Seductive Sorrento, Italy

Author: pakce  |  Category: Destination Sorrento Italy

The marina at Sorrento.Astounding views of Mount Vesuvius pale against the sky, lingering scents of lemon groves, quiet winding wide streets, busy town squares abuzz with traffic of an Italian seaside resort — all combine to make Sorrento as alluring a mix today as it has been for visitors throughout the ages.

The marina at Sorrento.

Caesars and princes, poets and musicians, villains and saints have found themselves drawn to Sorrento’s inlets, secluded villas and grand hotels through the ages. While the city center has grown into a large and crowded tourist mecca, the ancient and timeless aspects of Sorrento remain largely intact and accessible to those willing to explore beyond the main downtown areas.

In reality, this means Sorrento’s appeal nowadays runs the gamut of tastes and activities, from those who like to luxuriate in the atmosphere and artifacts of more distant times, to those who revel in the more present-day amenities and opportunities for entertainment. And if your own tastes tend toward indulging in both, then Sorrento can certainly prove a small but varied feast of pleasures.

Fronting the Mediterranean and stretching inland to neighboring hillsides, Sorrento is well situated for the traveler inclined to put some time and energy into active outdoor pursuits either on city street, country pathway or even out on the water. Walking Sorrento and its coastal peninsula, whether to savor its outdoor or indoor natural and man-made treasures remains the ideal way to experience town and countryside. Of course, the Greek foundation of the city is colored with legend and poetry, the Latin name of Surrentum being linked to the worship of the Sirens, common to the peninsula.


Exploring Sorrento by foot

View of Mt. Vesuvius from Sorrento’s coast

The regular grid plan of the streets running west from Piazza Tasso is about all that is left of Greek and Roman Sorrento. What remains of the 15th century walls is visible along the busy via degli Aranci ring road or on piazza della Mure Vecchia. Sorrento’s present-day residents take time to enjoy their city at night when a no-car restriction (from 8 pm to 12 am) comes into force and people get out for an evening struscio (stroll) around residential and commercial districts. But even a day-time stroll from the shopping district back to your hotel or along the quiet streets leading to local churches and museums can provide memorable glimpses of ancient walls, graceful gates and courtyards, or balconied windows that reflect a long and diverse history.

Beyond the city itself, there is even more of the Roman legacy to discover on foot. From the earliest time of their possession of the Sorrentine peninsula, Romans favored the region as a retreat from the heat and congestion of the imperial capital. Consequently, they built luxurious villas along the coastline from Castellamare di Stabia to Punta della Campanella?a trend that continues into the present day.

A network of reasonably well-maintained footpaths now weaves across the entire area from Castellamare di Stabia to Amalfi to Punta della Campanella. Many of these are tended by the Club Alpino Italiano (CAI), which marks their routes with colored markings on rocks, walls or lamp posts. Paths vary in difficulty: plan ahead with maps and information from the Club’s office or the town offices of the Aziende Autonome di Soggiorno, Cura e Turismo. Heading west from Sorrento, there are a few easy and pleasant walks you can take which wind down to the Villa di Pollio Felice, the remains of a Roman villa, or upward to the Deserto in Sant’ Agata sui Due Golfi. These outings can be easily done inside of a morning.

For swimming and sunbathing, avoid the dark, volcanic sand beaches like Marina Grande. Instead, seek out a private beach such as Bagni Salvatore or even Bagni della Regina Giovanna, which have clean water and snorkeling available. If you are more adventurously inclined, as one of the local boatmen to drop you off in some secluded bay and pick you up later — a small luxury that might cost you around 25 Euros.


Important palaces, museums and churches

Sorrento church by night.


The city boasts the remains of some medieval palaces that tourists can visit. One must-see is the Palazzo Correale, an early fifteenth-century building with an impressive front door and arched windows. Take time to go into the florist’s shop in the courtyard to admire the eighteenth-century majolica tiled wall. On the same street, you will also find the thirteenth-century Palazzo Veniero, whose windows are framed in geometric designs made of lovely colored stone.

