The first thing that strikes you about Sorrento is the very thing that drew Rome’s wealthy elite. Mountains, with rich green growth at its back, azure blue seas in front, and dramatic waterfront cliffs lined with villas and grand hotels.
Dense orange and lemon groves still dot the coastline, full of song birds and doves. During the spring the mixture of citrus blossoms produce
a heady perfume which blows on the breeze… yes the Romans chose well.
Today Sorrento is a bustling tourist centre which acts both as a hub for ferries to the island of Capri and Ischia, a jumping off point for many buses to the Amalfi coast towns and the rail terminus for the Circumvesuviana trains which take tourists to Pompeii, Vesuvius and Herculaneum.
The old town centre is filled with well-dressed Italian visitors shopping in the many high end boutique stores. Once they have had their fill of shopping, they flock to the many large outdoor cafes, sipping on Campari-soda, cappuccino or devouring a bowl of Gelato ….ah the good life!
We began by getting the lay of the land and explored this busy fashionable seaside resort town with its medieval part of town filled with tourist shops and local area foodstuffs to sample and buy. We were coming up to the Easter holidays and the city was starting to get extremely busy. Every outside restaurant and bar was packed as people were there to see and be seen. A great place to sit was at the Fauno Bar in the Piazza Tasso – the happening place in town.
Being so close to Easter we were also lucky enough to witness 3 nights of evening Easter Processions comprised of hundreds of local participants who walked up and down the streets from church to church in the various communities around Sorrento.
On the first evening, Jesus was being paraded through the streets along with hundreds of Roman Soldiers (red procession). On the second evening, the Virgin Mary (represented by little girls and women in white and blue robes) was looking for Jesus (white procession) and on the 3rd night (Good Friday) we saw the largest (black) procession of them all with mournful band music, Latin chanting and hundreds of men and boys parading with lanterns, torches and incense burners while others carried the Virgin Mary and the body of Christ. This is one of the last places in Italy where these kinds of elaborate Easter processions take place with literally hundreds of people involved. See my 1 minute slide show here.
Walking or hiking side trips are a great way of escaping the crowd and seeing the abundant natural beauty that is the Amalfi coastline. Around the Sorrento Peninsula we took an easy walk to Capo di Sorrento on the way out of town. The walk lead us to Roman Villa ruins as well as a large natural pool where the French Queen Joan of Anjou enjoyed bathing in medieval times. We continued around the corner via a wooden platform path to secluded rock slabs for a picnic (or a swim) and marveled at Vesuvius looming in the distance.
The best hike on the Sorrento Peninsula was one that took us to San Costanzo a small church with great views down the Amalfi coastline and the Gulf of Salerno. The hike continues along the crest of a ridge toward Monte Costanzo and a gruelling narrow goat path that hugs the edge of the Peninsula as you scramble up and down over rocks, waist deep in a profusion of wildflowers hugging the steep cliffs. The final steep descent is to the watchtower and lighthouse at the very end of the rocky point; The 14th Century Punta Campanella. Here you will also get magnificent views of the Island of Capri right in front of you. When you finish, you’ll pass the Chiosco Bar, where a very friendly Enrico Buonocore will be happy to serve you refreshments – you’ll need it too!
And speaking of Capri, this is a must see destination. We took an early morning jet boat to the Island and began the first of 3 hikes from the centre of town high above the Marina Grande in the Piazza Umberto which is connected via a funicular railway. Our 3 hikes included the Villa Jovis Loop; what’s left of Tiberius’ Roman Villa and where he ruled Rome during the last 10 years of his reign.
From here we continued up and down a series of steep steps and pathways to Arco Naturale 2 dramatic limestone arches rising about 200 metres from the ground below. We then passed a massive Grotto which the Romans turned into a Nymphaeum before taking the climb back around the island toward The Faraglioni; towering jagged needles rising 100 metres out of the sea. Not long after, the path turns into a leisurely stroll that takes you past luxury villas and hotels before finally ending in the upscale village of Capri.
No visit to Sorrento is complete without a visit to Pompeii – check out my slide show here. There are no words to describe how amazing this archeological site is! After the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD, this almost perfectly preserved site was buried under 6 metres of ash. You can still see the amphitheatre, apartments, shopping districts, brothels and bathhouses. Amazing….
We now say good-bye to Sorrento and the Amalfi coastline as we make our way toward the Tuscan hills. First stop…Orvieto.