Ravello is probably the least explored of the hamlets overlooking the deep blue Neapolitan Gulf on Italy’s Amalfi coast. Perched at 1,150 feet above sea level with breathtaking views of the coastline but with little exposure to the graveled beaches of fellow resort destinations like Positano, Amalfi, and Cetara it plays in a league of its own.
The small town, home to the music and cultural Ravello Festival, hides a 12th-century estate nestled among verdant citrus and olive trees on top of the hill. Swishing past the cobblestoned street flanking the Giardini Principessa di Piemonte public garden, the shimmering and distinctive pink hue of Palazzo Avino attracts the eye. It houses a five-star luxury hotel, now led by sisters Mariella and Attilia Avino and first opened in 1997.
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The bubbly Mariella Avino is gearing up with optimism for the hectic summer season ahead. She made it her goal to lure international visitors, who fly in from far-flung destinations and find retreat and a tranquil spot in the palazzo, with a modern take on local hospitality and a distinctively Neapolitan atmosphere.
“I like to define Palazzo Avino as a project, because it’s ever evolving,” says Avino, who joined the family business in 2011 and has led its transformations ever since.
She is credited for having renamed the property Palazzo Avino from its previous name Palazzo Sasso and for introducing The Pink Closet, the hotel-run fashion boutique that sells pieces from young talents. With a background in finance and a master’s degree in hospitality administration from the Ecole Hôtelière in Lausanne, Switzerland, she returned home to take on the role of managing director, stepping in her father Giuseppe Avino’s toes.
“My inspiration comes from the desire to inject personality and telegraph the identity of the surrounding territory in the culinary and design choices, to make the hotel feel like home,” Avino says. That her beloved dachshund Richard is often seen frolicking through the estate only adds to that feeling.
Palazzo Avino last year revamped seven rooms including the Belvedere suite, with a terrace facing the sea and a private swimming pool, with interior design overseen by renowned designer Cristina Celestino. Avino described them rooms as the design-driven counterpart to the palazzo’s authentic atmosphere. Inspired by the marine world with aquamarine blue, coral red and sand tones, the rooms feature curvilinear beds and headboards placed against slightly concave walls and flanked by custom lamps resembling pearls and seashells.
Avino’s eclectic personality is clearly reflected in her countless passions. A fashion enthusiast and avid traveler, she manages to combine her two passions on her trips to international destinations, be it New York, a city she favors, or Asia, where she often scouts cutting-edge and emerging labels.
Pre-pandemic she came up with the idea of opening The Pink Closet, which is located inside a former art gallery opposite the hotel. “Over the years I’ve amassed quite a few pieces from emerging designers scouted across the globe and two years ago I decided to share the fruits of my fashion hunting with the hotel’s clientele,” Avino says.
In the first year Avino displayed fashion items she had an emotional and personal connection with, but soon realized that The Pink Closet could offer a younger generation of creatives. As an ambassador to Camera della Moda’s Fashion Trust, the nonprofit organization established in 2017 to support young Italian talents in developing their businesses, she had easy access to buzzy but underdeveloped brands and invited a slew for the summer 2020 season.
“It’s amazing to see clients surprised about discovering new brands, and this has a fly-wheel effect on these young names’ businesses, as these customers fly back to their homes and other resort destinations and provide publicity to them,” Avino says.
Courtesy of Palazzo Avino
For the summer 2022 season she has selected pieces from Gentile Cantone, AC9 and Amotea, which all created dedicated capsule collections.
“The Pink Closet is a creative lab which I’m committed to nurture. This concept also translates to product categories outside the fashion realm,” Avino says. For instance, the boutique carries a selection of pottery from a Vietri sul Mare, an Italy-based artisan.
“My goal is to veer away from line sheets and standardization,” Avino offers. “We moved away from the concept of international hospitality to embrace and value the local territory.”
While welcoming international visitors, mainly from the U.S., Europe and the U.K., Avino clearly takes pride in her origins and wants her clients to experience the atmosphere she would at home. She often credits her team, including employees who’ve been at the hotel for over 20 years, with exuding the feeling of authenticity that visitors are so drawn to. Her fondest memories, she says, are about joining the business and bonding with the team, receiving their support and ultimately shaping the hotel’s vision.
Several aspects prove the point.
Articulated around a Moorish arched courtyard and featuring white lime-painted walls, the palazzo, which used to be a private home and is now under the control of the Cultural Heritage Agency, underwent a revamp geared at conserving its original imposing architecture while valuing the eclectic aesthetic of the Amalfi coast.
Each of the 33 rooms and 10 suites is finely decorated, with ceramics handcrafted by artisans from nearby Vietri sul Mare; opulent, almost baroque, antique furniture from Italian and French masters of the 17th to 19th centuries, and precious carpets. When it comes to the culinary experience, Avino traded Caesar salads and club sandwiches for local dishes, with such nibbles as eggplant Parmigiana, Caponata ratatouille and fish tartare.
With all the amenities it offers, Avino candidly admits that “one could even not leave the house for four days,” but notes how post-pandemic tourists are eager to fill their daily schedule with activities, with a “fly-wheel effect on the local economy,” she says.
An infinity pool overlooking the gulf, the garden pool and solarium, a gym and a spa offering such treatments as aromatherapy, Californian massages and face and body rejuvenating procedures are just a few of the activities the palazzo offers. The hotel has developed a branded cosmetics line in partnership with Effegilab, distilling local fresh fruits and plants, such as the Annurca apple, a native and abundantly cultivated tree in Southern Italy, Sorrento’s lemons and apricots cultivated on the slopes of Vesuvio.
Mindful of the downsides of being relatively distant from the beach, in 2009 Palazzo Avino inaugurated a beach house located in Marmorata, a 15-minute drive from Ravello, that is replete with a restaurant serving Neapolitan pizza, a solarium garden, a pool and platforms to access the sea.
According to Avino, no visit to the Amalfi coast would be complete without its share of mouthwatering culinary experiences. The hotel boasts three restaurants, including the Terrazza Belvedere casual spot — serving seafood pasta and the signature Capresi dumplings; the Lobster & Martini bar with 100 different iterations of the martini, and the Michelin-starred Rossellinis, with such dishes as Luna Caprese dumplings made of lemon bread and filled with Corbarino tomato and Moscione cheese.
The pinnacle of Rossellinis’ experience is represented by the Chef’s Table, which seats only four guests and overlooks the kitchen, recently revamped by Giuliano Dell’Uva. The concept is based on the traditional lottery-style board game Tombola, with each dish corresponding to a number and served as guests play the game with pieces made of emerald green ceramics. Similarly, the Sommelier’s Table is nestled inside a cave overlooking the wine library and is dedicated to cheese and wine lovers.
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