“Qui dove il mare luccica
E tira forte il vento
Su una vecchia terrazza
Davanti al Golfo di Surriento
Un uomo abbraccia una ragazza
Dopo che aveva pianto
Poi si schiarisce la voce
E ricomincia il canto”
A little iron table covered with a red cloth, with the chairs facing the sea, on the cobbled pavement from the top of the cliff. A glass of cold and crisp Chardonnay. The sunset. A man with a guitar singing Caruso. Thousands of tiny lights turning on one by one while the darkness took over the skirts of the Vesuvius volcano. This was the moment I fell in love with Sorrento!
This stylish city is a perfect destination if you are looking for luxury homes in Italy for an unforgettable holiday. With stunning views over the bay of Napoli and the Vesuvius, narrow cobbled alleys and heaps of lemon trees, Sorrento is like a summer dream bound to make you happy.
Prepare your trip to Italy with my recommended Lonely Planet guides:
But what makes Sorrento so special?
Sorrento has been built on the high cliffs overlooking the bay, which separate it from the luxurious marina and the cruisers terminal. In the Greek mythology, this was the home of the sirens who would lure the sailors into the rocks, with their enchanting songs.
Imagine spending your holiday in a villa on top of the cliffs with panoramic views over the beautiful bay. Imagine having a glass of wine in the evening, watching the sunset, listening to the light breeze and sharing a kiss with your loved one.
Imagine walking inside the maze of narrow, cobbled streets of the old centre, discovering hidden local trattorias and gelaterias. And when you don’t expect it, bump into a beautiful church with a peaceful green courtyard where you can step away from the tourists and just enjoy a moment of bliss and quietness.
Imagine you are living la dolce vita, even if it’s just a holiday, as this is one of the best things to do on the Amalfi Coast.
Italian food is one of the best in my opinion but the one on the Amalfi coast surprises through the freshness of the ingredients and the simplicity of the cooking which together create mouth-watering flavours. The main ingredients used in the cuisine in Campania are the olive oil, fresh herbs, ripe vegetables and fresh pasta. In fact, pizza was invented in this Italian county, in Napoli!
Lemons and limoncello
You can’t say Sorrento and not think of the limoncello made from the giant fragrant lemons growing all over the rocky slopes nearby. The Sorrento lemons are large with a thick peel, have an elliptical shape and a vibrant yellow colour. They are juicy, almost seedless and have the richest amount of Vitamin C out of all the world’s lemons.
60% of the lemons produced on the Amalfi Coast are used to produce limoncello, a digestive liquor with a distinctive fresh taste. As the locals say, limoncello tastes like a kiss from the sun. It is served chilled, usually after meals and it’s sipped, not drank as a shot.
Many little shops in Sorrento produce their own limoncello using their family recipes, so no two will taste the same. You can also try the crema di limoncello which is a sweet cream liquor, sweeter than the original version.
Don’t miss the baba al limoncello, a unique dessert developed by I Giardini di Cataldo, an estate growing lemons and walnut, producing artisanal yummy treats out of them. I have actually passed by and tried their lemon gelato which was divine. The baba is a traditional napoletan dessert soaked in rum for 48 hours. The baba al limoncello produced by I Giardini di Cataldo is soaked in limoncello instead of rum. If you can’t wait until your trip you can even order it online, on their website.
Fish and seafood
While meat consumption tends to be low in Campania, the cuisine relies on fish and seafood, and you can expect it to be fresh and very high quality. The fish is usually curated in salt and then baked with tomatoes, olives and pine nuts, creating a delicious dish called baccala alla napoletana.
You can find seafood and fish in everything, from starters to soups, pasta and stews. You can enjoy dishes like zuppa di cozze (steamed mussels in their own juice with white wine and parsley), polpo affogato (octopus sautéed with tomatoes and hot peppers), spaghetti con vongole (clams spaghetti with olive oil and garlic) or fritto misto di mare (an assortment of fried calamari, shrimp and anchovies served with fresh peaches and white wine).
