Magazine article The Spectator

ITALY - Sweet Sorrento

Magazine article The Spectator

ITALY - Sweet Sorrento

Article excerpt

Charlotte Metcalf shares her daughter's love of Italy

At the Pompeii ticket kiosk, the Times dated 2004. It's as if Pompeii's reputation is so assured that no one even bothers describing it any more.

I'm a travel editor, and I had not read anything about it recently, nor had I ever been, despite having been mesmerised by teachers' descriptions of Vesuvius erupting and people dying where they stood. But when my six-year-old daughter came home from school asking questions about Romans and volcanoes, I decided we should go.

I was warned that the heat and size of the place would overwhelm a child. But that's to underestimate the skill of the Italians at making children feel at home, while charming their parents. I stood gawping as Fabio, our impossibly handsome guide, squatted to greet her. He showed her the tragically contorted 'frozen' people (plaster casts made from the indentations of bodies, at the moment they met death, preserved in volcanic ash). Fabio kept her riveted, showing her the mosaic of a dog bearing the inscription 'Cave Canem', and explaining how people used to eat at tiny roadside shops. The town was buried in ash when Vesuvius exploded in 79 ad and, without my daughter complaining of tiredness, boredom or heat, I was able to marvel at the excavated amphitheatre, temples and forum, the fresco-adorned houses, market and brothel, and a virtually intact bath-house.

Then it was back to our hotel.

Secluded among five acres of orange grove, the Excelsior Vittoria is an oasis off Sorrento's main square. This 19th-century edifice, high on the clifftop, dominates the harbour like a haughty duchess, still conscious of her aristocratic charms. Inside, the hotel is full of light and airy marble halls with ornate ceilings and billowy curtains at long windows. Our comfortable bedroom was upholstered in sugaredalmond colours with delicate antique furniture and walls hand-painted with garlands and flowers. Other than a television and an efficient internet connection, there was zero concession to minimalism or contemporary design.

Best of all, you stepped out onto a little balcony and were high above the bay of Naples with a view towards Vesuvius. Though the hotel is almost excruciatingly elegant, there is nothing pompous about it.

Round the bay in the Sant'Agnello quarter is the smaller Cocumella, the oldest hotel on the peninsula and once a favourite with Grand Tour travellers like Goethe, Mary Shelley and Hans Christian Andersen. …

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