Sorrento Travel Guide

Sorrento © Chris Parker

The glitterati of ancient Rome chose Sorrento, with its breathtaking views from the cliff tops over the Bay of Naples, as the place to build their sumptuous summer villas, and today the pretty town remains southern Italy's favourite holiday destination, for both local and foreign visitors. The rugged coastline does not offer beaches (except a few rocky strands privately owned by the larger hotels) but Sorrento is perfectly placed for visiting the most popular tourist attractions in the area, including Pompeii, the summit of Mount Vesuvius, the picturesque towns of the Amalfi Drive, and the delightful Isle of Capri with its blue grotto, just a few miles offshore. The bustling city of Naples is also just an hour's train ride away on the narrow-gauge Circumvesuviana line. The town itself is crammed with hotels and apartments, all tastefully blended into the traditional red-roofed architecture stepped down the hillsides amid fragrant citrus groves. The streets tend to be a choked nightmare of chaotic traffic, particularly during the height of the season. The most quaint spot is the little fishing harbour of Marina Grande, set in an inlet where you might find a vacant rock to sunbathe on while soaking up the atmosphere.

Holidaymakers will find that shopping in Sorrento is an entertaining affair, with a wide variety of items to buy, from tourist tat to designer clothing. The main shopping area is in the central Via S. Cesareo and surrounding cobbled streets and squares, where dozens of stores and boutiques offer their wares. Good buys include cameos, embroidered cloths, ceramic figurines, silver jewellery and local delicacies like lemon boiled sweets, Rosolio liqueurs and jams. Bargain hunters will enjoy the colourful weekly market held on Tuesdays. Sorrento and the Amalfi coast are well known for their splendid big lemons. Typical products from Sorrento are produced with these 'limoni', including Limoncello, a very tasty lemon liqueur, lemon chocolate, colourful ceramic articles with lemon motives or lemon soap. Some time should definitely be spent sampling the dozens of gelato (ice-cream) flavours.

In Italy eating is an event to be savoured and not merely a need to fill the stomach. The flood of tourism has brought with it plenty of fast-food outlets and fish 'n chips or burgers are easy to find in Sorrento, but holiday visitors wanting to go local should take time to sit down and tuck into the 'real thing' at any number of excellent restaurants serving creative Neapolitan dishes. Top of the range in Sorrento is the fine-dining at Don Alfonso with its lofty cliff top setting, where eating Italian means much more than ubiquitous pizza and spaghetti Bolognese. A novel restaurant to try is the tiny Ristorante di Leva at Marina Grande, reputedly a favourite of actress Sophia Loren who made a movie here, where the owner prepares her speciality Spaghetti Vongole. Whatever happens, make sure there is room for dessert, for the Sorrento area is particularly renowned for its confectionary and ice-cream, from almond cakes to lemon sorbet and limoncello liqueur.

Nights on holiday in Sorrento can be as relaxed or as wild as you choose. From around 7pm the pubs and taverns light up in the area around Tasso Square, which becomes a pedestrian-only zone, and people start promenading, stopping for cocktails and people-watching. Later, after dinner, those who are inclined can dance it off at one of the local nightclubs (or discotheques), where karaoke and live music are regular forms of entertainment.

Despite its popularity as a tourist destination, Sorrento is not big on things to do, other than explore on foot in and around the town and possibly find a quiet spot to sunbathe on a pier in the rocky inlets. Most visitors are here to make excursions, and of these there are aplenty, from bus trips down the spectacular Amalfi Drive to strolling the streets of ancient Pompeii or Herculaneum, cities tragically preserved under the ash and lava after an eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. There are also ferries to explore the picturesque island of Capri.

Sorrento does not offer stretches of sandy white beaches and tends to be over-crowded in the summer.