Updated: Oct 10
With each visit to Italy, I am reminded that landing here is stepping into antiquity. As an eager adventurer and lover of all things Italian, I’ve had the good fortune to experience Italy’s charms on four occasions this past year, from Piemonte to Lazio to Campania. Most memorable? The Sorrento peninsula. Away from the bustle of Rome and frenzy of Naples, exquisite discoveries await in Campania’s historic seaside towns. Sorrento is a superb home base to explore, and October is the optimal season.
After check in, a Piazza Tasso café stop, for an authentic cappuccino and prime people watching. Drifting along Sorrento's main pedestrian artery, Corso Italia, we fell into step with la vita venta, (slow life), where shops brim with every iteration of lemons, olives, and chocolate. Getting lost on side alleys framed by lush red-orange bougainvillea, locals stroll arm in arm, greeting us with nods and smiles. Sorrento is a postcard of Italian life: residents and tourists animatedly chatting, wandering in and out of shops and eateries. Waitstaff scribble the daily piatto del giorno on blackboards, scooters gas their way through the mix. Our quaint Antiche Mura boutique hotel was within steps of all this activity, yet tucked away, tranquil and comfy.
I'm routinely asked about getting around in Europe. Hiring a private guide is the best money spent. We did. Beyond driving skills, Jose’s keen knowledge of his native Campania illuminated our way throughout our stay. As our unparalleled Amalfi coast host, he introduced us to select limoncello, wine, and cheese purveyors, advising us where to get deals on textiles and other souvenirs, and always early for airport transfers. With his humorous anecdotes and jovial nature, Jose’s outstanding expertise put a shining star on our trip.
Jose provided colorful and insightful commentary for our full day Amafli Coast drive, from Sorrento through Amalfi town, then upward to Ravello. Villages small to large dot the mountainside along a serpentine coastal motorway. Suffice to say it takes nerves of steel to drive this crowded, spindly, two-lane mountain road, designed like an uncoiled slinky. Boisterous communication prevails for the countless buses, trucks, sports cars, Vespas and cyclists (!) to maneuver around and avoid killing each other - or kamikaze pedestrians. It’s a game of inches. Aaaah, but the views are so worth it!
First up: Amalfi town. We visited long enough to amble around and shop for chocolate, gelato, lemon trinkets, tea towels, espresso, and visit a church, then rode onto Ravello. After a cardio ascent to the town piazza, we were treated to idyllic views of this medieval village, its stone paths and walls gleaming against the sparkling sea below. While Ravello is celebrated for its musical attractions, its villas and gardens are worth the climb to savor its charms and enjoy the scenery.
Onto Tenuta San Francesco, where “wine is the poetry of earth”. An estate vineyard in Tramonti, featuring excellent whites, rosés, and reds, the wines here were unexpectedly delicious - which is probably why we left with 5 bottles. Lunch was freshly prepared by the resident matriarch, with artisanal bread, fresh pasta, vegetables, locally made cheeses and jams, served in 4 courses, each with a wine pairing.
Finished with homemade pudding, it remains the most remarkable meal of our entire stay. Though we encountered Amalfi’s legendary traffic snarl back up the coast road, our return to Sorrento was quite merry, with no hurry to be anywhere.
Next day: Capri! Jose arranged a hotel pickup for us to reach the marina to the private boat where our captain and mate waited. With only 6 of us aboard, we had a full day of personalized service, extra stops, delicioso limoncello apertifs, enjoying a smooth daylong ride. Capri’s main street is lined with aromatic food and enticing craft stalls framing both sides of the road. A short walk took us to the gondola, up the mountain to AnaCapri, the best perch to soak up glorious views across the Bay of Naples.
Gliding down the mountain and riding the bus back to the marina, we headed to the Blue Grotto. The low tides and calm water made conditions ideal. Spirited negotiations began between our skipper and the prickly rowboat operators. Scanning me, then hubs, a burly guy finally agreed to take us on. We climbed into his rocky rowboat, money was exchanged, tickets purchased. Then we laid backwards on top of each other as the rowboater pulled on overhead ropes to slide us inside the storied limestone cavern.
Drifting amid iridescent blues, blinding white sunlight, over clear, sparkling water, listening to waves slap the sides, I melted. When the rowers raised their voices together in song, I cried. One of the most moving experiences I’ve ever known. Later, we cruised into the Green Grotto, around natural arches, soaking up sunrays while stretching out on the bow. A slice of heaven on earth.
With Sunday open, Jose arranged a fellow driver to take us to Positano, a mere 6km away. Lovely seaside town! Cascading from the infamous coastal road down to the beach below, Positano is host to numerous artistic shops, open-air cafes, and has its own winding road through the village. Here is the perfect starting point for Path of The Gods, a popular hiking trail.
Only an hour from Naples, Sorrento is equally accessible for full and half day trips to Vesuvius, Herculaneum, and Pompeii - a must. Learning the events which led to literally stopping humans in their tracks is unfathomably heart breaking. Viewing the myriad of inventions these villagers created to aid in daily life chores leaves one mystified. Arriving by air or rail, visitors can easily cover Pompeii on their transfer from Naples to Sorrento, along with a vineyard lunch.
And the food! An entire post could be devoted to Sorrento’s outstanding unparalleled gastronomy. Desserts are perfumed delights, from chocolate cream puffs to flaky pastries with lemony ricotta fillings. Tasty dinner memories arise…cacio e pepe devoured at MoMo Kitchen… luscious ricotta ravioli with lemon served at the Garden Restaurant…the puffy, crusty, cheesy pies at Frankie’s Pizza Bar. Every day, a new gustation sensation - and gelato flavor.
If you’ve been, you know. If not, picture the most vibrant, cacophonous, picturesque seascapes imaginable, sweetened by lemons, cooking kitchens, and olive oil along fragrant walkways. Add generous doses of sumptuous cuisine, layered with gracious Campanian hospitality, then envision yourself there. That’s Sorrento. Andiamo!