You might ask yourself why tomatoes? Well, the mild climate and the rich volcanic soils contribute to the juicy and flavour of the Campanian tomato, making it a delicious treat. The best way to taste the tomatoes in Sorrento is by ordering a Caprese salad.
The Insalata Caprese from Sorrento is different from anywhere else in Italy because instead of mozzarella di buffala (buffalo cheese) it is used fior di latte (cow’s milk mozzarella) because back in the 1950s, when this salad was invented, there were no buffaloes on the island of Capri. The Caprese is served with a few leaves of wild arugula and a pinch of dried oregano. The seasoning is simple, just extra-virgin olive oil.
Aubergines and zucchini
Campania is not a very rich area of Italy and this is why their cuisine is simple, based on the vegetables grown in the countryside. Some of the traditional dishes include parmigiana di melanzane, gnocchi alla Sorrentina, peperoni imbottiti or cianfotta.
Parmigiana di melanzane is a delicious comforting dish where sliced of aubergines are fried, then layered with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, and baked in the oven. It is one of the most famous dishes in the area.
Gnocci alla Sorrentina is another dish that boosts in flavour due to the tomatoes used in the sauce. It’s a simple recipe, with the potato pasta topped with the tomato sauce and then covered in Treccia cheese and garnished with some fresh basil. It’s all about flavours!
Peperoni imbottiti are stuffed peppers with aubergines, breadcrumbs, black olives, capers, anchovies and garlic.
Cianfotta is a summer vegetable stew with eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic and basil, a perfect treat for vegetarians. It is usually served with pasta, rice or polenta.
Here are a few recommended restaurants where you can try the delicious cuisine of Sorrento:
Da Ciccio Cielo Mare E Terra – a family five stars restaurant with breath-taking views over the Amalfi Coast serving traditional Italian dishes.
Eolo – a fine dining experience with the menu based on fish and seafood, prepared using only local ingredients to enhance the flavours.
Restaurant Marina Grande – a panoramic restaurant specialising in Mediterranean cuisine and fresh local seafood
Sorrento doesn’t have its own beach, so if you want to sunbathe on sand you have to go to the nearby towns of Sant’Agnello or Marina di Puolo. If you do want to stay in Sorrento though, you can sunbathe on the piers alongside the waterfront owned by the hotels and restaurants in the area. To enter such a beach club you will have to pay around 15 euros but you will get a lounger and an umbrella for the day included as well. The water underneath the piers is crystal clear, with a shade of emerald green.
To access the beach clubs you will have to either walk down the cliffs on a steep path or take the elevator for a 1 euro fee.
If you decide to adventure towards the sandy beaches, the nearest one and the easiest to get to is Sant’Agnello. Just hop on the train for a couple of minutes and then follow the directions towards the waterfront. The beach is small but beautiful, surrounded by high cliffs. Here again you have the option to walk down and take the elevator.
This seems to be a local beach, with very few tourists around. If you get hungry there is a tiny shop on the promenade which makes fresh paninis but there is also a family run limoncello distillery where you can sample and buy the Sorrentino liquor.
To reach Marina di Puolo you can either driver or take the local bus. It you opt for the latter option, once you get off the bus you will have to walk down a steep road, surrounded by olive trees. The beach is sandy and there are plenty of cafés and restaurants along it.
In Sorrento, the majority of the shops stay open until 10PM, so if you want to spend your day sunbathing or sightseeing, there is plenty of time left for shopping as well. Take a stroll on Corso Italia, the main road in town and search for the local workshops making lace, leather or wood carvings. Actually, the town is famous for its inlaid wood carvings which are called intarsia. Head over to the artisan neighbourhood and visit the Museobottega della Tarsialignea to find out more about this local craft. The museum is a work of art itself, situated in an 18th century palazzo.
Treat yourself with a bottle of limoncello and a few fresh lemons or with some unconventional pasta from the Fattoria Terranova farm shop (where you can also take a cooking class to learn more about Sorrento’s flavours, just ask inside the shop about it).