Now if you’re looking for somewhere to sample great food and drink you can’t go wrong with Italy. This was a typical week long holiday in the Southern area of Sorrento. I went with my girlfriend, parents and also my brother and his other half. I didn’t know much about Italy before I went other than that they love football, are fashion crazy and most people look like they’ve came from a Gucci perfume advert – well not all of them, but they all have amazing tans and are way cooler than most of us Brits. They just make everything look effortlessly easy don’t they?
Fly into Naples
So we flew into Naples, we didn’t stay in this city but driving through it was very different than I imagined. Lots of poverty consume this city, I appreciate most cities around the world have a degree of it but it really hit home that a place I always thought of as luxury still had its struggles and it was quite sad to see really. However Italy’s third largest city is known for nearby Mount Vesuvius, its stunning palaces, castles and churches as well as its food. It serves the countries’ best coffee, pasta and of course my favourite – pizza. Some describe this city as an unlikely masterpiece, as despite its certain gruffness, it evokes an unexpected elegance.
But like I mentioned we merely drove through the city from the airport so I can’t comment any further. We stayed in the Sorrento region – just outside the town in a pretty little village called Sant’agata Sui Due Golfi – high up in the mountains. We stayed in the hotel Jaccarino on the edge of the village which itself is a tiny little place with one shop and about half a dozen bars and restaurants. However, this place really ticks those boxes if you are looking for peace and quiet, good wine and first class food. Honestly sitting outside one of the bars in the evenings, under the shade of trees, playing cards and sipping wine and eating pizza was pure bliss.
Our hotel was relatively small with a really nice swimming pool with stunning views over the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius in the distance.
A quick drive into Sorrento town centre took around 15-20mins, a free taxi shuttle bus was scheduled on a regular basis from our hotel and wound down the mountain side, avoiding the thousands of moped riders who all opted for no helmets. Honestly it’s moped central round here, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend driving unless you are extremely confident. What really struck me about Italians is their extremely laid back nature – one day on the way back from Sorrento to our hotel, the minibus driver just pulled over to pick up what appeared to be his mate. This guy, also Italian, had swimming trunks on and a towel over his shoulder, flip flops and was about forty-five. He just hopped on, didn’t look anyone else in the eye and just chatted to the driver in Italian all the way back. It was so random, and probably not what he was supposed to do but he honestly couldn’t give two shits. I loved it!
Sorrento itself is beautiful, you really do feel like you’re in a glamourous Italian resort here with very high-end designer shops and market stools lining every alleyway and street you walk down. Handmade purses, handbags, designer sunglasses, jewellery are the main souvenirs you’ll end up buying whilst the local ice cream here is probably the best ice-cream I’ve ever tasted. And I’ve been to Devon many a time. Sorrento is quite a large town and you could spend days here exploring it all.
To really appreciate the beauty of Sorrento, you need to walk down to the front where, high up on the cliff side you can get a spectacular view down at the jetty below. There isn’t much of a beach here, as the town straddles the beach but there is plenty of man made beaches with their own little sectioned off bits of sea where you can sunbathe and swim. Be prepared to pay for the privilege though. My brother and his girlfriend lapped it up but we decided to just enjoy a cold beer along one of the many water front restaurants. Don’t ask for a large beer here though unless you’re expecting a 2 pint glass. Must have been the British skin that prompted him to serve me that!
The pizza is also some of the best here, if not the best in Italy. We opted to eat in at Pizzeria Da Franco in the heart of the town one eve. The long wooden tables here are rarely short of customers, many of them here for the superlative pizza. Served in tin trays, it’s made the Sorrento way, which means a crisper base than its Neapolitan neighbours. It’s back to basics here, eat with your hands, no fluffiness of restaurant eating just purely great food!
Get glamourous on the isle of Capri
From Sorrento, you can access the nearby island of Capri, famed for its rugged landscape, upscale hotels and shopping. It’s basically a playground for the rich and famous, but it is also easily accessible with a ferry ticket that won’t cost a lot and in about half an hour or so from Sorrento you will arrive.
As soon as you arrive you can easily see why it has so much hype, it really does have a sense of class and an upmarket feel to it. When we arrived it was boiling hot, with so many tourists so best to get to the top of the Cliff side as quickly as possible, using the local cable car for a small fee. Once you reach the top you’re in the town of Capri and you suddenly realise everything here is ridiculously overpriced. Imagine a designer shopping outlet on top of a glamorous island with stunning views all around. I couldn’t stop looking over at the sea, which was crystal clear blue.
You can opt to rent a boat here to go right around the island and stop at the many coves but we were exhausted and hot so opted to have lunch overlooking the coves which was incredible.
Capri is well worth a visit, the food and drink here isn’t actually too pricey so just come here, eat lunch, soak in the shops and views and hop back on the ferry to Sorrento.
Pompeii & Mount Vesuvius
We decided to do these two on the same day as a duo package day tour. We had a really friendly rep who really made our trip, she had some great knowledge and coupled it with some light hearted humour. The day was the hottest day of the week so walking round Pompeii was pretty hard going but it is still worth visiting despite the tragic events that happened here. Our coach rocked up early enough, you get kitted out with a Walkman set and headphones so you can plug in English as your language and listen to the history as you walk around the site.
For those of you not familiar with the history of the town, Pompeii is a vast archaeological site and once a thriving and sophisticated Roman city, before it was buried under meters of ash and pumice after the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The preserved site features excavated ruins of streets and houses that visitors can freely explore.
The ruins here are so well preserved and you really do feel like you are walking back in time, despite the tragedy it is a worthwhile visit just to appreciate the travesty of what happened here.
After burning my skin for a few hours, we were led to a little restaurant where we had fresh pasta and meats served for lunch. It was a chance to cool down and refresh before getting back on the coach and heading up to Mount Vesuvius.
This volcano is really unnerving as you drive upto it, I wasn’t sure whether it was the steep drive up continuous hills or the idea that we were heading toward a technically active volcano. Although our driver waved off that fear and assured us we had six years until it was expected to go off again. Just to note we went in 2017, so just be sure to avoid in 2023 then!
Many of the population in the villages leading upto it are apparently reluctant to move, which is fair enough but also quite crazy too.
The walk up the last bit to the top is pretty hard work and a little disappointing as there isn’t much to look at when you get there. However the views the other side are pretty amazing, and to be honest if you didn’t do the walk you’d feel guilty.
The only problem is laying it all out
All in all, we had a fantastic week in this region of Southern Italy and there is of course so much more to explore. If you are here for 2 weeks or more, you could further explore Naples as well as the rest of the spectacular Amalfi coast with scenic towns such as Positano. The food here is exceptional and so is the wine. Just make sure you leave enough time to lie it all out on the sunbed and make a date with those lazy days by the pool. You’ll certainly need it here.