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  A'mare . The Jacopo Foggini collection on the terrace of the Villafranca hotel in Positano.

October 2023

Lorenza Scalisi

Positano on top of the rocks

HVF, a historic hotel on the Amalfi coast chooses the contemporary

Contrasting black and white. Strict duotone, like the keys on a piano. In fact there is a piano in the lobby of Hotel Villa Franca, flanked by two On the Rocks sofas. Black sofas. Assonance between the musical ‘colours’ and the mood of the room is not accidental, nothing here is. You could say that the vision of the creator of these spaces has no middle ground or nuances, just ‘black & white’. A choice to break with the past of this historic hotel in Positano, but above all a choice of character. And Rosa Taddeo and Massimo Napoli have character in spades. They met about thirty years ago in a bar in the Positano marina, where he performed every night. At the piano, of course. They start dating, while she learned the hospitality trade from her father Mario and mother Francesca, and before that from her grandmother Franca and grandfather Giuseppe, known to everyone as Peppino. This was also the name given to him by the American soldiers who, in the 1940s, began to frequent the house/bar of ‘Mr Russo’, a bartender who was ahead of his time and decidedly one of a kind, who every evening enjoyed preparing new cocktails for them based on local produce. Positano is still a fishing village and Peppino’s bar is the only one there. Pure avant-garde, well before the mirage of la Dolce Vita, which led them to create small apartments at the beginning and then ‘rooms with a bathroom’, as described in the brochure of those years.

It was a different time, but the same entrepreneurial spirit and the same desire to welcome and make their guests comfortable motivate Rosa and Massimo today. In the meantime they have become a couple, in life and in business, transforming Villa Franca from a simple three star to a five star luxury hotel. And here begins another stage of this story. Not only in terms of the upgraded services, which now include a gourmet restaurant, rooftop pool and spa, but above all the stylistic hallmark - one that has never been attempted before in these parts - of eliminating all the decorative elements typical of the Coast. Firstly, the multicoloured Vietri ceramics and period furniture have been replaced everywhere by mottled white marble and a more contemporary minimalism. Evolution, or better yet revolution, in lieu of tradition. The idea is to create a sort of atelier where free rein can be given to a rich collection of works of art, the result of a collaboration with Liquid Art System - a gallery founded in Capri and now with premises in Positano, London and Istanbul - and to furnishings that provide much more than a purely aesthetic or practical function. 

The façade of this typical Mediterranean house hints at the world that will envelop you once you cross the threshold: above the profile of a sculpture by Matteo Pugliese, a lamp-sculpture by Jacopo Foggini stands, a work made specifically for this location. Indoors, the total black look of the furnishings is reflected on the white marble floor, creating a theatrical space. There are just a few mirrored inserts and very few notes of colour, such as the gold Vermelha armchair. At the reception there is an Egeo table and Jenette chairs, all black. The Scrigno and the Brasilia coffee table in the hall, next to the On the Rocks sofas and the Blue Velvet chairs - dark blue like the night. At the Li Galli Restaurant, other Egeo tables, together with the Margherita armchairs, form seven glass ‘islands’ that blend with the colours of the sky and the sea, in the evening becoming the perfect backdrop for the culinary creations of the young, talented chef Savio Perna. While the maître tempts you with creations such as Plin Napoletano or Tentacolandoci and the sommelier recommends the most suitable wines from the over one thousand labels in the cellar, the table setting changes from course to course, in a sequence of unusually shaped porcelain, chosen to enhance a particular fish or a specific dessert. Last but not least, the ritual of coffee, served in light blue Villeroy & Boch cups ‘autographed’ on the bottom by Massimo Napoli. Even the cutlery is personalised, with the pyramid of Positano houses engraved along the handle and up to the tines. Small but much appreciated touches of style. The cutlery and the cups, but also the room fragrance, the sheets, the bathrobes and the amenities, with volutes that replicate those of the villa’s windows. The counter deserves a mention of its own. Carved out of a single block of white marble, it is truly unique, as are the alabaster shards chipped from the raw ovule of the mineral, which are mounted on a 24-carat gold pedestal to become the Cicladi coffee tables.

But anyone living in perennial ‘work in progress’ mode must always look beyond the moment. From their house/hotel located in the most panoramic point of Positano, Rosa and Massimo seem to thirst constantly for new horizons. The construction site that has just opened in a recently purchased villa, a few steps away, will add another rooms to the ones available currently. They will be larger rooms, including some suites with a private pool. One of their dreams includes ‘Villa Franca a Mare’ project, a beach establishment with a private jetty for those who experience the Coast aboard a yacht. This nautical world is one that ‘Mr and Mrs Naples’ know very well, since the hotel also has a yacht. Their ambition is to export their hotel brand elsewhere, or perhaps just the restaurant. Their eyes are on a large city, maybe Milan. Nonno Peppino would have certainly approved and invented a cocktail for the occasion. Velvet and on the rocks.

Lorena Scalisi

Professional journalist, for over twenty years she has written about travel and lifestyle for national and foreign magazines. From October 2021, her Tutti i piatti del Presidente (All the dishes of the President), published by L’Ippocampo, is available in bookstores. She recently launched the platform, a digital magazine on luxury hotels created in collaboration with Starpool.

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