I wasn’t feeling the rush under the wheels, I wasn’t feeling the heat of the hills – all I knew was that I couldn’t be late for dinner! I zipped across the Italian countryside in Campania, headed towards Monte Pugliano, one of the most notorious cities in a land of luxury. The reason for my concern? Their bad roads are almost as famous as the region of Campania itself! Lucky for me my chariot was made for great haste, with its two black stripes across the bonnet of yellow, with nothing to stop the roar of my V8. Soon enough, I arrived at the Aquapetra Resort. My first stop before I bounded off to my ultimate destination, La Locanda del Borgo. Luckily, I wasn’t late for dinner!
Once I recovered from my (marvelous) dinner, I had the chance to take in my surroundings. Monte Pugliano is a medieval village in the heart of wine country, surrounded by olive trees. My hotel, the Aquapetra nestled on top of a hill in the village, was constructed entirely of stone from the local quarries in the traditional style. After my five course meal, I went for a mandatory walk before heading back for an early swim in the rock-bed swimming pool. It was heaven – just me and a towel forgotten on one of the armchairs. In the morning I was awoken by birdsong, and enjoyed a breakfast and a swim before I loaded my luggage back into the trunk of my lean machine. The concierge, with a worried look at my car, told me, “Please be careful of the drivers in Napoli, they can be quite unpredictable.”
He wasn’t kidding. Later that day I found myself jumping up and down behind the steering wheel as swarms of scooters took up every possible space on the road to Naples. But when I opened the window and asked for directions, they suddenly all became gentlemen! With that classic Italian charm, one even asked whether I was looking for the way to his heart. Speaking of romeos – with some help, I arrived at the Hotel Romeo, a gem created by renowned Tokyo-based architect Kenzo Tange. The hotel is located on the seaside central avenue Cristoforo Colombo, just a stone’s throw from where boats depart to fabulous Capri. Lying back at the Romeo’s tenth floor terrace pool and looking down over the piers while sipping on a mojito, you can actually feel the joy of people boarding their boats (despite the seemingly inevitable struggle with luggage). Just when I thought I could not ascend any further into heaven, I headed to the hotel’s Dogana del Sale spa, where my muscles were plied with high tech and salt. Indeed, the whole hotel is uber high-tech, with every room and even the elevators designed in such an ingenious way, it is almost impossible to meet anyone using them. This is one of Italy’s most modern hotels and while the technology is well hidden and follows function, it is like a high art that breaths soul into the Romeo. On the topic of art, I would have been remiss not to check out Naples’ most famous invention: pizza. Serena Maggiulli, the director of Città del Gusto, let me observe her maestro pizzaiolo’s at work, and what came out of their oven was impossible to resist. My taste buds were taken over by the most basic of ingredients with a lightness and the master’s touch.
The next morning I left the hotel well before breakfast and found the famous Costiera Amalfitana deserted, black tarmac gleaming under the golden rays of the sun. The drive was magical, following tunnels into the rock face and taking in the oceanside cliffs as I navigated through my manual gears. The pedals were well weighted and not too wide apart, letting me get that addictive noise as I downshifted with an obligatory throttle blimp just before letting go of the clutch. I toured the Sorrento peninsula all alone until I reached the usual crush of cars and cameras of tourists. At 1 o’clock I stopped for lunch in Seiano at the two-Michelin star Torre del Saracino. While Gianni the sommelier was bringing various plates to my terrazzo table and pulling corks – wiping decade old dust from labels of what were carefully selected wines – I marveled at the gastronomic symphony in front of me. Raw lasagnetta of scampi, anchovies, cuttlefish and red prawns, “Corbara” orange soup, mussels with ricotta, baby squid and provola, small paccheri with fried anchovies, portion tub gurnard on mashed Montechiaro beans and much more. The setting was equally as beautiful – a 1300-year-old watch tower. Dark chocolate ended it all.
I could already see my porter waiting as the boat was docking itself in Casamicciola. An hours’ voyage on a catamaran brought me to the island of Ischia. We passed a helipad and walked through gates to the private garden and grounds of Il Mezzatorre. A stunning red building with a sun-bleached white roof, this hotel is something out of an Italian fairytale. Anna de Siano greeted me and showed me to my room, leaving me with the promise that if I should need anything, I need only call her. Il Mezzatorre is set on grounds with century-old pine trees forming a canopy on what is called the ‘green island’. I am loving it here and that is even before I see the swimming pool above the turquoise sea! At dinner I sat down under a starlit sky at the hotel’s restaurant Chandelier, taking in the salty ocean air. When I returned home a piece of paper on my bed made me think perhaps I had a secret admirer – but alas, just the weather forecast for the next day! Sun, sun, and more sun. At breakfast I had my favorite eggs benedict before retiring to the heated saltwater swimming pool. The service at Il Mezzatorre was exceptional – had I wanted a private boat to head out to one of the surrounding islands’ well secluded beaches, it would have been taken care of. In an instant. Despite the countless possibilites, I decided to stick closer to home, enjoying the beautiful view from the hotel. When I realized it was dinnertime I dressed before frantically calling the concierge staff for a taxi. I had to get to Forio which isn’t that far away, despite the taxi drivers’ stubborn insistence that it would take them much too long to drive there. So valuable is time to the people of this beautiful isle!
Not to worry – my smile was restored when I finally arrived at Il Melograno. The owners Libera and Giovanni Iovine greeted me and explained their family values and traditions which are met with their food philosophy. Libera, the chef of this Michelin-star establishment, promised me a tasting sea menu. I dug in to the dishes of locally-caught scampi, calamari, fish and vongole, paired with wines meticulously chosen by their sommelier Iris. It is women who dictate the tempo here, so there was no need for hurry at all. Even when I asked them to pose in a photo with me, we took the time to make sure everything was alright in the mirror first! That night the weather turned to slight showers, a first in two months. No need to worry though – Il Mezzatorre boasted a serious aqueduct under the 16th century observation tower, the main building of the hotel.
The next day a spa purification left me tranquil and in the mood to watch the clouds go by. I was so carefree that even packing up seemed easier. Before I departed I had lunch at Punta Molino, and promised myself I would return for that boat ride I never took. I got back behind the wheel of my Chevy Camaro to begin my final journey through the Tuscan countryside. No time to stop in Rome for coffee unfortunately. I arrived late at night at my destination, a sleepy 13th-century village in Tuscany. But as soon as the grandiose gates of the Borgo Santo Pietro opened, there was plenty of action as the hotel’s crew greeted me. I checked in to my Maggiorana garden suite, one of only 11 rooms at the hotel. Knowing I had been on the road all day, a plate of cold cuts awaited me on a table in my room. Needless to say, the next day my standards were far surpassed. After a walk through their gardens, I lay down at the infinity pool, testing the prowess of the hotel’s cocktail magician.