Imagine that two of the tannest and most convivial Italian men on the planet are waiting for you on a tiled terrace that hangs over the Mediterranean Sea.
This is Amalfi, so no matter where you happen to be, 80 percent of your field of vision is blue. Azure water. Cornflower sky. Even the cobalt jacket on the fellow at the front desk, made by hand in Naples.
The Aperol spritz has been expertly mixed by a white-haired gentleman in a white dinner jacket, glowing orange and filling two-thirds of a comically large goblet. The ice cubes are square and cloudless. The candied orange peel and edible flower almost make it too pretty to drink.
The table overflows with a constellation of small terra-cotta bowls. Castelvetrano olives, potato chips, and salted almonds are merely the accessories to platters of ricotta-stuffed zucchini blossoms and savory, weightless bomboloni. The air smells ever so slightly of the sea, and as the sun sets, the ombré sky starts blushing.
It’s the stuff of a fantasy that could have been ripped from the pages of Eat Pray Love, but this scene now exists at Borgo Santandrea. Dropping down from the scenic Amalfi Coast Drive, adjacent to the small fishing village of Conca dei Marini, it’s the first new property to open on the Amalfi Coast in 15 years. And it already has the competition quivering.
Even these men are real, and yes, they aim to please. Maurizio Orlacchio, the Borgo’s general manager and a co-owner, and his best friend/consigliere, Tano Amato, practically live at the place. This is not a Four Seasons, even though Orlacchio worked for that hotel group in New York, London, Dublin, and Milan. Before all that, he was just a hotel-lover from Ischia who always wanted to work with his best friend, who was a farmer by trade. Now a formidable team, they have spent the past five years of renovation and construction waiting for—and agonizing about—this moment.
Previously a relic of the 1960s known as Il Saraceno Grand Hotel, it once did a brisk business among deep-pocketed retirees. But then the Ischia set—the Orlacchio and the De Siano families of hoteliers—purchased it in 2017. A grueling and expensive renovation ensued; it’s not easy to turn a baroque villa into a design-forward bolt-hole for 1-percenters. Especially in a UNESCO World Heritage area.
It’s the stuff of a fantasy that could have been ripped from the pages of Eat Pray Love, but this scene now exists at Borgo Santandrea.
It’s even more nightmare-inducing when the simplest act of construction requires a feat of engineering. The building site is almost entirely vertical, wedged into a cliff below a cave. It extends eight stories below street level before finally giving up and succumbing to the beach below.
Not even the shape of the windows survived the renovation, but now, beautifully vaulted, they will be admired by hotel guests and passengers on passing Rivas alike. Some of the guest rooms opened last season, but this summer brings the full reveal of its 20 rooms and 19 suites. Do try to book one of the eight with a private plunge pool.
The furnishings skew midcentury; many pieces were sourced from the Orlacchio family’s personal collection. (Try not to scuff the Hans Wegner Wishbone chairs, please.) But the most remarkable design feat is the tiles; there are 39 different varieties, and many were made by hand by local artisans at Cottovietri.
Good luck finding a corner of Borgo Santandrea that’s not highly Instagrammable, although Orlacchio will insist that the pool area is not quite ready for prime time. It’s the last vestige of the hotel’s previous life, and next summer it will be reimagined as a sleeker, full-service affair. But, dear man, that will be a mistake, because as it exists now, it’s straight out of Slim Aarons. Blessedly, there’s no oontz-oontz music or cocktail service, only the lapping of the waves below, punctuated by the occasional birdsong.
There’s no fault to be found with the Beach Restaurant and Bar, built on pebbles, which was quizzically known as Baghdad under its previous owners. (True story; ask Orlacchio.) It’s casual and fuss-free, specializing in pizza, a catch of the day, ceviches of all varieties, and more cocktails than the Canadian health authorities could possibly stomach.
Borgo Santandrea is the only five-star hotel on the Amalfi Coast that has its own private beach—no shuttle service or 20-minute walk required. (If you’ve had some Etna Bianco at lunch, avoid the stairs and take the elevator.) The beach is small, lined with umbrellas, and unabashedly Italian; in this context, even the occasional passing of a Princess cruise ship looks cinematic.
Food-wise, Borgo Santandrea has two additional restaurants. The casual Alici handles the aperitivi as well as breakfast, lunch, and dinner. La Libreria, a more formal affair that occupies the library, specializes in the regional cuisine of chef Crescenzo Scotti’s native Campania. (Surely delicious, but we’ll probably leave it to the stiletto-heeled lookie-loos from neighboring hotels.)
But it’s the tuxedoed bartender Ivan Stankovic who best encapsulates the Borgo experience. A veteran of Palazzo Avino and Monastero Santa Rosa, he could stake his claim as one of Italy’s top mixologists, but nobody here would ever brag about it. He’ll do whatever is asked, serve your Venetian with a smile, run his little corner of the coast with flair and efficiency, and leave guests wondering what in the world they did to deserve all this. We can’t quite explain it, either.
Rooms at Borgo Santandrea begin at $500 per night in the offseason and $900 per night from May to October
Ashley Baker is a Deputy Editor at Air Mail