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Sorrento has attracted cultured travellers to its azure-blue shores since the 19th century. In those days this ancient coastal settlement, where Roman Emperors once built their villas, attracted the likes of Byron, Keates, Dickens and Wagner. It is easy to see why it was one of the must-see destinations on the so-called Grand Tour, with its sweeping views over the sublime Bay of Naples and the volcanic island of Ischia, with the domineering presence of Mount Vesuvius lurking on the horizon. Now popular for luxury villas, boutique hotels and even all-inclusive accommodation, Sorrento captivates more travellers than ever.
Enjoy the fine life
If you are looking for a bucket and spade beach holiday, you may as well write Sorrento off right now. This ancient stone-walled settlement, dating back two millennia may be perched on the edge of a cliff, but it possesses precious few stretches of sand available to spread out on.
Hotels in Sorrento are generally considered amongst the most chic in Italy, including charming villas with panoramic views over the rocky cliff tops that wouldn’t look out of place in a James Bond movie. The restaurants and bars are to die for too. Imagine tucking into some freshly caught lobster or other sea-fare, washed down with a chilled glass of the local Falanghina wine on a terrace peering over a stunning rocky cove. That is the lifestyle many visitors seek in Sorrento.
The charming old town
The old town is the life and soul of Sorrento and its heartbeat resonates from the lively Piazza Tasso. Named after a 16th century Sorrento-born poet, Torquato Tasso, this bustling cafe-lined square is ideal for sitting back with a drink and watching the world go by. Although it is has all the hallmarks of a tourist trap, with souvenir shops and horse-drawn carriages, the square is also the epicentre of Sorrento for the locals. There are many nice restaurants scattered around it, as well as good quality leather and lace souvenirs to be snapped up.
The winding cobbled streets and alleyways of Sorrento’s old town are also the home to many charming hotels and bed and breakfasts, as well as hidden-away restaurants with secret gardens.
You will stumble across many picturesque stone buildings and churches as you wander around. However, most will pale into comparison with the splendour of the 14th century church Chiesa di San Francesco and its tranquil cloister. A favourite venue for weddings, this spectacular haven of tranquillity on the edge of the old town boasts exquisite gardens overlooking the Bay of Naples.
Other must see sights include 15th century Duomo cathedral with its triple tiered bell-tower and the 11th century Basilica de Saint’Antonio, named after Sorrento’s much revered patron saint. Another church, Chiesa del Carmine on the main avenue Corsa Italia, off Piazza Tasso, dedicated to Sorrento’s martyrs, is also not to be missed, if only for its bright yellow and white facade which beautifully contrasts against the deep blue Sorrento sky.
The spectacular coastline
A stay in a hotel tittering over the edge of Sorrento’s Marina Grande is the stuff of dreams. So many visitors gladly pay up the necessary supplement to take advantage of spectacular views over the harbour and bay of Naples from a strategically placed residence.
Getting down to the pretty fishing harbour itself though is far from simple – you either have a long winding walk around or a steep descent down some steps from the top of the cliff. Whichever way takes your fancy, it is well worth the effort to take in the beauty of what still looks like a traditional fishing village, with its vivid coloured boats bobbing up and down and its pretty pastel buildings. There is even a beach, of sorts, in the marina, if you you don’t mind squeezing in between the boats which clutter up the small stretch of sand. Most visitors, however, prefer just to sit back in a cafe-bar or one of the exquisite sea-food restaurants, serving the catch of the day, and watch the world go by … slowly.
The Marina Piccolo, a bit further along the coast is an entirely different kettle of fish, although not any simpler to access by foot! This is an active harbour where the ferry or hydrofoil set sail for the legendary island of Capri, Ischia and Naples. Boat trips also operate in the summer to the pretty coastal villages along the Amalfi Coast, including the picture-postcard village of Positano, hanging precariously off the cliff.
If you absolutely insist on getting in the water yourself, there’s nowhere better than an idyllic spot a few kilometres along the Sorrentive Peninsula by Punta del Capo. Known as Bagni della Regina Giovanna, or the bathing spot of Queen Giovanni, it offers the opportunity to bathe in one of the most magical lagoons you can imagine, by the remains of a first century roman villa. It may be a bit of a trek, but the effort you expend makes it feel even more special when you arrive.
So off to Sorrento you go. Whether you are looking to plan a future holiday or take advantage of some late deals, search well and you may find that special hotel or villa full of charm to make your visit really complete.