If you’re looking for a laid-back clifftop oasis overlooking the Gulf of Naples, inhabitated by lemon groves aplenty, watched from afar by the imperial Mount Vesuvius, and injected with classic Italian flare, then Sorrento is undoubtedly the place for you.
I spent two nights there one spring, and found myself enchanted by its quaint charm and movie-star good looks. Most of my urge to visit the town was attributed to my late grandmother, whose parents immigrated to the US from Sicily and whose self-declared favorite place in Italy was Sorrento.
After visiting town, I understood why.
Simply the trek to get there is breathtaking. We flew in from Venice, which meant we had to make a necessary detour in Naples, the closest airport to Sorrento.
Though I’d advise against spending much time in Naples (we got scammed there by our taxi driver, met several other travelers who’d also had negative experiences, and overall received bad vibes from the place – which isn’t that nice, anyway), the drive from Naples to Sorrento is a must. Traversing towering cliffs and winding roads overlooking the gulf, the journey south is full of stunning vistas aplenty. All I wanted to do as I gazed out of the car window at the sparkling waters below was dive straight into their inviting depths.
The ride takes you past sleepy coastal towns and rolling hills laden with pastel-colored houses to the citrus haven of Sorrento. Everything about the place is charming – a network of parks and crooked avenues lined with gelato shops, markets selling knickknacks and trinkets, limoncello tasteries, and restaurants galore. It’s very clear the place caters to tourists, but they certainly do a good job of it.
Sorrento’s main hub of activity is primarily pedestrian-only, which provides for a very pleasant environment when shopping, sipping on lemon drinks, and soaking up the Italian sun.
My one full day there was spent searching for the beach, which is, in fact, nonexistant. As Sorrento is perched atop rocky outcrops, there isn’t much sand or anything relatively resembling a beach to lounge on. What beaches that do exist in Sorrento charge entry – and if you want a beach chair, changing cabana, or umbrella, you’ll be shelling out even more. The patch of free beach we managed to find was essentially a stretch of pebbles that the ocean lapped against. Not the most comfortable, but c’est la vie, right?
Likely, if you’re looking to take advantage of some maritime activities around town, your best investment will be in chartering a boat for a sail around the bay – or perhaps heading off to explore the famed Blue Grotto in nearby Capri. (Had I not been a broke college student at the time, I would’ve happily done both.)
After we’d had enough of the “beach”, it was back to town for some limoncello tastings and our daily fix of gelato. The gelato shop we found was by far one of the best we went to in the two weeks I spent in Italy. There were at least 30 flavors to choose from – Mars Bar, Cadbury Crunch, banana split, Twix, Kinder Bueno, mocha, nutella…need I go on?
With cones in hand, we wended our way through the shops, taking in the smells of fresh lemons and tangy oranges, before winding up at a pasta house for some hand-made gnocchi and bottomless bread baskets. Typical.
As we were wandering back to the hotel for the night, we got distracted by goings-on in the sky and detoured to a lookout point to get a better glimpse.
Before us, the sun was setting in probably the most spectacular display of natural color I have ever laid eyes on. For about 45 minutes we just stood there, taking in the vista as the sky became bleached with vivid tangerines, electric yellows, fiery reds, and bronzed lavenders. Slowly, the colors faded to a velvety navy dotted with silver stars as an outcrop of lights popped up across the bay beneath Vesuvius. It was stunning; undoubtedly one of the most gorgeous sunsets I have ever had the chance to see.
And in that moment, I felt more powerfully than ever before that my grandmother was there with me in Sorrento.
Sorrento is quaint, charming, and visually stunning. While its sleepy nature may not please the action lusters, its seaside vibes serve as an excellent way to re-charge before a jaunt into the go-go-go likes of, say, Rome or Florence.
But really, with a glass of limoncello in one hand, a cone of Kinder Bueno gelato in the other, and a stunning sunset spilling across the sea in front of you, you’ll have a hard time complaining at all.