Most hotels on the Amalfi Coast are structured to take advantage of the mild climate by maximizing outdoor enjoyment, with guest rooms opening onto patios, balconies, terraces, and gardens. Carpeting is the exception, while a tiled floor -- often with local, hand-decorated tiles -- is the rule. Some of the local cultural idiosyncrasies (such as lack of amenities and small bathrooms) can be less charming; they become more and more apparent as you go down in the level and price of accommodations.
In general, hotels tend to have fewer amenities, particularly in urban areas, than their same-level counterparts in the U.S. and Britain. Swimming pools are a rare luxury in town, though outdoor summer-only pools are more common in seaside and some mountain resort destinations. Fitness clubs, gyms, and especially spas (which can vary from a sauna and a couple of massage rooms to state-of-the-art facilities) are becoming more widespread in general, even in some moderately priced hotels. In-room dining is offered only in the most expensive hotels and rarely on a 24-hour basis. Moderate hotels may not have a restaurant at all, just a breakfast service which they may even cater from the nearby bar. Only the cheapest accommodations don't have TVs, but more expensive hotels may offer satellite TV (necessary for programs in English). Air-conditioning is becoming more widespread, but the climate is so nearly perfect -- warm and breezy -- that you will rarely need it.
Also, because buildings are old -- sometimes centuries old -- elevators tend to be small and rarely fully accessible to the mobility challenged: Steps tend to be ubiquitous. Rooms also tend to be smaller than, say, in the U.S. or Britain, but the biggest difference is in the bathrooms, which are often tiny, rarely featuring a bathtub (shower only), with fixtures that look old-fashioned even if they are in perfect working order.
So, if you are planning to spend a lot of time in your room -- having drinks with friends and romantic dinners -- and in the hotel, lounging in the public areas, the spa, the swimming pool, and the hotel's restaurants and bars, you should consider only the most luxurious hotels. Only there will you find the level of amenities you are seeking. If instead you want to spend most of your time exploring your destination, using your hotel as a sleeping base, then you should definitely consider moderate hotels, because, while their extra amenities are basic, you'll get spacious -- sometimes even luxurious -- rooms with modern bathrooms.
If all you really want is a good bed, then you can consider inexpensive hotels, where the room's decor will be simpler but accommodations will always include all the basic amenities (comfortable and scrupulously clean bed and bathroom, telephone, and local TV).
Hotels with restaurants often offer a meal plan to go with the room. You can usually choose among B&B service (breakfast only), half-board (breakfast and either lunch or dinner), and full board (breakfast, lunch, and dinner). Some smaller establishments make a meal plan mandatory during the month of August, when many of these same hotels may enforce a minimum-stay requirement of 3 or 7 days.
Most hotels in the region are private -- often family-run -- properties, yet you will also find a few hotels run by some major chains: In addition to Best Western (www.bestwestern.com), Hilton (www.hilton.com), Holiday Inn (www.holiday-inn.com), and Starwood Hotels -- including Sheraton, Four Points, Le Meridien, Westin, St. Regis, and Luxury Collection -- (www.starwoodhotels.com), you'll find the Italian chain NH/Jolly Hotels (www.nh-hotels.it), catering to business as well as family travelers. You'll also find the French chain Sofitel (www.sofitel.com), which offers somewhat simpler accommodations and caters mostly to families, and the European Accor Hotels (www.accorhotels.com) with its moderately priced Novotel and its more elegant Mercure hotels.
Because most hotels in the area are private -- including some of the most famous luxury hotels such as the San Pietro in Positano -- you'll do much better researching online with an Italy-based search engine such as Venere Net (www.venere.com). Other sites to check out are Italyhotels (www.italyhotelink.com), ITWG.com (www.italyhotels.com), Welcome to Italy (www.wel.it), Europa Hotels (www.europa-hotels.com), and Italy Hotels (www.hotels-in-italy.com).
Also, always check the hotel's website directly, as these often list the same rates as some supposed discount agencies, but without the extra fee, or even unique online deals.
Remember: It's always a good idea to get a confirmation number, record the name of the representative with whom you spoke, and make a printout of any online booking transaction.
Agriturismo (Farm Stays)
Another option -- a favorite with Italians -- is an agriturismo: staying on a working farm or former farm somewhere in the countryside. Your lodging usually includes breakfast and at least one other meal (your choice of dinner or lunch), prepared with ingredients produced on the farm or by nearby local farms. Among the rapidly multiplying online agencies, the best are Agriturist.it (www.agriturist.it) and Agriturismo.it (www.agriturismo.it). Accommodations range from the downright posh and palatial (for example, on famous wine-producing estates) to simple but clean country-inn style. They often offer swimming pools and outdoor activities. Beware that some agriturismi offer only basic accommodations: Rates are usually proportional to what is provided.
Renting a Villa
The appeal of renting a villa is obvious, and some of them are truly luxurious. The number of properties for rent in Campania is on the increase although you will find the best choice in the popular tourist areas such as Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast.
Many good agencies specialize in stays on the Amalfi Coast. We like the Right Vacation Rental (www.therightvacationrental.com), offering apartment, farmhouse, and cottage stays of 1 week or more; it is a subsidiary of Idyll Untours (tel. 888-868-6871; www.untours.com) and donates part of its profits to provide low-interest loans to underprivileged entrepreneurs around the world. Others we like for their portfolio and commitment are Doorways LTD (tel. 800/261-4460 or 610/520-0806; www.villavacations.com), Rent Villas (tel. 800/726-6702 or 805/641-1650; www.rentvillas.com), Europe at Cost (tel. 800/322-3876; www.europeatcost.com), the Parker Company, Ltd. (tel. 800/280-2811 or 781/596-8282; www.theparkercompany.com), Villas and Apartments Abroad, Ltd. (tel. 212/213-6435; www.ideal-villas.com), and Villas International (tel. 800/221-2260 or 415/499-9490; www.villasintl.com), all U.S. based.
In the U.K., contact Cottages to Castles (tel. 1622-775-217; www.cottagestocastles.com). There's also an Australia-based Cottages & Castles (tel. 03-9889-3350; www.cottagesandcastles.com.au).
Bed & Breakfasts
Bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) are becoming increasingly common in the region and provide a good alternative to hotels. The best Web portals are www.bedandbreakfast.it, with the largest portfolio, followed by www.bbitalia.it. We also recommend the Naples-based agency Rent a Bed-Napoli e Campania, Vico San Carlo alle Mortelle 14, 80132 Napoli (tel. 081-417721; mobile 392-3174864; www.rentabed.it).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.