“Buongiorno signora,” is how I was warmly greeted each and every morning by multiple hotel attendants as I made my way to breakfast through the classically appointed lobby of the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria. Catering to luxury travelers since 1834—kings, queens, as well as American and European glitterati alike—the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria is celebrating its 180th anniversary this year.
An iconic Amalfi Coast property, the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria was founded by the Fiorentino family in 1834, the first modern hotel in the area to provide private bathrooms, electricity, and a link to the harbor. Today, the family’s fifth generation is running the hotel—keeping alive a long tradition of excellence in Italian hospitality, having lovingly restored and refurbished it while maintaining its original Victorian charm and elegance.
Located just off the Piazza Tasso in serene downtown Sorrento, overlooking the Gulf of Naples and Mount Vesuvius, the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria is the same place where, legend has it, Roman Emperor Augustus had his own villa. It’s no wonder—the location is fabulous.
Just an hour car ride from the city of Naples and its nearby airport, Sorrento is a bastion for all things quintessentially Italian—history, art, food, and wine. As a town with 20,000 year-round residents that is known for its lemon groves, the city has gone out of its way to create a completely safe and relaxed place for tourists to visit and spend money. From its expertise in inlaid wood furniture making, to its hand-crafted sandals, to its beautiful cameos that make us forget all about the ones our grandmothers wore, there is something alive and fantastically unique to this Italian city.
It helped to have an exceptional guide, Fabrizio, who shed light on Sorrento’s local history, dispelled myths about the oversized lemons at the fruit stands (they are just there to attract the tourists), and taught us how to enjoy espresso the Italian way at Sorrento’s Fauno Bar. (First cleanse your palate with a glass of water, then add a single packet of sugar to the espresso, and then sip and savor the coffee’s rich flavor.)
Apart from its treasures, Sorrento is the best location from which to explore all of the interesting sites of Naples and its surrounding areas. Capri—famous for its jet set patronage and chic boutiques—is just a short boat trip away, while Naples, Mount Vesuvius, the cliff towns of Amalfi, Ravello, Positano, and the archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum are all within reach, thanks to the direct links by hydrofoil, car, or train.
After a day of having all senses stimulated, it’s a wonderful reward to be able to retreat to the warmth of the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, a destination in and of its own. Its 92 rooms are located in three adjoining buildings: La Vittoria, La Favorita, and La Rivale. Most rooms have a balcony or terrace with unrivaled views over the Bay of Naples or the hotel’s lush Mediterranean garden. The inviting pool, relaxing spa, and modern gym are just the icing on an already delicious cake.
Tasting the local cuisine is a definite highlight; fortunately, one doesn’t have to stray far from the hotel to experience some of the best. In his first year at the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, Michelin-starred Chef Luigi Tramontano offers an elegant combination of regional and Mediterranean classics at Terrazza Bosquet, always using fresh local produce, including a variety of citrus from the hotel’s very own orange grove. His practice is to use only a few ingredients per dish, allowing the local flavors to speak for themselves. (The smoked buffalo mozzarella was a unanimous favorite.)
Before dinner, though, be sure to meet for cocktails alfresco on the hotel’s Vittoria Terrace, the most famous and celebrated place in all of Sorrento. Adorned with Roman marble busts, it overlooks the Marina Piccola, offering magical, cinematic views of the Gulf of Naples as the sun sets over the nearby islands of Ischia and Procida. There is perhaps no better place to celebrate the fullness of life than on the Amalfi Coast.
-Ann Marie Scheidler