Meet Mariella and Attilia Avino, two of the three sisters behind the iconic Pink Palace of the Amalfi Coast. Officially known as Palazzo Avino, it's one of Italy's most celebrated five-star properties and it’s now also home to the Pink Closet, a fashion museum of travel memories. Here the sisters talk history, location and new creative projects.
The Amalfi Coast is one of Europe’s most photographed destinations in Europe. Is this popularity very recent or has Amalfi always been a famous place to visit?
Mariella Avino (MA): Amalfi has historically been a destination for once in a lifetime kind of trips. Now it’s getting attention from a lot more travellers, but it’s still a place where there are mostly small, family-run hotels like ours. Even though there’s a big demand for tourism Amalfi has kept the charm of the classic Italian villages of the south.
So Amalfi has been able to keep its authenticity?
MA: Yes absolutely. And I think now more and more, there is a stronger interest in finding places with a true sense of place. That’s the Amalfi Coast because it’s still very local. The majority of the businesses, like the shops, restaurants and hotels, they’re still run by families who have been here for generations.
What do you think makes the Amalfi Coast so special Attilia?
Attila Avino (AA): The special part about this corner of the world is that each village has its own identity. For example Ravello is up on a hill about 50 meters above sea level and you have a bird's-eye view on the coast. Then you can go to Amalfi, which is at sea level. There are many small little villages that you can walk to along the coast, with a lot of nice restaurants along the way. You can continue to a village like Positano and even get a boat to Capri. From the boat you have a beautiful view of the changing coastline.
A lot of people may think the Amalfi Coast is a destination for just two or three days, as part of a longer Italy itinerary. But you’re saying, you need a lot more time to really explore Amalfi?
MA: Absolutely. The Amalfi Coast is actually a whole string of different destinations. We are based in Ravello where there are around 20 historic churches and only 2000 inhabitants. When you walk around Ravello you really find the charm of the south, it’s not something that’s easy to experience on just a short day trip.
What about the history of Palazzo Avino, your Pink Palace?
MA: Like many properties in Ravello it was a private villa owned by a noble family from the area. It is located just above the main square as this was the safest place to live, especially when it was built in the 12th century. Many noble families built villas here, high on the hill, and most of the village’s traditional architecture has been retained. I think our building gives you this sense of place. The pink colour of the facade is made by a special technique and that’s why it became known as the Pink Palace. Historically the palace was visited by writers and painters. At the end of their stay, these artists would make something for the palace.
AA: Now we’ve recreated this concept and we invite artists to showcase their pieces. For example, we became very close friends with an artist from Venice who has created some specific paintings for the property. So guests who return to the property always see something new. We also have a new project with a group of young designers from Milan from the most famous fashion institution in Italy, and we’re supporting their work on a rolling basis.
Art is also integral to your new project The Pink Closet. Tell us more.
MA: I had the idea of having a boutique which was a collection of things collected by a world traveler, which is very much how I built my own closet. The art elements are similar to what you find elsewhere on the property and there’s also a very feminine touch brought to the interior design. There are lots of mirrors and hidden places, so that's why we call it closet, because you get in and you start to discover it and the selection of the pieces.
I think so many readers will be fascinated by the idea of creating a closet from all the places that have influenced around the world. You've made it a museum, which is just a fabulous idea. How long has your personal involvement been with the Pink Palace?
MA: I've been the managing director since 2011. Our father bought the property in 1995 and completely renovated it. We opened in 1997 using the villa’s original name, Palazzo Sasso.
There must have been a lot of challenges over the last 25 years.
MA: The most difficult challenge was a legal issue we had over the name. Eventually we lost the battle and couldn’t use the Sasso name, so I was travelling the world telling people we had a problem and the famous Palazzo Sasso was now Palazzo Avino. As a family we are three sisters and we decided to use our family name, so the name will live on, hopefully forever. The nicest thing I hear is when people say they don’t even remember what Palazzo Avino used to be called.
Well you certainly have your own style and identity. There’s a lobster martini bar and a Michelin-starred restaurant on site! It must be so difficult to pull it all together.
AA: Yes, but we’re an amazing team. Every year we start with a new project, something new we can bring for the following season. This is the beauty of it, the creativity in this industry is really limitless and we definitely love to navigate it.
So what are the three sisters planning to come up with next?
MA: At the moment we are concentrating on making the property more and more linked to what surrounds us. So for example, we have changed the menus in the restaurants to reflect the Amalfi Coast. We’ve removed the international dishes, like the club sandwich, and replaced them with a truly local menu. We want guests to feel the sense of place from the moment they arrive. We’ve also created our own fragrance that’s symbolic of our territory. And I think this is really the future of the travel industry - I strongly believe that standardisation is not something that's going to work anymore.