I originally planned to visit Italy for the first time back in the eighties. For some reason it didn’t happen and we went to the Greek island of Zante instead. Lovely, but not Italy. This year, almost 25 years to the day, I arrived in Sorrento for my first taste of la dolce vita. Oh how I wish I hadn’t left it so long…
Sorrento is a small town teetering on an almost vertical cliff ledge with wonderful views across the sparkling Bay of Naples and out towards Mount Vesuvius. A pretty town with enough to see to keep visitors happy for a day or two Sorrento is also perfectly located for seeing some of Italy’s top sights. Pompeii is just half an hour away on the Circumvesuviana train and The Amalfi Coast and Positano are less than an hour’s drive or boat trip away.
But what to do in Sorrento itself? There are many distinct areas around the town to while away a few sunny hours. Piazza Tasso, the main town square, is a lively hub with citrus trees adding a zest of colour against the clear blue sky. Many bars and cafes overlook the central square and we found The Ercolano to be a perfect spot for people watching over a Peroni. The trucks, cars, mopeds and horse-drawn carts negotiating the tiniest of roundabouts – a lamp-post in the square centre – also kept us amused.
A network of narrow, ancient alleyways lead from the main piazza. Packed with osterias, bars and restaurants selling fragrant Italian coffee, local wines, pastas and pizzas along with freshly caught, local seafood means there’s plenty of choice for all tastes. Local produce is favoured in Sorrento and good, simple Mediterranean food is typical of the town. Souvenir shops are plentiful selling everything from fridge magnets to local pottery and inlaid wooden trinkets.
Although the ancient alleyways have been mainly given over to tourism there are some treasures to be found. The Sedil Dominova, found next to the town’s cathedral bell tower, dates back to the middle of the 15th centry and was originally an open-air meeting place for the Sorrento nobility. Frescoes and trompe l’oeil artworks adorn the walls giving the impression that this is a huge columned structure. It’s all an illusion of course, but nonetheless impressive, especially the cupola decorated with yellow and green majolica tiles. It’s currently used as a men’s club where retired locals play cards and put the world to rights.
For a more rustic atmosphere head down the Marina Grande, the old harbour tucked away from the main town. This area has a charming, fishing village feel about it. Brightly painted boats bob around in the bay, nets are piled high on the quay and there’s a small sandy beach where children play.
We found a fabulous café/bar, The Bagni Sant’Anna, located on a pontoon over the water. We enjoyed the freshest calamari, beautifully cooked for just under €10 – it’s just a shame it’s only open for lunch or we’d have been back in the evening for dinner. It’s a long, steep walk down to Marina Grande and a harder walk back up the hill but to while away a few hours here is not to be missed. A local bus from Piazza Tasso does the trip if you’re not so able.
A good restaurant just off Piazza Tasso is Restaurante Tasso where we indulged in a delicious meal. Starter was a rich, creamy Buffalo mozzarella with ripe, succulent tomatoes and basil followed by lemon risotto with shrimp and chives – just a hint of lemon which contrasted perfectly with the saltiness of the shrimp. Dessert was dreamy, Tiramisu, a perfect combination of coffee creaminess washed down with a bottle of very good local Fiano di Avelino. Our chatty waiter plied us with Limoncello, an intensely lemony, and potent, liqueur produced on-site from a recipe handed down through the generations.
We stayed at La Tonnarella a totally gorgeous little hotel perched high on the cliffs overlooking Marina Grande and named after the type of fishing nets used to fish for small tuna in the bay. The views across the Bay of Naples and over the Marina Grande from the terraces are simply stunning and it would have been tempting to stretch breakfast into lunch and just sit and soak up the vista. With the views looking down over the town, from such a high vantage point, there’s a price to pay and that’s the 20 minute uphill walk on the way back after an evening out. The hotel is a delightful, traditional old-style Italian family-run affair and has it’s own little beach with views out to Vesuvius.
So, after a 25 year delay I finally made it to Italy and I confess I fell a little bit in love with it So much so that I returned the following month to visit Bologna, Ferrara and Rimini. I’ve already made plans to re-visit the Campania region next year– well I do have the perfect excuse – I’m making up for lost time…!