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Where To Stay in Naples: Decumani Hotel de Charme

Italian cities are typically adored for their quaint piazzas, fragrant eateries and florid facades. But some possess a darker allure. Naples — the capital of Campania — both seduced me with its confusion and confused me with its seduction on my recent whirl about town.

Three decades had passed since my last Neapolitan travels, and I was eager to see if it had cleaned up as handsomely as reported. No better base from which to launch my investigation, I figured, than the Decumani Hotel de Charme, smack in the grimy gut of the historic district.

Leftover from Greco-Roman times, a decumano is a central axis of a city. Naples' decumani host the maliolica Cloister of the Santa Chiara Church, the Veiled Christ and the Via dei Pastori, among other reasons UNESCO named it a "museum under the open sky."

I might have flinched at the grit and graffiti lining the alleys en route to the hotel were it not for these cleansing landmarks and my fascination with statuary. Votive displays twinkled from the stone walls, improvised from every sort of bauble you could imagine. Colored bulbs, silk roses and wax figures enlivened the scenes, beckoning me onward to the interior courtyard that houses the Decumani.

Two flights up, an incongruous calm prevailed.

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Places to Stay in Capri: Hotel Gatto Bianco

Of Capri’s many scandals — central Italy’s swollen sandbar is dubbed the Island of Pleasure for a reason – the steamiest was in 1902, when German industrialist Friedrich Alfred Krupp staged an orgy that made front page headlines back home.

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Where To Stay in Anacapri - Hotel Al Mulino

Barking dogs and crowing roosters serenaded us on the afternoon we arrived to Hotel Al Mulino through the bougainvillia hedges and grape trellises of Anacapri. The hilly village rising over Italy’s Island of Capri may be Edenic, but all I could think about was the bad night’s sleep that awaited this big city girl.

Thankfully, I was wrong. The restored 19th-century mill owned and managed by Antonietta Viva and her husband is made of sturdy stuff, and once we lowered the heavy blinds, a radio silence descended on our room. The only real noise to disturb us came from CNN on our TV -- and from our chats with Antonietta, whose twinkly-eyed warmth and down-home hospitality alone should earn the three-star establishment a ratings boost.

Al Mulino is a country home wreathed by private gardens and stone facades, and when the sun naps them in gold, you grasp why Mediterranean clichés aren’t worth resisting. The leafy idyllia is not only a salve for sore eyes, its fruit groves supply the fresh orange juice of your breakfast and fig and apricot reinforcements for your day about the island.

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Places to Stay in Sorrento - Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria

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.

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