Nestled in the tranquil village of Sant’Agata — just outside of Sorrento — Don Alfonso 1890 is a family run hotel and home to a Michelin starred restaurant serving some of the best meals in Italy!
For me, travel is all about discovering and exploring truly unique experiences. But just as much as an incredible unique experiences is a must, bonus points if our accommodation is unique and special too. It’s a such a special feeling when we discover a place with truly warm service, delicious food and an intimate, homey feel to it. You know the type of place that makes you want to completely disconnect, yet makes you want to take pics of every corner, so you always have the memories? Well I found my spot about 40 minutes from the coast of Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast, at a small family run restaurant and hotel, Don Alfonso 1890.
Most of our travel plans are powered by the search for great food, I will literally travel anywhere if I want the food bad enough :) So as I was looking for restaurant spots in Sorrento, I realized that one of my bucket list restaurants - Don Alfonoso Ristorante - also had a hotel attached. Needless to say, we changed our entire Italian trip around, to accommodate a few days at Don Alfonso! A few weeks later, Chris, Axel and I were driving along Italy’s stunning Amalfi Coast, on our way to the Don Alfonoso hotel and restaurant.
Don Alfonso is in the heart of Sant’Agata, a small village which overlooks both the Bay of Naples and the Bay of Salerno. It was a short drive from the port of Sorrento, with winding roads weaving through different villages and lemon groves all giving way to beautiful views of the water as we drove further inland. Although the neighborhood itself was both welcoming and charming, much of our attention during our stay was captivated by the gem that is Don Alfonso.
The hotel and restaurant are a labour of love and a complete family affair. Alfonso Lccarino and his wife, Livia, established Don Alfonso; their son Ernesto oversees the kitchen and his brother, Marco looks after the front of the house. The hotel is quite literally their home - as they all live above the lobby of the hotel. Perhaps it's the close proximity to the family or perhaps it's simply the warmth they enveloped us in, but barely a few hours into our stay, we felt like proud, honorary members of the Don Alfonso family.
This family spirit permeates every aspect of the hotel from its restaurant to its design. So, while the hotel is tastefully designed, there are quirky personal touches that you won’t find in your standard hotel. For instance, our bed linens were patterned with images of cake and pastry and our bookshelves were filled with an eclectic collection of books. On one of the sunny yellow walls hung a picture of a beagle which may very well have been one of the family’s beloved pets. We were completely charmed by our room. Even though we were in a one bedroom, we had plenty of space. Axel’s crib fitted neatly in our room hallway and he enjoyed snuggling into hand knitted sheets and blanket - our son truly enjoyed living the Don Alfonso luxe life!
After settling into our room, we set off to explore the rest of the hotel. Don Alfonso could double up as a museum; each room is filled with magnificent antiques that I’m sure have been handed down several generations. We were delighted by the garden which is filled with colorful flowers, stone paved paths and - the pièce de résistance - a mosaic tiled swimming pool. We spent too many hours just lounging on the manicured lawns, playing with Axel, soaking up the sun and sipping on fruity glasses of wine!
Of course, being the true blue food lovers that we are, we never lost sight of our true reason to be at Don Alfonso; to dine on delectable meal after meal at Ristorante Don Alfonso. The restaurant has two Michelin stars and is a dining destination for gourmands around the world; we couldn’t believe that we were practically living in it!
Every morning, we would amble from our room over to the restaurant and indulge in a simple, yet exquisite breakfast. Fresh, flaky pastries would be dished out, accompanied with freshly harvested honey and fresh jams made with the adjacent farm’s fruit. We almost felt like we were in a fairytale; all we had to do is wish for a type of meal and seconds later it would appear! The kitchen is happy to whip up anything your tastebuds desire - I had some of the world’s fluffiest eggs and lusciously creamy yogurt - but we quickly found that its best to put your meal in their hands and just let them serve you what’s best that day.
