GEORGE PARKER BIDDER was asleep one morning in 1889 in his customary suite at the Hotel Tramontano Beaurivage when a bailiff and Albert Brazil, hotelier and rotten card player, knocked to announce that the hillside hotel was being seized to pay off gambling debts. The guest, a marine biologist from a wealthy English family, replied, "Put the hotel on my bill."
Thus was born Parker's—a name that, like the hotel, has survived an earthquake, a war and visits by Clark Gable, Boris Yeltsin and Deep Purple. In 1943 the German army made the hotel its local headquarters and put land mines in the basement. Allied troops later defused the mines after being tipped off by a) a porter, who spoke no English but saluted and stamped on the floor in warning; or b) the Marquis don Achille di Lorenzo, who was married to a relative of Churchill's and had been held captive in the hotel.
In either case the story is as splendid as the view from the sixth-floor terrace of Grand Hotel Parker's. Mount Vesuvius looms through a haze on the left. The honking chaos of a port city percolates below, but breakfast at Parker's, amid potted lemon trees, is the most soothing start to a day imaginable, unless, of course, you opt for the wine treatment in the hotel spa. Although I'm vague on the process, my wife emerged from a two-hour session smiling and smelling faintly like a 2003 Barolo.
Tourists use this city as a jumping-off point for the excavations at Pompeii, the world's liveliest dead town, or Sorrento's stunning cliffs. This does Naples a disservice. The historic center, with its warren of single-file streets, boasts wonders that include the most exquisite statue I've seen (take that, David!): the Veiled Christ (1753) of Giuseppe Sammartino, in the private Sansevero Chapel on Via de Sanctis.
There is another worthy shrine nearby: Capello Miracoloso di Diego Armando Maradona, which features a holy relic, a lock of the former SSC Napoli star's hair. The shrine hangs on the wall of a coffee bar, Nilo, which requests you buy a coffee if you take a picture. My wife did. Unlike George Parker Bidder, she couldn't put it on her tab.