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Travel: Italian Story

amalfiVenetia van Kuffeler enjoys an achingly stylish break in Florence and Ravello on the Amalfi Coast

My husband and I were after a minibreak – that unbeatable combination of culture and sunshine. Italy was the chosen destination, starting in the Renaissance city of Florence. Our first stop was the hit boutique hotel, JK Place. First open in 2003, JK Place has had huge success, with outposts in Capri and Rome. With its trend-setting style, service and sought-after address on the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, JK Place is a small, smart and achingly stylish hotel for Florentine initiates.

The building is part historic palazzo and part modern townhouse, the two halves coming together around a lightwell, which drops to an airy, glass-covered dining room. Our suite had views over Santa Maria Novella. With monogrammed linens, chic marble bathrooms and a beautifully sumptuous seating area, the layout was outstanding and so comfortable. Beyond the beautiful room and its state-of-the-art technology, the atmosphere at JK Place is intimate, and the staff unfailingly kind. Relaxed lunches were spent eating outdoors on the piazza – wonderful for people-watching.

JK Place is just the right mixture of an old classic bygone world in a contemporary, comfortable home setting. This is a synergy that General Manager Claudio Meli works tirelessly to maintain. As he explains, ‘At JK Place we do not want to be considered a hotel; you ring a bell to get inside – it’s like visiting friends in Florence.’ Indeed, staying at JK Place has the feeling of entering someone’s extremely smart private home. Reception is unobtrusively placed in the library. The intimate, roof top terrace bar has views of the Duomo.

Ever passionate for his love and knowledge of Florence, Meli has published JK Essential Guide To Florence, which each guest finds in their room on arrival. This is the bible to Florence and essential to ensure you don’t succumb to the usual tourist traps. Indeed, JK Place are famous for their concierge team who are eager to help. VIP tickets for the Ufizzi were produced with a couple of hours’ notice (it was fully booked all week). The hotel is gloriously perfumed with burning candles and various room scents, which we were keen to sample. The concierge sent us through the winding streets to Dr Vranjes. This antica officina de farmacista is the story of the ‘nose,’ Dr Paolo Vranjes, and we went home with bags stuffed with perfume and candles as reminders of our trip. Also selected by the concierge, my husband spent a small fortune at bespoke Florentine tailors, Liverano & Liverano. We had been exceptionally well looked after.

A relaxing train ride later – why do the Europeans do trains so much better than the Brits? – we were winding along the blissful, if perilous, roads of the Amalfi Coast. The sparkling sea, ocean air and sunshine are gloriously soothing to the senses. These are staggering views.

We were on our way to Palazzo Avino, a historic hotel perched high in the hills of the Amalfi Coast. This twelfth century villa was originally built for a noble family, but since 1997 has been a hotel built on a combination of love, devotion and hard work. Palazzo Avino has been recognised by the global press as one of the best hotels in the world, and that comes as no surprise.

Palazzo Avino is found in Ravello, a gloriously picturesque village, laid out on a steep hillside.  The surroundings of brilliant blue sea and pastel-painted houses offer visitors a peaceful haven from a busy world. Accommodation comprises 32 rooms and 11 suites, most of which have wonderful sea views. The hotel’s gardens are designed over a series of terraces, and include a beautiful swimming pool, spa and outdoor fitness area.

Rossellinis is the hotel’s formal restaurant, and has two Michelin stars. There we enjoyed an impressive seven course tasting menu, but lunch at Terrazza Belvedere is the hotel’s real jewel and once, again, an opportunity to gaze at those gobsmacking views. Our favourite time of day here was watching the sun go down with early evening cocktails. The martini list has 65 different choices on offer and their Bellini is the best I’ve ever tasted. Expert mixologists and staff may all be dressed in formal attire, but their experience and charming demeanour means the hotel operates like a well-oiled machine. Open for lunch and dinner, Terrazza Belvedere serves fresh pasta dishes, shellfish, seafood, wine and cocktails. The panoramic views of the Amalfi Coast make this one of my favourite places to eat in the world.

If you can bear to tear yourself away from Palazzo Avino and the cobbled streets of Ravello, the hotel has its own Beach Club – in an old Roman villa next to the sea, just 15 minutes away via private shuttle service. Exclusive for Palazzo Avino’s guests, you can enjoy a light lunch and work it off by diving off the rocks into the ocean. Reminiscent of a 1960s Slim Aarons portrait, sunbathers lounge while watching the local fishermen chugging around in wooden boats, or the local poseurs working on those mahogany tans in their Rivas.

Italy kept us exceptionally well fed and watered, but we came back rested and a little more cultured. An unbeatable combination of city and coast, this is a trip I’d do again in a heartbeat.


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