A Look Back: Sorrento, Gateway to the Amalfi Coast


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The first five unmistakable notes of the famous Italian song “Torna Surriento” immediately conjure up images of the beautiful azure blue waters of the Golfo di Napoli. It is sun-kissed and framed by the romantic city of Naples, Mount Vesuvius, and cities which roll off the Italian tongue like music; Torre del Greco, Castellammare di Stabia, Torre Annunziata, Vico Equense, Meta`, Piano di Sorrento, and Sant'Agnello. All culminating at the enchanting city of Sorrento, the gateway to the Amalfi Coast. 

In no special order, consider the following side trips, sites, and things to do. Sorrento truly should be your gateway to all things “Amalfitana”.

Enjoy a full day, side trip to Naples. “Vedi Napoli poi muori” (see Naples, then you can die). Naples is the beating heart of Italia meridionale. Disregard the naysayers and spend a full day. I suggest the aliscafi-traghetti from Sorrento. Have the taxi driver from the port drop you off at the Cattedrale di San Gennaro. From there, slowly walk back to the Centro Storico but, make sure you visit the remarkable “Cristo Velato” at the Museo Cappella Sansevero. Explore Naples Sotto Terra to see the original city buried under the modern bustling metropolis. Have a pizza and beer at L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele. Get lost walking along “Spaccanapoli,” the street, not its real name, splits Naples in two. Visit the Galleria Umberto I, reminiscent of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, the Teatro di San Carlo (where Caruso sang), and the Caffe Gambrinus. From there, you are a stone’s throw from the Piazza del Plebiscito and Palazzo Reale. A trip to the small, but elegant E. Marinella tie store is my favorite part of a full day in Naples. Then, enjoy a walk along the lungomare, the perfect place to eat in an outdoor ristorante while enjoying the view of Vesuvius and the Golfo di Napoli that is mozzafiato!

Take the required side trip to the Isle of Capri, “goat island;” rugged, beautiful, charming, romantic, and crowded! Try to stay an evening or two because Capri by night is unhurried, uncrowded, and peaceful. Like Venice, you just have to see this place to fully understand. If not, catch the very first aliscafi-traghetti from Sorrento. Make sure you make arrangements to rent a smaller boat with a captain for circling the island. It is very worthwhile, will include a stop at the Blue Grotto, and will allow you to enjoy a front row seat to the famous Faraglioni rock formation, the signature of Capri. Take the ski lift from Anacapri for a view that will give you a true appreciation of the Sorrentine coastline. 

Spend a day in the beach resort of Positano. Get lost in its alleyways and staircases and “shop till you drop.” It is possible to take the aliscafi- traghetti from Sorrento, or if you want to experience the hairpin turns famous in the entire world, brave the Amalfi Coast from a bus, limo, taxi, or rental car. Just listen carefully for the unseen bus blasting its horn as you approach the next blind corner. You can even stop at the fruit vendor’s stand and try a granita, best described as a fresh lemon slushy. Eat at the Ristorante Tre Sorelle which is situated right on the beach. For a very special side trip from Positano, taxi or take the 30-minute bus ride directly up to the tiny village of Nocelle where you can have lunch with Positano merely a speck below you. The town is situated on the footpath of the gods, known as the “Sentieri degli Dei.” Reminiscent of the paths uniting the Cinque Terre, the trailway runs the entire Amalfi Coast and is only for the physically fit looking for a really good workout with unparalleled vistas. 

Combine a full day side trip to the cities of Amalfi and Ravello. Lunch at the Hotel Cimbrone and visit its garden and the spectacular Terrazzo dell’Infinito. Wear your comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk the steps. In Amalfi, which is situated directly below Ravello, explore the Cattedrale di Sant'Andrea, and make sure to visit a stationery store for handmade paper products. Ask at the tourist office to enjoy a brief boat ride from the small port of Amalfi to one of many restaurants hidden on the coastline and reachable only by boat.

For the archeology and history buffs, take a side trip to Pompeii and visit the ruins of the city literally buried alive by the Vesuvian earthquake of 79 A.D. For those so inclined, you can add a tour to the top of Vesuvius. I strongly suggest a guided tour of Pompeii to make the day worthwhile.

Explore the smaller towns of Massa Lubrense, Nerano and Terme, without the tourist crowds found in Sorrento. Plan out a day-long walking tour to include treks down to Punta Campanella and up to San Costanzo. In Nerano, visit the Marina Del Cantone and eat on the beach at Cantuccio Ristorante.

Roam and get lost in the streets of Sorrento behind the Piazza Tasso. Buy linens, inlaid woodwork, ceramics, and limoncello. Visit the Franciscan church and cloister where you will often witness a wedding ceremony and view the charming statue of St. Francis of Assissi with its beautiful prayer recited on the base imploring God to protect all the creatures of the earth. Eat in the patio garden of the Antica Trattoria or the Foreigners Club (Circolo dei Forestieri), where you will enjoy the same view as the guests of the five-star Excelsior Vittoria right next door, only with drinks at less than half the price.

After experiencing Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, I promise that, like the famous canzone Napolitana, you too will Torna Surriento.