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.
unicorns do exist!
vesuvius – beautiful but deadly
Sorrento old town
those pricy pontoons
sunken town in Sorrento
love boat to Capri
is that George Clooney’s yacht?
Sorerento from the bay
Stunning: St Andrew’s church, Amalfi
pizza the action
sunset on the shore
arch rival at Pompeii