The Dolce Detox

Written by: Jean Godfrey-June


Updated on: December 13, 2023


Hiking on the Amalfi Coast is not a summertime activity; even for the forte, it just gets too hot. But in the spring, when the wild asparagus is sprouting, and the fall, when the chestnuts are ripening in the trees, you can climb up—on centuries-old stone stairways and winding oak-and-umbrella-pine-shaded paths—high enough that the island of Capri looks like a small grey egg poking out of the glittering Mediterranean below.

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In any season, the place to collapse afterward is on your terrace at Le Sirenuse, one of the most beautiful hotels imaginable, perched above Positano on its most charming cobblestoned street. If you’re there for the twice-yearly (spring and fall) Dolce Vitality detox and fitness week, expect an enormous steel bowl to arrive on the terrace, piled with sea salt and fresh herbs in which to soak your feet.

The hotel is named after Le Sirenuse, three small islands between Positano and Capri that, in Greek myths, were home to sirens with such a bewitching song that sailors who heard it soon crashed onto the rocks (the only person to survive hearing the song was Ulysses, who tied himself to the mast of a ship after plugging the ears of the rest of his crew).

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Owned for generations by the Sersale family, it’s decorated with an astonishing combination of wild flair and chic restraint by a grandfather who would do things like have teams of artisans compete to produce the most perfect version of a metal lamp he’d once seen in Iran (the results sit on many of the guest rooms’ bedside tables). Gorgeous colors (antique suzanis, silk upholstery, painted tiles, a stunning art collection) and textures (seagrass lampshades, crisp linens, cool marble, intricate mosaics) play off a mostly white, light-splashed background. Every detail has been thought of, from the hand-painted sirens on an ashtray casually set next to a book on Positano by John Steinbeck to the sprawling bougainvillea carefully trained along the interior walls, tied to small nails with thin loops of raffia.

The family is the hotel—and its matriarch is Carla, wildly chic with tumbling blonde curls and tawny skin. Carla runs the shop, meaning she masterminds the brand’s fashion line and its gorgeous home goods; the hotel introduces new collections seasonally. From the fanciful silk-embroidered throw pillows to the plates, chargers, and platters handmade in Italy (certo), the pieces quickly imbue almost any style interior with the family’s jauntily luxe sense of adventure. (On any given night, you’ll see Carla, her husband, Antonio, and their sons, Francesco and Aldo, mixing and relaxing with the guests, but you really see them during the retreat, when they are climbing, sweating, and detoxing fully with the guests.)

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The 6-Day Fitness Retreat

Dolce Vitality begins each day with a yoga class at 6 a.m.; while this sounds like torture, it is heaven. As the sun starts to rise, the sea and sky around you—the long yoga room is actually a romantic restaurant in season, all windows, whitewashed plaster, and pots of bougainvillea—turn an unbelievable shade of blue.

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After breakfast with the still-rising sun (all meals are held at a long communal table), the group gets set for a hike, which typically involves four hours of scaling ancient vertical staircases and zipping up mountain paths past tiny villages built into the cliffs. You’re led by extremely knowledgeable wilderness guides who grew up in the villages you’re passing through, so they know everything from the twists in the trails to the herbs along the way to pick. The views all the way up are stunning, but the hikes always end with a showstopper so incredible, so panoramic, that even the best camera can’t quite capture the feeling. (Weather permitting, one hike involves a second showstopper: a Mediterranean ice bath, where you plunge into the ocean from the hotel’s glamorous boat.)

Even the most in-shape person returns exhausted and happy; you all have lunch after soaking your feet and freshening up. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the team of Italian chefs and nutritionists makes eating healthfully—even detox-fully—unbelievably delicious. There is perfectly al dente pasta al pomodoro that you’d never believe was gluten-free, the very best version of every fresh vegetable you can think of, lemony grilled fish straight from the sea (note that there’s a full vegan menu if you’d like), and an enormous table laden with every sort of loose decaffeinated tea (along with accoutrements like chopped ginger and fresh lemons) so you can customize your own blend every time.

In the afternoons, there are massages (heaven) and a sauna, hot tub, and cold plunge to further any muscle-relaxing that needs to be done; special Theragun massages (hello); and Pilates classes (sometimes on the terrace). Or you can wander down the narrow paths of Positano to the shops (the shopping is fantastic) or to the beach for a swim.

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Later, there’s another amazing yoga session, also often on the terrace—it’s hard to beat doing yoga while listening to the waves crash against the beach. An incredible dinner follows, with a restorative yoga and meditation session before bed. At the end of the week, they analyze you, comparing the results to those they collected when you arrived. You won’t need the results to tell you how fantastic you feel, however—you will feel incredible, your clothes will fit better, and you’ll be able to run up a Colosseum’s worth of stairs without blinking an eye.

Note: You won’t be hungry—while it’s all super healthy, the food is so good that it genuinely qualifies as gourmet, and there are great snacks for the hikes. And if you think you might miss coffee, don’t worry: You can get it at breakfast (alongside the many exquisite caffeine-free teas).

If it’s contraband you’re feeling, make sure to book a few days at the end of your stay—or return in the height of summer for the full, sybaritic Positano experience. Every cocktail at Aldo’s bar (a wildly tiled outdoor terrace overlooking everything) and Franco’s (a bar inside the main hotel with both indoor and outdoor spaces) comes with a small toast topped with local butter and the most delicious anchovy you’ve ever tasted; the restaurant is as famous for its food as it is for its hard-to-top romantic setting. You can lie by the pool all afternoon sipping cocktails (the hotel also does organized hikes, but they start at 6 a.m. to avoid the summer heat), take day trips to Capri on a boat, or revel in the cool of your crisply appointed marble-floored room.

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