooling and refreshing. The Fifties villa above Sorrento, which started a restaurant and a small hotel and was reworked by architect Marco da Luca into a boutique hotel, has a prime clifftop position, overlooking the Bay of Naples, that postcard-perfect swathe of the Amalfi Coast immortalised in The Talented Mr Ripley. Steadfastly refusing to turn its back on the bay, the hotel has floor-to-ceiling windows in every room, and its three sun terraces (the upper for cocktails, mid-level for chilling and a Jacuzzi pool on the lowest) are perfect platforms for admiring the panoramic view.
And what a view it is: fishing vessels bob prettily, boats carry day-trippers back and forth to Capri – and you’ve only got Vesuvius in the background to complete the scene. Inside the hotel, the visual impression is of clean contemporary lines. Splashes of navy and red canvas break up the all-over white; freeform eclecticism means European design mags are piled neatly on Indonesian coffee tables; old ships’ maps hang alongside flamboyant modern art; and brightly coloured ceramic bowls overflow with lemons. The overall effect is cosy, comfortable and welcoming – stylish, but never styled. Minervetta's homely yet well-travelled feel is ably abetted by the Dornbracht bathroom fittings, Frette robes and Crabtree & Evelyn toiletries – all boutique hotel classics in their own right.
At sundown, we head to the upper terrace, order a Negroni each, and relax on stripy canvas steamer chairs, gazing lazily across the bay at Vesuvius. Our reverie is briefly interrupted by the faint and very distant sound of raised voices from the harbour below. We strain to hear, and can just about make out that a heated debate seems to have broken out between two fishermen in a single wooden boat. A flame-haired temptress literally wades into the fray to sort them out; eventually, the two hotheads are pulled apart, and retreat to nurse their bruised machismo. We half expect someone to pass the hat round, but this is no show – just a display of Neapolitan fuse-blowing.
It’s all peace and harmony in our world and, suitably clad for a summer night, we trip 300 steps down to the harbour for dinner at Delfino, where the Med laps mesmerically beneath our boardwalk table. The staff speaka da kinda Eenglish you’d think confined to amateur dramatics, but the fresh fish, tricolore salad and jugs of rosato they deliver are authentic, down to the last drizzle of locally pressed extra-virgin.
We skip pudding and join the passeggiata round the town square, seeking our new passion: lemon granita. It’s the ideal street food: refreshing, tasty and low-cal. (Just as well, since over the course of the weekend, we try it from every outlet going.) We can reliably recommend you don’t bother with anything from a machine or a gelateria; for the best, visit one of the street vendors, who’ll shave off a cupful of fragrant crystals from a barrel set over ice. And don’t even think about any of the new-fangled flavours they try to tempt you with. Melon schmelon. Lemon’s the only option worth considering. No point messing with a true classic, after all.
The soft tolling of church bells provides our wake-up call on Saturday. Time for buckets of cappuccino and platefuls of fresh fruit on the terrace with all the other Mr & Mrs Smiths: Swedish architects, French designers and, er, us. What a smart, stylish Euro community we make. We decide to grab an early hydrofoil and head for the island of Capri to sate our upmarket-shopping appetites. We’re not the only ones... The island’s full to bursting with tourists, and MaxMara, Gucci, Prada, Tod’s et al already have their autumn/winter collections in stock, which just doesn’t seem right in such a spring/summer kind of place. We check out the beach shorts in Vilebrequin (beloved of Hugh Grant). I'm sorely tempted, before deciding that €120 is going it some for a pair of swimming trunks (no matter how tempting fuchsia-pink seahorse print is).
That evening, we dine at Il Buco, which wears its Michelin star proudly on its sleeve, and is the undisputed best restaurant in town, for our money. We’re lucky to land one of the sought-after tables outside, and lap up the amuse-bouches, obedient service and culinary twists with everything. The chef’s signature seems to be a scoop of sorbet. There’s a spoonful of iced balsamic with the cuttlefish starter, and a scoop of delicious prosecco sorbet to cut through the lemon and almond soufflé.
Stuffed to the gills, we talk about exploring the town and visiting some of the basement nightclubs, all-hours drinking dens and low-lit piano bars. We’re certainly tempted, but there’s something that draws us back to La Minervetta. We hunker down with a limoncello nightcap or two and leave the blinds up. It’s hard to beat a room with a view of the starlit Bay of Naples and a granita shack just round the corner.
