Sophisticated Living Indianapolis

JAN-FEB 2018

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SOR R ENTO SER ENADE Living La Dolce Vita at the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria Written by Bridget Williams 46 Nearly everyone can cite an experience so sublime they are certain the vivid vignette will be permanently etched into their memory, and serve to warm the cockles of the heart whenever something triggers its happy resurgence. Forevermore, the bellowing chorus of O Sole Mio will bring forth goosebumps along with the remembrance of a magical early summer evening at the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria in Sorrento, Italy. From our balcony of the Caruso Suite (named in honor of famed Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, who spent the last days of his life there in the spring of 1921), we admired the Gulf of Sorrento and beyond to the Bay of Naples, set ablaze from yet another spectacular sunset. Below us on the celebrated Vittoria Terrace–dramatically perched on the cliff's edge, so that nothing stands between you and endless vistas of sea and sky–well- dressed guests noshed canapés and sipped apéritifs. Suddenly, the clinking of glasses and the sullen siren-song of seagulls was usurped by the sound of music: the aforementioned and much- beloved Neapolitan song, originally penned in 1898. At the urging of Guido Fiorentino, the hotel's fifth-generation president, Marco Gargano, the front office manager, moved us to tears with his powerful rendition, which drew thunderous applause from everyone on the terrace, who were visibly craning their necks to discern the origin of the dulcet tones. Since 1834, the Fiorentino family has been providing once- in-a-lifetime experiences in what is (in my humble opinion) one of the most magical regions in Italy. There is a distinct sense of arrival once you leave the bustling city center at Piazza Tasso in Sorrento (as much a living and breathing city as tourist destination), and pass through the Art Nouveau entrance gate. A long allée of trees, some with sinewy branches drooping from their burden of ripe citrus fruits, terminates at the stately hotel. Surrounded by five-acres of lushly manicured gardens, the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria is comprised of a trio of distinct interconnected buildings resting atop Roman ruins (purported to be a villa belonging to Emperor Augustus). e hotel's original building, Vittoria, was constructed in 1834 to accommodate Grand Tour travelers; it was the first modern hotel in the area and offered private bathrooms, a link to the harbor via a funicular railway created in a Roman tunnel, and electric lighting. Constructed in the second half of the 19th century and calling to mind a Swiss chalet, the design of the La Favorita building is an homage to Princess Maria Sofia of Wittelsbach, who married Francesco II of Borbone in 1858. It became known as Favorita after Maria Sofia's sister, Elisabeth, the Empress of Austria (better known as Sissi), deemed it her favorite wing of the hotel. e ruins of a Roman pool are visible near the present day version at Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria.

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