We moved on, a little reluctantly, from the beautiful Cequara Rosara, bidding farewell to donkeys and chickens, and getting lost for good measure on the autostrada.
Our final destination was going to be the La Sonrisa hotel in a little place called Sant’Antonio Abate. It’s a long drive from Voltapino so we decided we’d take a break halfway and stop in at Hadrian’s villa. Yes the same fella that ordered the building of the wall between England and Scotland, apparently he as quite good at ordering big things to be built, his ‘villa’ would cover three postcodes in LA. He was also the emperor who rebuilt the Pantheon which isn’t exactly bijou – it comes complete with its own echo.
Foolishly we went in the middle of the day, in the height of summer. Physically we wilted very quickly, which was a real shame because the excavating has been extensive and the remains are in good condition, and, unlike other archaeological sites, these ruins aren’t inconvenienced by having other buildings on top of them! So the site itself is a gorgeous piece of landscaping with lots of green spaces and stunning views. In just the small amount of ground that I covered, I saw there were open lawns, ornamental ponds, orchards as well as of course the expected walls, statues, ancient rubble, etc…
Before I forget, quick tip for tourists in Italy. When your handy dandy guide book tells you there is a wonderful historical site that begins with the letter H such as Hadrian’s Villa, or Herculaneum, find out what it’s callled in Italian before you go messing about with the GPS. The Italian dicitionary has no more than half a page devoted to H words… which should be a bit of a subtle hint.
Back on the road again, and feeling quite smug that we’d somehow managed to escape paying for parking (purely by not realising that anyone was charging), we head onwards to Naples. Honestly, first impression of Naples… gritty. The views of the bay are beautiful, but the city itself seemed far more rundown than the other places we went. As we were driving towards the hotel, we seemed to be passing through increasingly grey, unkempt neighbourhoods. GPS was adamant we were in the right place, but as previously noted, the GPS was seriously directionally challenged. To make things even better, the heavens opened and instantly we were both lost and in a thunderstorm.
Suddenly the buildings on one side of the road ceased to exist and instead there was a row of olive trees, and some rather large, white gates marking the entrance to a long hedge-lined driveway. Sheets of water were falling on us from the sky perfectly in sync with the waves of relief rolling off us as we realised that we were in the right place, and that it looked very nice.
Whilst we stood in the hotel lobby, dripping water over the marble floors, we craned our necks around corners and openly gawked at the opulence of La Sonrisa. The hotel’s full title is Il Grande la Sonrisa, and it has the rich luxurious estate feel to it that makes it a number one wedding venue (there were three weddings in the four days we stayed there, and I’m sure all the bridal parties will cherish looking through their wedding albums and finding the nosey Brit family simultaneously cannon-balling and photo-bombing in the pool behind them). On closer inspection though you can see that it is a faded grandeur of the variety where things look pretty, but don’t necessarily work; food sounds nice but then is a bit of a let down; and also not that much concern for the residential guests, almost as if we were in the way of the hotel’s real life… perhaps it’s a front for a subterranean casino where rich patrons bet on fights to the death, and bloodthirsty games, or races with impossibly high stakes – a contemporary Circus Maximus!
Don’t get me wrong, the grounds are gorgeous, the pool was amazing (fountain, mini waterfall, bridges, we spent all our free time there), and it was a fabulous welcome at the end of the road.