LA CILIEGINA HOTEL
La Ciliegina Hotel, 3908119718800, Via P.E. Imbriani 30 (Piazza Municipio), cilieginahotel.com; 14 rooms from $270 a night. No eco-rating.
Naples, gateway to the Amalfi coast, is not Capri. To navigate its streets, you must learn from the Neapolitans and glide around cars, buses and scooters whose drivers are traffic-light colour-blind. And yet as everyone I know who has been to Naples attests, it is a city that, in spite of its troubles, such as the occasional garbage strike, is magnificently alive. As crowded as it is with people - the city has the highest urban density in Europe - it is also packed with history, architecture and that other requirement of an Italian holiday, fantastic food. In spite of the pollution, one cannot die in Naples because there is always something even better to eat tomorrow.
The city's munificence can get to be too much, however, and there are no quiet spots downtown. That's why the designers behind La Ciliegina created their boutique hotel from the bones of an older building situated close to the tony shopping district of Chiaia and a quick walk from ferries that can whisk guests to Positano, Sorrento or the sleepier Praiano. And back in time for dinner.
White marble veined with wisps of grey predominates in the hallways and lounge areas, punctured by red lampshades and embroidered blue and white couches. The ceilings throughout the hotel are nearly four metres high and, with the light-maximizing colour scheme, I feel that we are truly in the Mediterranean. It took a two-year renovation to achieve that seaside emotion in this four-star hotel, with all the work done by local artisans. Look for leather pulls on the drawers and handmade console tables.
The same Napoli pride is reflected in the designers' choice of the black-and-white photographs in the hallways and rooms. Shot by Giulio Parisio, they show the Naples of 80 years ago, a place free of cars where light mists over the buildings in shades of grey.
As a small hotel, La Ciliegina does not offer a gym, but it tries to make up for the lack of big-box amenities with personalized service. A concierge can arrange for what the hotel calls "a friend in Naples" who accompanies guests on private boat tours of the coast or other adventures in Campania. And the roof Jacuzzi promises to make you forget any run-ins with enthusiastic Italian motorists. From a dark wood sun lounger on the rooftop deck, you can glimpse the Teatro di San Carlo, the city's opera house since 1737. And in the distance, surely too far to do much harm, the peak of Mount Vesuvius beckons.
Most of the rooms are standard, with a few suites and a penthouse space. But a standard has everything to recommend it. Windows are three metres high filling the large space with sunshine when the heavy drapes are thrown open. The beds are one of the few concessions to imported furniture, coming from the handmade Swedish brand Hastens. They're a breed of sleep comfort apart. The hotel's eco efforts include the requirement that a room card be inserted in an electricity outlet if you want light, which is a slight inconvenience for a worthy cause. A more notable inconvenience is the lack of free Wi-Fi in the rooms, and a charge applies to use it in the lobby.
The staff are invariably pleasant and helpful with directions and recommendations about the city. A slow-draining shower was noticed and fixed without anyone asking and when the Internet on TV in the room was not working, free Wi-Fi was offered. But they can't fully shield the visitor. A visit to Pompeii, usually an hour away, turned into an epic four-hour trek when bus and train service was cancelled for a half-day because of a labour strike. Would it have been nice to be warned about the strike ahead of time by the hotel's staff? Well, yes.
La Ciligiena does not have a restaurant of its own, a smart decision in a foodie hot spot like Naples. Not far away is Da Michele, the city's oldest pizzeria (same spot since 1870). Only two choices are on offer, marinara and margherita, and they both take just 45 seconds in the wood-burning oven. The sizes are enormous and no one leaves a speck of basil on the plate. Afterward, drop in to La Sfogliatella Mary, in the Galleria Umberto around the corner from the hotel, for a booze-soaked pistachio, rosewater or chocolate rum baba, the city's official sweet treat.
The hotel does serve a healthy breakfast to a mostly European coterie of guests and makes good cappuccinos to go with the fruit, yogurt and croissants. Room service is available from some neighbouring restaurants.
Messy, glorious Napoli life is knocking on this hotel's door, but as long as you're inside, you can choose not to join in its cacophony. There's no better cure for an overload of the city than an hour or two in the quiet elegance of your room. Then you'll be ready for another round.