People say there is no place like home, well here is home. We have traveled many places, countries and slept in numerous hotels, here @ Don Alfonso is where hospitality begins and ends on the Sorrento coastal region of Italy. A family run business, the entire family is hands on, it only works this way.
The Iaccarino family (pronounced Yah-Ka-Rino) understands a pure, clean way of life and guests feel it all the time, a truly magical place. Nested in the small town of Sant’Agata sui due Golfi, a small village in the hillsides of the sorrento coast, you have what you need and more. The landscapes are filled with olive trees and lemon trees.
Driving through the gates after a strenuous drive on the coastal roads, we enter the small estate of Don Alfonso to the glory of a garden, kitchen and home of the Iaccarino family. We are here off-season, so now things look quiet and they are, but at the same time their energy is still vibrant.
Parked at the edge of the gardens inside their well-groomed parc, the car finally stationary we are now relaxed. Our first time here, we avoided the south for various reasons. This time our close friend Daniele (operating Daniele in Ano Mera, Mykonos) gave us an appropriate introduction, of course directly with the family.
Photo: garden flowers @ Don Alfonso
Parked we could see into what we thought was the kitchen but later turned out to be the cooking school. Sitting at the table was a young man, who seemed preoccupied. Within seconds, he greeted us at the car, I looked at him and asked Mario, he replied Ernesto.
Before we could check in Ernesto had me in the kitchen, my favorite place, I had the wine list out, so after a tour we decided to move in the garden where we could enjoy the fresh air. He asked, ‘something simple to eat’, now seated the weather was sunny, the sky crystal blue and the air fresh with aromas of the countryside. We were now settled in.
Staying at Don Alfonso is a wonderful experience; it is a way of life, a philosophy and a family that share the same ideals and values. Livia, Alfonos’s wife, she is poetical, her words make you melt, “mama-mia” when we speak about how the world has changed, her son Mario responsible for operations, he is the consummate host, always smiling and checking on guests, the Don Alfonso hospitality, juggling the guests and his chores at the same time seamlessly. We adore mario, he is amazing!
Ernesto, chef executive, energetic, and always willing to invite people into the kitchen to show and share. Alfonso, the patriarch of the family, he leads the biological Mediterranean farm they operate not far from the hotel. He is very kind-hearted; he knows what he wants and loves life to the fullest – a cool guy!
The hotel is just 9 rooms, all renovated, and designed around the spirit of southern Italy. Pink tiles are a symbol of the colors found in the garden such as Begonia, bouganvilla and roses.Photo: garden flowers in fall
The hotel is quiet this time of the year, many corners where you find a place to relax and be cozy. You relax around food and wine, usually passing through the kitchen on the way to our room, or sitting in the small pavilion with Ernesto when he is not cooking.
There are so many special corners, special foods served under a trellised garden area with grape vines, or at the pool side, or at the garden under an umbrella, or one place we adore is in the sun-room, a splendid atrium that has a very positive energy, there we sip tea, wine or chat with Livia or Alfonso.
In the main building aside the entrance is the house where Livia and Ernesto reside. It is where guests begin, in the library you watch a short movie about the property and philosophy. The library has two parts, a room with the books and a small room with the Don Alfonso products. These spaces are more formal than anywhere else in the hotel, surrounded by books and silks on the chairs. The property is small but large in spirit; here everyone finds his or her own sense of balance. The motto is de-stress, eat bio-dynamical, and feel nature in a relaxed surrounding.
It is the end of the season, the weather has been glorious, the restaurant closes this weekend so many friends and long-standing clients are here to get their last taste of the season. Everything here feels like you are in a home, a home of noble farmers, in direct contact with mother earth, the family are lovers of the life who live in seasonality of their own farmed raw materials.
The cooking classes, are casual, you cook, eat and drink, held in a dedicated space aside the property adjoining to the gardens. The kitchen has two tables, one set up for us, the other ready with menu, recipes and white kitchen jackets. We were a small group of four, two kids and us. Usually the classes are open to guests and signing up is easy. In our case, we were a private group and today we learned pasta and gnocchi.
Photo: Gnocchi preparation @ Don Alfonso
The sous chef Nicola, he has the help of a translator, we begin with our lessons. Before we can begin, the table is set up, after a visit to the farm, a place where biological gardens began in the mid 1980’s after Alfonso and Livia sold their inherited villa to buy the property.
Our daily pick is served, wild arugula and tomatoes we gathered from the vines. The wild arugula grows all over the property. Today we could find arugula and plenty of wild herbs, lemons, etc.
The family farm is a magical place, a place that means everything to Livia and Alfonso, it has their souls written on it. The view superb, Capri in the distance, the steep hills are filled with olive trees of several varieties. We adore Don Alfonso’s family spirit, it connected in a very special way.
Tradition is everywhere, written up and down the streets, the walls and all over the territory. In the region a well-kept secret is the vinegar, made from grapes, it is superb and not yet for public use. Unfortunately most tourists use balsamico without understanding culture.
We keep returning to Don Alfonso, and we continue to learn recipes, share wines and enjoy the gorgeous fall weather. When you leave here you think to come back. a place where love, passion, friendship and hospitality all converges.
Don Alfonso begins and ends with Livia and Alfonso – they are the most wonderful hosts, if you miss Don Alfonso, you miss part of life!