Photo Courtesy of Monastero Santa Rosa Hotel & Spa
When you think of a monastery turned into a hotel, you might think Spartan rooms with nothing on the walls, hard mattresses, and cold floors—basically the last place you’d want to be unless you’re a bargain-hunting backpacker. But lately, the trend is to convert these historic properties into luxury hotels that are anything but Spartan.
There are now at least three of these on Italy’s Amalfi Coast alone—the 5-star Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi, the 4-star Hotel Luna Convento (both located in the town of Amalfi), and the latest conversion, Monastero Santa Rosa, opened in May 2012. Monastero is located in a tiny village called Conca dei Marini, providing you with a lavish but isolated place to sleep, lounge, swim, and eat. If you get tired of the solitude, though, you’re just ten minutes by car from the hub that is the town of Amalfi—an excellent jumping off point for visiting the rest of the Coast.
After driving for one and a half hours from Naples along the hairpin curves of the Amalfi Coast with spectacular views of the Mediterranean Sea, I arrived at Monastero Santa Rosa, where the bell was rung to alert the staff of my arrival. There’s a faster way to get to the hotel, though. Take a helicopter from Naples, and land less than a half hour later just below the property.
This option gives you a bird’s eye view of two of Italy’s most celebrated sites—the famous volcano, Mount Vesuvius, and the ruins of Pompeii where 20,000 people were buried under the lava of an erupting Vesuvius in 79 A.D. You can see the entirety of Pompeii and look right into the mouth of the volcano from above. Once you’re at Monastero Santa Rosa, settle in to one of the 20 rooms and suites, all with a view of the Mediterranean and the city of Amalfi with its pastel-hued buildings cascading down the cliffs.
I didn’t even have to leave my room to get great photos. But it’s the view from the hotel’s expansive, four-tiered gardens that give you the entire panorama in both directions with the variegated hues of the Mediterranean below you. I’ve never seen anything quite like these gardens, which American owner Bianca Sharma has populated with the same indigenous plants grown by the nuns who once inhabited the monastery.
Landscaped with white rocks and fragrant flowers, there’s a hot tub and large infinity pool at the cliff’s edge on the lowest level. With so few guests at the boutique property, you can lounge in near seclusion on one of the many chairs or cushioned day beds strewn throughout the four tiers. I spent quite a bit of time just walking among the flowers and checking out the different vantage points. I almost didn’t even want to leave to explore anywhere else.
Not wanting to lose the monastery atmosphere entirely, Sharma has maintained the external austere architecture, inner stone walls, dark arched hallways, and vaulted ceilings. Then, she added colorful antiques, striped loveseats, and art pieces to the halls, including yellow light fixtures and vintage photographs of the building before its nearly decade-long renovation. The nuns in the original monastery were sequestered (not allowed to see people from the outside world), and you can still see the evidence of this in the hotel’s office where there’s a window grate that allowed the nuns to speak to outsiders without being seen.
Sharma also kept a wooden cupboard that served as a combination dumbwaiter and lazy Susan. The nuns sold herbs to the locals by placing them on a shelf and swinging them around. This allowed the nuns to stay sequestered while conducting their transactions. Inside the individually designed rooms, all images of a monastery are wiped away. My room contained the fine furniture and linens you’d expect of a 5-star property, a large tub, and a separate rain shower with temperature control. One of the spacious suites is bi-level, filled with antiques, and includes a large private patio suitable for small parties or meetings.
The spa at Monastero Santa Rosa is state-of-the-art, and the products used are derived from 17th century formulas created by Dominican monks. I especially loved the beautifully lit heated stone bench with heated stone foot rest set against the original stone walls. The hotel’s restaurant has outdoor seating that overlooks the gardens and vista, and it serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, specializing in seafood, pasta, and home-grown greens. So, you really don’t have to leave the property unless you want; everything you need is right there.
Of course, when you’re ready to leave the serenity behind, you can make the decision on a dime, asking the hotel’s driver to take you the ten-minute drive to Amalfi, where you can hire a private yacht or driver to take you wherever you want to go on the Coast.