Luxury, much like Tuscany and the color black, seems to have a new iteration each season, with pundits breathlessly informing us that though last year Umbria was the new Tuscany and Millennial Pink the new black, this year it’s Abruzzo and Ultra Violet. However, where geographic areas and colors have relatively fixed definitions, the concept of luxury is a more fluid and changeable, shifting with technological advances (see high-speed wifi) and the caprices of trend (Instagram-photo-shoot concierges, to name perhaps the most odious). I’ve navigated the heady firmament of luxury travel in Italy for years now, reviewing some of the most spectacular hotels, lavish spas, and indulgent restaurants across the Bel Paese and deciding which are just OTT enough to suit an exacting clientele. In these years, I have seen the concept of luxury evolve in surprising and, in some ways, poignant directions that are particularly suited to the languidly paced and food-and-family focused Amalfi Coast. If you are dreaming of a trip to the most celebrated stretch of coastline in the world that will satisfy your inner sybarite, here are a few of the latest top-shelf travel trends adapted to a stay on La Costiera.
Exclusive Amalfi Coast: Book a Villa
There was a time, a very long stretch of time, in which the height of luxury on the Amalfi Coast was considered the Grand Dame hotels—storied palaces with fine-dining restaurants, white-gloved staff, and an brocade-and-tassel aesthetic that signaled tasteful opulence. With time, boutique and all-suite hotels have begun to take over, with fewer and larger rooms, a more design-forward décor, and less obsequious service. If you want to pamper yourself with a high-end Grand Dame or boutique hotel on the coast, you’ll find plenty to choose from… but that’s not where those who are in the know go to count their sheep.
One of the buzzwords in luxury travel these days is exclusivity, and that translates on the Amalfi Coast (and elsewhere in Italy) into the home-away-from-home atmosphere of a private staffed villa. Hitting the perfect overlapping centerpoint of the impeccable service/top-shelf amenities/complete privacy Venn diagram, these dazzling private homes offer the same perks as a hotel—full staff from concierge to gardener, private chefs for meal service, pools and spas, fitness rooms, stunning views, and even dedicated jetties—with the priceless advantage of having an entire, often secluded, property to enjoy.
The catch is, of course, how to source these elusive estates. Whereas anyone can spend a few minutes online to price-check five-star hotels on booking sites, many of these private properties take quite a bit of cloak-and-daggering to secure. Among the benefits of working with a luxury travel concierge is being able to streamline the process of reserving these exclusive villas and having someone who can personally vouch for their quality, as villas of this calibre are always meticulously vetted annually. My favorites are clustered around Positano and Maiori, offering some of the best views along the coast but close enough to the action to easily get out for shopping and sightseeing excursions, or a romantic beachfront dinner.
Privacy: Charter a Yacht
There is a secret that the international jet set has known for years, and the rest of us are just catching on to: the best way to explore the Amalfi Coast and Capri is by sea. Not only do you have access to the same coastal towns and fishing villages as those traveling by land, but skirting the coastline by water opens up an entire world of tiny coves, hidden grottoes, and even pocket-sized beach clubs with open-air restaurants that can only be accessed via the sea.
In a world that seems increasingly overstuffed by the mushrooming of mass tourism, one of the rarest luxuries in the 21st century is the ability to step away from the crowds, and the biggest selling point of a yacht charter is the privacy it affords on what can be a stiflingly crowded stretch of coastline. In the high-season months from May to September, cruise ship passengers and day trippers pour into the tiny coastal towns, clogging the roads with traffic, the historic centers with pedestrians, and the beaches and restaurants with throngs of patrons.
Escaping the masses can be a hopeless endeavor unless you set sail in the morning and spend the better part of the day cruising the coast and islands, docking to stretch your legs in Amalfi, Positano, or Capri when the mood strikes; dining on board or mooring at a secluded beach club for lunch; dropping anchor to swim and snorkel in quiet spots along the cliffs; and generally savoring the beauty of the Amalfi Coast, Sorrentine Peninsula, and Bay of Naples far from the hoi polloi. I encourage clients staying a week on the coast to spend at least two days at sea: one day cruise along the Amalfi Coast, stopping for lunch at Lo Scoglio in Nerano; and a second around the island of Capri, with lunch at Il Riccio.
Time: Splurge on Transfers
Time may be money, but is it also one of the few things that money can’t buy…or can it? Many people don’t realize how much time it can take to get to the Amalfi Coast and the island of Capri from other cities in Italy and when flying in from overseas. There is no train service to the coast, so the only way to arrive further south than Sorrento is the famously picturesque but infamously crowded coastal highway.
I always suggest to my clients that they invest in the fastest and most direct transportation to the Amalfi Coast or Capri, trimming hours off travel times and a lot of hassle and stress upon arrival and departure. Options can include a private car service with pick up at the airport or train station and drop off at your villa or hotel on the coast, or a combined luxury transfer with a leg via car service with driver and a leg via private speedboat. Really want to speed things up? You can take a helicopter from Rome or Naples directly to Ravello or the island of Capri.
Access: when you “know a guy”
The holy grail of luxury travel in the new millennium is access: the ability to plug into the right network to enjoy experiences most travelers are shut out of. These experiences aren’t necessarily high-end or even particularly expensive, instead getting their cachet from the fact that you would have to “know a guy” to get in the door. More and more of our clients are interested in home cooking or dining with an area family, meeting established artists and artisans, setting sail with traditional fishermen, or other micro-experiences that are deeply rooted in the anima locus of the coast and only made possible via local contacts that we have carefully cultivated over the years. Though they may not be the elegant, red-carpet events one pictures when thinking about luxury travel, these small moments of personal connection are priceless.