Grand Hotel Excelsior, Amalfi: Room service

Monsieur Gustave H would slot straight in

Name drop alert: just over a year ago I met, at a dinner far away from London, Ralph Fiennes, whose performance in Schindler's List I hold to be the best depiction of menace in modern cinema, together with Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast. I asked him what he was up to. "Shooting," he said. "It's a Wes Anderson film about a hotel in Budapest. It's all about nostalgia and faded glory, rather decent, I think."

I didn't imagine the man who played both Amon Goeth in Spielberg's epic, and Count Almásy in The English Patient – two characters who fall somewhere between morose and morbid – would have it in him to play the camp, hilarious and heroic concierge Monsieur Gustave H in The Grand Budapest Hotel, but Anderson's comedy has already acquired something like cult status. What it captures is the life-affirming romance of a great hotel. The grand scale and auspicious setting; the light touch of luxury; and the instinctive optimist of the traveller. For Anderson, these qualities are amplified best through the prism of nostalgia: in which the Grand Budapest Hotel falls from glory to disrepair.

In Amalfi this summer, I experienced the qualities of the once-great hotel of Anderson's imagination all over again, made real at the Grand Hotel Excelsior, every aspect of which is just as unforgettable. It was built in 1962 by Gaetano Amendola, who went on to be Amalfi's mayor. Today, it is run by his son, Lorenzo. The hotel is carved like a giant yellow whale into the hillside facing what is, rightly, regarded by many as Europe's most beautiful coastline.

There is a pool, into which some revellers, including this one, have been known to jump from ambitious heights; and just beyond it a sizeable terraced area with bar and dinner views across the sea. The ground floor has another large bar with spiral staircase; and one floor below is a canteen that does excellent breakfasts with sugary local delicacies and a memorably yellow and intense tray of scrambled eggs.

Location

Of course, if you've made it this far, you probably want to see the towns. Amalfi is closest (20 minutes away); but Positano, Ravello, and Sorrento are all within driving distance. And a beautiful, if hazardous, drive it is too, along snaking hilltop roads surrounded by flowers.

Comfort

Each of the 104 rooms has a view of the stunning coastline that make the excellent cable television seem a distraction. They are sparsely decorated, with minimal wall art, bland furnishing, and functional rather than dazzling bathrooms. Each has shutters opening on to a small balcony. The rooms have various degrees of splendour, from Standard through to Superior, Deluxe, Junior suites and Garden suites. The main difference, other than price, is size and location. Garden suites, the best of all, have a split-level bedroom, a 45sq m living space, two bathrooms (one with Jacuzzi), and a large terrace infused by the scent of nearby lemon groves.

Wi-Fi is available in all the rooms, and also in the main reception area, creating the now customary modern ceremony of huddled tourists gazing at their iPhones in silence, barely aware of each other's existence. This seems a shame given the views on offer.

Perhaps the highlight is the beach owned by the hotel. Regular free bus shuttle services take you to a pebbled, private spot where you can swim, get all manner of drinks, and eat delicious and fresh local specialities.

Grand hotels, as Anderson and Fiennes could tell you, come in all shapes and sizes. I've stayed in a few of the modern ones and many are garish, corporate, soulless enclaves that make no bones about squeezing every cent from you. But there are still some that hold true to their local heritage, that galvanise the soul and offer beauty and comfort at bargain price. Of the latter, the Excelsior is the best I've seen.

Travel essentials

Grand Hotel Excelsior Via Papa Leone X, Amalfi, Salerno, Italy (00 39 089 830 015; excelsior-hotel.it).

Rooms ****

Value ****

Service *****

Double rooms start at €180, including breakfast.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Lifeguards / Leisure Club Attendants - Seasonal Placement

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Qualified Lifeguards are required to join a fa...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Exhibition Content Developer

    £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in South Kensington, this prestigi...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - major leisure brand

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Partner

    £25000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Partner is required to ...

    Day In a Page

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003