Along the romantic 25 miles of the Mediterranean known as the Amalfi Coast, nothing ever really seems to change. Great hotels are few; so too the restaurants. And unlike the coast's fashionable August habitués, beauty is hardly fleeting: The magic of little hillside villages, plopped in the middle of lemon groves or dangled over shimmering harbors, is . . . well, as it always has been. At least in these parts, la dolce vita appears timeless.
But every generation discovers an Amalfi of its own. "And it's our role to make it forever fresh," says 34-year-old Crescenzo Gargano, whose great-grandfather founded the Hotel Santa Caterina in Amalfi in 1880. These days, Crescenzo, along with his mother and aunt, is running the place. Though he grew up in the hotel, it's only recently that Crescenzo put his stamp on it.
He isn't alone. Three of the smartest hotels on the coast have now passed their torce to the next generation. Engaging, dynamic, and, yes, best of friends, these new hoteliers also have something else in common: Each of them, in his own very singular way, is redefining luxury for modern times.
At Le Sirenuse, owner Franco Sersale's son and daughter-in-law—Antonio, 43, and Carla, 41—have certainly added 21st-century style to this palazzo perched above Positano's harbor. There's the new Champagne Bar, an Aveda spa designed by Gae Aulenti, the hotel's own line (Eau d'Italie) of perfume and beauty products, a 1972 Riva Aquarama speedboat to zip guests up and down the coast, and, of course, wireless Internet.
The vertiginous may be wary, but for the rest of us, Il San Pietro is heaven, occupying as it does one of the most dramatic locations imaginable. Brothers Vito and Carlo Cinque, along with their mother, Virginia, now manage the hotel that Uncle Carlino opened in 1970. "Three years ago we brought in a new chef and built a fitness center. Next I want to move the pool down to the beach," says Vito, as eager to tackle new ideas as he is to run, for the third time, the New York City Marathon in November. "You always have to push yourself. Further and further. Each year it's something new."
THE HOTELS Santa Caterina Rates, $460-$1,400. At 9 Strada Statale Amalfitana, Amalfi; 39-089/871-012; www.hotelsantacaterina.it. Le Sirenuse Rates, $515-$4,050. At 30 Via C. Colombo, Positano; 39-089/875-066; www.sirenuse.com. Il San Pietro Rates, $540-$1,215. At 2 Via Laurito, Positano; 39-089/875-455; www.ilsanpietro.it.
FOR PASTA AND BEYOND Crescenzo Gargano suggests Eolo in Amalfi (dinner, $150; 39-089/871-241), "not just because my sister runs it!" For lunch, Antonio Sersale recommends puttering over (via the hotel's boat) to Lo Scoglio in Marina del Cantone (lunch, $80; 39-081/808-1026). For "the classic Amalfi Coast dinner," Sersale favors La Cambusa in Positano (dinner, $100; 39-089/875-432).
SHHH! AFTER DARK Not only is the piazza in the little town of Atrani (15 minutes from Amalfi) the most poetic town square imaginable, but its gorgeous young locals, gathered in the wee small hours over conversation and Campari, could be extras from Fellini's 1953 masterpiece I Vitelloni.
BY SEA Le Sirenuse just recently acquired its own vintage Riva, but you can also charter—through your hotel—one of the traditional slow-moving wooden gozzi, perfect for exploring the coast.
ONLY IN POSITANO Carla Sersale always has the most beautiful objects and clothing at Le Sirenuse's shop, Emporio Le Sirenuse (www.emporiosirenuse.com), across the street from the hotel.
WORTH IT IN RAVELLO Nothing much has happened in our favorite hill town since the ravishing Palazzo Sasso (rates, $300-$1,900; 28 Via San Giovanni del Toro; 800-225-4255 or 39-089/818-181; www.palazzosasso.com) opened its 46 rooms and suites in 1997. But in 2005 the Orient-Express's Hotel Caruso will open (after six years of renovation), as will the Hotel Villa Cimbrone, the former love nest of Greta Garbo and conductor Leopold Stokowski. The latter is shaking off its pensione past to become a chic boutique hotel with a restaurant to watch.
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