The lilting music wafts through the hotel perched on a cliff edge overlooking the Bay of Naples.
In the Caruso Suite, someone is playing one of the most valuable pianos in the world. The room is named after the great tenor Enrico Caruso, who played here in Sorrento’s Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria in 1921, shortly before he died.
The Caruso suite is one of the many star turns in the hotel, which has been run by the Fiorentino family since 1834, hosting Oscar Wilde, Richard Wagner, the Kaiser and, more recently, Pierce Brosnan.
Sorrento’s Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria boasts its own olive groves and luxurious pool, and has hosted guests including Oscar Wilde, Richard Wagner, the Kaiser and, more recently, Pierce Brosnan
The gardens boast their own olive groves, the trees are heavy with lemons, and there is a gorgeous, secluded swimming pool where lotharios soak up the sun in swimming trunks several sizes too small.
The estate is set back from the busy piazza and is bliss at this time of year when the holiday crowds have dispersed. The town is a World Heritage site, which is no surprise given its gleaming Arabic domes that are testament to its Moorish past.
The 14th-century cloister of the church of San Fransesco represents the best of its Christian heritage and is magnificent. What I love is how Sorrento is hugely glamorous and yet forever friendly, with designer label shops sitting alongside family run stores. No wonder Sophia Loren has always loved it.
Sophia Loren has always been a big fan of the Italian region
I have lunch each day in the old port at The 5 Di Leva Sisters restaurant. It’s been a culinary institution for years. There’s a sign outside saying: ‘Friends of Jamie Oliver.’ I’ve no idea if it’s true. But as I try to walk past the first time, one of the sisters lunges at my arm, somehow connects with my bottom and drags me in.
Another of the sisters takes the order, a third delivers it, presumably the fourth one cooks it, and the fifth, the oldest and fiercest, takes the money.
While here, you can’t miss Pompeii, the ancient city devastated yet preserved by the 79AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius. It’s 20 minutes by train.
Sorrento is also a mere 20 minutes by ferry from the starry island of Capri and is ideally positioned to explore the vertical charms of the Amalfi coast.
Back in Sorrento, dinner at the hotel is served in the Michelin-starred Bosquet Terrace restaurant. They are proud of the yellowing menu signed by Edward VII, who was a regular visitor with his mistresses. He signed it in 1910, the year before he died.
‘Last Luncheon of His Majesty King Edward VII. Hors d’Oeuvres, Spaghetti Asperges, Cotelettes de Mouton, Pommes Diane, Patisserie de Maison.’
As we leave the restaurant, someone is playing the piano again. This time it’s music by that other King, Elvis Presley.
Travel Facts: Plan your own weekend in Sorrento
The Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria (exvitt.it, +39 081 877 7845) offers double rooms from €460 per night bb, based on two sharing.
Flights from London to Naples from £74 return, britishairways.com.