A close look at…
Sorrento | Grand Hotel Parco dei Principi
In a resort town that still exudes very much the flair of the 19th century and where even postwar properties adopt the safe route of rather traditional décor, the encounter with a hotel that is clearly a modern design icon is a remarkable occurrence. Perched on the high cliffs that make Sorrento the natural balcony for one of the Mediterranean’s most enchanting views, the ‘Parco dei Principi’ is a stunning total design concept that was imagined by Gio Ponti, one of Italy’s most talented artists of the 20th century.
Incorporated into the ‘Villa Poggia Siracusa’, a private property dating back to 1792, the hotel appears as striking today than it must have in 1962 when the hotel was inaugurated. Although the classical villa and its beautiful grounds have remained intact, their distinction is unquestionably superseded by Ponti’s arresting design and the all-embracing color scheme of white and blue that both have molded the new identity of this historic site.
Together with the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, which was designed almost simultaneously by Danish architect Arne Jacobsen, the ‘Parco dei Principi’ is probably the only ‘other’, mid-century overall hotel concept. Although their scale, location and degree of details could not be more different (Jacobsen even designed flatware and fabrics for his hotel project in Denmark), they both showcase the outstanding talents of multi-faceted artists who were as much architects than furniture and industrial designers.
The added charm of one of Italy’s most iconic locations makes the ‘Parco dei Principi’ a magical destination in itself. Contrary to its Danish counterpart, where careless renovations have taken a toll on Arne Jacobsen’s design, the intimate scale of the Sorrento property has certainly contributed to its preservation. In Sorrento, Ponti’s furniture, décor and signature ceramic tiles remain completely intact. The property abounds of intriguing details that draw one’s attention: the original guest mailbox or the keyboard wall of the concierge desk, the bar with its characteristic stools or the extraordinary geometry of the seawater swimming pool and its surrounding sun terrace, to name a few. Reminiscent of a James Bond movie, a dedicated elevator connects the ground floor with a small tunnel that has been built right into the rocks of the cliff. It opens onto the private Lido area which, seen from the terrace 150 feet above, reduces itself to another geometric figures so characteristic of Ponti’s work.
To this day, the now 50-year-old design with its remarkable simplicity is consequently carried throughout the entire property and appears especially futuristic in the intimacy of the hotel’s accommodations. The hotel’s 96 rooms offer only small variances in terms of layout, ranging from only 20 square meters for the smallest ‘Classic’ rooms to roughly 30 square meters for the ‘Junior Suites’ that offer a small lounge area in addition. Apart from their generous windows and balconies that frame the views, Gio Ponti’s concept is based on intelligently designed spaces that forego superfluous spatial redundancies.
The most noticeable aspect is the ceramic tile flooring with Ponti’s geometric patterns that vary from room to room, complementing the ingenious original furniture pieces and light fixtures. While the bathrooms are decidedly minimalist and straightforward affairs, the functional aspect of the guest rooms leaves the supremacy to their most important asset: the benefit of the view that results in an almost spiritual level of contemplation.
The chromatic trademark of the ‘Parco dei Principi’ is essentially paired by the natural colors of the view that the rooms afford. Depending on the side of the hotel, it is either the green of the lush park or the blue of the Gulf of Naples. Garden views are pleasant and their outlook offers an interesting contrast to the ubiquitous color scheme of the hotel, while sea views embrace Sorrento’s famous panorama with Mount Vesuvius and Naples in the distance. Here, high above the water, the private balconies offer an especially alluring vantage point that is reminiscent of a modern cruise ship.
Officially a 5-star hotel, the ‘Parco dei Principi’ gives nevertheless the impression of a very solid 4-star property, a fact perhaps best exemplified by the amount of staff on hand. Nevertheless, very few properties in Sorrento offer the level of privacy awarded by a historic estate that has not been cut off. In addition, the amenity of a private Lido – a rarity in this resort, where bathing areas are tight and space on the water is limited – makes the hotel a self-sufficient vacation spot in itself.
The fact that the hotel’s spectacular design has survived nearly intact is the merit of an owner who had the good sense to value and nurture the striking original concept.
In that sense, the display cases, which have been created in the lobby to mark the hotel’s 50th anniversary in 2012, are a clever way of introducing Gio Ponti’s work to the uninitiated. They certainly help to make his concepts more understandable – and perhaps the admittedly stark hallways of the guest floors more bearable.
The Name of the Game
In a resort of the 19th century, a design icon of the 20th century that is probably even more fascinatingly modern today than in its heyday.
Grand Hotel Parco dei Principi
Via Bernardino Rota, 44
80067 Sorrento (NA)