SORRENTO, ITALY: The Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria stands like a colossus above the cliffs of Sorrento. This stunningly gorgeous member of Leading Hotels of the World has been a 5 star luxury hotel destination resort for over 180 years. It also features the renowned Michelin starred restaurant Terrazza Bosquet, under the luminary direction of rising star Chef Antonino Montefusco.
With 80 magnificent rooms and suites set on 4 acres of land, the Excelsior Vittoria combines the history of the Amalfi coast with impeccable luxurious trappings and a unique sense of presence.
Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria: A storied history
Originally opened in 1834, it is built on the very same spot where the Roman Emperor Augustus had his villa 2000 years ago. A majestic property surrounded by beautiful gardens and perched above the Bay of Naples. It has been owned and managed by the Fiorentino family for 5 generations.
Named after Vittoria Rispoli, the great grandmother of the current owners, it has hosted kings and potentates, icons, opera singers and movie stars. The cream of the international jet set, celebrities, and titans of business have continually enhanced the legend of the Excelsior Vittoria thru the years.
The great tenor Enrico Caruso died at the hotel in 1921. Choosing to spend the last days of his life here. His “One of a kind suite” has been named after him. It is kept intact with period furnishings and artifacts from his life.
In subsequent years Luciano Pavorati was a regular guest, attracted by the legend of Caruso, and the spectacular location and grandeur of the hotel.
Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria: An architectural wonder
The Excelsior Vittoria consists of three architecturally distinct buildings, each villa adding its own exquisitely beautiful sensibility to the property. The first, La Vittoria, was the original villa built in 1834 featuring classic Italian Florentine architectural style.
To the north of the property, the second, La Rivale was built in 1882, with a flourish of Roman arches and Palatine inspired stone balconies. The quirky Swiss style chalet pavilion in the middle between the two, La Favorita, was constructed at the start of the 20th century. It has sloping gabled roofs, and cupola windows overlooking the Bay of Naples.
Together they are a seamlessly beautiful whole made greater by the sum of their parts. A wonder of design and meticulous detail. A Victorian palace of the arts, brought into the modern world with its glory intact and its aura undiminished.
Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria: A glorious location
From the Bay of Naples the Excelsior Vittoria dominates the center of Sorrento, a gleaming palace on the clifftop, just as the villa of Emperor Augustus did in ancient times. Across the bay the visage of Mount Vesuvius looms high into the sky. A constant symbol of southern Italy, Roman history, and Neopolitan culture.
Arriving at the front gate is to be drawn through the centuries into a bucolic past, whose luxury and sentient atmosphere is undiminished. Lush gardens adorn either side of the gated lengthy entranceway.
At the end of the driveway the Excelsior Vittoria stands like a glorious beacon of a gilded age. A towering edifice of sophistication and ethereal class. With maroon colored exteriors set against cream plaster counterpoints. The two wings of the hotel stand out like gleaming bookends to the sloping rooftop of the central Chalet. The effect is glorious, a timeless vision of the ages, brought to life.
Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria: A world of its own
The entrance to the hotel is like being immersed in another century. Marble floors, stunning frescoed ceilings, fine sculpture, and historic artworks abundantly displayed at every turn.
A long hallway leads past one antechamber after another of impeccable furnishings and luxurious style, crystal chandeliers, and finely polished wood. The reception desk is sumptuously beautiful, manned by a crack staff who attend to each guest as if they were returning family.
This is a hotel that caters with discretion to a broad range of exceptionally successful clientele who rightly have high expectations. Meeting those expectations and exceeding them is a daily task for the staff of the Excelsior Vittoria. They succeed magnificently.
Classic interiors, stunning decor
Off the entrance hallway is a white solarium with glass walls and 20 foot ceilings, filled with antique carved wooden thatched chairs next to a grand piano. A blue themed sitting area is posh with Victorian sensibility, comfortable couches, artfully painted ceilings, and precious artworks and sculpture.
The refined hotel bar is just off the reception desk, with lively bartenders, dark wood paneled walls, a sturdy antique bar, large mirrors, and the easy going feel of a London gentleman’s club.
Through the solarium leads to the expansive terrace covering the back of the original villa, stretching out across the cliffs overlooking the marina. An elevator built into the rock leads directly to the port.
The stairwell leading up to our room in the western villa is a thing of beauty, filled with elegant designs and on stunning blue wallpaper, deep blue carpets, and elegant decor with walls and steps climbing skyward like an Escher painting.
Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria: The Room
Our third floor corner suite in the La Rivale villa is a glorious collection of stunning rooms. 16 foot vaulted ceilings painted with exquisite floral designs of gold green and red are set against white plaster backgrounds.
