LEMONS as big as your head, amazing views and perfect pizzas, welcome to Sorrento. Perched on the sticky-out bit of Campania’s Amalfi Coast, it is everything you dream Italy will be and more.
Overlooking the Bay of Naples and Amalfi with Vesuvius snoozing serenely, as if butter wouldn’t melt, it’s photographic gold. Which is lovely, but is it any good for kids?
Yes! Three words pool, pizza and gelato. Our hotel had a great pool, and I highly recommend it if you go in the summer like we did, as it is really hot, but there’s also a ‘beach’ thing going on. Pretty cliff paths on the fringes of town lead to the sea where, although sand is almost non-existent, it doesn’t stop the Italians pitching up, squeezing on to postage-stamp patches of the golden stuff and catching the rays. You can pay for luxury loungers on pontoons with restaurants that float on the water but at 20 Euros per person, without food, you can see why most locals prefer to play sardines, rather than eat them.
Fresh seafood is the dish of the day down there and it can be expensive (sea urchins are a thing) but there are still some family-run places, that, although basic, serve seriously good fish plus, for those weirdos (my husband and kids) who dislike seafood, pasta and, of course, pizzas at prices that guarantee you’ll re-book. A bottle of house wine, soft drinks and big plates of freshly-cooked loveliness for four can be as little as 50 Euros.
Still on food. This is where pizza was invented, so you can’t go wrong; our two girls (11 and 13) always go classic margherita and I defy you to find a bad one. And unless you’re eating in the main piazza, four or five Euros buys a perfect thin-crust with fresh tomatoes, mozarella and ripped basil. Add a drink and you’re still talking less than 10.
Then there’s the gelato. On the recommendation of a friend, we sought out Gelateria Davide and were served up a vast pile of incredible ice-cream, in a choice of classic flavours or fun ones, such as Nutella, Candy Floss and Oreo, all for two Euros. Seriously.
Sorrento is noisy, hot and charming. Architecturally, it’s old meets new. Traditional buildings are all ornate doors, Juliet balconies and trailing jasmine; the new are perfunctory blocks, mercifully in the minority and tucked up the backstreets.
The centre is very photogenic – sit at bar Fauna and watch the world go by. A round of drinks usually illicits a bowl of huge, glistening olives and bags of crisps for the girls – on the house!
Exploring its maze of alleys is fun. Tacky tourist stuff sits alongside hand-made leather sandals (anything from 10 to 200 Euros) and traditional Limoncello factories (10 Euros gets you a half a litre, you will buy some, trust me). It’s everywhere, as is the smell of lemons. The sharp scent of citrus, softened by sun-warmed rose and hibiscus, just makes you happy. Aromatherapy at its most basic.
Beer and great coffee cost a couple of Euros and Campania is famous for its good wines. We loved the crisp, white Falanghina. One of the region’s oldest grape varieties, it’s been cultivated since ancient Roman times.
The girls even discovered a clothes shop off the piazza called Zuki that they christened the ‘Sorrento Primark’, as it sold all the latest fashions at a few euros a pop.
We flew into Naples (not a pretty sight, it has to be said) from Bournemouth – coast to coast – and stayed at the Grand Hotel Aminta, an old-school, stylish hotel on the hillside, 10 minutes from town with corking views of the bay from its terrace. The sunsets over Vesuvius were rather fabulous. Dinner was a bit too formal and it’s worth knowing that if there are less than four of you, you get paired with strangers.
Waiters arrive and remove the silver domes in unison to reveal some very good Italian cuisine (the hotel did the outside catering for the Pope when he visited the area).
Sorrento is close to Pompeii, Herculaneum, Capri, Amalfi and Positano. Ditch the pricy, tourist-trap trips and jump on the bus, train or ferry for a bit of local colour. Ticket offices are in town and fares are cheap.
We all loved Sorrento and it was the perfect base to travel to so many incredible places, with a universal family thumbs up to all our excursions, although Pompeii was searing hot leaving us drained of energy but full of amazing facts. Take lots of water – there is zero shade – and buy entry tickets when you get there, it’s cheaper and you get a guide, which is crucial if you want to know what you’re actually looking at, i.e. the penis artwork on the pavement pointing the way to the brothel!
Capri was the big favourite. A magical, perfumed isle, reached by boat with heavenly views and a chair lift that takes you to the very top, where, after a long day those giant lemons can be put to good use garnishing a large G&T.
THE GORING PAGE 53
FLYING HELICOPTER (HELI-MAD) P 14/15
FEATHER DOWN FARM P70/71
ENGLISH HERITAGE P6/7
PENHELIG WALES P88/89
DORSET STURMINSTER NEWTTON P81
JURASSIC COAST P6/7
CAMP BESTIVAL P8/9
When I work from home, I have to be comfortable. I don’t mean staying in my pjs and eating toast at my desk (although, occasionally, that’s a thing), I’m talking calm and luxurious surroundings that help get my thinking juices going and make me feel chilled. I’m not saying this makes me any more productive, but it definitely makes me happy to go to work. Well, most days!
Here are some of the little things that, for me, help me handle the big things.
Red velvet antique chair – a slightly faded, slightly tatty family heirloom that’s way comfier than any office chair I’ve ever sat on, and there have been a few over the years, as my backside will testify!
Edwardian lady’s kneehole desk – this is a small version of the classic desk, so it doesn’t take up too much space. It’s cherrywood and I got it off Ebay for £300. It has earned its keep a hundred times over.
Tall lamp – forget twisty little desk lamps, they take up valuable workspace; a lofty lamp, throwing a golden glow down onto your work area, will, literally, put a better light on things. This plain, brushed bronze lamp-stand was from TK Maxx, the pleated-silk shade, Laura Ashley. A soft-tone bulb will suffice as the light from your screen will do the rest.
Textured fabrics – toss cushions and throws over any spare seating. I use multi-textured throws and cushions on my little leather sofa from M&S. I love the clash of soft velvet (M&S), deep Indian tapestry (actual Goa) and coarse, recycled wool (throw, National Trust shop). I find stroking them helps me think. Maybe that’s just me.
Gallery Red walls – Farrow & Ball’s iconic shade changes with the light. I worried it would be too dark, but it is just perfect. Summer or winter, and at night it makes me feel all snuggly and cocooned.
Glam storage – storing needn’t be boring. Ditch plastic pots and dusty trays for a bit of glamour. These ’30s-style decorative deco boxes in faux (of course) ivory came from John Lewis.
Floral fragrance – I love fresh flowers, like roses, peonies and jasmine, so in winter I use scented candles. My favourite at the moment is the wonderfully powerful Champagne Rose by Ninety Six. Two words: divine, darling!
Culture – ‘books do furnish a room’ as the old saying goes and I agree. Ditto artwork. Modern or traditional, the choice is yours, but surrounding yourself with creative works can be inspiring. My book collection is eclectic and my most-treasured picture (apart from my children’s drawings of me with tree eyes and elephantine legs) is an elaborately-framed, surrealist fantasy, done by my husband’s best man as a wedding present.