SORRENTO, ITALY: The Grand Hotel Cocumella is an extraordinary 5 star luxury hotel set on the cliffs of Sorrento overlooking Mount Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples. Formerly a Jesuit monastery built in the 1600’s, this gorgeous member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World first opened as a hotel in 1822.
Now, almost 200 years later, it is a beautifully restored retreat for the senses that combines the classic architecture of an ancient monastery with the trappings of a modern luxury resort. The Grand Hotel Cocumella is a uniquely beautiful manor house for the ages.
The Grand Hotel Cocumella: A storied history
Set on 8 acres of land on the edge of Sorrento, Grand Hotel Cocumella has the serene architecture of a classic cloister. Merged with the modern trappings of a luxury property on the Amalfi coast. Wrapped up in the classic furnishings of the Victorian age.
It was purchased by the Del Papa family in 1977 to prevent it from being converted to a private residence. The grandfather of the current owner had been a frequent guest, and oversaw a meticulous restoration of the property, preserving and transforming it in the process.
Now, 40 years later his grandson, Luca Lo Cicero, runs the operation with a keen appreciation for the majesty of their holdings, for the beauty of the grounds, and the powerful heritage it embraces across the centuries through many incarnations.
Grand Hotel Cocumella: The Hotel
With just 47 rooms it is a boutique hotel set on the scale of an epic Italian estate. The entrance is set back from the road next to the ancient church of the original monastery. A winding pathway from the street leads to the entrance beside an outdoor terrace that stretches down the length of the building.
The Lobby is relatively small, but astonishingly gorgeous. Thick stone archways are everywhere. The vaulted ceiling above the front desk is covered with multicolored frescoes. A solid wooden front desk has the classic stylings of the 1890’s. The character and historical beauty of the property is immediately apparent. The classic styling reverberates everywhere.
A long hallway just off the lobby leads the length of the building past colonnade after colonnade towards the fine dining restaurant. Cream colored walls lead from vaulted ceiling to vaulted ceiling under golden wall lights is both ethereal and stunning.
Grand Hotel Cocumella: Classic grandeur in the modern age
It is the type of detail one might find in a palace. Transcending a traditional or even a grand Victorian hotel. It reflects the style and grandeur of the property at large. Classic style with modern luxury touches.
It is easy to imagine its former glory, centuries ago, filled with hooded monks, walking to prayer down the same halls. Now it resembles nothing less than a lengthy, astonishingly grand salon, stately in the finest tradition of an immaculate sitting room.
The same applies to the central cloister of the building, which is now the banquet hall. A massive rectangular room with 30 foot ceilings, it was once an open space, the central courtyard of a 4 sided rectangle, in the tradition of courtyards at palaces in the Vatican.
The central cloister at Cocumella: a wedding feast
Now its colonnaded support beams hold rows of globe cluster chandeliers under a glass roof. Dozens of tables fill the room like the most glamourous hotel ballroom imaginable. The effect is awe inspiring.
A blend of the ancient past merging with modern design sensibilities to create a completely unique banquet hall both gorgeous and exquisite. The room is used for weddings, receptions and special events.
This weekend it will host a wedding reception for 200. It is the perfect merging of the religious and the profound, in a setting as glorious as the history of Italy. That is the essence of Grand Hotel Cocumella.
Grand Hotel Cocumella: The Room
Our second floor Junior Suite is simply glorious. Hardwood floors with antique tiles in a centerpiece floor design sit under two chambers of astonishing vaulted ceilings. Arches a foot thick separate the sitting area from the bedroom. 12 foot ceilings rise to the apex of vaults in both rooms.
Sumptuous furnishings and antique dressers and Victorian armoire give a grandeur to the setting. A sumptuous king size bed fills the bed chamber. Lying back on the pillows and gazing up at the classic vaulted ceiling is to be removed to another era, another time. The effect is magical.
A private balcony overlooks the rest of the bucolic property and the Bay of Naples. The grounds below are lush with plantings, palm trees, and a large vegetable garden. It is as if the grounds are unchanged from hundreds of years ago, with the exception of the swimming pool.
Grand Hotel Cocumella: The Grounds
The swimming pool is enormous, filling in a large space between the garden and the ocean terrace. A deep aqua blue expanse surrounded by lounge chairs, it is a beautiful modernist touch, and a glorious space to relax in the sun. A pool bar and a terrace nearby provide a lovely vantage point for a drink.
At the edge of the property a massive terrace is situated right against the cliffs of Sorrento. Several hundred feet down is the bay of Naples, and a jetty that serves as the hotel’s “beach” area. The terrace is open during the summer months. It is now late October so it is preparing for the end of the season.
Still, the location and space, even late in the season, is amazing. Even more impressive the hotel has a fully rigged tall ship sailing experience available during peak season between June and September. The ship is usually docked at the end of the jetty.
Grand Hotel Cocumella: The Staff
The staff is of the hotel is impeccable. Concierge Giuseppe di Pietro has been with the hotel for 24 years. His pride in its heritage and infectious enthusiasm for the property is readily apparent.
He provides insight and arrangements for all manner of activities both at the hotel and in Sorrento. A warm, genial man, his uncanny anticipation of his guests needs is almost telepathic.
Dinner at Scintilla
Dinner at the fine dining restaurant Scintilla is a glorious affair. Set in a glass enclosed solarium at the end of the corridor of pillars, it is surrounded by plants with twenty foot ceilings, under the archways of monastic antiquity. A large outdoor patio is set for dinner throughout the summer season.
Chef Carlo Matarese and his Sous Chef Nico Ercolano create an evening of exhilarating Haute Cuisine that is both innovative and delightful. Chef Matarese has been with the hotel for 31 years.