So let me take as step back for a moment and explain the whole food concept at Don Alfonso, because I was a bit confused at first. During the day, it operates as their version of a “normal” restaurant, serving a limited menu with a few of their favorites. Breakfast is meant for hotel guests only and the lunch menu is a bit limited but definitely satisfying. You’ll find dishes like “Grandfather’s Ernesto Strascinati”, which is an old family recipe of traditional cannelloni pasta rolls served with a light tomato ragout, basil and Mozzarella...We must have ordered this dish several times because it was just amazing!
In the evening the restaurant turns into a gourmet experience where champagne is poured upon arrival, a delectable tasting menu awaits, all in an ambiance that is comfortable and elegant (my favorite combination). We spent 4 hours at dinner, tasting bite after bite, listening to the interesting descriptions of each dish and savoring every sip of wine that was paired for us. You can expect a combination of Mediterranean flavors with a hint of Italian. The red snapper ceviche with chili pepper was my absolute favorite. Fresh peas from the garden were scattered around and gave a fresh taste in contrast to the spice of the fish...Chris described this as a “clean hot” not like the spiciness you would find in Indian food.
Chris’s favorite was the duck breast served with a very special elixir over ice. It smelled like a Shirley temple mix (we later found out it was made from Maraschino cherries and their pits) and was more like a dessert wine, but paired perfectly with the cinnamon and gaminess of the duck. It was being able to taste interesting combinations and learn about the value of well paired wine or elixirs that really made us appreciate our experience at the restaurant...I want to go back!
The family truly knows - and deeply loves - food. They also aren't afraid to tell you if you’ve selected a wine that won't compliment you food, or a dish that you might not like. They take the time to hear their guests likes and desires and do their best to create a meal you’ll love. It’s like you’re getting totally customized meal, yet everything follow recipes that have been perfected over decades.
Meal after meal, we feasted on Mediterranean and Italian dishes, each which told stories of tradition through ingredients and flavors and modernity through techniques and plating. It was at Ristorante Don Alfonso that I was reminded why some say that eating can be an emotional experience. As we dined on meals that were so carefully and passionately prepared, we felt pure joy and contentment. Exactly, I’m sure, what Don Alfonso intended.
The family is not shy about sharing its culinary secrets; they offer tours of the main kitchen and even hold cooking classes. Sadly, we couldn’t participate in a class this time… but, when meandering through the hotel one day, we were lucky to run into Alfonso Laccarino, the mastermind behind Don Alfonso 1890. He generously invited us on a trip to the Alfonso Farm which is located on Punta Campanella, in a picturesque setting overlooking the island of Capri.
The farm is Alfonso’s latest passion project and, like the restaurant, is a magical place. Lines of towering olive and lemon trees stretched as far as our eyes could see and the scent of lemons filled the air. We watched succulent fruits being harvested - fruits which we were sure would go on to grace our breakfast table. We completely lost ourselves to the experience; we spent the afternoon playing with one of the friendly resident cats, chasing Axel through lemon groves and finally collapsed in a happy heap, looking at the view of the bay beyond. It was such a rejuvenating day!
Trips to the farm aren’t always available, but make sure to ask at the reception if they can arrange a little visit. While you're at it, you should also ask to visit the underground wine cellar. We’re committed wine lovers and the cellar was a place where dreams come true. Ancient tunnels and stone steps led into a series of underground caverns which were filled with 25,000 - yes, you read that right - bottles of wine.
We spent most of our days happily ensconced in Don Alfonso, eating, wining and simply lounging about, but if you get the urge to explore, you can also drive Sorrento to soak up some traditional Italian culture or explore the many seaside ports on the Amalfi coast.
However, I’ll bet my next holiday that once you step into Don Alfonso’s welcoming arms, you won’t be stepping out anytime soon. It’s the perfect Italian getaway; you’ll quickly become part of the family and Don Alfonso will quickly become your home. They say home is where the heart is and Don Alfonso is all heart and soul. We can’t wait for our next visit; perhaps we’ll see you there?
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