Goethe, Byron, Keats and Ibsen had more in common than their ability with words. All of them, when they travelled, liked to do so in style. And so all of them, when in Sorrento, stayed at the Imperial Hotel Tramontano. This large and expansive property has welcomed guests for over two hundred years. Indeed, parts of its building date back to the 16th Century. These include the Stella Maris Chapel, which is covered with colourful frescoes (restored, I fear, by a painter more to be admired for his enthusiasm than for his skill). The Tramontano’s location – close to the Old Town and to the Cathedral, and atop Sorrento’s famous cliffs – is a privileged one, affording superb views of the Gulf of Naples. As my taxi approached the entrance portico through the hotel’s shady gardens, I felt the most pleasing anticipation.
Roman emperors did not always enjoy long and happy retirements. Augustus, for example, was sent into exile, and for a time occupied a villa overlooking the sea on what we now call the Amalfi Coast. Upon that villa’s foundations in Sorrento, in the middle of the 18th Century, it being a most delightfully picturesque spot, the Earls of Mastrobuono decided to build a villa for themselves. In 1820 this was turned into a place in which travellers could lodge. And now it is a luxury hotel, the Bellevue Syrene. The clue is in the name, for it does, indeed, enjoy a ‘vue’ which is remarkably ‘belle’. But I came not for the view, but for the food of a brilliant young chef.
Spotless and efficient, the Grand Hotel Ambasciatori is an impressive four-star hotel which commands delightful sea views from a cliff-top position away from the centre of Sorrento. Both its bedrooms and its extensive public areas – the latter full of glistening marble, sparkling crystal and, sadly, canned ‘pop’ music – are immaculately maintained, and its gardens are enchanting. It was opened in the 1950s, but the atmosphere is pleasantly traditional, thanks to the pieces of good antique furniture which adorn its sitting rooms. This seems to suit the sun-seeking guests, who come to the Ambasciatori from all over Europe and many of whom take advantage of the lift which goes down to the hotel’s private beach by the sea.
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