Tuesday, 24 July 2012 1:24 PM
It's located amidst some of Campania's most jaw-droppingly attractive attractions: Capri, the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii. But Grand Hotel La Cocumella is so good, I'm told, that people come here to go on holiday and barely leave the grounds. Can that really be true? Alex Stevenson find out.
It has an impressive list of former guests. Goethe, the Duke of Wellington and Shelley are among those who have graced La Cocumella with its presence. Even in 1825, when it opened as a hotel, the building was well-established.
In fact it is the oldest building on the entire Sorrento peninsula, having been originally constructed as a Jesuit monastery in 1597. Its religious background is marked by art students from the Maryland Institue College of Art in Baltimore, who come every year to paint the church attached to the hotel. Their best efforts adorn the interior of the hotel bar.
As a former monastery the main building retains a hushed atmosphere. But it is not oppressive, for overlaid on the building's historic fabric is a lightness of touch. This is a relaxed, friendly establishment. It is a family place, reflecting the spirit of its current owners. A family of architects, they had gone here on holiday themselves before 1977, when they bought the place and set about refurbishing and restorative work.
Its well-established gardens, complete with a large pool, are very well kept. There is enough space here for 200 people to enjoy them without it becoming crowded. In fact, there are only ever about 65 in the peak summer period.
It's easy to notice details showing the care and attention which is paid to the place. Brightly-coloured flowers planted in the trunks of old trees are a quirky example.
But it is what lies at the bottom of the garden which really makes the jaw drop.
The terrace overlooks a 300-foot plummet down to the beach below, where a sun terrace is constructed out among boulders jutting into the sea during the summer months. Mount Vesuvius watches over the Bay of Naples, stretching away to the islands of Procida and Ischia in the distance.
"There are good views of the bay from many places," Stephen, the general manager of the hotel, says, "but the best unrestricted view is from our terrace".
The views are superb from the rooms, too. There are only 35 in total, which is surprising for such a large building. What is so remarkable is how different they all are. Stephen showed me room after room, suite after suite, all very different and with their own personality. Often couples and families insist on returning to the same room, he tells me.
Our suite seemed to give off a very refined grandeur. Its living room was grand but not overbearing. The bathroom was superb and the bed was as comfortable as they get.
That might have something to do with the sheets. Stephen told me he had spent many tens of thousands of euros investing in the highest quality bed linen. Not the sort of thing I'd notice usually - but I certainly did here.
We were lucky enough to visit on the evening of a concert taking place in the cloister, the hotel's largest indoor space. The acoustic is excellent, allowing audience members to hear even the subtlest performances from a distance. La Cocumella has a reputation for its musical programme: as well as a series of early season concerts it also offers further events in September organised by a local impresario. These are free to hotel guests, but visitors have to pay.
There is another, final advantage to La Cocumella: its location on the Bay of Naples.
"If people don't know the area, coming for the first time and they want to discover everything, Sorrento is a very good spot to do that," Stephen explains.
"Once you go round to the Amalfi side, Capri, you've got to spend a lot of time getting back to Sorrento before you can do everything."
He's right .Thanks to Sorrento's ferry links, as well as its position on the end of the Circumvesuviana line and bus service to Positano and Amalfi, it's possible to conduct day trips to all the interesting places in the area.
That's if you can be persuaded to leave the hotel grounds, of course: with its character-filled rooms, peaceful gardens and superb terrace, there's enough here to keep anyone happy for a long time.
By Alex Stevenson
A standard double room costs from £200 per night. For more information visit the Grand Hotel La Cocumella website.
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