There are hotels, like lovers, that leave an indelible mark on your heart. Monastero Santa Rosa, perched high on a bluff between Positano and Amalfi, is such a property.
Proximity to the heavens, a place for the soul to seek and find solace, may have been the point from the start. Monastero Santa Rosa occupies a former 17th-century monastery which was built with the funds of Sister Rosa Pandolfi, a descendant of the noble family of Pontone di Scala, and who lived in the nearby fishing village of Conca dei Marini. Construction finished in 1681, and nuns took up residence, earning acclaim for creating the sweet and flaky Sfogliatella Santa Rosa pastry.
When Italy began to suppress and secularize monastic properties in the 1800s, the nuns suffered eviction. Monasteries and convents around the country closed, many falling into ruin. Monastero Santa Rosa would see two resurrections, first as a hotel in 1924 through a Roman hotelier and the Caterina family which ran it across three generations. After the death of the last family member, the property was again abandoned until the keen eye of an American, Bianca Sharma, spotted it on a bluff above from a boat in 2000. A decade-long restoration, much like a long love affair, resulted in blending the building’s historical integrity with luxurious touches.
Today, each of the hotel’s 20 spacious rooms and suites serve spellbinding views, whether of the cascading mountain slope covered in vineyards and lemon groves, or the limitless cobalt sea. A tranquil spa retains the original vaulted ceilings and rustic walls from the 17th century, referencing the building’s monastic heritage, though with excellent masseuses to serve both body and mind. Several treatment rooms, a thermal pool, sauna, and steam room offer options to melt knots and kinks.
The spectacular property also features a series of gardens blooming across four descending terraces. Each section flourishes with native flowers, trees, and bushes, a setting that might have stolen Monet’s attention from Giverny, had he lived another 100 years to stroll it.
While thoroughly enchanting before tasting a forkful of food, the hotel’s 1 Star Michelin restaurant, Restaurante il Refettorio, would deliver the showstopping experience that completed the stay.
Il Refettorio, helmed by Chef Alfonso Crescenzo, serves lunch and dinner during summer on the terrace, the sweet aroma of jasmine perfuming the air.
Before dinner, I sat down with Crescenzo to discuss his upbringing. Local to the area, he learned to cook at 14 while hovering over his grandmother for hours as she worked her sacrosanct Sunday ragù. He went on to cook professionally in some of the coast’s best kitchens, from San Pietro to Palazzo Avino, before joining Monastero Santa Rosa in 2022.
The restaurant sources nearly all its vegetables and herbs from the hotel’s garden, and seafood and meat from regional purveyors. What the property’s garden doesn’t grow, Crescenzo supplements from his own farm in Minori.
Crescenzo puts a modern spin on traditional dishes. Unlike the myriad Michelin star experiences I’ve had in which chefs overemphasized plating, presentation, and concept to the detriment of sheer deliciousness, Crescenzo accomplishes both. He’s also cognizant of the synergy between wine and food, working with the sommelier to ensure each dish has a Campanian pairing.
The meal began with some of Crescenzo’s favorite dishes. First, La Cro-Estatina, a vegetable tart with a chilled savory scoop of tomato ice cream. Next, the La Mozzarella in Carrozza, a composition of hand-pulled cheese fried with egg breading in Cetara pesto, a uniquely Amafli sauce made from blended anchovies, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, and parsley. The sommelier poured another Falanghina-Biancolella blend to play off the salty sweetness of the dishes.
Moving to pastas, the Il Tortello displayed the kitchen’s prowess for handmaking airy ravioli stuffed with local rabbit and provolone del Monaco, a cheese from Naples. The wine pairing, a Fiano di Avellino brimming with smoke, herbs, and citrus zip, complemented the tang of the cheese.
Every dish and wine trotted out showed the truth of the motto “what grows together, goes together.” An oil-poached lobster with Sorrentine lemon mayonnaise with yellow peaches was paired to a structured bright Greco di Tufo which echoed its orchard-fruit flavors. A dish of Laticauda lamb, a fat-tailed breed of sheep from Campania, raised in Irpinia for its delicate sweet taste, played off the earthy spiciness of Taurasi Agliancio.
It could have been the final meal of my life, a last dinner on dear earth, and I’d be ready to depart, soul sated. Fortunately, I linger on to write about it and hopefully return one day to experience it all over again.