** Maratea May Be Italy's New Amalfi Coast (Free Italy Travel Advice)**
This article (which has been updated originally appeared in a back issue of Dream
If the throngs of tourists fighting for space on the roads and beaches
of the Amalfi
Coast only knew what was within
their reach just a bit further south: a coastal haven at least as
picturesque, if not more so, far less crowded and certainly not as
expensive. Luckily, for the rest of us Maratea
remains a well-kept secret among Italian visitors and a handful of
British tourists. Two and a half hours south of Naples, Maratea's
20-mile stretch of rocky coastline gives southern Italy's Basilicata
region its only outlet on the sea. This community of 11 small villages seems to combine the best of
Italy's better-known playgrounds. The winding roads boasting
breathtaking views make visitors feel like they've found Amalfi's twin
sister. The Mediterranean flora and fauna evoke comparisons with Portofino.
The snow-capped Apennine Mountains hovering above give the area a bit
of an Alpine feel.
Maratea offers a bonanza for nature-lovers. Saddled in a valley between
Italy's two largest national parks - Pollino
- Maratea provides many nearby opportunities for hiking. For water
lovers, boating, sea kayaking and scuba diving await. Even the most
casual gardener will be impressed with the area's plentiful
bougainvillea and geraniums as well as the pine, olive, lemon and oak
trees that dot the coast.
The heart of Maratea is the area's old town, known as Maratea Superiore,
built into the mountainside (over 2,000 feet above sea level) in order
to afford protection from medieval invaders. This pristine village
boasts a staggering 44 churches (all of Maratea has only 5,000
inhabitants). Its maze of steep, cobblestone streets reveal well-kept
piazzas and charming shops and restaurants.
Atop one of the steeper lanes sits La Locanda delle Donne
Monache, a former convent
turned 4-star hotel. The building was completed in 1735 to house
Visitandine nuns. The hotel's modern décor has a whimsical
feel reflecting the colors of the sea (aquamarine and turquoise) and
the historic buildings of the town (terracotta and gold). Crisp white
linens complement the bright colors as the clouds and snow-capped
mountains loom outside.
Yet, there's nothing whimsical about the service at this hotel. So many
4- and 5-star hotels in resort towns are staffed with
less-than-friendly help. Not here. The front desk clerk was sweet and
enthusiastic, the bell boy was proud to practice his English and the
restaurant's maitre d' Giovanni
knew what you needed before even you did.With 24 suites and five rooms
staggered throughout multiple levels, Donne Monache offers an intimate
experience. Even the terrace and pool have a private feeling, like you
can look out over the town's red-tiled roofs without being seen.
With the town's majestic
placement above the sea, it's a shame that the hotel, while it has
lovely views of the centro storico (historic center of the town), lacks
ocean views. Luckily, Donne Monache offers a shuttle to its sister
hotel a few minutes away, which has a seaside panorama that makes even
the most well-traveled of visitors open their mouths in awe.
The 5-star Santavenere Hotel
was the dream of Count Stefano Rivetti who
arrived in Maratea in the early 1950s and decided to make it his
"golden refuge." He built the hotel on a picturesque promontory in 1956
and shortly thereafter it became a hideaway for international
jet-setters such as Frank Sinatra and Richard Burton. The hotel's
architecture has a distinctly 1950s simplicity, but that's part of its
charm. The feel of the entire property is something like country club
meets Caribbean. The picture windows in the spacious lobby are the
first hint at what lies beyond the building. The scenery is so
breathtaking, so colorful, that the windows and their views can easily
be mistaken for watercolors. The view of the rocky coastline and
bubbling aquamarine sea is that stunning and unreal.
In this main building, all of
the classically decorated rooms have a balcony with a view of either
the sea or the garden (with a distant sea view). If you get the sea
view, you might find it hard to ever leave your room. Outside, on a
seaside cliff there's a saltwater swimming pool, surrounded by an
impeccable lawn. A spa and tennis courts offer additional diversions.
Across the lawn from the main building a smaller structure has been
built comprised exclusively of junior suites. The suites are colorfully
decorated with modern furniture and all have balconies overlooking the
Guests wishing to use the beach
and beachside facilities are taken by golf cart on a lovely ride
through the hotel's lush parkland. Down by the sea, the water sprays up
on lounge chairs set up on landings carved out of boulders. Guests can
explore the gray-pebbled beach and the coves that lie on either side of
the beach restaurant. Some people get here before lunch, have lunch,
then dinner and leave only when they absolutely must.
Both the Donne Monache and the
Santavenere are owned by Mondo Maratea,
a company focused on "integrated tourism," providing visitors with more
than just a place to stay. In addition to hotels, the company owns a
handful of shops, restaurants and bars in Maratea. Mondo Maratea also
offers excursions throughout the area, from nature walks to boat trips
to Sicily's Stromboli and
the Amalfi Coast to a drive to the Greek ruins at Paestum.
There's also a gastronomic academy where guests can take cooking
Mondo Maratea's mission in
helping visitors discover the offerings outside the hotel gates is an
innovative and smart approach, especially in an area as rich in history
and culture as Maratea. The only danger is that Mondo Maratea's mission
may succeed all too well, bringing too many tourists who will spoil the
tranquility of this special place.
With a new airport nearby, more
tourists won't be far behind. Since Maratea may not remain a secret for
much longer, now is the time to go. Sit under the fragrant flowers,
dangle your feet into the spraying sea and debate whether it is fair
for just one place to be blessed with all of this
Where to Stay
features the most complete information on Maratea in general as well as
the hotels below:
La Locanda delle Donne
Via Carlo Mazzei, 4
(39) 0973 877487
Open: All year.
picks: #9 has a bathtub
carved into the rocks. The La Badessa suite
has two rooms, one with a canopy bed, and a spacious private terrace.
A standard double starts at 210 euros per night. Rates include breakfast and shuttle to port/beach.
(39) 0973 876910
Open: April to October.
picks: #25 is a
well-positioned suite with a perfect sea view.The large balcony is
covered with flowers. A good suite with a garden view is #20. Choose a
ground floor junior suite and you'll enjoy a spacious patio.
A double room ranges from 280 to 550 euros per night. Junior suites
start at 420 euros per night. Suites range from 480 to 840 euros per
night. Prices depend on season and view and include breakfast and
shuttle to the old town.
Watching Over Maratea
In 1963, Count Rivetti, who first put Maratea's name on the tourism
map, commissioned a gigantic sculpture of Jesus Christ as a gift to his
adopted town. Florentine sculptor Bruno Innocenti crafted the 72-foot
statue called Il Redentore
(the redeemer) out of white marble. It towers over Maratea from Mount
St. Blaise near the basilica of the town's patron saint. (If you're
wondering, the statue of Christ in Rio de Janiero is 98-feet tall.)
Some say that from a distance the statue looks like a perfume bottle