On the spectacular Amalfi Coast, just outside the pedestrian-only centre of Positano, is a hotel that has been owned by the Sersale family since it opened in 1951 when siblings Aldo, Paolo, Anna and Franco Sersale turned their summer home into a resort.
To this day, the hotel retains the intimate, cultured atmosphere of a private home, overlooked by Franco’s son, Antonio Sersale. Today, we sit down with him and cousin Giulia Sersale for an exclusive interview, talking about the hotel but also its much-loved indoor and outdoor greenery.
Meet Antonio Sersale
GLH: Hello Antonio, great to see you. Le Sirenuse is an exceptional hotel but it’s also the story of a family. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Antonio Sersale: Well, this hotel was started in 1951 by my father, two brothers and a sister. Previously, they were living in Naples, and during World War II, they moved to Positano to avoid the bombings in Naples. And after the war, they decided to turn the house where they’d spent the summer into a hotel. And it opened with around 12 rooms in 1951.
GLH: So the size of the hotel increased a lot year after year?
Antonio Sersale: Yes, they bought the house next to it, so it opened with one house then they purchased this house next to it, and then they had some gardens and they built a few things on the gardens.
GLH: And to this day, the hotel is wholly run by the family?
Antonio Sersale: Yes, I’m the second generation. My father was one of the partners, and I took over in 1992. Together with my two cousins, we run the hotel, and now we have the wonderful new generation coming in, that you met…my son Aldo, and we have another son as well who is working with my wife on the clothing line of Le Sirenuse, so this is the future.
Aldo also went to école hôtelière, and he’s had a lot of experience in the food and beverage industry so he brings a lot of experience and a lot of new ideas, which is very exciting. The important thing is that we don’t step on each other’s toes. When my son arrived, it was nice to be able to give him the opportunity to have something that he can get involved with and feel that he can make a difference. Because, you know, very often, a new generation joins a family business and they are given no space so they become frustrated and then they want to leave.
GLH: What would you say makes this hotel different from the other hotels in the area, and even beyond?
Antonio Sersale: What I think makes this hotel very special is that a family house has been converted into a hotel, so it maintains very much the feeling, the atmosphere of a private house. It’s more a house than a hotel. And so the way that people behave, the way that people act, the way that people interact with the staff, is very much the feeling of a private house.
Also, this hotel is a hub from which guests love to do excursions. For example, they might go, one day, to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum, Ravello or take a private boat and go to a restaurant on the coast. They might go visit, for example, Naples. People like to think that this place is a place where you combine holiday and culture so amazing food, beautiful views, amazing sea, but also history, which is very rare. Because if you go to, for example, an island where there is nothing but a pretty hotel, after 2 days, you get bored while here, there is always something to do.
GLH: And Positano? What does it mean for you?
Antonio Sersale: Positano is a place I love, the place I enjoy spending time and the place where my life takes place really. I mean, it’s everything to me. For a while, we had a restaurant in Miami. Now, due to Covid, it’s been closed, and like I have for so many years before, I’ve dedicated my life to this hotel. I live here 7-8 months a year, then I go away from time to time, to another house we have in Rome, but mostly, I spend my time here.
GLH: Does Le Sirenuse close in winter?
Antonio Sersale: Yes, the property closes, usually from the end of October to the beginning of April or middle of March, depending on the year. And this is the time when we do enormous renovations because we try and limit the amount of work we do when guests are here. So we, for example, renovate the rooms; this year we changed the bar, we added an ice room…every year we do something new.
Meet Giulia Sersale
GLH: Hello Giulia, very nice to meet you. One of the most loved things about this hotel is the greenery that’s everywhere and completely part of its decor and atmosphere. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Giulia Sersale: We are plant lovers, basically, and there are more plants than people in the hotel. So, especially in the summertime, you know, people come and they look at them, and we have a lot of ornamental plants inside, and we have a lot of Italian and, I would say, Mediterranean plants outdoors.
Indoor, we also have a lot of these plants that come from Southeast Asia, like these ornamental banana trees that are typical of that part of the world, but they managed to adapt nicely here.
GLH: And how many plants do you have here?
Giulia Sersale: Oh, that’s a good question. I’d say about a thousand plants in the hotel. Counting all the little orchids in the rooms, the plants that are outside on the terraces, which are in soil.
One very particular thing about the hotel is how all these plants are in beautiful terracotta pots, which are locally made by these two very clever sisters who live in Naples. And they have clay pots especially made for us. So all these big pots you see everywhere, they can sometimes take a month to make…to cook the pots, put them in the oven…it’s a very interesting process.
GLH: And why this love for plants? You’ve always been passionate about plants?
Giulia Sersale: Yes, well, our aunt, Anna, she used to take care of all the gardens in the hotel but it was different. Then we had a landscape designer come in, who is an Italian girl and her name is Isabella and she is brilliant. So, she gave us directions on how to position the plants and how to line the pots…just architectural ideas on how to fill the spaces, and so what you see now is a result of her project that is being taken care of by me and our two gardeners.
GLH: What is incredible here is that the garden isn’t outdoor, but the garden is everywhere in the hotel. You brought the garden inside.
Giulia Sersale: Everywhere. But it is a part of the italian tradition to have indoor plants because we have a very mild climate. In Naples, especially, they don’t even have central heating indoors, because they have quite mild winters and plants dry up with central heating.
GLH: One of our favorite spots at the hotel is really the restaurant and pool area. What went into the design there?
Giulia Sersale: So in the restaurant area, we have a lot of beautiful Lunario lemon trees. The Lunario lemon is very typical of this area and it’s very decorative because the lemons stay attached quite long, even when they are very ripe. With other lemon trees, the lemons would drop a lot earlier.
The entire restaurant is also filled with bougainvillea vines climbing up the arches, and this was the idea, to cover the entire arched ceiling with bougainvillea and have them come together with the chandeliers, which were my uncle Franco’s idea. And these have been made especially for us, and they resemble plants, of course, because coming down from the ceiling, which is covered with the beautiful bougainvillea vines, they could be nothing else but beautiful leaves.
And we have something similar on the tables, all with little cups and candles inside. They get lit every evening by one person and there are about 420 candles. This creates a magical atmosphere.
GLH: And then we find more plants next to the swimming pool and those ones are just amazing.
Giulia Sersale: Yes, those ones are beautiful. There we have more of the Lunario lemon trees and scented pelargoniums, and there are a variety of those. Then we have more bougainvillea, but the California bougainvillea with larger leaves and flowers throughout the summer months.
The lemon trees are also a variety that produce lemons all year round.
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