Anonymously reviewed by Neil McLennan (Good-time boy)
Whizzing around another hairpin bend, I gasp at the sheer drop from this coastal road to the Med. There’s no denying this is a trip already high on drama. A swarm of Vespas zips past. Below us the gozzi – brightly coloured wooden boats – bob in the sapphire-blue water. It’s everything I dreamed of. Uh oh.
As anyone who works in travel will know, you see a lot of images of sleek minimalist bedrooms and turquoise pools in the course of your day, which, I confess, can blur into one. Yet I distinctly remember the first time I saw a photo of the blue-and-white tiled kitchen at La Minervetta. It was 2005, it had just opened, and my eyes boggled. That shot – and one taken looking over the red parasols on the hotel’s terrace down to Sorrento’s harbour and out across to that big blue gulp of the Bay of Naples – has been nagging me ever since. The problem with these kinds of fantasies? When you’re lucky enough to make them a reality, there’s a danger they’ll fall short of your expectations. So it is with bittersweet anticipation that we approach La Minervetta.
‘Turn now!’ I screech, spotting its sign as we climb the hill out of Sorrento. Mr Smith swerves onto a tiny rooftop carpark on the cliff’s edge. ‘Hang on. Where’s the hotel?’ Spotting a lift protruding like a pretty white tardis, I twig it’s right below us. A small set of stairs tempts us into the hotel’s glossy sky-blue lounge.
Ocean-themed objets d’art, witty artworks and mountains of books and magazines confirm this is somewhere considered and cultured. It calls to mind the only internet date I had where the chap who turned up was actually
as handsome as his profile picture: it’s a huge effort not to jump up and down, clapping my hands, and cry, ‘It’s as lovely as I’d hoped!’ (Looking back, it might have helped if I hadn’t done that on the date.) We’re here anonymously and I need to play it cool. Too late. Mr Smith is already gushing about how gorgeous it all is.
Clutching the heavy key to our room, our delightful Sorrentine host escorts us down a flight of stairs. La Minervetta isn’t a fancy-schmancy five-star hotel where they dazzle you with their big talk of facilities and activities: it’s a family-owned boutique bed and breakfast that makes you feel as though you’re residing in their stylish holiday home. Our eyes are drawn by a cute collection of quirky finds on the way to our room. But the sharpest intake of breath is yet to come…
We’re on a corner, and the door opens to reveal a double-take eyeful of that staggering panorama. The vista comes at us in full floor-to-ceiling-window glory. A model sailboat on the sill is all that interrupts the sea – an unashamed nod to the nautical theme. No wonder they’ve positioned two armchairs right there, facing out. What else is there to do but flop into one and admire Capri and Vesuvius in full splendour? I reach for my phone, quickly snap a shot, and upload it to Facebook faster than you can say ‘I’m not being smug; it would just be selfish not to tell the world how wonderful this room’s view is.’ In the time it takes for me to freshen up for supper, 13 friends have hit the ‘like’ button. OK, maybe I am a little smug.
One off-season perk is that this most beloved of destinations is free of the tourists that converge on the Sorrentine Peninsula and Amalfi Coast in summer. We’re a week too early for the lift down to the harbour to be running or the pool to be open, but it seems a fair trade-off for people-free peace.
We ditch the option of taking the 300 steps down to the quiet port and instead drive to Bellevue Syrene, a waterside hotel off a piazza in Sorrento’s centre. Having parked next to a church, we pass a nun and then a monk, both wishing us buona sera – someone up there must want all our dream-holiday wishes to come true. We toast them with a prosecco as a pianist tinkles out a rendition of ‘Tonight, I Celebrate My Love’ on the baby grand.
You might think having a bed that big in a room with that view would make getting out of it challenging. Or that the five courses we ate quite late last night might prompt a lie-in. But remember: I’ve been dreaming of eating in that kitchen for years. The Breakfast Table I’ll Never Forget is piled high with sticky pastries and every possible biscuit, making it look like a cookery-book cover shot. We park ourselves next to an Australian family living in Switzerland, who are just as enamoured with La Minervetta’s colourful, quirky decor and relaxed atmosphere as we are.
