As indiscretions go, my visit to the confessional in Monastero Santa Rosa was, shall we say, not quite a full disclosure. Latent guilt weighed heavily on my mind, though rich cake and sweet prossecco are repeatable offenders. It’s difficult to resist temptation in such angelic surroundings. My penance you ask? 50 laps of the azure tinged infinity pool… I know, suffer, suffer…
When Bianca Sharma spotted the old monastery perilously hanging over the cliff edge, she felt a calling. From the luxury of her yacht in the Bay of Salerno it was evident that the monastery was in need of TLC and so began a turbulent journey of faith, hope and restoration. A journey that had to draw upon huge reserves of determination and a belief that one day this magnificent edifice would once again come alive.
And come alive it has. With 20 exclusive suites, during season the Santa Rosa is never without guests, padding around, draped in sumptuous white robes. I imagine the quietness and gentle nodding of guests reflects the peace and tranquillity that the sisters enjoyed.
The calm has a poetic interlude with the ringing of a deeply melodic bell, announcing one’s arrival by its declaration, as you complete the ‘Strade Statale 163’ or ‘road of 1,000 bends’ as its known is the thoroughfare to the hotel. As you drive up from the town of Amalfi, past lemon groves and sun kissed hamlets, try not to be tempted to blink. You may well greet the sea and your maker quicker than intended.
The bell alerts the staff of your arrival and is likely to be the only sound apart from the melodic trickling of water that will disturb this sense. After a greeting of freshly squeezed lemonade, you are lead through the lemon dressed corridors to your suite, which used to be the nuns quarters, tantalisingly snatching glimpses of the view that awaits you in snippets along the way.
Each room is named after different flowers or herbs. The name is hand sewed onto a pillow on your bed, lest you forget. In keeping with tradition, the heavy wooden doors and wrought iron locks are accessed by a large key; you are now gatekeeper to the magical kingdom inside. The walls are thick yet homely, punctuated by wooden shutters framing arguably one of the most spectacular views on this humble earth. It is difficult to tell where the sky ends and the sea starts. Only the odd rolling cloud interrupts daydreaming. Be prepared to be lead on a visionary dance. Lush green from the four tiered gardens, lemons and oranges, from the namesake trees, pink from the petunias and yet more stunning blue from the infinity pool.
The scent of herbs, lemons and oranges gets carried up by the warm air mixing with the scent of lilies adorning your room. Pomegranate baths salts – a signatory product, adds to the melange of smells. Each one guaranteed to trigger a mental passport back to this heavenly place once back on home soil. Wherever that may be.
All of the rooms have fine Italian linens, deep soaking marble tubs and mod cons such as WIFI and television. Some have vaulted ceilings and seafront balconies. The first guests were Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco; setting the bar very high.
The sanctuary of the Santa Rosa is the spa. Retreat into the cocoon of the 17th century vaulted spaces shying away underneath the vast bulk of the monastery. This was once where the sisters made wine and you do leaving feeling punch drunk. The spa can be accessed by the garden which has symbols of the past in every nook and cranny.
The Italian heritage of bathing is very much alive in the thermal suite. There are pomegranate foot spas, heated loungers, an aromatic steam room and a hydro pool. All touched by the scent of rosemary and lemon.
If you prefer you can retreat to the garden and have a massage in the shade of a pergola. The Farmacia Santa Maria Novella has provided potions from 1612, using recipes that make the most of local plants and flowers. It is these oils that are used in the treatments. Healing balms they seem to be, perhaps aided by the massage rooms that were once used for silent prayer.
Just to lift your soul higher, retreat from the spa and soak in as much of those magical views as possible. Sip an evening glass of prossecco on the terrace overlooking the Bay where you can gaze down the coast as far as Positano and Amalfi.
Be sure to peak behind the open veranda door and you will find another wooden box (slightly smaller than the confessional) with a telephone inside – for those who are too lazy or relaxed to venture down for more refreshments.
Once you’ve decided that your soul needs more than metaphorically fed, Executive chef Christophe Bob creates heaven on earth in his kitchen. He uses the freshest herbs from the garden; extra virgin olive oil produced especially for the Santa Rosa and sourced pasta, by the famous ‘Pastifico dei Campi’ pasta factory, which created a unique shape for the hotel. This gragnano pasta is the first ever pasta to be completely traceable from the fields to your table. The sommelier will add the finishing touches to spectacularly flavoursome dishes.
As you retreat to your room, little gifts miraculously appear. ‘Biscotti con uvetta’ or raisin biscuits, Nat King Cole music streaming from the speakers, a warm blanket, hand knitted just in case you are a little chilly on the veranda. On the last evening, a box of the speciality shaped pasta is gifted – just as a reminder of your stay. You dutifully pack it away in the vain hope that you too can muster up a similarly magnificent culinary masterpiece in your own kitchen.
Just before you leave there is one extra finishing touch. Your confession sheet or feedback form if you will. Slipped under your door the evening before, this is to be completed and anonymously left in the confessional before you leave.
As the bell rings signalling the arrival of the new pilgrims seeking sanctuary, your bared soul vows to one day return and complete the ritual once more. Heavenly.
Information: Monastero Santa Rosa
Double Rooms at Monastero Santa Rosa are available from 400EUR on a B&B basis and excluding tax.