is no season for Naples, unless you follow the crowds of summer and early fall. In late December, it was much more than
stayed in the "best hotels," two of them on a five-night interlude. Both, almost next door to one another in the area called
Santa Lucia, were owned by a company called Prestige Hotels: the "Grande Albergo Vesuvio"
and the venerable "Excelsior." Each had a completely different quality.
Hotel Vesuvio looks directly out on the Castel Ouvo, a medieval monolith covering a tiny island just offshore, reached by
a bridge. It ranks amongst the best hotels in the world not simply for its location--there are lots of hotels here, with gorgeous,
broad views over Bay of Naples--but for its completely unbegrudging service, well-appointed and unpretentious rooms, and generally
immaculate character. It lacks the same ambiance as the Excelsior, though neither property wants for history or famous guests.
Let's just say that you do not fully appreciate the quotidian charms of the Vesuvio until you leave.
Excelsior, by contrast, gave us a fantastic, if diminutive, bedroom with a gigantic curving terrace overlooking the Bay from
the fifth floor, and equally large dual sets of French doors leading to this outer world of splendid scenery. It never satisfied
to be in the room without the French doors swung open to view the Bay and the mountains. The large bathroom was pleasant,
finished in hued marble.
among the yet-to-be-remodeled rooms, with chipping paint, wear marks, and giant gaps of window caulking in the French doors.
There were lots of scratches, dents, and imperfections of time. The concrete on the balcony above had fallen away, exposing
rusting steel rebar underneath. But it had character: truly, a room with a view. It was not immaculate, like the Vesuvio,
and the staff were undoubtedly grumpier, more Neapolitan, perhaps. If we had received a lesser room, we would not have been
charmed by the Excelsior.
city has treasures well worth exploring, including the national archeological museum and the pallazzo reale. Known
for its petty crime, we never encountered any problems though we could easily see how the narrow winding streets, dark at
night, could encourage muggings and pickpockets. It is also a good base for seeing Pompei and Herculaneum. A fast, non-stop
train runs to and from Rome several times a day.
has no large, primary food market, though we found a wonderful smaller outdoor market stocking fresh fish and produce. The
Madonna (left) looked after all those assembled.
for restaurants, we sampled the city’s only Michelin one-star, La Cantinella, for lunch without being overwhelmed; it was good,
not much better than some others, and expensive. La Sacrestia has a superb location
on the heights above the Mergellina district, and the menu will please sophisticates of Neapolitan cuisine, particularly their
typical Campanian-style seafood and pasta dishes. The historical ambiance, attentive service, and ample wine selection made
for a completely pleasing meal. Breakfast at the Hotel Vesuvio was wonderful, especially the Buffalo-milk Mozzarella. Pick
out a Neapolitan pizza restaurant that looks good and give it a whirl--they will all make your mouth water.