30 April 2016

Grand Hotel La Favorita, Sorrento - Review

This is my review of the Grand Hotel La Favorita, Sorrento, where I stayed anonymously in March 2016.

The 5-star Grand Hotel La Favorita is an elegant airy oasis in the crowded heart of Sorrento. It doesn't have the big views or clifftop location of Sorrento's other posh hotels (it's a block inland and its view is partly blocked by another hotel) but it offers prices which can be very reasonable for a hotel of this standard.

I booked the hotel online for two nights at Easter, and paid €358 for a double room for two nights. At the then exchange rate it worked out at about £144 per night, so for a couple sharing it would have cost £72 per person per night - good value for a five-star hotel.

My double room was very large, with a beautiful local-style tiled floor decorated with birds and geometric motifs. There were other touches of local style in the decor, including an elaborate lamp-stand - and even the spare-toilet-roll holder was a piece of local pottery.

The room faced south, away from the sea, and was overlooked by a residential building. Some of the more expensive rooms on upper floors do have a partial sea view, but I had opted for a 'classic double'.  A wide private terrace had two sun-loungers on it, as well as a table and chairs. Despite the lack of sea views, it would have been a pleasant place to relax - I was sorry it was raining when I arrived.

The furniture was stylish and excellent quality - unusually, there was more of it than was really necessary. I had no particular use for a folding-leaf painted table, though I suppose for room service (reasonably priced) it might come in handy, nor did I need an elaborate old-fashioned writing desk, though it was lovely. It was all rather William Morris - everything was either useful or attractive.

The more practical furnishings included a larger modern desk, convenient for working, with a power socket and wired internet.  There was a mirror above the desk, and a full-length mirror on the door of the wide wardrobe, a TV, two armchairs and a low table, bedside tables, a suitcase stand, safe and a mini-bar. The bed was very wide, made up of two large singles.  Everything was modern and well-designed, with the all-important power sockets on both sides of the bed, along with lighting controls and buttons for opening and closing the blind over the large windows.

The bathroom was large too, with twin washbasins, soft white towels,  a bath with a good shower above, an extendable clothes line,  and more bird-decorated tiles.

The hotel provided complimentary mineral water bottles (still and sparkling), slippers, toiletries and dressing gowns. In the evenings there was a turn-down service and chocolates beside the bed. The free wi-fi seemed to work throughout the building.

I found this a very peaceful place to sleep. The room was up a little dead-end corridor alongside one other room. The hotel has about 85 rooms, I believe, but the layout meant there wasn't much through traffic or noise from other guests.

The Favorita's public spaces are very large. A bar with lots of white leather seating, a big restaurant/breakfast room, a huge foyer. The hotel is dotted with objets d'art. There is an attractive garden terrace with lemon trees, seating and signs to a 'secret garden' - a shady terrace. On arrival I was given a voucher for a welcome drink - actually, since I was paying for a double room, I got two welcome drinks. So that was a couple of visits to the bar, sitting and working with a glass of Prosecco and nibbles.

The hotel is in the centre of Sorrento, conveniently close to the town's best views and to a lane down to Marina Grande, at the bottom of a lane descending from the cathedral. It's walkable from the railway station in about 10-15 minutes, though on a busy day you might find your way impeded by irritating tour groups. Print out a map to help you navigate.

I didn't dine in the hotel restaurant but I did eat at a restaurant which belongs to the same family, 'O Parucchiano on Corso Italia, where guests have a 10% discount. This was a remarkable place with room for hundreds of guests in a series of garden pavilions.

Breakfast at the Grand Hotel La Favorita was one of the best I've seen in Italy. A large buffet included cakes, biscuits, pastries, bread and rolls, home made jams, cereals, fruit, yoghurts, even delizia al limone one day. There was a cooked  breakfast selection of bacon, sausages, scrambled eggs and also cheese and ham slices, tomatoes and other savoury items. A chef was on standby to make omelettes, pancakes and fried eggs on demand. The only thing I was disappointed in was the fruit drinks; Italian hotels always serve sweetened watered-down juice instead of the freshly-squeezed version.

As I was visiting well before the Italian summer season, I thought the hotel's roof terrace was closed and it was only when I went to look at it, on departure, that I found it was actually open. The terrace was absolutely idyllic, and it was enough to make me wish I'd splashed out on a longer stay. It was early evening, and the streets of Sorrento were shadowed and increasingly cool. But up here there was still warm sunshine, a blue  swimming pool (that was closed), sun-loungers where a couple of guests were reading books, and an elegant seating area around a bar, with views to Vesuvius, and over the rooftops and domes of Sorrento. It was heavenly. The thought of being able to retreat from the busy streets up here with a book or laptop made me sorry to be leaving. I wished that I'd found the terrace sooner - perhaps the receptionist should mention it to guests? - but the previous evenings, in March, may have been too cold anyway.

I really enjoyed staying at the hotel. It was large and not particularly personal. But service was good, rooms and public spaces were excellent, and it made a luxurious haven when I came in from a tiring day out, or from the bustle of Sorrento. It's a good choice for for a 'special' holiday - a honeymoon perhaps, or romantic break - or just a comfortable base, with 5-star standards at an affordable price.

