That my wife and I ended up in Sorrento, Italy, was a complete and glorious accident. We were in Italy for ten days prior to travelling to Germany for the 2006 World Cup. Italy was, of course, not a mistake as it was vital to us to spend some time in Rome, Florence, Venice, and, given Jean’s interest in volcanoes, Pompeii.
So our Italian interest was as clichéd-tourist as it comes.
The travel agent had recommended, sort of, that we spend a couple of nights in Sorrento after our day in Pompeii. Our initial reaction was: “Yeah, okay, whatever. Sounds okay, so why not? Where’s Sorrento?” As it turned out, that was one of the best – luckiest? – decisions we made.
Pompeii itself was pretty cool. Even though we visited during the height of summer it didn’t appear too overrun by tourists, so it was manageable, fascinating, and leisurely, even though at one stage we did get a little telling off from a self-important, buttoned down fish-wife/food stall manager for being in the wrong line when trying to buy a coke. More on that, maybe, on another day.
The bus ride from Naples to Sorrento was both mundane then stunningly sublime. There are parts of Italy that aren’t so nice to look at (yes, seriously) and I’m convinced the area around Naples contains most of them.
There’s a point where, a while after you exit the motorway, the road bends around the neck of the Sorrentine Peninsula to reveal an implausible sight, particularly if you’ve never been there before and were expecting just another resort town. It was right about then we figured we might be on to something with this Sorrento place.
Small houses and large are tucked in this small area of land, and perched on cliffs up and down the peninsula. A resort town it may well be…but the Gold Coast it definitely ain’t. Apparently Sorrento has a population of over 16,000 people and more than 150 hotels, not that you’d know. The climate was classic Mediterranean and the olive trees were everywhere.
The narrow roads ensure it takes quite a while to wind your way down to the town itself. Especially when you’re in a whopping great tourist-class bus. Well, that’s what it seemed like, at any rate. One of the biggest surprises was the hotel and, more specifically, where it was located.
The Grand Hotel Vesuvio was grand in every sense of the word, even though we ended up in what, from memory, was a fairly small room. We held our nerve and told anyone who’d listen that we were on our honeymoon, which was technically half-true. The check-in lady fell for it and gave us a room upgrade, meaning we ended up with the same size room, but on the top floor and with a balcony overlooking the Bay of Naples. Wow!
The food in the hotel was marginal for such a splendid looking place but then, given I’m not a foodie, that didn’t matter one bit.
We were booked in for two nights and had the option of taking a full day, add-on tour of the nearby Amalfi Coast. My natural tightness kicked-in right about then so we instead chose to spend the day hanging out in Sorrento itself. Much cheaper that way. Another bloody good decision and one I’ll own.
Sorrento has enough boutiques and high end stores to suit any movie star so is probably as expensive as anywhere else in Italy to go shopping. So we didn’t go shopping. We wandered down from the hotel, had a look around town, exchanged a few dollars at the bank, and then trekked down the rather steep hill to the harbour for lunch at a little cafe.
I think it was pizza and beer for lunch; such is the sophistication of our palates (and, again, the tightness of my wallet). But it was ITALIAN pizza and ITALIAN beer, so that made it okay. The beer was Peroni and the bottles were labelled with collector’s edition Italian World Cup football team labels. Naturally, we tried to collect the set, which made to walk back to the hotel go so much quicker.
The final morning of our stay, before bussing it back to Rome, was spent as part of a guided tour of the nearby Isle of Capri. Again, what a place. Yes, Capri is a tourist Mecca, full of hawkers and overpriced tat, but it’s also one of the most unruffled, almost serene, places I’ve ever been.
We went across on the early ferry and were thrown straight onto another boat that whisked us around to the Blue Grotto, Capri’s most famous landmark. Local lads in rickety row-boats are lined up to take you in for a look and it’s a rather awkward experience. Four of us were squeezed into this little thing, then forced to lie all over each other as we caught the tide just right to disappear into the darkness. After a quick circumnavigation of the grotto, you’re whipped out and back to the main boat, you hand over some cash (it’s expected) then you’re on your way. We were the first boat out to the grotto that morning, which was a pretty well managed exercise. The water was churning full of tourist boats as we left; some people were in for a long morning.
Lunch was at a tourist cavern in the small town of Anacapri, where the food was okay, but the Limoncello, a lemon based liqueur, was illustrious (and pretty damn good). Naturally, you had to pay extra for the booze, which didn’t go down with the elderly Irish couple we shared a lunch table with. No matter. At least we enjoyed it.
After lunch we had a wander around the main village of Capri, where our guide started dropping names, most of which I’ve forgotten in the mists of time. Bill Gates was one I remember, although I’m not sure whether it was his boat anchored just off-shore, or his house/mansion, on the side of the island. Actually, it was probably both. Capri is the sort of place to which real money would be inextricably drawn. And needed.
After that it was back to the ferry, up to the hotel to get the bags, then on the bus back to Rome. I’ll go back to Sorrento one day and next time it will be for longer than a couple of nights.