My bedroom balcony at Naples' Grand Hotel Vesuvio is small. Still, there is room enough to step out and take in the view. And what a view. Before me lies the tiny island of Megarides, out of which this city grew. The spot is marked by the 12th-century Castel dell'Ovo - the egg castle - named for its shape, or, say others, after a legend that the poet Virgil hid a magic egg inside it to support the structure - and secure the fortunes of the city.
But I am looking for a more compelling sight, the simmering menace of Mount Vesuvius. Its hulk looms over the bay, just a few miles to the east. Herculaneum and Pompeii succumbed to its terrifying power in AD79. Temporarily out of puff, it still poses a real threat to the three million people who live in its shadow, with efforts ongoing to reduce the population in the most dangerous areas.
It seems to me a "grand" hotel must command views like these to justify its aggrandisement. Its job is not only to provide the finest experience a city can afford its visitors, but the best location too. That's surely why the Vesuvio's premium rooms - the Caruso, Caracciolo and (mine for the night) Corona suites - are all positioned to enjoy the best views of the castle, the Bay of Naples and that 300,000-year-old volcano.
The importance of location was not lost on the Vesuvio's creator, the Belgian financier Oscar du Mesnil. When the city fathers set about razing the slums and remodelling the city in the late 19th century, he seized the opportunity to play a role in renovating the seafront, ensuring that his hotel would become an essential stop for international travellers passing through southern Italy.
And so it did. Royalty, politicians, socialites and stars have regularly walked through its doors since they first revolved in 1882. Everyone from Queen Victoria of Sweden to the Spice Girls has stayed here. The great tenor, Enrico Caruso, lived and died here (though the hotel is too shy to divulge in which room he took his last breath). Today, guests come for its traditional service, so soberly delivered, and its solid luxury, from the marble and parquet floors to the chandeliers delicately fashioned on the Venetian island of Murano. But how many stay because of the reason it was all brought together on this particular piece of land - the setting, that view?
Today, hotels seem introspective; more concerned with what's on the inside than what lies beyond the window pane. They are no longer just convenient resting places, providing the sort of exquisite quarters expected by the well-heeled travellers who predated the era of mass tourism. They are destinations in their own right and need to meet the growing demands of today's all-consuming globetrotters. Are the sheets by Frette? What brand are the toiletries? Is there a pillow menu? A plasma-screen TV? Who designed the wallpaper, the sofa, the cushions...?
Interior designer David Collins has styled some of the world's top restaurants and bars. His latest project has been to design the interiors of New York's hot new property, The LondonNYC, which opened this month. Collins believes the view informs the design. "Sometimes a hotel's view isn't interesting. The Fasano in Sao Paolo has limited views, so the hotel is quite introverted. The focus there is on the luxurious interiors," he says. "But where there is a view, you have to tailor your design to the location. I frame the window to capture the view."
Hotel bean counters certainly place a value on the view. Christina Deeny, spokesperson for Leading Hotels of the World, a collection of 420 luxury hotels, says: "The view from a hotel room is seen as an integral part of its value. In fact, the 'premium' is mostly decided by the view. If the view is so compelling, the hotel company will ensure that the top suites with the best facilities and most space are positioned to take advantage of it.
Yet she acknowledges that what a room can offer, beyond its view, is growing in importance. "But higher rates can't be solely attributed to the view, " she says. "Sometimes people will choose the top suite not just for the view, but also for the extra services and amenities provided."
From where I'm standing, on the balcony at the Vesuvio, it seems to me whatever extras a hotel can offer, the ultimate luxury has to be that perfect view.
THE COMPACT GUIDE
The Leading Hotels of the World (00 800 2888 8882; lhw.com) offers a night's b&b at the Grand Hotel Vesuvio, Naples, from €210 (£141) per room per night. A night in the Corona suite costs from €1,600 (£1,080) per night on the same basis. Other suites cost from €690 (£466) per night, including VIP treatment, refreshments on arrival and a three-course restaurant meal without wine.
Other Great Hotel views:
The London NYC, New York
THE VIEW: Central Park
THE ROOM: Book a London Vista Suite on the 32nd floor or above at New York's latest hotel. From $499 (£260) per night
CONTACT: 001 866 656 1777;
London Marriott Hotel, County Hall
THE VIEW: Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
THE ROOM: Book one of the 21 Big Ben Executive Rooms for the best views of the Mother of Parliaments. From £350 per night
CONTACT: 020-7928 5200; marriott.co.uk
Le Meurice, Paris
THE VIEW: The Eiffel Tower
THE ROOM: Book the Belle Etoile Suite for €12,000 (£8,000) or a second or third-floor suite for €800
CONTACT: 00 33 1 44 58 10 10; meuricehotel.com
Grand Hotel, Vesuvio, Naples
THE VIEW: Mount Vesuvius
THE ROOM: The Caruso, Corona, Caracciolo and seafront suites
CONTACT: 00 39 081 764 00 44; vesuvio.it
Hotel Everest View, Nepal
THE VIEW: Mount Everest
THE ROOM All: have great views
CONTACT: Himalayan Kingdoms 0845 330 8579; himalayankingdoms.com
Commune by the Great Wall, Kempinski
THE VIEW: The Great Wall of China
THE ROOM: 7827, Shared house; 7672, Cantilever house. £180
CONTACT: 00 86 10 8118 1888; kempinski. com
Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, Mumbai
THE VIEW: The Gateway of India
THE ROOM: Presidential or Rajput suites. From $5,000 (£2,600)
CONTACT: 00 800 4 588 1825; tajhotels.com
Four Seasons, Sydney
THE VIEW: Sydney Opera House
THE ROOM Full: Harbour View Junior Suites. From £290
CONTACT: 00 61 2 9238 0000; fourseasons.com
Cape Grace, Cape Town
THE VIEW: Table Mountain
THE ROOM: Room 420, from 9,750 South African Rand (£710), 418, from R4,555 (£330) or 326 and 320 for R3,550 (£260)
CONTACT: 00 27 21 410 7100; capegrace.com
Copacabana Palace, Rio
THE VIEW: Copacabana Beach
THE ROOM: A Penthouse Suite, from $2,300 (£1,200), or Beach View Room, from $575
CONTACT: 00 55 21 2548 7070; copacabanapalace.com.br