Luxury Italy: Naples, the NOLA of Europe

Hotel San Francesco al Monte’s top floor has a roof garden with a 360-degree view of the city, the Gulf of Naples, Mount Vesuvius and Capri. // Photography: Sharri Whiting De Masi

Giampaolo Padula, the new general manager of Grand Hotel Parker’s in Naples, Italy, headed up the Windsor Court in New Orleans’ French Quarter before coming home to Italy to direct the renovation of one of Naples’ most revered Grande Dames. He compares NOLA and Napoli: Both are melting pots of cultures; both have UNESCO World Heritage sites, superb food, indigenous music, a multicultural history, laid-back attitudes, fine museums; and both are important port cities. 

We visited three very different properties in Napoli, all overlooking the Mediterranean: Grand Hotel Parker’s, a legendary property undergoing a major facelift; the San Francesco al Monte, a 500-year-old monastery with an endless, wraparound roof garden; and the Romeo, a sophisticated contemporary hotel near the cruise port.

George, the rooftop restaurant at Grand Hotel Parker’s, has a creative menu built around local seafood.

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Considered the oldest purpose-built hotel in Naples (c. 1870), Grand Hotel Parker’s is located on the former hunting grounds of a prince, halfway up the Vomero hill, overlooking the Mediterranean, Mount Vesuvius and Capri. Virginia Woolf, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw were regular guests in their day. Guests not only enjoy the spectacular view, but also the fact that this area of the city is quieter than in the center. The 82-room hotel, at corso Vittorio Emanuele 135, is marketed through Small Luxury Hotels.

Marketing Manager Adele Di Mauro ([email protected]) explained that the renovations are going floor by floor, with the lower two floors finished and work being done on the next floor up. The newly adorned double rooms are decorated in rich burgundies and greens against a neutral background. We saw Room 110, which had a long hallway with a wardrobe leading into the bedroom and its sea view. The bathroom is done in white and rust-colored marble, with a large tub with shower. 

The suites are expected to be refurbished by the end of 2019. We visited Junior Suite 411 and Suite 409. Both are duplex suites, with the bedrooms and main bathrooms upstairs, and an expansive view over the Bay of Naples. The junior suites are about 700 square feet, with the living room and a half bath downstairs. The Suite is about the same size, with additional amenities and a small balcony. The renovations promise to make these suites among the most desirable in Naples. We suggest calling before booking to get an update on which suites have been completed.

The Presidential Suite at Grand Hotel Parker’s has Empire-style furniture and a private library with 19th-century books.

The Parker’s rooftop restaurant, George, opened in early summer 2018 after an extensive renovation. Chef Domenico Candela makes the most of the local seafood with a creative menu enhanced by the panoramic setting. The hotel plans a new bistro to be situated in the main lobby. 

The Hotel San Francesco al Monte was built at the end of the 16th century as the Santa Lucia al Monte Monastery to house hundreds of monks. Twelve years ago, Mario Pagliari transformed the left wing of the vast building into a four-star residenza d’epoca by combining the original monk’s cells into just 45 rooms, all with a panoramic view of the Bay of Naples. The building itself is set against the San Martino Hill at Corso Vittorio Emanuele 328 and architect Luciano Raffin made the most of the unique location.

The halls of the ground floor are lined with the owner’s collection of Italian classic and contemporary art; dozens of meandering passages lead to frescoed salons and chapels from the middle ages, all of which are available for meetings and events. The seventh-floor roof garden, with its Mediterranean backdrop, is a huge space unfolding in all directions; there is a swimming pool adjacent to the ancient grotto, with terrace after terrace planted with living trees, vines, flowers, lemons and grasses.

The centuries-old vegetable garden cultivated by the monks was preserved, along with the original walkways and pergolas. The 360-degree views of the city, Vesuvius and Capri are spectacular from every vantage point. About a third of this gigantic roof is dedicated to a series of enclosed gardens and grand outdoor dining rooms used for weddings and events.