The wait staff are phenomenal, especially our head waiter Chico Esposito, who has been with the hotel for 29 years. Affable and charming, he and his associates Achille and Mario act as a synchronized team, creating an atmosphere of class and style, while maintaining an intimate dining experience.
Scintilla: Dinner begins
The cuisine is amazing, and innovative expression of Haute Cuisine and classic Italian cooking. The menu is relatively short, a starter course, a pasta course, a second meat or fish course, and dessert. Within those three courses lies culinary gold.
The evening begins with a glass of champagne and then the first course arrives. A “Trobetta” courgette vellutata of zucchini with quinoa and basil is simply extraordinary. A creamless soup of zuchinni, served hot, it bursts with flavor, richly tasty, perfectly steeped, with a deep green color and a bountiful flavor.
A generous portion is consumed voraciously. If there were not other courses coming, another bowl would have been happily ordered and devoured. It is a sensational opening dish.
Prawn tartar and Carpaccio of Shrimp
A violet prawn tartar with peach, Greek yoghurt and asparagus is sumptuously outstanding. Essentially a prawn carpaccio of crudo scampi, its freshness and beautiful presentation is a phenomenal starter.
It is difficult enough to make a carpaccio of shrimp, but this preparation is jaw dropping in its flavor profile. Like the velloute of zucchini, it astounds and amazes, setting the stage for the courses to come.
Pasta at Scintilla: Spaghetti and Risotto
A handmade spaghetti pasta with smoked buffalo butter, papaya pepper, and sea urchin with crunchy onion is spectacular, a tour de force of Neopolitan cuisine. Generous portions of sea urchin permeate the dish, its deep yellow color interwoven with the pasta in a visual spectacle.
The steaming spaghetti absorbs the urchin while it is consumed, as it devolves into an impeccable sauce, permeating every forkful. Sea urchin is one of the most singularly amazing seafood ingredients, with a tangy unique flavor. A pasta dish like this is a powerful example of the expansive possibilities of Haute Cuisine. At Scintilla, it is a continual triumph of the elegance of fine dining.
Risotto with “pecorino cenerino” cheese, citron, venus clams and white truffle is equally fabulous, beautifully presented, and powerfully beautiful. The risotto is cooked perfectly. The truffle is never overwhelmed by the ingredients, but complement the clams and the light, richly flavored sauce.
Scintilla: Chianti, Amberjack, and Turbo
The evening is accompanied by a spectacular 2001 Chianti Classico . This incredible wine is a testament to the power of the Sangiovese grape, and its staying power. Elegant, and fruit forward, like a Pinot Noir in the classic Chianti style, it opens with a flinty start, and blossoms over the course of the meal into an full throated beauty. Each sip is an adventure to be savored.
Amberjack with a caprese salad of tomato and mozzarella is a wonderful main course, the fish freshly caught as the special of the day. Essentially an elegant white tuna, it is beautifully flaky but simply prepared, allowing the fish to speak for itself.
Turbot with Foie gras, beluga lentils, and potato lemon balm scented foam is beautifully cooked. The turbot is crisp on the outside, powerfully tender and flaky on the inside, and the cream of potato is a wonderful counterpart.
Scintilla: Meeting the Chefs
An Almond tarte is an elegant desert as three hours pass in a fever dream. The last of the wine is sipped to its logical conclusion. The beauty of each moment is suspended in time. Chico, Achille and Mario are not just a wonderful team of waiters, but delightful dinner companions.
Chef Carlo Matarrese and Sous Chef Nico Ercolano come out from the kitchen, and the whole team beams with pride. Scintilla, and indeed the entire operation at Grand Hotel Cocumella, goes out of its way to pamper their guests, enlighten them with their outstanding cuisine, and make them feel like family. They have certainly succeeded tonight. It is a magnificent experience.
Grand Hotel Cocumella: Memories that last a lifetime
Breakfast is served in a gorgeously designed room that could have been decorated by Jean Paul Gaultier. Pastel tablecloths under rose shaped cloth lighting fixtures create an almost surreal visual twist. Light streams in from the floor to ceiling windows.
It is yet another twist on the contrasting experiences of staying at the Grand Hotel Cocumella. Modernist comforts and design elements intertwined with Monastic architecture.
Two days passes too quickly but the indelible memories of this gorgeous hotel will last a lifetime. So many contrasting elements come together in a singular whole.
The historic architecture and vaulted ceilings of a 15th century Jesuit Monastery. The glorious furnishings and feel of a grand Edwardian hotel. The modernist feel of a 5 star luxury resort.
Grand Hotel Cocumella: A stellar member of Small Luxury Hotels of The World
It is exemplary of the beauty and majesty typical of a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. The gentile individuality of each suite and room, each different from the next. All bound by a common interwoven theme of the merging of the ancient, Victorian and modern world.
Most importantly the lovely atmosphere and amazing staff who make the experience not just a hotel stay, but an immersion into a lifestyle. An inclusion into an exclusive family of guests. Grand Hotel Cocumella is a singularly unique experience, with unbounded beauty, right on the cliffs of Sorrento.
Gazing from the balcony at the gardens below, the Bay of Naples, and Mount Vesuvius in the distance, it is an indelible source of joy to be able to indulge its essential elements. To drink in the beauty of the setting. It is the epitome of style and grace to experience the property the way it was meant to be enjoyed, to absorb the power of the ages, if only for a little while, until our inevitable return.
Small Luxury Hotels of the World www.slh.com @SLHLuxuryHotels
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles. @JoelBerliner
All photos by Alison Reynolds @BigAlPeoplesPal