Next comes another long-awaited lifetime goal: visiting Positano. The Amalfi Coast drive is in itself celebrated, twisting along the rock’s edge. We wend our way round the waif-thin roads, narrowly missing big buses that confidently hurtle past. When John Steinbeck visited in the 1950s, it was only populated by a few fishermen and lemon farmers. He predicted in an article for Harper’s Bazaar it was too unlikely a candidate for development to ever get busy. Ahem.
Tell you what Steinbeck also said: ‘It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.’ He got that right: it’s truly magical. All I’m wishing now? It won’t be long until it’s very real all over again.
Anonymously reviewed by Juliet Kinsman (On-the-go editor, Mr & Mrs Smith)
Reviews of Maison La Minervetta from Smith members
Whenever you book a stay through us, we’ll invite you to comment when you get back. Read the Guestbook entries below to see what real-life Mr & Mrs Smiths have said about this hotel…
This hotel was sumptuous, far enough away from town to provide a tranquil setting, but near enough for convenience. The view from all the rooms is simply stunning. The decor is wonderful and makes you feel more like you are in someone's home than a hotel. Most of all though the staff are extremely attentive, friendly and helpful. Nothing was too much. The perfect break.
Heating the pool would be very good as it would make it much more useful. The hotel do not have an iron which is unusual. The wifi connection was terrible.
Dinesh, BlackSmith stayed on 4 Jun 2013
The hotel Minervetta is ideally situated just above the quaint fishing harbour, Marina Grande, ensuring you visit the most tranquil area of Sorrento. The hotel is so unique and quirky, with the most magnificent views across the bay to Naples and Sorrento. We stayed in room 3 which had to be the best in the hotel, although I can't imagine any of the rooms having a bad view. We were looked after extremely well with just the right amount of interaction. There were many highlights but breakfast served on the terrace by Francesca would be difficult to beat; also, admiring the views day and night from every quiet corner of the hotel's many vantage points. Home via the steps was easily managed with a few stops to admire the view yet again and at least you felt like you had earned your nightcap. We will certainly be visiting the hotel again but next time we may not leave the room!
The hotel excelled itself in every way and I honestly don't think they could have done anything better.
Nicola, BlackSmith stayed on 14 Sep 2012
This was a truly fantastic hotel. Staff were brilliant and really friendly, superb location on the cliffs above the Marina, and a short-ish walk in to Sorrento itself. Probably not great for kids due to the hundreds of steps down to the Marina and back up, but the views are fantastic – as is just about everything else.
Lee, BlackSmith stayed on 7 Jul 2012
Amazing hotel set in beautiful surroundings. Wish we had stayed longer. We will definitely go back there. Il Buco restaurant was as good as everyone said – don't miss it. Sorrento is lovely, also well worth a trip to Capri by boat. Positano and Amalfi were stunning too. Would advise a transfer from Naples: driving was quite scary, even for someone who is used to driving abroad and the road signs are not great in Naples.
tonya, SilverSmith stayed on 10 Jun 2012
We had the best holiday we've ever had at Maison La Minervetta Hotel – it’s fab! I strongly suggest booking room three; it’s the best in the hotel with amazing views. The hotel recommended the best restaurant, Inn Buffalito (www.innbufalito.it/), which had a lovely rustic setting, delicious food and we were well taken care of.
Julia, SilverSmith stayed on 29 Apr 2012
Five minutes' walk from Sorrento, this small, chic and intimate hotel commands the most spectacular views over the Bay of Naples. We arrived to a warm welcome by Florianna who appears to be the lynchpin of the place, always there and always on hand to help with advice about where to see or where to eat etc. Our room, room 6, was beautiful and spotless with a fantastic window offering the most panoramic views. The communal areas of the hotel are amazing. From the minute you walk in the door from the outside there are photographs, interesting artwork and a wealth of local and colourful pottery. There is also a huge array of what we would call coffee table books. The kitchen is amazing and kitted out in modern stainless steel but these hard features are then softened by mainstream blue and white tiles interspersed by bright and cheerful majolica bursts of colour.
Fred, GoldSmith stayed on 15 Mar 2012