Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria Sorrento

Interview & Photography by: Mart Engelen



 

Founded in 1834 the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria was the first modern hotel in the area and offered private bathrooms, a link to the harbour (through a funicular created in a Roman tunnel) and electric lighting. Composed of three of interconnected buildings, La Vittoria, La Rivale and La Favorita, the hotel is located in an area rich in archaeological remains, where it is said the Emperor Augustus had his villa. Over the years the staff have welcomed many of world’s celebrities including Otto von Bismarck, Queen Victoria of Sweden, Sophia Loren, Richard Strauss, Luciano Pavarotti, Barbara Streisand and even the famous Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, who spent the last days of his life here. The Fiorentino family has owned and managed the hotel for five generations since it opened. I asked Guido Fiorentino, the current CEO, a few questions:
 

Mart Engelen: Your hotel opened its doors for the first time in 1834. What was it like to run a hotel then? What did it look like?
Guido Fiorentino: Well, you got your training from the family. It passed from father to son but also from uncle to nephew. The family was quite large. During those years, we were not only managing the Grand Hotel Excelsior in Sorrento but also Hotel Vesuvio in Napoli and a hotel
in Ischia. Today there is only the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria. The situation in 1834 was totally different. The clients who visited our hotel came from Northern Europe on the Grand Tour. In those days they always stayed a very long time. And booking a room was totally different back then. Clients sent a letter one year in advance. Travel was very difficult. Everybody came in coaches and horses and this area was not easy to reach. A special feature of our hotel is that it was built in 1834 to be a hotel. That was quite unique because in this area many palazzos have been transformed into hotels over the years. That’s why we have a lot of big rooms and connected rooms: that was the traditional way of building a hotel.
ME: If we take a big leap in time and arrive in the late 1960s and early 1970s, how was it then?
GF: I was born in 1961 and as a young child I was in the hotel a lot of the time. I have very nice memories of those days. Dinner was served outside every evening – the men wore dinner jackets and the women a beautiful evening dress. There was an orchestra. This continued into the
70s. In the 1980s we saw more group tourism. My father took over the management of the hotel in 1981. The hotel was severely damaged by a big earthquake in the Naples area and my father decided to renovate it up to the level of a five-star hotel and after the renovations we once again received more and more individual travellers.
ME: In your eyes, what is the difference between a five-star family-owned hotel and one owned by a chain.
GF: I think it’s the passion. Because to us it feels like it’s our house. We know how important it is to offer an experience to our clients. On the other hand, it is also difficult because we always have to make new investments with our own money. But I think the clients notice the different touch. This is also the reason that a lot of clients return to our hotel. I’ll tell you a story. I became the chairman of the hotel two years ago when my father passed away. Last summer, a good client said, “I have to show you something”. He produced a little black and white photograph: it was of him as a very young man with a small child on his knee. That was me at the age of five! So that client has been visiting our hotel for 46 years.