The entrance foyer is like a chapel, with a large couch and sitting area with a sturdy antique desk. This leads into an incredible massive bedchamber with double vaulted ceilings stretching across the suite.
Twin crystal chandeliers hang over a marble writing desk at the apex of one vault, while the other is centered over the sumptuous king size bed. A gorgeous headboard is topped with a corniche of gold drapery. It all has the atmosphere of a royal palace of antiquity the day after a full renovation.
A grand suite for the ages
Polished, elegant broad beam wooden floors are everywhere, and the room is filled with period antique furniture from the 1800’s. A massive armoire is at one end of the bedroom, and an elegant vanity with mirror is the third desk in the suite. Candelabra sconces and lighting fixtures cover the walls.
It is the most amazing, glorious, luxurious hotel suite imaginable. Intimate touches and intricate detailing permeate every part of the room. It is reminiscent of a papal apartment, or a ducal palace. A sense of awe permeates the room, creating ecstatic moments again and again in the sheer glee of discovery.
The bathroom is massive, with green marble flooring, a deep bathtub, a large shower stall, double sinks, and gold marble walls. There is a large abundance of closet space in both the bedroom and sitting room.
The Terrace and the sea
The wrap around terrace is enormous, with double arched colonnades, and four separate entrances from the foyer and the bedroom. Directly across the deep blue Bay of Naples stands the towering Mount Vesuvius, a picturesque vision of Roman antiquity.
Rattan and wicker lounge chairs fill the terrace at both ends, with a white wrought iron railing looking over a sheer drop to the Bay of Naples and marina below. Relaxing in the late afternoon with a bottle of wine from grapes grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius is like a fever dream from another age, the golden glow of the fading sun filling the sky above Naples.
Terrazza Bosquet: A revelation in Haute Cuisine
Dinner at the Michelin starred Terrazza Bosquet is a revelatory experience, where the extraordinary talents of Michelin star Chef Antonino Montefusco blaze new culinary trails in Italian cuisine.
A mere 35 years old, Chef Montefusco has held his star for the last two years and consistently amazes with artful and impressively innovative creations that take his cuisine to new levels.
The dining room is a large oval chamber with 20 foot vaulted ceilings. A cluster of two foot thick arches inset with large picture windows overlook the Bay of Naples. It fills the lower level of the hotel under the open air terrace, and just down a flight of stairs from the solarium.
Terrazza Bosquet: The room
It is like a modern version of a vaulted monks chamber, a temple to the culinary arts. Three distinctive crystal chandeliers of a captivating modernist design are spaced across the top of the oval chamber. An anteroom with 4 tables sits next to the main dining room with 10 tables.
The walls are a creamy white, set against large square terra cotta tile floors. In the summer months dinner is also served on the terrace outside, set with another 12 tables, including a romantic private turret for two.
Enthralling modern art adorns the walls of the restaurant. This includes a collection of 3D art featuring ballerinas that move when seen from different angles. As well as Jackson Pollock style canvasses actually constructed from what appear to be lacquered multicolored rose petals.
The effect of the room and the art is to suggest that Terrazza Bosquet is an expression of a refreshingly modernist design and approach to art and cuisine. This is a delightfully engaging and appealing contrast to the gorgeous but decidedly traditional aspects of this Victorian era luxury hotel.
Michelin starred Chef Antonino Montefusco
The meal that ensues confirms the revelatory nature of Chef Montefusco’s cuisine. It elevates the Excelsior Vittoria to the highest ranks of culinary destinations for cutting edge Haute Cuisine.
Terrazza Bosquet has held a Michelin Star for the last 6 years. But Chef Montefusco retained the coveted star in his first year as Executive Chef two years ago. His approach to Haute Cuisine is daring, innovative, and very exciting. Giving jaw dropping new twists to classic Italian dishes like eggplant parmigiana.
The staff, like the Chef, is young, extremely personable, and highly trained. Manager Giuseppe Sorentino is a steady presence, running the room with meticulous command and an easygoing personality.
Terrazza Bosquet: The staff
The evening begins with an aperitif of Laurent Perrier 2012 pink champagne and a series of amuse bouche. Our waiter Giovanni Fabiano is a superstar, witty and engaging, precise and impeccable, a genial presence throughout the evening.
His colleague Danila Massa is equally affable. Together they exemplify the teamwork necessary that is an essential ingredient to the fine dining experience. A Michelin starred meal is a work of art, where the cuisine is paramount, but only one of the essential components.
