HOTEL SAN FRANCESCO AL MONTE
If you go to stay at the Hotel San Francesco al Monte in Naples, you must look round the 3rd floor of the building. There you will find some interesting and impressive rooms, including the monks’ large refectory and a tiny and exquisitely decorated oratory. I mention these delights, because they are easily overlooked in a place which has The View. In Naples you must have The View. The city is famous for its narrow alleys and ‘interesting’ back streets. But its remarkable position and its wonderful buildings have created vistas and panoramas which are among the best in Italy. To stay in any hotel which does not taken advantage of them would be bordering upon the perverse. That is why I went to the Hotel San Francesco al Monte.
This a four star hotel – which means, of course, that normally it might not be patronised by readers of Bown’s Best, who are accustomed to the top luxury establishments. But this hotel has its attractions. And the most important of them is The View. It takes in a huge sweep of Naples and its bay.
The hotel’s 45 rooms occupy the left wing of the former monastery of Santa Lucia al Monte, which was carved out of the hill in the 16th century by members of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual (known as barbanti , because of their flowing beards). Reminders of this past can be seen throughout the building, particularly in the numerous frescoes and in the areas of majolica decoration. These contrast with the pieces of contemporary art which the current owners have placed in the corridors and public spaces.
There is a busy road outside the hotel, so I would recommend that you go for a room on one of the higher floors. I went up to the sixth, to number 61 – a Superior Room. (You will need to look on the hotel website for the prices for specific dates.) A small hallway contained the door to the bathroom, which contained one wash basin, a bidet, a loo and a bath tub. (Sadly, the last proved very difficult to use as a bath, and so should be considered as a shower only.) The bedroom, also off the hall, measured about twelve feet by nine feet, had cream walls, beige floor tiles and a headrest to the bed in blue and silver. It contained two easy chairs, a fitted wardrobe, a writing table in the Louis XVI style, a wall-mounted television and a safe behind a gilt grill.
The décor was perhaps a little tired, but The View certainly was not. There it was, through the two windows, a sweep of the whole city: towers, domes, palaces and churches in a massive urban complexity set upon a mighty bay.
The panorama was there in the evening, too, from my chair on the terrace of the hotel restaurant, La Terrazza dei Barbanti. As I sipped my glass of prosecco, I looked out over the floodlit castle and the roof of the famous Galleria and watched as the giant cruise ships slowly moved away into the Mediterranean. This was a good place in which to dine, and the Bormioli glassware, the white napery and the waiters, in black aprons and waistcoats (Luca and Gennaro, who looked after me well), added to the sense of traditional elegance.
I began with a plate of decent home-made pasta – struffoli (which looks like gnocchi) with pumpkin cream, speck chips and mint. The pan-fried lamb which followed was excellent, tasty meat, and came with courgettes and fresh peas. I finished with ice cream. (These three courses were 42€.) The wine list has 85 offerings, all (except the champagne) Italian. Vintages are not given. Prices, which are friendly, run from 22€ for an aglianico ‘Terrre d’Alone’ to 250€ for Krug Grande Cuvée champagne. Mr Antinori’s Cervaro della Sala from Umbria is 60€ and the well-regarded Mille e Una Notte (Donnafugata) from Sicily is 50€.
Breakfast was served in the restaurant, for some passing rain had made it too damp for the terrace. Here I met a waiter I remembered, the charming Francesco Caruso – who toasted some crusty bread for me to have with my marmalade. With this I had a jug of coffee, fruit salad, Corn Flakes, pain aux raisins and, of course, my concluding cappuccino.
Naples continues to attract and appall in equal measure. It is both a captivating and an infuriating place. One has to try to look past the appalling slums, the corrupt taxi drivers and the uncollected rubbish and focus instead on the magnificent paintings by Caravaggio, the gorgeous Baroque churches and the peerless museums. My advice, if you do decide to go, is to make sure that your lodgings have The View – like the Hotel San Francesco al Monte.
HOTEL SAN FRANCESCO AL MONTE
Corso Vittorio Emanuele 328, 80135 Naples, Italy.
Telephone +39 081 423 91 11
Fax +39 081 423 94 71
Double rooms from 104€-190€, according to season.
See hotel website for prices for specific dates