ITALY

Secret Hotels of the Amalfi Coast

Reid Bramblett scoured Italy's cliffside villages--and the island of Capri, while he was at it--for million-dollar views at hundred-dollar prices

PRAIANO

Locanda Costa Diva
Many Amalfi Coast visitors spend their time in the three most famous resort towns--Amalfi, Positano, and Ravello--with little thought of the less-heralded villages in between. Halfway from Positano to Amalfi, Praiano is a nondescript old fishing village with a small beach; it's secluded enough that few tourists hop off at its bus stop. Spilling down the hillside in a series of lush garden terraces and rural structures converted into secluded rooms, the Costa Diva was opened four years ago by the Milo brothers, Pino and Filippo. They named the rooms after film divas of the mid-20th century who vacationed or shot movies here, such as the Sophia (Loren) and the Marilyn (Monroe). The two non-movie-star rooms are Ester, in honor of the brothers' 96-year-old grandmother, and Rafaella, a little stone house with a balcony on the sea, at the end of a long path lined by oleander and daisies. Rafaella is named for their mother: "A bigger diva, you won't find," says Filippo with a grin. Pino, who tends the gardens, leads the way through the tangle of flagstone pathways and tiled terraces cutting though the foliage; he points out grape vines, prickly pears, red hibiscus, palms, rosemary, and pink roses, as well as the lemon, lime, orange, and fig trees. "I could have had a place in Amalfi--for much less money, too," he says. "But there's no tranquility there. I could only get guests who are passing through, not ones who will stay." He smiles. "Stay and then come back again." Via Roma 12, Praiano, 011-39/089-813-076, locandacostadiva.it, doubles $100-$140, open year-round.

CAPRI

Villa Krupp
The island of Capri, in the Tyrrhenian Sea, is a ritzy--and occasionally trashy--slice of la dolce vita. On the south side of Capri town, amid the hills and winding paths of Giardini di Augusto park, is Villa Krupp, clinging to the subdued grandeur of an era when Russian intellectuals such as Lenin and Gorky were lodgers (before the villa became a hotel). Owner Valentina Coppola hasn't raised prices much to keep up with the island's popularity, though she continues to fuss over the details, carefully selecting the local reproduction antiques and Florentine artisanal furnishings, positioning the breakfast terrace for optimal views, and counseling her guests on which are the best trattorias. Her 12 rooms are often booked by repeat guests who stay for a week or longer every summer. While the rooms have air-conditioning and telephones, you won't find TVs. "Our clients come for quiet," sniffs Signora Coppola, though she has relented and installed a TV in the lounge, just in case. It's rarely switched on. Most guests prefer to sit on their room balconies, gaze over umbrella pines to the famous faraglioni sea stacks, and listen to the chirping cicadas and the water splashing against rocks far below. Standard rooms are on the ground floor, with views of more trees than sea, and rent for $180. For $200, the primo piano rooms upstairs offer better views from colorfully tiled terraces and slightly fancier digs: elaborately painted furnishings, wooden bed frames sculpted with birds, and mirror frames finished with gold leaf. Viale Giacomo Matteotti 12, Capri, 011-39/081-837-0362, doubles $180-$200, closed November 1 to early April.

ANACAPRI

Il Girasole
A teensy public bus departs from the Marina Grande docks--just outside Capri town--for a 20-minute drive to Anacapri, the island's other village, on the slopes of Monte Solaro. Ask the driver what lies beyond the village and he'll say, "Nothing." That's not entirely true. There's a cement pathway, with scurrying lizards and high walls that spill over with bougainvillea, as well as fig, olive, and oak branches. Follow the path for 10 minutes, past the wrought-iron gates of houses scattered across this back side of the island, and you arrive at the Girasole, a set of four buildings with killer views across brick terraces to the Bay of Naples far below. Rooms 16, 18, 19, 22, 23, and 24 have the best panoramas; the views from rooms 8 to 11 (under the pool deck) are partially blocked by flowering vines. Unless you're desperate to save the extra $15 to $20 per night, avoid rooms 3 to 5, which are under the reception hall and offer views only of the linen closet. All the numbered rooms are decorated with tasteful modular furnishings and padded headboards. The two named rooms (Aurum and Raggio di Luna) are larger, pricier suites that have been gussied up with reproduction antiques, stuccowork or painted motifs on the walls, and picture windows. Via Linciano 47, Anacapri, 011-39/081-837-2351, ilgirasole.com, doubles $90-$190, closed November 1 to early April.

THE AMALFI COAST

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