> Grand Hotel La Favorita prices and availability

27 April 2016

Venice - Chioggia, Ca' Roman & an eerie walk off the beaten track

One of my my favourite excursions from Venice is by public transport down the outer edge of the lagoon to Chioggia. The number 11 is a bus-boat route which journeys all the way from the Lido island (between Venice and the lagoon), down the length of narrow Pellestrina, a fishermen's island, and then across the southern lagoon to Chioggia. It's a very unusual public transport route, with a convoy (usually) of two buses heading down the long thin Lido, driving onto a ferry to cross to Pellestrina and driving the length of Pellestrina. Then all the remaining passengers pile off, and board a boat for the last stretch.

Chioggia is picturesque and low-key. There are a few sights of interest, but last time I visited I just took a stroll down the main street and most attractive canal, joined three nuns in contemplating a Carpaccio painting in a church, then enjoyed a plate of gnocchi by the canal. A wedding group posed for photos on a bridge, and seagulls pecked around the closed fish market.

I then took an impromptu boat trip (a jaunty little boat was about to depart; I couldn't resist). It was a brief but interesting trip in the Bragozzo Ulisse, with a jovial captain and a jaunty theme song. We saw some of the fishing boats which form Chioggia's substantial fishing fleet. They mostly seemed to have names like Gladiatore and Predatore.

The day out got stranger on the way back to Venice. There was just about time in the late afternoon to break the journey, so I hopped off the ferry - on another whim - at Ca' Roman. Ca' Roman is an island by the southern entrance to the lagoon, made up of sand dunes and woodland. A nature reserve has been established here because of its important birdlife (Riserva Naturale Ca' Roman) .Footpaths head through trees and out onto the beach looking out over the Adriatic. Old military fortifications stick up through the sand and shrub, some of it daubed with graffiti. Trippers appear and disappear in the distance, mostly the island is empty. Leaving, I passed a cluster of teens clutching cans and cigarettes.

Ca' Roman is joined to the island of Pellestrina by the long white sea wall (i Murazzi) which has protected the Venetian lagoon from the sea since the eighteenth century.  A stone walkway heads along the lagoon side of the wall, so you can actually walk between the two islands.

The sun was getting low when I set out. A few cyclists passed by, but mostly I was alone in a strange stretched-out landscape (waterscape?); with the long white wall curving for what seemed like miles in front of me, the lapping water of the lagoon on my left and the sea invisible on the far side of the the high white wall. The sun dropped and turned red as I walked, the lagoon turning pink broken by the wake of a passing number 11 ferry. As I arrived on the island of Pellestrina I found a man on a ladder looking over the sea wall, with a cat sitting alongside.

 The Venetian lagoon has many odd, bizarre and breathtaking scenes but walking along the seawall that afternoon was one of the strangest experiences I've encountered here.

> Chioggia (Italy Heaven)

8 April 2016

Naples Airport (NAP) - British Airways lounge and travel experience

Naples airport (Napoli Capodichino, NAP) is close to the city centre and well-connected, with a bus which runs every 15 minutes to the main railway station and the port for ferries. Stazione Centrale to the airport only takes 20 minutes - depending of course on Neapolitan traffic. There's also a useful coach service to Sorrento.

I found arrivals and passport control in disarray when I landed on this trip - a 40-minute rugby-scrum wait behind a non-EU flight bearing migrants. There was a glitch checking in for departure too, with IT problems at the check-in desks. Otherwise departure went quite smoothly, though the use of buses and the time spent hanging around on buses, is always annoying.

If you are flying BA Club Europe or are a BA Executive Club member with silver/gold status (I'm not sure about bronze), be aware that there's a convenient 'Fast Track' priority route through security in departures.  This is marked off to the left as you approach the security screening area. The fast track option wasn't mentioned at check-in, so I'm not certain who exactly is entitled to use it, but I was waved through with my Club Europe boarding pass. You can also pay for access (€5). Electronic signs indicated a 10 minute wait at security, but the Fast Track was empty and I sailed through in moments.

The lounge for BA customers at Naples airport is shared with other airlines, and passengers can also pay to enter (€22). Located by Gate 17, the lounge is still the wrong side of final passport control, so allow time to get to your gate. It's very small, with armchairs, reclining loungers but no workstations and no dedicated charging points for electronic devices, although there are a few randomly-placed sockets if you hunt around. It was crowded when I arrived, to the extent of strangers having to share sofas. At the back of lounge are a couple of toilets and a shower.

Drinks available include hot drinks, limoncello(!), wines and beer as well as water and fruit juice, all on a help-yourself basis. When I visited (late afternoon/early evening) there was a reasonable selection of snacks. This included peanuts, crisps, salted biscuits, little cheese and meat slices, and small items which may have been sausage rolls. There was more choice of sweet foods, including speciality local pastries such as sfogliatelle and little biscuits with chocolate filling. Eating here isn't really a substitute for a meal, nor at all healthy, but if you've skipped lunch (as I did) you can find enough to fill you up until you're fed on the flight (or not fed, if you're a vegetarian Club Europe passenger, but that's a story for another day).