In the heat that is the Amalfi Coast in late June, it is oh so agreeable to work out outside – yes, the gym at the Monastero Santa Rosa is outside, and it whetted the appetite for the joy of ellipticalling or spinning in the open air. The fitness centre at the 43-room Palazzo Sasso, Ravello, is outdoors too. Head down to one of the lowest terraces in the beautiful garden, gal, and start working away, as early as you like.
The view is spectacular. Early morning, there is a haze over the Gulf of Salerno below. You know you are looking at Salerno in the distance, far on your left, but the sea merges into low-set clouds and into the sky beyond.
A guy comes to the next machine and something falls on the ground as he pedals. Oh gosh, it is his wedding ring. How long has he been married? One week. Next time I pass the gym I look into the container-space atop the bicycle he was using and find no ring, so he remembered to take it with him.
Back up at the 1,076 sq ft Infinito Suite, the morning sun is blazing in. This is a two-floor suite, right at the top of the seven floor building. The bedroom is between the main room and the bathroom, which has large-size Bulgari toiletries.
The main room has double-height ceiling and adds to the overall palatial feel (Gennaro Passerotti did the design when the hotel opened in 1997: now the owners, the Avino family, have switched to Rino Gambardella.
There are several hearty art books, including a glorious cooking tome on the chef here, Pino Lavarra e Palazzo Sasso: Eccellenze del Gusto, published by Il Gusto Gribaudo – text is by Ilaria Santomanco.
Antonio, the brilliant do-anything guy who has been with this luxury hotel since it opened, comes up with a lot of paraphernalia and of course makes my WiFi work immediately (thoughtfully, I was given two codes on arrival, in case I had two machines).
As I write, I look up the 21 steps to the upper area, with glass floor and door leading to the private terrace, about the size of a squash court. Here you have seating, and your own hot tub.
Look down, from here, to the terraces taking the eye past outside bar and restaurant, and garden, to the pool, and then down to the gym – carry on past more terraces and you come to a public road, cross it and you are at the Niemeyer auditorium.
The pool is about 70 ft total length, but one end is kids-play shallow. A window in the deep end wall allows those in the gym, below, to check your legs. Look down from your Infinity eyrie, in another direction, and you see the hotel’s main sun and jacuzzi area, a floor below.
If you walk up or down stairs rather than taking the elevators you not only exercise your heart and control the calories but you spy, along the way, other terraces, and lines of pointed arches in the style of Amalfi Cathedral‘s cloister.
There are big ceramic pots placed somewhat strategically. Will designer Rino Gambardella change all this? No time for day-dreaming. No time for any more looking at Pino Lavarra e Palazzo Sasso: Eccellenze del Gusto.
It is time to taste this chef’s cooking, in the company of the Palazzo’s boss, general manager and co-owner Mariella Avino. As we walk she recounts how after graduating in business management from Rome’s Luiss University in business administration she joined HSBC in risk management, and went on to do an MBA at Lausanne (her thesis was on family businesses).
We head to the outside lounge, back of reception, but all seating areas are taken. We are directed further along that terrace to the outside part of the main Rossellini’s restaurant, which has two Michelin stars (what difference does this make?
Mariella Avino smiles and says the main impact is a stressed chef, but he and the maitre d’, Donato Marzolla, have been working together so long they are a perfect team. The sommelier, Roberto, suggests a local red, Tenuta San Francesco E’ Iss Tintore Prephilloxera 2008.
Chef Pino sends out tiny towers of white and dark meat of duck, sandwiched between seaweed biscuits. The printed menu, about 20 inches high, opens to reveal a top to bottom blow-up photo of tomatoes on the vine, a reminder that the Avino family’s day-job is canning tomatoes, or supervising that skill.
Marvellous! There is a whole page of vegetarian, and I start with Misticanza di Germogli e Coste d’Insalata, Primizie di Stagione, Balsamico di Modena 25 Anni extra vecchio, also known as a simple mixed salad. It turns into a work of art.
A trolley is wheeled up bearing a big square glass plate with a mound of salad, and small flowers. The server skilfully pours over extra virgin olive oil – I turn down the Balsamico.
He offers a selection of salts, and then a selection of different vegetable pastes, which he squeezes, tube by tube, to produce a picture on the plate. The meal continues. It proceeds from Punte di Asparagi al Vapore con Burrata, Corbarini Essiccati e Biscotto d’Agerola (steamed asparagus tips with burrata, sun-dried cherry tomatoes and Agerola wheat biscuit) to Manzo Laccato con Carbone, Vegetale, Pappa al Pomodoro, Verdure dell’Orto e Torta di Patate, centred around a charcoal-crusted beef sirloin.
The dessert menu is same size as the main menu, but is mostly pages of dessert wines and cigars, though specialties include a yoghurt mousse with berries, and Rossellini’s special chocolate grand dessert.
Mariella explains that because of legal challenges the Avino family feels it is a good idea to change the name of this luxury hotel. Since her parents have three daughters, and no sons, and her father’s family have no male descendents, the Avino name will disappear in a land where offspring automatically take their father’s name.
What better continuance of Avino, therefore, than calling the hotel Palazzo Avino? As of January 1st, 2013, this will therefore be the Palazzo’s name. The number of items that has to be changed is staggering, from over-door sign and inside-door mats through to bespoke Frette coasters.
And the challenge of spreading the word, too, is huge. Mariella is rushing around trade shows and visiting travel agents in key markets. Yes, Brazil and the USA are on her list in the next few months.
Her message is that everything (well, the name) is changing but nothing (well, the hotel and its looks, and Antonio and Pino and Donato) is changing. She gives a beaming smile, and shows her new Palazzo Avino business card, sporting a gold lion face above royal blue lettering. The stone lion in the hotel’s elegant lobby must be proud.