DIRECTING our taxi to the hotel, the driver said simply, “Lucky you. It’s the best in town,” and after three nights there I’d find it hard to contradict him.
The Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria was founded by the Fiorentinos in 1834 and is now celebrating 180 years of business under the same family management.
Located in the town centre, yet tucked away down a wisteria-lined avenue which leads to its perch on the cliff edge, the hotel has spectacular views over the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius. Legend has it that the Roman Emperor Augustus had his own villa on this site and nowadays the fabulous terrace has a series of venerable Romans looking out over the bay in the form of stone busts.
Back in the 19th century, the hotel was part of the Grand Tour and it has welcomed monarchs, from Louis II of Bavaria to George V, empresses and grand duchesses, politicians and artists. The opera singer Enrico Caruso loved the hotel, and a photograph of him out on the terrace admiring the views, shortly before he took ill and died in 1921 (in another hotel), is proudly displayed. The hotel’s best suite is named in his honour. More recent celebrities include Marilyn Monroe, Luciano Pavarotti and Princess Margaret. The hotel also doubled as a movie set for Billy Wilder’s Avanti! in 1962, starring Jack Lemmon and Juliet Mills, and Sophia Loren’s Qualcosa di Biondo in 1984.
BUDGET OR BOUTIQUE?
Neither. It’s an old-style grand hotel with Italian good looks thrown in. Think Renaissance trompe l’oeils, music rooms with lush plants and elegant furnishings.
WORTH GETTING OUT OF BED FOR
You could drift down to the bougainvillea-fringed pool where the scent from the surrounding shrubbery drifts across the supine forms of the guests and while the day away under the Italian pines. Or you could catch the train to Pompeii, a half-hour’s journey away, where you will spend all day admiring the villas, frescoes and remains of this vast Unesco World Heritage site. (Tickets EUR 11/5,50, www.pompeiisites.org). Closer at hand, the Amalfi coast is beautiful, with roads held on to the cliff edge by hair pin bends looping between picture postcard villages, and dizzying views down to the sea. Then there’s Capri, playground of the jet set, just under an hour’s boat trip away. Take the lift from the hotel’s terrace down to the harbour and jump on the ferry for a day splashing cash in the upmarket boutiques, or simply splash yourself in the almost bathwater-warm sea. If you want to visit the famous Blue Grotto, Laser Capri (www.lasercapri.com) runs various boat trips around the island, including to the Grotto.
Our Garden View Classic room was elegant and tasteful, with a separate sitting area and bedroom beyond. There was not one, but two marble bathrooms that removed the cheek by jowl nature of ablutions à deux. Another indulgent touch was the verandah, where we sat in the evenings and listened to the cicadas attempting to out-do each other.
WINING AND DINING
A highlight was the Michelin fare at the Gourmet Restaurant Terrazza Bosquet, where the food matched the views across the Bay of Naples, the city lights winking across the water at us. Everything is made from scratch on the premises, from the cinnamon brioche that accompanied the tobacco smoked red sea bream, buffalo yoghurt and dill sauce, to the Gragnano spaghettoni with anchovies, fennel and tuna fish tartare, and chocolate passion.
The staff are old school discreet and don’t bat an eyelid – even when guests slap out to the pool through reception in their slippers and one of the Excelsior’s polar-bear pelt-like robes, bearing towels in direct contravention of the signs in the rooms. Oops.
The Excelsior Vittoria is like a gracious, elegant, and seriously loaded doting aunt who indulges your every whim. If only she’d pop her clogs and leave you the villa.
Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, Piazza Tasso, 34 – 80067, Sorrento, Italy. Three nights at the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria costs from £1,089 per person based on two adults sharing a Classic Double room on a b&b basis including return flights from Edinburgh (direct flights from Glasgow also available) to Naples and private transfers, booked through Classic Collection (0800 294 9318; classic-collection.co.uk).
For further information visit www.exvitt.it or call the hotel on +39 081 877 7871.