You delight in the idea of a summer jaunt to the Amalfi Coast. Only what you may not know is that it no longer offers the sanctity of scenes from period Italophile films like The Talented Mr. Ripley. Positano is now positively jammed with American boomers on Perillo Tours, and nearly every small hotel, sans amenities, between Amalfi and Ravello has become a ripoff. We’d rather stay slightly outside the souvenir-buying action, and live like a real Italian on holiday.
That’s why we endorse the superior facilities at Relais Blu, a small, all-white, mod villa from the 1970s, set in the wooded seaside hills of a little town just around the bend from Positano called Massa Lubrense. The former architect’s villa rests undisturbed by traffic, and you can easily miss it while driving down the the tree-lined coastal road, perched as it is directly above Punta Campanella, an epic shard of shoreland that is now a hike-able nature preserve with untouched beaches, jutting out into the waves (it’s the same place Homer used as his setting for the Sirens’ confrontation in The Odyssey).
But Relais Blu is not that old Italian hotel decked out with hand-sewn linens, musty halls, and embellished history. Instead, the place feels rather like Armani’s summer house designed with non-cheesy nautical touches, midcentury-inspired furniture, a private, elevated site for a deep, figure-eight-shaped pool, and an expansive deck. Here you can eat and drink negronis with figs that are served in glass bells, and just generally lounge while enjoying unobstructed views of Capri, Ischia, and Proscida, the three islands in the Bay of Naples that centuries of sailors passed on routine trips to the Aegean Sea.
The whole place, including its immaculate rooms, is a testament to clean lines and contemporary thinking, so that you can actually take pleasure in, say, an Italian hotel’s bed and shower. And while we adore the idea of the Italian breakfast of a cappuccino and chocolate cornetto, we don’t necessarily have to start our days with pastries and sugar: The place also offers a variety of well-cooked egg dishes, along with many varieties of the best proscuitto and salumi, fig spreads, fresh juices, naturally sweet Sorrento lemons, and Pellegrino, all baked into the relatively affordable nightly fee.
Our favorite thing about Relais Blue, however, is simply waking up before everyone, and walking around the back lawn, as if we own the place, the morning winds from the south and north converging with antagonism atop this unforgettable swath of beachfront real estate. You’ll have all day to drive into Positano and pay some charming old man 100 euros for a suspect bottle of wine that may in fact be grape juice. For now, you’re a part of the power and peace of this important region, and if you stay put and let it relax you, all day, like a Roman professional on summer vacation, then no itinerary-prone tour guide will ever judge you for it. [Rooms in high season (through the end of summer) at 310 euros; relaisblu.com]