There is no escaping the fact that Rome is a touristy place. In some places, such as the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, you can hardly move or breathe for the number of tourists. But at the same time, there is a definite impression of real life carrying on in the city in spite or and around the tourism, so it actually didn’t feel that touristy to me. We were constantly passing sophisticated locals dressed all in black, strutting along the streets, and whizzing by on their scooters and in their tiny cars (all of which are scraped on the front, back or sides. Literally every one – that is the reality of trying to park a car in Rome).
Sorrento was something else. Everyone there seemed to be a tourist. Every voice we heard on the streets was British or American, and the whole town seemed to be geared towards catering for these British and American tourists. It has a real holiday vibe and was packed full of gelaterias serving all manner of flavours, and narrow streets bursting with little shops selling every kind of lemon-based souvenir you could possibly imagine, including Sorrento’s most famous export – limoncello.
We had kept up a really fast pace in Rome and done an awful lot in our few days there. So it was actually really refreshing to come to somewhere that did have such a holiday vibe – it instantly made us feel that we had slowed down.
And Sorrento is really beautiful. We caught the Vesuviana train from Naples. At first sight of the graffiti covered carriages and sweaty plastic chairs, we were not too enamoured with this train. However, once out from the suburbs of Naples, the scenery is really breathtaking – we passed lemon trees and orange trees, and rattled over viaducts built into huge gorges, the land falling away from the tracks.
The train station in Sorrento is really well located for the town, and the main street is just a couple of minutes walk away. We stayed at Casa Sorrentina, which was located on the main street.
But those for whom money is no object would stay on the Via Correale where luxury hotels fronted onto the stunning view across the cliffs and the Bay of Naples, towards the towering Mount Vesuvius.
The first thing we did on arriving in Sorrento was to go for a walk down to the harbour so we could discover these views for ourselves.
Here is what you need to know:-
1. Sorrento is steep
This might sound like stating the obvious given that like most towns in the region, it is built into a cliff. For anyone with any mobility difficulties, definitely get the bus down and back. Going down is bad enough, coming back up is murder. There are so many steps, the steps are very steep and so we stopped for an awful lot of photo breaks!
2. The path down is a little scary
Part of the path down involves walking along the side of the road. Sorrentine drivers obviously know the road like the back of their hands and so they whizz along the narrow road and round the hairpin bends at some considerable speed. The path is nothing more than a zebra crossing markings on the side of the road, and so we would find ourselves pressing against the wall when these cars (and buses) sped past us, especially when walking round blind corners.
The views across the water made it all so very worth it. We spent absolutely ages down in the harbour area, just sitting around relaxing and taking many, many photos. It is one of those places that left me with a glow inside for being so very privileged to be able to travel.
There is not much in the way of nightlife in Sorrento and evenings are very much focused around eating. Jim & I always turn into proper Europeans when travelling in Europe and so we tended to eat quite late. One of our favourite things to do after dinner was to walk along the Via Correale. The luxury hotels block the view for the most part, but as the road starts to slope down, there is a gap in all the development which gives a beautiful night time vista of the lights of Naples and Vesuvius in shadow.
We spent ages trying to capture with our cameras what our eyes were drinking in. I’ve learnt more about how to use my camera since visiting, and I would definitely go back to Sorrento just to have another crack at capturing that view alone.
Sorrento or Naples?
When I first started planning this trip, it seemed to me that Naples was the obvious place from which to see Pompeii. However, I didn’t fancy staying in Naples, partly due to it’s reputation preceding itself, and partly because when researching Naples, I didn’t really find anything else that I wanted to see or do there.
So then I started to think of alternative options, and hit on Sorrento. It is actually more convenient to get to Pompeii from Sorrento than from Naples, as Pompeii has it’s own stop on the Vesuviana which is much closer to Sorrento than Naples. Sorrento is also the gateway to the Amalfi coast and there are numerous buses and boats that run along the coast. From Sorrento you can also catch a boat to Capri. For anyone wanting to combine exploring the Amalfi coast with a visit to Pompeii, I would definitely recommend a stay in Sorrento.
The train from Rome does not run directly to Sorrento, and so we did have a very brief stop in Naples whilst waiting for a connection onto the Vesuviana. I don’t want to judge a whole city or it’s people by an hour in its train station and a trip through the suburbs, but my initial impressions of Naples were that it is quite an urban and run down city, and everyone we saw gave the impression that they knew how to look after themselves.
We learnt some more about Naples history from a book at our guesthouse in Sorrento, and it was actually very interesting. During World War Two, Naples really suffered, and it became the most bombed city in Italy. However, resistance flourished in Naples, and the people of Naples rebelled against the German occupiers and forced them out of the city before the allies arrived. The allies were therefore able just to push past Naples without encountering any German resistance there. But this meant that Naples was left alone and so after the war was over, the roots of organised crime took hold in re-building the city, with huge grabs for land and rapidly thrown up buildings, which were often unsafe and illegally built. Authorities turned a blind eye to this, and so cemented the dominance of criminal families in Naples over the decades that followed.
The spirit of resistance, the sense of corruption and lawlessness and the shadow cast by Vesuvius which could potentially obliterate the city in the future make for a very interesting city. After learning more about it, I did have a little pang of regret that we would not have enough time to visit properly. If I was planning this trip all over again, I would still choose to stay in Sorrento. I am nowhere near finished with Italy yet though, and Naples may be one for the future.