A tall glass of orange juice seemed a curious choice of welcoming beverage when I fi nally arrived in Italy at the so-not-brunch hour of 7 p.m. Given that I’d landed in a country full of famed wine regions after spending more than half a day on planes, trams and automobiles, I assumed a pour of Montepulciano would be the fi rst order of business. Or perhaps a swig of the tart Limoncello that put Sorrento on the mixology map. But I drank what I was handed because, you know, when in Rome (or about three hours from it, anyway). This moment turned out to be the fi rst of many times during my stay when the fi ne folks behind the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, a 92-room clif top resort full of frescoed ceilings, Roman artifacts, vibrant vintage tiles and panoramic views of the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius, anticipated my needs before I did.
Like when La Serra’s spa director suggested a salt foot scrub and moisture-replenishing facial, just the things to cure wedding stress. Or when our waiter, Giuseppe, swooped in with a fresh espresso, personalized with a sweet note, when he spied a yawn in the breakfast room, where pastries, bacon, eggs, granola and fruits await every morning. When breakfast comes with fi ve cake options, indulging is easy. The concierge suggested walks in the fi ve acres of gardens, where a hammock big enough for two beckons an afternoon snooze. And as for that OJ, it was the best I’d had in a lifetime of consuming citrus. Made from ingredients grown in the resort’s onsite groves, it was the perfect natural sugar rush for exploring this romantic and culinary capital.
We dined at the Michelin-starred Terrazza Bosquet, where I acquired three new gastronomic obsessions buf alo butter, hot lemon pie and super-thin salty seaweed-speckled crackers. Anticipating a guest’s every need is probably a skill that comes with fi ve generations of family ownership or the challenge of meeting the high hospitality standards of the elite (Barbra Streisand, Sophia Loren, Pierce Brosnan, Luciano Pavarotti and King Edward VII of England, to name a few) who have slept in the old-school linen sheets. At the time, it seemed like a super power. When we were fi nally ready to leave the grounds — something you should do only after taking a pizza-making class at the poolside wood-burning oven — we explored the vertical towns, curvy vistas (the harrowing drive itself will bond you, your groom and your driver for life!) and magical grottos of the Amalfi Coast. And visited living history at Naples National Archaeological Museum and the ruins of Pompeii.
A day sail to romantic Capri is a must, with its dramatic rock formations, swimming caves and high-end shopping, as is a boat trip to Nerano, a coastal community with nary an American in sight, for grilled seafood or zucchini pasta at La Sirene. Strolling Sorrento’s bustling streets reveals churches, cloisters and city cats while sharing primavera gelato and scoring a few souvenir specialties, like ceramics, linens, marquetry, and anything made with lemon, from liqueur to candy to soap. On our last night, we gathered staples at Fattoria Terranova, the retail arm of a nearby farm, on Piazza Tasso to re-create the Amalfi an magic when we got home, fantasizing about returning to, as John Steinbeck once put it, the “dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there [but] becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.” And, of course, we drank enough wine — and that lemon nectar — to make Bacchus proud. Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria from $501 per night.