It has every making of an Italian love story. Beauty. Passion. Romance. And a dream. All played out along Italy’s stunning Amalfi Coast…
A few months ago when Mariella Avino, managing director of Palazzo Sasso, informed me that the world-renowned five-star hotel would officially assume its family name beginning 2013 – becoming `Palazzo Avino’ – my thought was, `But of course…’
I have been coming to the Amalfi Coast (and Palazzo Sasso specifically) since 1997 – the year the hotel opened. And like many who sojourn here, I have fallen in love. I’ve fallen in love with Ravello’s secret gardens and twisty cobblestone streets spilling with limencello stands and colorful handmade pottery. And I‘ve fallen in love with the Palazzo’s warm staff, ancient walls, stunning sea views and soul.
A soul that touches you the moment you lay eyes on it and stays with you days, months, years, after you visit.
Palazzo‘s love story began years before my arrival – with Giuseppe Avino (Mariella’s father). For much of his life, Giuseppe owned and operated a successful tomato canning business. But he never gave up on his dream of opening a magnificent hotel which he ultimately found set high on a hilltop overlooking the Amalfi Coast in Ravello.
When Giuseppe first saw Palazzo Sasso, the 12th-century palace was, quite literally, a shell of a building. There were no floors, no electricity or running water. But Giuseppe saw the potential for something grand, and for three years, while still running his tomato factory, painstakingly restored the 12th-century palace. In a conversation with Mariella recently, she spoke of her father’s passion for the restoration and also of his business savvy.
“I was still quite young when my father opened the hotel, but I learned later – and found it so brilliant really – that my father was very aware that he had no idea how to run a hotel himself. And so he brought in the best of the best to run it for him.“
Many of those original talents are still with Palazzo Sasso today – one being Antonio Ferrara, concierge extraordinaire, who knows everyone, remembers everything and personally greets every guest. I always know I’m home when I enter the hotel‘s marbled reception area with its stained glass, grand piano, art and French doors, and see Antonio waiting to greet me and escort me to my room.
This personal touch, exceptional level of service and detail will remain, despite the name change.
“Nothing is going to change,” Mariella assures. “Only the name will change and that’s special. The content of the experience, the hotel’s aesthetics, the impeccable service — all will remain the same. The family has always been behind the hotel, now we are publicly putting our face on it.”
The reason for the name change only adds to the Palazzo’s epic love story. The family is neither egotistical nor crazy (as a few colleagues have lovingly queried). But rather, the name change is the result of a three-year legal issue surrounding the actual physical palazzo building.
Putting the Avino name on the hotel not only makes sense but, as Mariella notes, is also a fitting tribute to her father and grandfather, as there are no sons in the family and in time the Avino name will phase out. Be it Palazzo Sasso or Palazzo Avino, for me, this hotel – and Ravello – is one of my favorite places in the world to be.
Among my favorite things to do, see and experience while there:
- Upon landing: Drink a fantastic coffee.
- Must-do: Villa Cimbrone. The Wagner music festival (in summer). Driving the winding roads along the Amalfi Coast. And definitely a local cooking class.
- Must Dine: At the Palazzo – with two-Michelin-star chef Pino Lavarra; and in town at Cumpo Cosima.
- Best souvenir: The region’s handmade ceramic pottery and limencello
- Favorite Pastime: People watching in Ravello
- Local to meet: Georgio Carno who sells the most exquisite pink coral at his town-square store, Museo del Corallo.
- What to pack: Smart casual, one dressy piece, and comfortable walking shoes. The best way to see Ravello is on foot. Follow the ancient steps down the cliff to the tiny fishing village of Minori.