Sorrento in southwestern Italy is dramatically perched atop cliffs which face the Bay of Naples and separate the town from its trio of busy marinas. Many who have yet to visit will be familiar with the classic picture-postcard view of the tightly-packed colourful buildings that seem to cling precariously to the steep slopes, all the way down to the water’s edge.
Even though Sorrento lacks a proper beach, it is an extremely popular destination and the views out across the bay, dominated by distant Mount Vesuvius, are superb. The town makes an ideal base for exploring the region's highlights which include the Amalfi Coast, the renowned archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, plus the fabled island of Capri which is easily reached by ferry.
Visitors who wish to spend the day sunbathing in Sorrento itself have the option of using one of the designated areas, jetties really, equipped with sun loungers, small changing huts, showers and basic toilets. I believe that drink and snacks are also on offer. There is a charge for using the beds and brollies which would soon mount up if you went there every day during your stay.
Although the views over the bay are great, these locations aren`t particularly appealing and spaces would soon fill in peak season, therefore anyone staying at a local hotel with a decent pool would probably be better off staying there.
Sorrento’s historic centre, a warren of narrow alleyways, is home to the 14th century Chiesa di San Francesco church, the town’s main square Piazza Tasso, and traditional shops selling, limoncello liqueur, lacework, ceramics and other locally produced craft items which the region is famous for.
Piazza Tasso is named in honour of 16th century Italian poet Torquato Tasso (11 March 1544 – 25 April 1595) who was born in Sorrento. His best known work Gerusalemme Liberata (Jerusalem Delivered, 1581), depicts a highly imaginative version of battles between Christians and Muslims at the end of the First Crusade, during the Siege of Jerusalem. He suffered from mental illness and died a few days before he was due to be crowned as the King of Poets by the Pope. Until the beginning of the 20th century. Tasso remained one of the most widely read poets in Europe. This statue of him stands fittingly in the square that bears his name.
The ornate church pictured above is Santuario del Carmine which was constructed on the site of an earlier church in the 15th century. It is thought that the original church was built near the spot where a group of Sorrentine Christians were martyred in Roman times. Various religious works, many of which date from the 16th century, can be found within including wooden containers of saints’ relics and bones.
My wife and I visited at the beginning of October and our base for a week was the Admiral Hotel, located right on the water’s edge along from the Marina Grande and its fish restaurants. The Admiral is the white building bottom right in the above shot. Despite its name, the Marina Grande is the smallest of Sorrento`s three marinas.
The bathroom of our second-floor room could have benefited from an upgrade but the accommodation was clean, bright, and comfortable. Patio doors opened onto a private balcony with a small table and two chairs, an ideal spot from which to gaze across the Bay of Naples to Mt Vesuvius and watch the Capri ferries and occasional cruise ships come and go - even a couple of dolphins swam past on our last afternoon!
Despite our hotel being rated as a ‘4 star’ establishment, Wi-Fi was only readily available in the hotel lobby and pool area, although there was an intermittent signal on our balcony which was directly above both. The room could have done with a fridge and coffee-maker or kettle. Breakfast wasn’t great although passable, but the overall quality hotel food varied. For the evening meal, guests are asked to nominate one of two sitting times but this was flexible during our stay and you wander in at whatever time suited as there were plenty of free tables.
On our first night the hotel’s restaurant had all the ambience of an old folk’s care home with a decor that seemed straight out of the 1970s - a few paintings on the walls and some greenery, even artificial plants, would have helped. My wife and I ordered lasagna as a starter which, when it eventually appeared, was without doubt the worst we’d ever tasted. The main course was an improvement, which wouldn’t have been difficult, but looking around you could see that many diners were struggling with their choices.
Things did improve though as the week went on and a few of the dishes were actually quite tasty. On Wednesday nights a talented young lady entertained diners by playing folk tunes on her mandolin, which was a nice touch and there was a Neapolitan Folk Show on our last night.
Apart from the previously mentioned criticism, the Admiral Hotel is recommended, especially due to its peaceful location (the only sound you hear at night is the lapping of the waves), courteous staff and outstanding views. It would be first choice if we ever returned to Sorrento.
The only time we ate in the main town was one lunchtime when we had soggy over-priced pizzas and a bottle of wine at a table attended by a succession of dour waiters. An evening meal in one of the waterfront restaurants at the Grande Marina was okay but very expensive.