Hotel San Francesco al Monte’s rooftop pool has a sinuous shape and is almost camouflaged by greenery and stone. // Photography: Sharri Whiting De Masi

There are seven junior suites at San Francesco al Monte, many with cove ceilings and richly colored fabrics. Every window represents an original monk’s cell — Junior Suite 35, for example, has two windows in the bedrooms and one each in the sitting room and bathroom. (Note: Most bathrooms at the hotel have Jacuzzi tubs with a shower).

Junior Suite 514 is located on a corner, with a large bedroom with two windows, a foyer with a desk and stained glass window, a small dressing room with sofa and a large bathroom. Junior Suite 610 is light and airy, with a sitting area with a sofa, a bedroom with another sitting area, and a Jacuzzi lined with Moorish tile. Junior Suite 21 includes a sitting room with an original stone bench, a place of contemplation with a view over the city.

Number 44, a Classic double with a sitting area, includes a large terrace with a view over the Bay of Naples and the possibility of having private dinners there. Room 62 is a smaller Classic room, light-filled and including a Jacuzzi shower. It’s possible to book connecting rooms to sleep up to six people.

There is a small wellness center — the Antica Essenza — with a bio sauna offering milk or wine therapy, and massages for singles or couples. Stefano Serra is wellness center manager.

The fourth-floor restaurant, La Terrazza dei Barbanti, was named after the Friars Minor Conventual, whose flowing beards (barbi) were legendary. The view of Naples in the evening is spectacular, though the restaurant is also open for scenic lunches. 

According to Marketing Director Marianna Sarno ([email protected]), the hotel receives many European guests, but their American market is increasing. Small groups are coming via Mandala Tours and the Smithsonian brings groups during the Easter season. Marianna says that while the hotel offers parking, there is good public transportation available. Cable cars stop in front of the hotel and go to the historic center at Piazza Dante, as well as to Monte Santo one stop away. Private tours of the city can also be arranged. 

Designed by the Japanese architects Kenzo Tange & Associates, the five-star Hotel Romeo in the restored Palazzo Lauro opened in 2008. Overlooking the harbor at Via Cristoforo Colombo 45, it is located directly across from the cruise port and just down the seafront from the Molo Beverello, from which the hydrofoils leave for Capri, Ischia and other destinations. The 82-room hotel is a member of Small Luxury Hotels. Antonella Graziano ([email protected]), sales, marketing and communications manager, can be reached directly.

Hotel Romeo’s 1,776-square-foot Skyline Suite has panoramic view of the Bay of Naples.

The Romeo is completely contemporary, with both strong Asian and Italian themes in art, décor and food. On the lobby level, there is a sleek bar with drinks and snacks. On the top floor is Il Comandante, the Michelin-starred restaurant with a five-star view and Salvatore Bianco’s sophisticated menu. Also on the ninth floor, the cocktail lounge overlooks the lap pool and the city beyond. Here are some of the most creative nibbles we’ve seen, along with the Naples’ fabled romantic sunsets.

Located in an ancient building next door and reached from the hotel by an evocative tunnel, the SPA Dogana del Sale offers hot tubs, steam baths and a pink salt room. For families traveling together, the Romeo offers babysitting service and a kids’ garden near the spa and gym, where children may amuse themselves while their parents work out or enjoy a spa treatment.

There are six types of suites at the Romeo, from City View to Family to Garden & Pool. Suite 800 is a City View Suite, which has one-bedroom at 730 square feet, with two fireplaces, two bathrooms and a panorama of the city of Naples. 

Suite 802 is a Bay View Suite, one of three in this category. Located on the eighth floor, the suites have more evocative view of the bay than those on the lower floors. (For a double room, request the highest floor available for an enhanced view). Suite 802 has more than 900 square feet of space and can be connected with suites 803 and 804 for a larger group. The bathrooms are made of marble, with Jacuzzi bathtubs, and there is also a half bath. 

Note: The Romeo believes in “fluidity of spaces,” which means there are no full walls between the living and bathroom area; spaces for day and night are not separated. The décor is of the highest Italian quality, with B&B Italia, Poltrona Frau and unusual wall coverings, as well as antique fireplaces.   