Sorrentine craftsmen made their town famous in yet another respect from the eighteenth century onward with their creative skills in woodwork and marquetry. The beautifully restored palazzo Pomarici Santomasi contains a private collection of intarsio, the delicate furniture that resulted. At the Museobottega della Tarsialignea, displays more contemporary designs in marquetry furniture. The ground floor shop also offers a better quality marquetry than you might find in the souvenir type shops elsewhere downtown.

Given its long and colorful history of outside occupations, it is not surprising that Sorrento’s important churches mirror a range of influences and styles. The church of San Francisco, for instance, stands beside a small fourteenth-century cloister with graceful ogival arches. The nearby piazza Sant’Antonio is named for the city patron saint, whose tomb lies within the eighteenth century crypt of the basilica Sant’Antonio. Overlaid in a very baroque style, it has actually stood here since the fourteenth century.

The other interesting church to look in on is the Duomo (cathedral) Santi Filippo e Giacomo (Corso Italia); this originally Romanesque structure was rebuilt in the fifteenth century, and although it has a Gothic appearance its facade is actually quite modern. Noteworthy inside are the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century paintings in its side chapels and floating over you on the ceilings. The bishop’s throne is a jigsaw of ancient marble fragments, while the choir stalls are appropriately adorned with fine renditions of the local intarsio.


Sample Sorrento’s culinary treats


Sorrento gelateria.

An expensive dinner is an occasional treat not to be missed in a region proud of its dishes of many ingredients and produce grown locally. The Bay of Naples is home to some of the most traditional dishes associated with Italy, be it pasta or pizza. Additionally, the farmlands, vineyards and waters along the Sorrentine Peninsula and Amalfi Coast are also the source for the culinary fare that graces menus from the five star to the local sidewalk vendor around Sorrento.

Pasta is said to have originated here (and likewise, pizza), so while you can only savor your plate of spaghetti marinara at the local trattorias, you can still buy all the necessary ingredients to make it back home from the very elegant food stores or even from the local grocery stores.

No old-fashioned Neapolitan dinner would be complete without a glass of Limoncello, a local liqueur made from fermented lemon peels, alcohol and sugar, which can be found just about anywhere. You will find it bottled in every possible shape and size, often with very classy-looking packaging, but you can still find tiny stores which display the old rough-hewn bottles of yesteryear.

Though they call themselves a pizzeria, Ristorante Pizzeria La Fenice is a pleasant, reasonably priced establishment serves much more than pizza. Their seafood is both fresh and well prepared and the pasta is also quite good. The airy garden feel of the atrium-styled dining room, and the service was notable in a region where food is quickly dispensed with no fanfare. Though there are undoubtedly finer restaurants in this town catering to the more upscale market, the high quality of food served here at reasonable prices by an attentive staff makes this little establishment a worthwhile visit. Ristorante Pizzeria La Fenice also seems to stay open later than other dining spot nearby.

First-class regional cuisine with plenty of atmosphere can be found at Il Buco, located just off the piazza Sant?Antonio in the cellars of an old convent. There are also tables on the steps outside during the summer months. The menu is nouvelle Italian and mostly fish based, the price range is high, but the extensive wine list is reasonable.

You cannot do much finer for belle epoque surroundings, and an equally fine culinary celebration of regional fare, than a meal at Ristorante Vittoria, in the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria. Top chef Vicenzo Galano has created a menu that also relies frequently also on seafood, but is distinguished by some interesting renditions of pasta dishes featuring regional produce such as capers, olives and mozzarella.

Like every other town in Italy, Sorrento has one primo gelateria to satisfy the hungry locals and dairy-mad tourists. In Sorrento you’ll want to check out Davide, which is located along the main stretch of downtown. Offering both fruity flavors like fresh peach and lemon along with creamier concoctions such as chocolate and hazelnut, Davide should have something to please everyone, especially when the afternoon sun really begins to blaze.

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