Italy does grand hotels very well and for a spot of pure escapism Jules Smee packs her Prada and heads for Sorrento
Sipping Prosecco on the sweeping terraces of the beautiful Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria in Sorrento, and a day could easily drift by. The palatial hotel, with it’s exquisite ‘Belle Epoque’ interiors, sits high on a clifftop with spectacular views of the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius.
Built 180 years ago by the Fiorentini family, it was once a stop on the ‘Grand Tour’ and has welcomed aristocracy, royals, Hollywood stars to legends of Opera ever since. Five generations later and it remains in the Fiorentini family, now run by the charismatic Guido Fiorentini, who ensures this gorgeous property remains one of the best in Italy. Recently a Michelin star was awarded to Antonino Montefusco, Executive Chef of the hotel’s main restaurant Terrazzo Bosquet – further testimony to it’s excellence.
Arriving through wrought-iron gates dripping with wisteria, you feel like an extra in a Grace Kelly movie, it’s just oozes elegance and charm. The first thing you notice is the colours and perfume of a lovingly tended Mediterraneangarden.
The interiors are equally beguiling – metal fretwork, gorgeous ceiling frescos, white marble floors to inlaid marquetry tables are mixed with a vibrant display of orchids, huge potted plants and contemporary sculpture.
As you would expect from a luxury hotel it also has a state-of-the-art gym, rooms with plasma TV’s and a fabulous pool. The superb Spa La Serra offers soothing treatments using luxury natural products.
A family affair
But there was nothing more relaxing than a wander around the hotels five acres of glorious gardens including olive trees and a lemon and orange grove abundant with glossy, plump fruit. We were given a tour of the gardens by Guido and his charming wife, who proudly showed us photos of their sons harvesting olives with the hotel staff. The olives produce a superb, peppery Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, served at every meal with homemade bread
s, so moreish we were almost drinking it. Oranges are turned into a tangy thick marmalade and lemons are used to make dishes including ‘A Homage to Sorrento’ a lemon pie with lemon parfait and lemon sorbet. Tucked in a corner is the pretty kitchen garden, where fleshy purple artichokes, courgettes and all manner of vegetables and herbs are cultivated to be used in the restaurants.
Starting with the incredible buffet breakfast. A feast in the grandest of rooms with ornate ceilings and panoramic views. Tables are spread with local meats, cheeses, breads, cereals, nuts and homemade jams, cakes and pastries. There are also freshly prepared egg dishes and other typical hot breakfast food. All served by waiting staff who make you feel like the most important person in the world.
If you can pull yourself away from the buffet, leave space for a light lunch by the pool.I thoroughly enjoyed a perfect Tuna Nicoise and some crisp Fritto Misto. But it was an evening spent at the Terrazzo Bosquet, the hotels Michelin starred restaurant, where I was treated to the exceptional cuisine.
We started with delicate red mullet stuffed with spring vegetables in a delicate sweet red mullet sauce and served with tiny seaweed fritters.
Pasta with smoked potato and caviar followed – Antonino Montefusco’s signature dish – a picture on the plate and a delicious balance of simple flavours. The main course was a Bread Cannolowith mouth-watering, succulent snapper (a savoury take on the traditional sweet Sicilian pastry) I adored this dish.The fish was complimented by a sweet and salty medley of olives, raisins and capers and a stunning, slightly bitter, green escarole sauce.
It was the dessert sweetly titled ‘Memories of Childhood’ that grabbed our attention. Two little ‘oranges’ perfectly crafted from thin chocolate, filled with a light orange cream and sitting on a sprinkling of popping candy and Fleur De Sel, a wisp of candy floss to garnish. It was delightful and we ended the meal with a fizz in our mouths and a smile on our faces.