Leave it to the Romans, inventors of indoor plumbing and wine, to discover the charms of cliffside Surrentum, at the spur of South Italy’s Sorrento Peninsula. That’s where Ceasar Augustus was said to have built a villa, and that’s where, in 1834, Naples’s Fiorentino family established the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria.
This Leading Small Hotels of the World affiliate is still in Fiorentino hands, its stately fin-de-siècle redoubt commanding a mapmaker’s view of the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius. The morning I arrived, a sirocco was working its mood over the five-acre private gardens that connect the hotel with Sorrento’s main piazza, retouching its classical canvas and bringing to mind John Steinbeck’s take on Campania, “you might almost be living in historical times yourself."
I had just hopped a traghetta from the Island of Capri to the pier below, and right away savored la dulce vita of five-star pampering as a private elevator lofted me directly to the roomy terrace above.
The interiors are elegantly appointed and house the Fiorentinos’ original, locally hewed antique furniture, with inlaid flourishes on the walls. Excelsior Vittoria spans three segments constructed between 1834 and the early 20th century. Thanks to this structural quirk, the hotel’s 98 rooms come with distinct features and personalities. Bas-relief cameos and a brocade canopy in shades of coral contributed to the vintage vibe of my balconied room.
You may think you’ve seen English decor in England, but the flower baskets and floor-to-ceiling windows of the Art Nouveau-style Winter Garden; Belle Epoque sofas of the Music Room; arches of the Reading Room; and frescoed ceilings of the Vittoria Dining Room were fashioned for the Grand Tourist to the South, and still bear an Oxbridge accent today.
The crowd is quite something. There are jet-setters, business bores, entertainers and indications of cosmetic work. Barbara Streisand reportedly settled in for a week last August, taking a private room for her dog as well. Henry James’s characters spring to life in the 21st century.
As per legend and the guest book, Excelsior Vittoria has hosted a Who’s Who of celebrities since its early days, from Otto von Bismark and Richard Wagner to Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe. The Italian tenor Caruso called the hotel home for a month in 1921, and the "Enrico Caruso" suite holds the same furnishings – including piano -- as he enjoyed back then. The "Pompeii" Suite” is decked out with frescoes inspired by the aristocratic villas in nearby Pompeii. Other in-demand accommodations are the “Princess Margaret” Antique Suite; the “Aranci” Suite looking onto the orange grove; and the “Vittoria” Suite, flanked by terraces on two sides.
Nearly all rooms are graced with a terrace or a balcony overlooking the Bay of Naples or the leafy hotel grounds. All rooms have private bathroom, air conditioning, satellite TV, minibar, safe and direct-dial telephone.
Excelsior Vittoria’s wellness center is La Serra, where guests can rally with holistic treatments and beauty rituals plying natural organic products from The Organic Pharmacy and Salin de Biosel, Flora essential oils and Essie nail colors. La Serra is located in a former greenhouse shielded from passing guests by olive and orange trees.
The Excelsior Vittoria is the kind of place where sparkling water and fine, stroke-hastening chocolates are brought up to your room in ungentlemanly weather, compliments of an apologetic manager.
More serious fare is served in the Vittoria restaurant and open-air Bosquet terrace restaurant overlooking the sea. Rounding out the kitchens, a poolside restaurant with wood-fired pizza ovens and pasta is open from June to September, in the orange and olive groves.
For an idea of the nouveau Mediterranean flavors being served at the Excelsior Vittoria, enterprising guests can track down CBS2 Chicago’s show with top chef Vincenzo Galano.
For more info go to:
Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria
Piazza Tasso, 34 - 80067
Tel. +39 081 877 71 11
Fax +39 081 877 12 06