GRAND HOTEL QUISISANA
The Grand Hotel Quisisana never disappoints. That is why it is one of my favourite hotels in Europe. Indeed, I suspect that it has never disappointed in its entire history. And that history is a long one. It was in 1845 that a doctor from Scotland, George Sidney Clark, realised that his patients would benefit from Capri’s happy combination of sunshine, warmth and beauty. He built a clinic and called it ‘Quisisana’, which means ‘here one heals’. Twenty years later the clinic became an hotel. As time went by, the hotel became grander and grander. Persons of means and taste began to make the crossing from Naples to enjoy its luxurious hospitality. Here Jean Paul Sartre thought his existentialist thoughts and Ernest Hemingway day-dreamed about bullfights. In 1981 the property was purchased by a native Capri family, and since then members of the Morgano clan have lavished extravagant care and attention on their prize. Today there is no question: the Grand Hotel Quisisana is one of the loveliest hotels you will find.
At the quayside I was met by a uniformed porter from the hotel. He took my cases, and then I walked over to the funicular railway for the ascent up the cliff – having been given a ticket by the same gentleman. I could have taken a taxi, but the ride on the railway is more interesting and it takes you closer to the hotel (for the island has many restrictions on motor cars). Then it was a leisurely stroll through the Piazzetta – the tiny, buzzing heart of Capri – past the jewellery and designer fashion shops, round the corner and there it was... the immaculate façade of the Quisisana, towering over its surroundings as proudly as a mediaeval cathedral towers over a little French city. In Capri this is the ideal location. I headed for one of the most inviting doorways in Italy.
As I entered, my eye was caught by the standards of many nations fluttering overhead. Inside, the marble floor, the crystal chandeliers, the sweeping staircase, the inviting sofas, the oil paintings and the pieces of fine antique furniture spoke the message in unison: you are now in a proper grand hotel. There were therefore lots of smartly dressed members of staff to ease the progress to my billet.
Room 125 was on the first floor, a few steps up from the main reception area. It was a Junior Suite, and therefore 780€-1,140€ a night, bed and breakfast for two, according to season. I loved this sparkling apartment, with its glistening white tiles and its splashes of blue. In the proper hallway (with coat hooks) was a sliding door into the bathroom, wherein I found a decent tub, a separate shower, two wash basins, a bidet, a loo and lots of the hotel’s own ‘Quisi’ toiletries. Through a normal door was the bed-sitting room: first the sleeping area, with a crystal chandelier, an antique chest of drawers, fitted wardrobes and the first television; and second, beyond a high arch, the sitting room, with a sofa, an armchair upholstered in blue silk, a writing desk, another television and a sliding plate glass French window. Through this last was my private terrace, overlooking the exquisite gardens and the bluest of blue seas beyond. It was quite large enough for a table and chairs and for some of those ‘loungers’ for sun-worshippers.
Three examples to do with the room will serve to illustrate the wonderful service which is the hallmark of the Quisisana. First, my bed was made deliciously soft, so that my wretched back plagued me not at all during the nights. Second, a cd player was installed for me, so that I did not need to deny myself my daily diet of Elgar and Mozart. And third, and perhaps most impressive of all, I mentioned that the sitting area might benefit from an extra lamp. In no time at all, two gentlemen arrived, not only with the lamp, but also with a pretty chest of drawers on which it could stand. I congratulate Mr Nicolino Morgano, the General Manager, on his staff and on the standards they maintain.
I also salute Mr Morgano for insisting that the Quisisana must remain at the very top level with regard to the hotel’s facilities. Another example, which – being technologically illiterate – I only discovered just as I was about to leave, was on my door into the corridor. I had my very own security camera. I pressed a button and, on a tiny screen, there appeared an image of the person waiting outside my door. This was something I had never encountered before. I was mightily impressed.
Breakfast at the Quisisana is impressive, too. The large and elegant chamber in which it is served can be opened to the garden, with all the added pleasure this proximity to nature affords. Many smartly-dressed members of staff are always on hand, of course. The waiters were most helpful, and frequently hurried to relieve me of the plates and dishes which I had filled at the extensive buffet. I do like breakfast, particularly when all the comestibles are of such a high standard. Strawberries, chunks of pineapple, segments of melon, Corn Flakes, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, slices of crusty bread and fruit tarts – all made their way to my table. And from the kitchen were brought my customary pots of coffee, bowls of ice and that essential – the concluding cappuccino.
