Memory is fluid; Sorrento seems different from when I was here in 1995. Of course, my life is very different now from then so perhaps it’s no surprise. Sorrento seems to have more to offer this time around, not just a base from which to tour – the Amalfi coast, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Ischia and Naples are all worthy of your time. Granted, Sorrento is not as rich in history or art as the other Italian cities I have enjoyed so much but it lends itself well to leisurely sightseeing, shopping, coffees and lunches and with views to die for.
The layout of the town is simple. There are in fact four separate towns on the peninsula but most hotels are in ‘Sorrento’ itself. There is a coastline but immediately you’ll notice that the town is perched high on cliffs above; to reach the sea you’ll have to walk down, either on roads with little or no pavement or on flight after flight of busy steps. My tip would be to take the elevator from the municipal park down to the port; a bit claustrophobic and the possibility of a short queue but it only takes literally a minute and is worth the €1.90 return fare.
You can see there are several distinct areas along the sea. Ferries to Naples, Ischia and Capri leave from the port. The adjacent Marina Piccola is more picturesque than the tourist thronged port. Marina San Francesco has private pontoon bathing areas for the hotels which line the cliffs above and small public bathing areas which didn’t appeal much. I liked the separate Marina Grande area better; it’s a short walk away from the centre of town and much prettier. The restaurants look good and have excellent reviews but we were a bit early for lunch when we visited.
Public park and sea views
Away from the waterfront, the town is bisected by Corso Italia which runs through the main square, Piazza Tasso which is the best place to begin exploring. A small ‘train’ runs round the streets giving a half hour introduction to the layout of town and is recommended.
Sorrento’s patron saint is Antonio and his statue stands at the entrance to the square, near to the church of Santa Maria del Carmine.
As with all Italian towns and cities churches are an integral part of life. Those in Sorrento do not contain riches of art or architecture but are intimate warm spaces not lacking in charm.
The basilica dedicated to Saint Antonio is located in the centre of town and richly decorated in marble and fresco, with particularly fine ceilings. The remains of St Antonio are interred in a lower level chapel.
The church of San Francesco is particularly intimate and has fine cloisters, apparently popular for local weddings.
The main religious complex is in Corso Italia and consists of the cathedral, Bishops palace and Romanesque belltower.
The interior of the cathedral is notable for fine marquetry work on the choir stalls, doors and a series of panels depicting the stations of the cross.
Once again, the marble work and fine painted ceilings are to be admired, along with a fine baptismal font.
The Bishops palace is a series of apartments, frequently remodelled, and existing in their current form from the 1950s. They hold a number of artworks and I particularly liked a wooden altarpiece, a small chapel and a frescoed reception room.
Beyond Piazza Tasso, Corso Italia has been pedestrianised within the last year and makes a pleasant place to stroll, lined by cafes and shops. It also houses the Villa Fiorentina which holds art exhibitions. The current one on Matisse was sadly disappointing, with very few exhibits and little in the way of information. Catalogues in the hotel library suggest that I was a bit unlucky; their exhibitions on Chagall in 2013 and Dali in 2017 seem to have been much more comprehensive.
Although the streets are narrow and busy, there are some green spaces to seek out peace and quiet. Apart from the municipal gardens, the main one is Piazza della Vittoria with it’s shaded benches and statues.
I enjoyed a week in Sorrento, with only two days travelling away. Pick your hotel planning to spend some time there and relax. Wandering around, browsing the shops, stopping for coffee, a drink, some lunch is much more low key than many holidays I take, where there is more emphasis on travelling and taking in sights, but it’s been a relaxing time when I really needed it. One final tip; look for a hotel with a view of the bay of Naples and Vesuvius beyond and that drink in your hand will taste even better. Saluti!