Atmosphere, surroundings and a quality staff are a necessary ingredient in the complex mix that turns Haute Cuisine into a memorable evening of distinction. At Terrazza Bosquet that team creates a stellar tone, setting, and atmosphere that pairs with the exquisite cuisine they are privileged to serve.
This extends to Sommelier Manuel Dercole, 24 years old. A handsome and serious young man with a depth and knowledge of wine and an ability to convey that knowledge with personality and style. This talent ensures him a long career as a rising Sommelier.
Terrazza Bosquet: A dinner for the ages
A seared amberjack from the Chef is a perfect starter, and a good sign of things to come. The Amberjack is perfectly cooked. Rare on the inside, crisp on the outside, with a distinctive sauce and a light texture.
Gillardeau Oyster from Brittany in an iced cucumber powder is phenomenal. A rich juicy fresh oyster in the shell dropped into a mixture of seaweed and chilled cucumber, and devoured in one fell swoop.
Red mullet “Tortiera” style, stuffed with red mullet mousse on marinated red onions and green beans is sensational. A completely unique taste on a traditional Mediterranean dish. The mullet is tender and firm. The mousse is effervescent, and the onion and green bean are a brilliant complement to the soft gentle texture of the dish.
The Chef Montefusco experience
Eggplant Parmigiana “From my mother to me” is a stirring example of how Chef Montefusco brings an innovative, almost French sensibility to classic Italian cooking. The eggplant is presented two ways. In a column of eggplant wrapped in a crust of parmigiana. And as a blend of rice and eggplant with a firm outer crust a rich inner texture.
His technique is reminiscent of three star Michelin Chef Christian Le Squer, but with his own distinctive signature approach. This is a Chef that is headed for greatness.
He solidifies his stature of distinctive individual style with a series of pasta dishes. Many Michelin restaurants in Italy take a classic Italian approach to their dishes, both in substance and style.
But Chef Montefusco takes the basic elements of classic Italiano and stretches the boundaries so that they maintain the essence of its inspiration, and then takes it to the next level of culinary expression.
Tagliolini from Heaven
A “Terra Mater” of Sorento lemon tagliolini set opposite a layer of anchovies, anchovies extract, snap pea and thyme is a tour de force of exquisite preparation and imaginative innovation.
The lemon tagliolini is perfect, a relatively small curl of pasta set on one side of the dish, while ten perfectly set anchovies are covered with a layer of extract and sauce next to it.
The contrast in taste is sublime, the tagliolini richly enhanced with each small bite of pasta and anchovie. It is a signature dish of a rising star.
“Spaghetti fancy: 22 times tomatoes”
He then audaciously takes spaghetti with tomatoes and basil to a transformational level with his “Spaghetti Fancy: 22 Times Tomatoes”. A small mound of perfectly prepared homemade spaghetti is served alongside a plate of 22 different slices of 22 different types of tomato.
Green, red, yellow, heirloom, Roma, beefsteak, almost two dozen different, separately numbered examples of the variety of tomato in the world, served to allow each fork of spaghetti to take on a different flavor profile by pairing it with a different type of tomato.
It is both cheeky and brilliant. Revelatory and tongue in cheek. Aspirational and slightly amusing, delicious and delightful. A lesson in tomato genetics and flavor profiles.
It shows his specificity and sense of humor. A classic Italian dish reimagined with verve and aplomb. A wicked success of daring culinary wonder, it leaves the diner amused, amazed, and satiated.
Chef Antonino Montefusco: Creating the evening
Portions are measured, not small, but not overwhelming. At too many Italian Michelin restaurants the pasta, fish, and meat courses overwhelm the dinner with too much food. It is important to be full, but not stuffed at the end of the meal.
Chef Montefusco makes sure his portions satiate, but always leave his guest wanting more. The point is to allow 7 courses to gradually reach a climax, never too early, until the dessert course. To make each course a taste treat, but not a platter.
The point is to fulfill the point of culinary arts, while letting the meal play out so the diner is ready for the final courses without being too full. It is another sign of a great Chef whose future is sure to include a second Michelin Star.
Wine and Turbot
The meal is accompanied by a wonderful 2010 Chianti Classico Riserva. Rich and full bodied, fruit forward but not heavy, 2010 was a landmark year for both France and Italy.
Created in classic Chianti style, 100% Sangiovese but made in the manner of a great Pinot Noir, it blossoms like a gorgeous flower over the course of a three hour meal.
Turbot “This is my way” with pine nuts and parsley froth and tomato is a further example of how the Chef stretches the traditional Italian dish to create new and exciting vistas in the culinary arts.
