Naples, one of the most fascinating cities in Italy! You know, to describe it would be to say it’s indulgent, sensual, it’s noisy and definitely exciting! The sightseeing and antiquity are amazing where you’ll discover the flavors of the southern Italian coast entwine with culture, food, and accommodations. After a day of sightseeing there’s nothing like going home to a hotel that’s not just a hotel but a truly unusual discovery.
I discovered a jewel, a treasure if you will, that’s so new, yet so full of incredible history… I almost hate to share it! Opened not long ago, it’s called the Hotel San Francesco al Monte Convento…I love saying that! “San Francesco Al Monte Convento!” Basically it means a convent, or monastery. Simply, this was the home to Franciscan monks for over 400 years!
Recently restored as a 4-star hotel, I say it’s unusual because, while you’re spoiled in total comfort, you can still see much of what the monastery was like in the 16th century! This is the real thing. The monastery was founded in the 16th century by Friar Agostino da Miglionico, a ‘poor monk’ of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, also called ‘Barbanti’ for their flowing beards. Friar Agostino built a small cell in the belly of the mountain that, with time, grew into a more comfortable monastery.
There are still important traces of the past to be found here that contribute to the enchantment of the place, such as the Chapel of San Giovan Giuesppe della Croce, the patron saint of Ischia of vibrant religious fervor, who passed the last twelve years of his life at Santa Lucia al Monte. He died in the monastery and is buried there. His cell, seems to still contain his memories, has been faithfully preserved and can be visited by guests.
Now, when I tell you that the place has been restored, I mean we’re talking back to the original. For example, the ceramic floor tiles you see around the hotel are authentic 16th Century building materials. And in some areas, you’ll feel like you’re in a cave, hundreds of feet below the ground, when you’re actually on the 4th floor of the hotel, just carved back into the mountainside.
What I really like are the surprises. Just wait until you see the refectory, with its original fresco, is where the friars said their evening prays and met to discuss current affairs. This has been totally restored to what it was all those many years ago. Complete with the original pulpit from the sermons, which is now used for meetings, as well as, banquets and weddings.
My favorite room in the place is the original kitchen, where friars baked bread loaves by the hundreds in the 17th century to feed a battle raging from the upstairs windows. The friars baked around the clock to feed the poor peasants waging war with invaders. The local people fired 4 guns from here, finally defeating Spanish troops at Castel Nuovo below.
When you walk around in this hotel, you have ceramics and original frescos from the early 1600’s. You, we even have a chair of a saint in sitting in the monastery. The hotel is not quite sure what some of the spaces were used for, there are nooks and crannies everywhere, probably storage, which sure are great to explore. And the accommodations are great! Original artwork was restored, and rooms were designed to retain their original atmosphere. Shuttered windows, bare walls, terra cotta floors and original frescoed ceilings, are reminiscent of when they were simple vaulted cells for the friars.
Sparsely decorated, yet all rooms have every comfort of a four star hotel with luxury linens, twice daily maid service, direct dial phones. , color TV with satellite channels, a personal safe, and a mini-bar refrigerator. Each faces the beautiful Mediterranean Sea below, and the furnishings vary in color and material to give the guest a unique experience no matter what room he or she may stay in. All rooms and suites are air conditioned, and some have private terraces with that stupendous view!
You’ll also find three different restaurants to choose from on different levels of the establishment. Barbanti’s Terrace offers elegant service combined with a spectacular view of the Bay of Naples. The fare features an array of Neopolitan flavors, preserving the old traditions in cooking of the area. Wines from surrounding Campania are presented to accompany your meal. And, being near the sea, you know that many of the dishes will combine the gastronomic treasures of the Mediterranean with flavor di Napoli.
Barbanti’s Cantina was created when a restoration recovered the monastery’s ancient wine cellar. This space was used to create ‘La cantinetta,’ or petite cantina, decorated in a minimal-chic style without masking the chamber’s its original purpose. It features period wrought iron tables and transparent Plexiglas chairs designed by Philippe Stark. There is an open selection of bottles of red and white wines. A different menu every evening provides for a choice of seasonal soups, a selection of Italian cheeses served with pickled fruits and honey, and deli meats. Wine is served by the glass every evening, with a choice of 2 reds and 2 whites on “special.”
Last, but not least, Il Vegneto or “the vineyard” Restaurant is outdoors, overlooking one of the most beautiful panoramas of the world: The City of Naples with its alleys and magic Churches, the entire Gulf from Vesuvius to the island of Capri, all framed by the ancient vineyard which is on the 7th floor. This is where you go for lunch from May to September. No I think the best view is on the roof, but what a roof it is! A landscaped garden is carved into the mountain, hanging flowers on several portcullis are carefully placed and beckon you to recline within an incredible outdoor sanctuary whose focal point is an amazing discovery. A free-form pool, high above the city, is built up and INTO the mountain, with an outdoor shower and a hidden grotto with a hot tub hidden in a cave. Now how’s that for unusual? What is more, there is a small vineyard alongside the gardens which produces a harvest each year and is included in the local wine-making.
What an amazing place! It’s not a chain hotel and it’s not a luxury hotel. It is a piece of the story of the city you are staying in, which you can live today by staying in the hotel and it was a monastery in the early 1600’s. They have maintained the structure, the traditions, the ambience, and that’s why you can’t call it a typical hotel. You are missing some of the items you find in other hotels, but they have something more that other hotels can’t give you. Hotel San Francesco al Monte Convento.
Hard to pronounce, easy to love, and impossible to forget.