Hotels in Italy

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Grand Hotel Vesuvio

by Sarah Shuckburgh

This is an excellent hotel, set in a prime position on the sea front above the Castel dell'Ovo. Make sure you get a room facing the bay (although Vesuvius itself is out of sight until you reach the roof terrace on the top floor).

The Grand Hotel Vesuvio has stood here since 1882, but the original building was reduced to a few derelict rooms during the Second World War - as Norman Lewis describes in his classic war diary 'Naples 44'. The post-war replacement, two storeys taller than the original, is less pretty than the 18th-century palazzo next door, and is the least imposing of the trio of smart hotels on this waterfront. However, inside all is opulence and elegance, and the service and comforts make this the only hotel in Naples to be a member of the "Leading Hotels of the World". From the moment the doorman twirls the revolving doors, you feel superbly looked after. Recent guests include Bill and Hilary Clinton, Jose Carreras, Gwyneth Paltrow, Woody Allen, and the Kings and Queens of Spain, Holland, Sweden and Saudi Arabia.

In the early 20th century, the famous Neapolitan tenor, Enrico Caruso, was a frequent guest, and he spent the last years of his life living at the hotel. His fifth-floor room - now the Caruso suite - still contains his upright piano, and the top-floor restaurant also bears his name. At his debut at the San Carlo opera house in 1901, the boos and hisses from the audience made Caruso vow never to perform professionally in Naples again - but apparently his evenings at the Vesuvio always ended with a rendition of Neapolitan songs, such as O Sole Mio.

The Caruso roof-terrace restaurant offers a spectacular panorama of the dented hulk of Mount Vesuvius, the tangled streets of the city and the wide, glittering bay, with Capri in the distance. Caruso was passionate about Neapolitan food, and one of the Vesuvio's gastronomic specialities is Bucatini alla Caruso - the tenor's own recipe for pasta with garlic, tomatoes, peppers, courgettes, chillies and herbs. If the wind is too strong for a meal out on the terrace, you can admire the view through huge windows. (Or alternatively stroll across the road to the Castel dell'Ovo, an old fortress jutting into the bay just opposite the hotel, and choose a more informal restaurant there, for instance atmospheric La Scialuppa).

The ground floor Vesuvietta bar offers cocktails with a piano accompaniment. In the 'Echia Fitness and Relax' centre, Lucia, lithe and svelte in her catsuit, is on hand to advise about treatments, or to act as a personal trainer. The spa's mosaic floors, fountains and murals give a hint of antiquity (though it's all new). The name, Echia, refers to the hill from which, legend has it, the siren Parthenope flung herself in despair at failing to bewitch Ulysses - and the hillside behind the hotel is called Monte Echia to this day.

First published by Travel Intelligence Ltd

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