After these breakfast treats, my days on Capri were spent quietly, with gentle outings to the Marina Piccola (where, according to the Noël Coward song, English ladies of a certain age used to find excitement – “In a bar on the Piccola Marina / Life called to Mrs Wentworth-Brewster”) and Anacapri (from which I declined to find my own excitement by taking the terrifying chair-lift to the very top of the island). But there was much to be said for staying within the carefully tended grounds of the Quisisana. Everything was here for me, even though I normally eschew the hotel’s famous spa and the outdoor swimming pool. I liked just sitting on the terrace at the front of the hotel, with a pot of tea at my side, watching the people stroll by along the car-free street. And even had I lapsed into my thespian manqué persona, a stage would have been to hand, for the hotel has its own Art Déco theatre, designed in 1929 by Giò Ponti. Still, both my excursions and my inactivity served to stimulate my appetite. And that was as well, for dining at the Quisisana is always a joy.
Chef Stefano Mazzone is of a Sicilian family. He is a very talented chef, who cares passionately about his cuisine. He handles top quality ingredients with care and precision. I will share with the highlights of my dinners here. Asparagus, with peas, spring onions and black truffle, was prettily presented and delightfully refreshing. Ravioli Caprese, with Caciotta cheese and cherry tomato sauce, was simple and well done. Gratinated tagliolini with eggs, ham and peas, was properly satisfying. Sea bass, with sautéed onions and magnificent roast potatoes, was truly magnificent fish. Crisp suckling pig was fine meat. And, of the puddings, the rum baba with raisin ice cream was as good an example of this luscious dish as I have ever tasted. (Expect to pay 85€-110€ for four courses.)
These dinners were had in the hotel’s Rendez-Vous restaurant. This is a small, panelled room which has a glass wall to the street. Its discreet lighting, marble floor and white leather banquettes create an atmosphere which is smart and sophisticated. The glassware is by Spiegelau, the napery is white and the waiters and waitresses wear white jackets. From the adjacent bar, pleasant music drifts in from the gentleman singer and his music centre. I liked particularly his rendering, in the style of Louis Armstrong, of the appropriate song, ‘What a wonderful life’.
I was looked after by the Food & Bevrage Manager, Aldo d’Errico (pictured, with your correspondent). He is a most splendid gentleman. He has been at the Quisisana for over twenty years, and embodies the commitment to service and tradition which marks out the greatest hotels. If Mr d’Errico looks after you, you are looked after very well indeed.
One of his great enthusiasms is wine, and the excellence of the cellar at the Quisisana is a tribute to his hard work and expertise. The list has 511 offerings, including 45 half-bottles and 26 magnums. There are many Italian bottles, of course, but the French section is also impressive and the rest of the world is decently represented. Prices run from 31€ for a white from Venezia Giulia to 5,500€ for the 2007 Romanée-Conti. 34 offerings from Mr Gaja include the 1997 Barbaresco Costa Russi (620€). The same vintage of Masseto is available for 1,500€. Gems from France include 2001 Pétrus (2,850€), 2000 Margaux (2,275€), 1996 Latour (545€), 1990 Lafite (945€) and 1996 Cheval Blanc (650€). Of my own drinking, I must commend to you a lovely 2008 Taurasi, with a bold structure and a thrilling depth of black fruit – Pago dei Fusi, Terredora (58€).
If you are ever tempted to lose faith in the standards of hospitality on offer nowadays, I suggest that you head for Capri and the Quisisana. It is an hotel of the old sort: comfortable, spacious, majestic, luxurious, beautifully furnished, diligently maintained and ideally located. It is famous and it deserves to be famous. In a world of falling standards, The Grand Hotel Quisisana never disappoints.
GRAND HOTEL QUISISANA
Via Camarelle 2, Capri 80073, Italy.
Telephone +39 081 8370 788
Fax +39 081 8376 080
Open March to October
Double rooms from 360€ - 480€, according to season, including breakfast
Ask about special offers