<em>Photography: Oleg Voronische.</em>
Photography: Oleg Voronische.
Exploring the Amalfi Coast offers sweet pleasures – and plenty of lemons.

The Amalfi Coast has plenty of famous fans, including the Kennedys, Gore Vidal, Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Virginia Woolf, Richard Wagner, and D.H. Lawrence. And it’s easy to see why—it is somehow even better than it is made out to be. For starters, there are the epic views. Water crashing into the intriguing coastline. The fresh Mediterranean climate. The wine. The food. Can the seafood be any fresher? Or the pasta more delicious? Probably not. The 50-kilometer stretch of coast on the southern edge of the Sorrentine Peninsula is home to everything from fabulous villas to quaint fishing villages to lemon groves.

You’ll want to stay in a place with a backstory as dramatic as the location. Built as a 17th century monastery, Monastero Santa Rosa housed nuns until 1920, when the final nun passed away. It fell into disrepair, until a 10-year renovation restored it to its former glory—but with all the modern amenities you could wish for. Though the nuns didn’t have heated bathroom floors or tubs that beckon for baths all the time, they did have the original confession box, which still stands on the main floor of the hotel. You can still step inside the confession room or visit the wine cellars, though now they happen to be an amazing spa.

The spa’s thermal baths do much more than leave you ridiculously relaxed—they also boost the respiratory system, cleanse the body, and improve the immune system. This is one of the few spas to feature Santa Maria Novella products, which mirror the hotel’s history—the brand is still handmade in Florence by nuns. The hotel’s past also inspired the spa menu, which includes healing treatments that spotlight local ingredients. The most popular treatment is the Candle Massage. A delightfully scented powder scrub of iris or bitter orange softens and preps skin for a relaxing massage with a Santa Maria Novella candle, and the wax of pure plant oils and emollient butters is buffed into the skin.

Nestled between Positano and Amalfi, Monastero Santa Rosa offers a free shuttle to Amalfi. Pull up a chair on the gorgeous beaches that look out onto beautiful blue waters, with the cliffside town right behind you. If you want to squeeze in some culture, visit the stunning Duomo of Amalfi right in the center of town, and check out its museum to see its relics and crypt. Fun fact: Amalfi was once a maritime superpower and you can learn all about that history at the charming naval museum, Museo Arsenale di Amalfi, located in the vaulted stone halls where Amalfi’s ships were once built.

Just like the rest of Italy, the Amalfi coast has its own delectable cuisine, which is on full display at Il Refetorio, the Michelin-starred restaurant at Monastero Santa Rosa overlooking the water. The imaginative menu features local ingredients from the surrounding Campania region, including the hotel’s own garden. Don’t miss their sfogliatelle, dubbed Santa Rosa, a shell-shaped, cream-filled pastry that was handmade by the nuns who once inhabited the property.

If you need to get back on track after all that eating, sign up for Monastero Santa Rosa’s “Health & Hike” package. A local guide takes you on a hike through Amalfi, all the way up to a nature preserve that isn’t open to the public. Along the Paper Mill Valley, see old paper mills and learn how Amalfi was the first city in Europe to make paper. (You can also visit the Museum of Paper to get the full scoop.) Have your camera ready for the beautiful waterfalls you’ll see along the path. On the way down, stop for lunch at Agricola Fore Porta, a family-owned restaurant that exclusively uses ingredients from its own organic garden. Even the water comes from a nearby spring. Be sure to order a refreshing lemon granita.

Since all that hiking may leave you sore, the package includes the Arnica Body Wrap treatment at the spa to ease tired muscles—and your mind. It begins with a hot foot soak in volcanic mineral salts, followed by a massage with arnica crème to release deep tension in the back, and then a body mask to cool muscles. A scalp or foot massage finishes it all off. The final part of the package is meeting with Il Refetorio executive chef Christoph Bob to make a healthy lunch. It starts with him using his key to unlock the property’s garden, as he points out the produce while sharing the history of the garden and property. During the hands-on cooking demo, you’ll learn how to make a dish, such as the perfect ravioli. Creating the pasta from scratch, you’ll walk away knowing the ideal cheese blend ratio and how to make a flawless tomato sauce.

Ravello is another coastal town that requires a visit. You could take a cab or car, or embrace your tourist status and take an open-air bus along the winding roads. The Villa Cimbrone is a highlight of the region, particularly its stunning gardens. The 11th-century manor overlooks the Gulf of Salerno and still has its original stonework. The garden’s statues, temples and flora will transport you back to a classical era. The historical center of Ravello is Villa Rufolo, which was once one of the largest villas on the Amalfi Coast. Built by a wealthy merchant family in the 13th century, it hosted royalty and legend has it that treasure was once hidden there. The villa and its owner were even the subject of a story in Boccaccio’s Decameron, which was published in 1353.

Though practically every place on the Amalfi coast offers an amazing view of the sunset, it’s hard to beat watching it from Monastero Santa Rosa’s cliffside infinity pool, overlooking the ocean. The dreamy pool is just below the fresh property’s lemon trees, and you know what they say: When life gives you lemons…

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