Dom Joly: A Joly time in Sorrento

Dom at The Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, Sorrento

Dom at The Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, Sorrento - Credit: Dom Joly

I love a road trip. I think it’s the greatest way to travel especially if, like me, you have a short attention span

We are back from another family road-trip. We do one every year. Our first was possibly the most ambitious – Cheltenham to Istanbul and back. Friends called it ‘The Divorce Tour’ but it actually went rather smoothly. Everything after that has been relatively easy. Last year, we went round the Iberian Peninsula and this year we decided to tackle Italy.

Because kids nowadays seem to be extraordinarily swotty, we only had 10 days for this trip as my daughter had to get home to revise. I’m pretty sure that when I was her age it was the other way round? I seem to remember longing to go on holiday and bunk off but being constantly nagged by my parents to revise?

I love a road trip. I think it’s the greatest way to travel especially if, like me, you have a short attention span. You can burn into a town, check the really old thing, climb the really tall thing, have a coffee in the big open place and be out by lunchtime. This is my kind of travel. I pride myself in having done The Prado in Madrid in less than 20 minutes. This kind of travel doesn’t suit everyone but it’s very much the Joly way.

We always visit the Modern Art Gallery in any city we visit. For starters, the gift shop in these places always tends to have the best souvenirs. More importantly it’s an opportunity for my kids and me to do one of our favourite things. While my wife looks on disapprovingly we focus on a fire extinguisher in the corner of a gallery. I will go up and start to stare at it intently, as though admiring a work of art. The kids will then join me and appear to be equally appreciative. It’s never long until another gallery visitor joins us to admire what we are admiring. We then peel away and watch the unfolding chain of lemmings. It’s silly and pointless but we love doing it. I like to think that I’ve taught my kids a valuable lesson in making up their own minds about what is important and what isn’t. Actually, I’m a Philistine and it’s just a way of me not getting too bored in museums and galleries. We did it in a museum in the grounds of Villa Borghese in Rome before renting Segways and roaring around the park in a most undignified but fun manner.

One of our Italian stops was in Sorrento, at possibly my favourite hotel in Europe: The Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria (catchy little name). The hotel has been in the same family for five generations and has hosted the great and the good (and the Jolys) since holidays began. It sits on cliffs overlooking the Bay of Naples. Across the bay lie Naples, Pompeii, Herculaneum and Mount Vesuvius. The magical island of Capri is just visible at the mouth of the bay and the delights of the Amalfi coast are a short boat ride away. The hotel itself sits in a little oasis in the middle of the town. Once inside the magical grounds it becomes difficult to leave and our road trip finally ground to a welcome halt.

I thought that it would make a good base for us to visit a lot of the things that my kids were currently studying. I could bring the abstract stories in their history books to life and teach them something no school could teach. This concept didn’t last long.

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Having checked in we made our way to the spectacular terrace for a restorative Rossini or three. I pointed towards Vesuvius and asked my daughter whether she knew what it was? She gave me a withering look and proceeded to describe how Pliny the Younger had written a moving description of the death of his uncle, Pliny the Elder, who had set off in a boat from where we were currently sitting in an attempt to rescue his friend Rectina from the aftermath of the eruption of Vesuvius.

I nodded and downed another couple of Rossinis. Maybe they didn’t need my tuition as much as I’d imagined? As I said, kids these days are very swotty.

For more from Dom Joly, follow him on Twitter: @DomJoly