The turbot is seared with a delicate crust, but flaky and tender on the inside. Moreover, it is beautifully presented in a column of fish, a completely unique take on Turbot that is delightful and fabulous. Having had Turbot dozens of times at fine restaurants around the world, his take on this classic dish was not only completely innovative, but the finest this writer has ever experienced.
Cube roll of beef in sea urchin sauce
The meals reaches a stirring climax with an otherworldly grilled cube roll of beef in a sauce of sea urchin and red peppers. Cube roll is a special cut of beef taken from the neck of a cow between the 5th and 6th vertebre. It has the texture and tenderness of fillet. The taste is ridiculously amazing.
It is the first time this writer has ever encountered this cut of beef, and initially thought it was a fillet. The cube roll is set on a sumptuous sauce designed to look like the outer shell of a sea urchin. Visually spectacular, it is even better to taste.
The sea urchin gives a rich component to the sauce that perfectly complements the immaculately prepared beef. It is gorgeously enhanced in combination with the Chianti, now beautifully opened up and at its full peak of flavor.
Chef Montefusco: A Rising Culinary Star
While the word genius is overused in the vernacular of cuisine, this dish, and indeed the entire meal has been a work of sheer genius. There are few things more exciting in Haute Cuisine than the discovery of a future culinary giant.
Chef Antonino Montefusco is such a chef, without question. It is just a matter of time before his second Michelin star is conferred on him. Regardless, his future in the culinary firmament is assured.
Dessert is a continuation of creative art, with two delightful dishes. A Provolone Del Monaco Cheese Mousse of white chocolate, pear, and pepper is phenomenal, paired with a regional dessert wine from Compania. Rich and luscious, it tantalizes with each serene bite.
The evening winds down
A Sorrento lemon Fantastique of fresh local lemon, almond, yoghurt and melissa is a gorgeous contrast of sorbet and small balls of almond and yogurt truffle, paired with an Italian chardonnay dessert wine reminiscent of Sauterne.
Here the fine sensibilities of Chef Montefusco merge with the knowledge of Sommelier Manuel Dercole to allow a display of both of their talents. It is the perfect finale to an amazing meal.
Chef Montefusco and Excelsior Vittoria Hotel Manager Tiziana Laterza join us for coffer at the end of the meal. Tiziana gave Chef Montefusco his start here as Executive Chef, having a sense of his culinary potential, and gave him that opportunity.
An engaging, intense woman, she continually pushes herself and her establishment to reach for greatness. She takes great satisfaction in the Chef that he has become.
Michelin Chef Antonio Montefusco: A force to be reckoned with
Chef Montefusco is humble and serious, as we discuss his influences and his aspirations. Driven and intense, with the fiery imagination of an artist, and as demanding of himself as he is of his team, he is an impressive young man destined to be reckoned with in the future of culinary arts and Haute Cuisine.
Chef Montefusco takes us into the kitchen to meet his team. It is clear they are a symbiotic unit, and that his success is dependent on a cadre of coworkers as committed to creating the grand visions of cuisine as he is in designing them.
There are few times when a dining experience gives a glimpse of the future. This evening is one of those times. Michelin starred Chef Antonino Montefusco is a name to remember, and worth a special effort to spend an evening with his creations at Terrazza Bosquet.
The Excelsior Vittoria: A sublime experience
Breakfast is served in the Vittoria room, a grand palatial dining chamber filled with a series of painted vaulted ceilings stretching the width of the building, with a glass portico overlooking the bay. It is a sublime morning in Sorrento as we take in the joys of the last two days.
The Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria is not just a grand experience. It is an immersion into the history of Italy, and Sorrento, and a stunning example of what is meant by Leading Hotels of the World. Sublime, exquisite, and classically beautiful are only the beginning of the superlatives that come to mind.
Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria: One of the Leading Hotels of the World
Architecturally distinct, culturally significant, gloriously designed, sumptuously decorated, it is a treasure of incomprehensible proportions. Two days pass in the blink of an eye, and it is possible to never leave the grounds. The Excelsior is a world unto itself, to be indulged and exalted in.
Add the exquisite joy of Terrazza Bosquet and the discovery of the immensely talented Chef Antonino Montefusco, and it is a destination resort in the truest sense of the world.
All encompassing, all consuming in its beauty, there are few places on earth that are its equal. That is the essence of La Dolce Vita, and a glimpse into the very heart of the Excelsior Vittoria experience.
Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria www.excelsiorvittoria.eu/ @excel_vittoria
Leading Hotels the world. www.lhw.com @LeadingHotels
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles @JoelBerliner
All photos by Alison Reynolds @BigAlPeoplesPal