The location hasn`t changed a great deal since 1955 when Sophia Loren made the romantic comedy Scandal in Sorrento or Pane, amore e in Italian. The movie, directed by Dino Risi, is the third film of a trilogy, formed by Bread, Love and Dreams in 1953 and Bread, Love and Jealousy in 1954. `Scandal` was the first of the three to use colour film rather than black and white and it won the Honorable Mention (Best Humorous Film) award at the 6th Berlin International Film Festival. Stills from the movie and background Information are fixed to the outside of one of the old buildings in the marina.
Cruise ships visiting during the week included Ocean Majesty, pictured above on Tuesday 10 October as the last rays of the setting sun reflected off the vessel`s hull and briefly gave it a golden hue. Dating from 1966, she was built at Valencia in Spain. Since then she has changed hands numerous times and been renamed often. She is currently owned and managed by Majestic International Cruises, Athens.
I only took my Canon bridge camera and a small digital compact with me opting to leave my heavy SLR at home. These views were taken from our balcony and show an unidentified cruise ship docked at Naples, around 15 miles away across the bay. It was very hazy so I couldn`t make out what I was shooting, only realising a vessel was in the frame when I returned home and processed the shots on my computer. The Powershot SX520 has a 42x optical zoom lens (1000mm full-frame equivalent) which I initially thought was a bit gimmicky, but I`ve had some interesting results, especially considering its modest cost.
Aérospatiale AS 355F1 Ecureuil 2 helicopter I-AMLT was the only aircraft I saw during my time at Sorrento. It made several trips to one of the large hotels at the edge of the cliffs above Marina Piccola on 12 October, apparently transferring guests. These shots were also taken from the hotel balcony.
The mega-yacht Wind Surf (above) of Windstar Cruises is one of the largest sailing ships ever built. This company operates a fleet of small luxury vessels including six yachts which each carry just 148 to 310 guests to destinations around the world. The line was established as Windstar Sail Cruises in 1984 and its first ship, the Wind Star was launched in 1986. She was followed by Wind Song which was launched in 1987 and Wind Spirit which was launched in 1988. Two additional ships were ordered from the French "Sociéte Nouvelle de Ateliers et Chantiers du Havre" shipyard: the Wind Surf and the Wind Saga. These two ships are larger than the originals, holding over twice the number of passengers and reaching a length of 660 ft compared to the smaller vessels` length of 440 ft. With a shallow draft of only 14' these vessels can often enter ports that are inaccessible to larger cruise ships.
Wind Star, the sister ship of Wind Surf arrived the following morning before first light and was joined by another pair of cruise ships Thomson Majesty, from Trapani, western Sicily, and Silver Wind. Launched in 1986, Wind Star is the oldest of the company’s three sailing yachts. She set off in the early afternoon bound for Civitavecchia shortly after Variety Voyager arrived from Syracuse in Sicily.
Thomson Majesty (above left) and Silver Wind above right arrived on the same day. The following slideshow features more vessels in the bay that were snapped from Sorrento during my stay, most from the balcony of the Hotel Admiral.
Variety Voyager was launched by Greek company Variety Cruises in 2012 and can accommodate up to 72 passengers in its 36 cabins. Facilities include a lounge bar with live piano music before and after dinner, a top-deck bar, dining tables inside and out, plus a massage room, small gym and sauna. Voyager was built on an existing hull rather than from scratch, so the cabins are a mix of shapes and sizes made to fit an existing space. All are outside, with either twin portholes (lower deck) or picture windows (main and upper decks), also of varying sizes.
These local singers, Inspired by the famous Three Tenors, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Josè Carreras, put on regular evening concerts in Sorrento featuring Italian Opera Arias and Neapolitan songs. The shows are very popular and by chance the trio were out in the street one afternoon, with a couple of their backing musicians, singing to the crowds to advertise their show - superb voices, very atmospheric and entertaining,
This memorial honouring those from Sorrento and surrounding districts who lost their lives fighting during the Great War stands in the Piazza Vittoria, a quiet leafy square with an adjacent terrace that overlooks the Bay of Naples. The winged figure holding a sword and possibly laurel leaves in her other hand appears to represent `Victory` with a column bearing the names of the fallen on three sides. The face of the column is inscribed 'Mors Immortalis 1915-1918' - 'Only Death Is Immortal.` The site, which is passed by anyone walking the most direct route between the main town and Marina Grande, was donated by the nuns of the then nearby convent.
Somewhat bizarrely, ten large bronze and terracotta Samurai warriors have been placed at various locations around the town. The guy in white is down at Marina Piccola beside the ferry ticket office while the one wearing black armour guards Piazza Sant`Antonino.