Italy’s Amalfi Coast has long epitomized la dolce vita, a land of yacht trips along the scenic coast, balmy nights drinking aperitivo on the piazza, and promenades lined with cobblestoned streets. Aside from the ever-increasing crowds, not much has changed here—including its luxury hotel landscape, which tends to appeal to a more, shall we say, classic crowd.
Enter Mariella and Attilia Avino. Born and raised on the Amalfi Coast, the 30-something sisters grew up (along with their decade-younger sibling, Mariavittoria) in the hotel business, as the daughters of legendary hotelier Giuseppe Avino. In the 1990s, their father purchased, restored, and renovated a 12th-century villa in the hilltop town of Ravello and turned it into the luxurious Palazzo Sasso. (The hotel was renamed Palazzo Avino in 2011, to more clearly celebrate the family connection.)
Mariella and Attilia now oversee the operation of the hotel—the former as managing director, the latter as director of sales and marketing—and have implemented a host of changes, from a refreshed design and creative new cocktail menu to the development of a house skincare line. We caught up with the stylish sisters to chat about growing up in the hotel world and in this glamorous destination, and what it’s like to take the reins of the family business.
What was it like growing up with a hotel “in the family?”
Mariella Avino: It felt like having a very special second home—though now it feels like our main home, since work keeps us on property all the time. But growing up, we lived nearby, and it was a really unique experience to have this “pink palace” to go to. The hotel felt like a castle, and the staff like family members. We’d jump in the pool whenever we could—again, not something we can do anymore!—and we had some friends come over from time to time, but not too much. We always respected it as a place that was, above all, for the guests. Our little sister, Mariavittoria, is currently studying at the Lausanne hotel school, so she’s the only one of us who can still enjoy the hotel as a guest—so you might see her swimming in the pool.
Attilia Avino: As a child, I loved “working” in the administrative department, helping with tasks like invoices and placing orders. I became really close to the employees there. Mariella loved doing the front-office part, so she did an internship in that department while still in high school. We grew up with a strong passion for the place our father founded, and as we got older, we appreciated more and more its details and beauty. It helped nurture in us strong interests in travel, food, and design, for sure.
Did you always know you’d want to work in the hotel business as adults?
MA: Our parents were supportive when we decided to return home and take care of our “little brother,” the hotel, but they pushed us to go abroad and have other experiences first. I wanted to master some financial skills, so after university I joined HSBC in Milan and London, working as a credit analyst focusing on luxury clients. Then I moved to Lausanne to earn a master’s degree in hospitality administration. In 2011, I came back to Palazzo Avino as managing director, and now oversee the day-to-day running of the hotel, as well as its full operation, and the renovations during the off-season. And I travel a lot to represent the hotel worldwide.
AA: Following university, I moved to Barcelona and worked in the finance department of the five-star Hotel Arts, where I also participated in some of the sales aspects. Now, at Palazzo Avino, I handle the sales and marketing activities, with a focus on new markets, so I travel worldwide for that. I have a strong passion for information technology and social media, so I am taking care of those aspects, too. And I also oversee the spa, and helped create and launch the new product line we use there.
Right—tell us a bit more about that. How did the new line come about?
MA: The idea was to create something that would link the spa with the surrounding Campania region, to help enhance the local experience and connections for the guest.
AA: The cosmetic line is based on three different regional ingredients: Sorrento lemons, which help brighten the skin and improve elasticity; Vesuvian apricots, which are enriched with precious minerals and vitamins from the soil around the volcanic area; and Annurca apples, rich in antioxidants. We created the innovative, highly natural “cosmetic food” skincare line, which is used in our facials and body treatments, in collaboration with Effegilab, a company that specializes in biocosmetics.
What are some other changes you’ve both made since joining the hotel—and what are some future plans?
MA: Drawing upon my passion for art and interior design, I oversaw the renovation of the public spaces and all 43 rooms, working with my mother to hand-pick each of the textiles and furnishings. We’re all really committed to making the decor of the hotel a feast for the eyes. I also curated an art program at the hotel, in which we showcase the works of a different esteemed artist each year. Over the last couple of years, we’ve also elevated our dining experience, adding a chef’s table in the kitchen of our Michelin-starred restaurant and a sommelier table that’s set in an original 12th-century cellar, and introducing a lobster-and-martini bar with a menu of over 100 martinis!
More recently, we also renovated our beach club for this summer season. And for the future, we are constantly working on new ways to make the experience unique. I am fashion-addicted, so for 2019, we are working on having a boutique stocked with rare niche brands and vintage finds from all over the world.
How have your parents handled handing over the main operation to their two young daughters? Was it hard for them to let go?
MA: They are no longer involved in the day-to-day operations, but do help with big-picture things and specific projects. My mother, for example, helps with things related to the decor and the gardens. They support us with pure love, but they are also the hotel’s biggest fans and toughest guests—so they are always pointing out details that can be improved.
In addition to growing up in the hotel business, you also grew up in one of the most glamorous and popular tourist destinations in the world. What do you think makes the Amalfi Coast so special?
MA: It’s a place of pure beauty—around every corner is a feast for the eyes, with an atmosphere and light that change, and become more magical, throughout the day. Ravello, in particular, is made special by the authenticity of its people.
AA: We feel lucky to belong to this special corner of the world.
What are some of your tips for enjoying the region?
MA: On the destination side, my must-dos include strolling the little streets of Ravello and checking out the ceramic and vintage boutiques, enjoying a lemon granita from the street carts in Tramonti, and making sure to do a boat trip along the coast to visit other towns. Nothing beats enjoying a Caprese salad by the sea in Positano.
AA: While you’re on the boat, stop for lunch at the buzzing Conca del Sogno restaurant and beach club in Nerano, on the way to Capri. And shopping in Capri is a must!
Speaking of which, what should we pack for an Amalfi getaway?
MA: A fashionable hat (Eugenia Kim ones are great), a colorful swimsuit (Dolce & Gabbana make ones with Capri-style tile patterns, which are perfect), and trendy sunglasses (go vintage for the real la dolce vita look).
AA: A long chiffon dress (again, Dolce & Gabbana is a favorite!), beautiful walking sandals (we like Aquazzura), and a great beach bag, like one from Cult Gaia. We’ll provide the towels!