Perched high above the inlet known as Marina Grande, built in the 1950s (originally as a restaurant; it became a hotel in the 70’s), La Minervetta is small, exquisite and deeply welcoming—a sui generis piece of life on the Amalfi Coast.
Giovanni Cacace, a local boy, and his Danish wife decided to leverage a prime plot of land on the road leading west out of town to Massa Lubrense, constructing a large villa with gardens and terraces that tumble down to the small houses and beach clubs of Marina Grande (then a fishing village in its own right, separate from Sorrento). They managed it for a couple of decades before a nephew took over for 20 years; the property then left the family until 2006, when Cacace’s grandson, interiors architect Marco De Luca, acquired and completely renovated the hotel.
First, there are the Gulf of Naples views that spread out before you from the minute you walk out on to the main terrace—Vesuvius looming directly in front of you, Procida on the far western horizon, the steep cliffs of Sorrento immediately to the east, lit dramatically at sunset. But it might take a while to train your eye there, because the huge, glorious, multi-chrome living room—a master class in characterful design, and a multi-chromatic playground—is a distraction, to say the least. The rich turquoise ceramic-tile floors cede to cobalt and vermillion lacquered side tables and deep patrician sofas upholstered in all the most brazen blues and reds in the Pantone spectrum. The walls are bright-white, all the better to reflect the liquid Mediterranean light that spills in through tall French doors. In the kitchen, bespoke tile designs cover walls up to the ceiling, a riot of primary shades; antique glass-fronted cases are stuffed with ceramics made expressly for the hotel by Solimene; Gio Ponti’s Superleggera chairs surround a mid-century table, laden in the mornings with sweet white figs from the Cilento, cherries from the hills behind the hotel, pillowy fresh ricotta and more. Fans spin lazily overhead; one-off artworks in rich colored glass and ceramic—the twin eccellenze of the Amalfi Coast—dot surfaces. And we love the towers, piles, and rows of books and magazines, everywhere you look. There’s probably some official library status De Luca could have if he wanted. (Likewise, some official recognition of how profusions of color actually increase happiness.)
The design’s brilliant, but, here as elsewhere, it’s the faces that ultimately make the place. Besides the occasional presence of De Luca himself—rangy, chic in slim white tee, navy trousers and espadrilles, with a killer smile—there is the constant one of Floriana Aversa, La Minervetta’s young, very switched-on general manager (kudos to De Luca for promoting his deputy a few years ago, in an industry where female gm’s are far too few in number). Sorrento born and bred, Aversa has the inside track on all things Amalfi Coast, from the best time to hit Nerano for lunch (she’ll get you that prime table at Lo Scoglio, of course) to mountain hikes that take you far from the fray of the towns. Sofia Pocobello, her smiley wing woman, who speaks about five languages, oversees guest relations and makes sure the rooms stay ship-shape.
Of the 12 at La Minervetta (which include one rangy suite), each is an entirely original design statement—there’s no such thing as a boilerplate template here. Some have a vaguely nautical feel—partly the jaunty navy-and-red colour scheme, partly the rich chestnut plank floors underfoot and the elegant joinery of the (huge, panoramic) wood-framed windows. Others mix touches of timeless Amalfi Coast—namely the gleaming ceramic tile floors in solid turquoise or white or navy stripes—with De Luca’s signature mix-up of vintage finds (bits of ceramic, maps and globes, original drawings, shells and corals artfully displayed in bell jars and vases) with contemporary design perennials, like the wall-mounted Tolomeo reading lamps made by Artemide.
Always lots of good Europeans, and a very high instance of repeat guests (they come for the design they’ve seen celebrated in magazines and books; they return for the forever views and the people). The clientele skews aesthetics-conscious and decidedly to the under-60’s set. Aperitivo on La Minervetta’s terrace has lately become something of A Thing, for hotel guests and outside visitors alike—with a fairly ornate (and delicious) array of merendine served at your table, signature spritzes and cocktails (as well as small-batch boutique wines from the coast), and live music. Good live music, it should be noted, which is one of the easiest things for an otherwise fabulous hotel to get spectacularly wrong. On our most recent visit, in July, there was a young woman on piano, accompanied by a man on acoustic guitar, crooning renditions of Radiohead favourites. On paper, cringe-inducing; in real life, brilliant.
It’s not trying to be something La Minervetta isn’t—and is therefore pitch-perfect. De Luca has created a few cabanas adjacent to the small, jungly pool area (found on the lowest level of the hotel, three floors below reception); guests can select from a brief but ticks-the-boxes list of face and body treatments to have here. Local herbs, sea salt, and of course, lemons feature prominently in the product.
The hotel is only a 10-to-15 minute walk along the main Costiera road into Sorrento proper, which is the Amalfi Coast’s largest and best-serviced town (there are few eye creams or bikini brands that can’t be sourced among its many shops). Marina Grande, the village-y inlet above which La Minervetta sits, can be reached easily via the hotel’s private staircase, which switches back down the cliffside to the cove below. There are two beach club-restaurants (bagni) here: Il Delfino, and Sant’Anna. Both have sunbeds and umbrellas, good swimming lidos, and perfectly solid, simple food. We tend to favor Delfino for daytime (it’s the farthest beach out of Sorrento’s fray, with views towards Procida, and beds/umbrellas are free for guests of La Minervetta), and Sant’Anna in the evening, when they move the tables out onto the bagno and the fairy lights make everything a bit magical.
If you’re a young family you’ll have to look elsewhere; La Minervetta doesn’t allow children under 16. (Full disclosure: we don’t really view this as a drawback; nothing about this place is meant to be a family hotel, and that’s part of its singularity.)
For some, possibly the location. We have a good feeling about Sorrento post-Covid; in the quietude of summer 2020, its original 50s and 60s charm is being felt again. With new management (another young woman), and new polish, at the famous old Parco dei Principi—a temple to Gio Ponti and other titans of 20th century Italian design—and a similarly shined-up Hotel Bellevue Syrene attracting attention (De Luca is responsible for those interiors as well), the town is quietly coming onto the radar of tastemakers, in Italy and beyond. But there are those who will always favour the glamour of Positano and Laurito—and in the height of summer, the ride from Sorrento down the coast is a slog.
A PRIOR Hall of Fame-r. Interiors that startle with their originality, but still hew utterly to the place they’ve been created in. A service ethos that perfectly reflects the place, from the adorable breakfast ladies in their red and blue caps to the follow-up emails guests receive from Aversa and her crew. A killer location, with 180-degree views on scenes and landscapes that have been immortalised for 2,500 years. La Minervetta is vibrant, warm, and in love equally with innovation and tradition, which marry beautifully here.
Maria Shollenbarger is the longtime travel editor at the Financial Times’ How To Spend It magazine. She also writes for Travel + Leisure, The Australian’s WISH magazine, and the FTWeekend. She lives in London and Italy.