Sorrento: the place where cliff tops soar over glistening seascapes, Mount Vesuvius looms elegantly in the distance and limoncello sparkles on every street corner. Nestled in the south-west coast of Italy, the town might nowadays play host to plenty of holiday-makers and beach resorts – but it’s a pleasantly refined one, with just as many historic and cultural gems at its doorstep.
Probably most famed for its lemons – even the walls of the town are painted a soothing yellow colour – Sorrento presents as much a backdrop of dreamy tranquility as a hotspot for sun-worshipping tourists. There might not be a great list of landmarks to check off, but that’ll come as little more than an afterthought. With rustic alleyways, picturesque churches and the sea always in sight, it comes as no surprise that the artistic minds of Keats, Byron and Ibsen have been inspired by its charms.
One of Sorrento’s greatest assets is its geographical proximity to other sights of interest. Just half an hour away by ferry is the idyllic Isle of Capri, home to the myths of Homer and Virgil, the Roman Emperor Tiberius, and now to wealthy holidayers. The top of the island boasts bougainvillea-lined views of a stunning coastline, but it’s also a place where natural beauty meets commercial materialism, and designer boutiques stand opposite crumbling villas. Capri might be overrun with tourists during the summer season, but still retains an air of affluent beauty, and no trip to the region would be complete without a visit.
Equally close along the coast towards Naples is Pompeii, the Roman city buried under 4-6 metres of ash and pumice when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. Still an active archaeological site, you’ll see the well-preserved remains of streets and houses, temples and amphitheatres – and even human and animal bodies. Well-preserved due to the lack of moisture and air, the phenomenal site presents an rich insight into the life and architecture of a city during the Pax Romana. It’s a unique historical wonder.
That’s not to overlook what Sorrento itself has the potential to offer. The Correale Museum, once described as ‘the most beautiful provincial museum of Italy’, contains a collection of 17th and 18th century porcelains, artefacts and paintings attributed to Van Dyck, Gentileschi and the Neopolitan school of Posillipo. During the summer, the 14th century cloisters of St Francesco which light up for the Sorrento Opera Festival’s magical evening of entertainment. There’s also Teatro Tasso, home to the Sorrento Musical, a revue of Neopolitan classics such as ‘O Sole Mio’ and ‘Trona a Sorrent’.
But above all, it’s the combination of sun, sea and simple living – as perfect a trio as the mozzarella, tomatoes and olive oil you’ll find yourself gorging on – that makes Sorrento such a restorative, wondrous destination. It’s another jewel in Italy’s crown, and whether or not you’ll come back, you’ll definitely find yourself recommending it to others.