At 1,776 square feet, the light-filled Romeo Skyline Suite is the top of the line; it was introduced in 2013. There is a double living room with an antique fireplace and a dining table. The centerpiece of the space is the panoramic view of the Bay of Naples, Mount Vesuvius, Capri and the cruise port. In addition to the state-of-the-art bathroom that includes a sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi and “emotional shower,” there is a large half bath. Again, there is the Romeo’s “fluidity of spaces,” with various areas of the suite opening into each other.

There are a variety of options available for traveling to Naples. From Rome, the privately operated Italo fast train gets travelers to Naples in an hour. There are flights from Rome, as well as directly from the U.S. (most flights have one stop). Rome to Naples by car is under two hours. Hotels offer parking and there is parking available at the cruise and hydrofoil ports. Private car and driver transportation can be arranged through Italian Details.

For those going onward to Capri, Ischia and the Amalfi Coast, Naples should be a destination rather than simply a pass through city. Some of the world’s best custom tailors are based here, as well as some extraordinary museums, shopping, wine and food.  

Hotel Romeo’s spa, Dogana del Sale, has hot tubs, steam baths and a pink salt room. 

Two tastes of Naples: Fine Food & Bespoke Suits

Outside the hotel food scene, Naples is a city of restaurants that offer Mediterranean seafood and locally made mozzarella, along with wines and produce touched by both the salt of the sea and the nutrients that come from long-ago eruptions of volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius.

Pizza was invented in Naples, so begin at 50 Kalò di Ciro Salvo Pizzeria, Piazza Sannazaro 201/c, at the foot of Posillipo hill. In the language of pizzaioli (pizza makers), kalò means good and these pizzas are excellent, made with only seasonal ingredients carefully selected from the best produce and cheeses in the region.

Michelin-starred Ristorante Palazzo Petrucci and chef Lino Scarallo are now in Villa Don’Anna on the beach at Via Posillipo 16. In addition to a stunning view and a top-notch menu, visitors can arrange to spend a day in the kitchen with Scarallo learning how to cook Neopolitan-style.

Ristorante Europeo Mattozzi, Via Marchese Campodisola 4, near Piazza Bovio, is a traditional favorite of Neopolitans, who go for the atmosphere and endless variety of pastas.

For traditional local seafood, try the Varriale family’s restaurant, Rosiello, overlooking the Bay of Naples on Via S. Strato 10 in Posillipo, which has been around since 1933. The family makes its own crisp rose, Uva Rosa, from grapes grown at the family farm overlooking the Mediterranean.

There is Caffe Greco in Rome, where the 19th-century painters and artists hung out, and there is Gran Caffè Gambrinus in Naples, at Via Chiaia 1/2, where Oscar Wilde and others making the Grand Tour enjoyed the espresso, the pastries, the gelato. 

The most delicious pastry from Naples is the multi-layered, fan-shaped sfogliatella and many argue that the best place to get it is Giovanni Scaturchio in Piazza San Domenico Maggiore 19. Add a cappuccino and breakfast is served.

The highly sought-after souvenir of a visit to Naples is a tailor-made suit, jacket or shirt. Italian men are known for their Neopolitan bespoke jackets, with their distinctive soft shoulders. Young Italians signal they are wearing custom-made by unbuttoning one or more sleeve buttons — no factory-made jacket has sleeve buttons that actually open. 

Where to go to find sprezzatura, the studied cool imbued in a Neopolitan jacket?

Gino Cimmino’s small atelier is upstairs at Piazza Carolina 19, where the maestro and his longtime associates have created suits over the decades for the rich and famous. 

Fortunato Rubolino, whose studio is at Via della Cavallerizza a Chiaia 14, has been tailoring fine clothes for men and women for more than 50 years. Daughter Barbara Rubolino works with her father to make beautiful reversible cashmere jackets, as well as garments cut from silk or wool.  

Clothes from Luigi Borrelli, whose main shop is at Via Filangieri 68 in Naples, may be ordered in Naples and picked up at his stores in New York, Boston, Palm Beach or San Francisco.

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