Wednesday 3 July 2019

Sorrento Nights and Amalfi Dreams

Towards the end of the summer season last year I hopped on a cheap early morning flight to Naples and set out on the coach to Sorrento in time for a late afternoon stroll.

The Amalfi coast is everything you expect it will be, quintessentially Italian but with much higher and rockier terrain, pastel coloured buildings in varying shades of coral, terracotta and peppermint, divine seafood caught that day, turquoise waters and of course that one thing you need to buy the finest of the finest in Positano…money!

For our little adventure and for the perfect few days away we based ourselves in Sorrento for three nights which gave us ample time to tour around the local (ahem) more exclusive towns and neighbourhoods, before also spending a final night in Naples for our early morning flight home.

We stayed in the 3-star Hotel Tourist conveniently situated a short stroll from the local public transport ranks, even with considerable baggage, there should be no need for further transportation costs. Our little find suited our tastes and needs more than adequately, simply decorated and furnished but with modern conveniences. It also had the added benefit of an outdoor pool with ample sun loungers, a small outdoor kiosk for drinks and the breakfast was a mixture of continental standards, freshly baked cakes and pastries and hot food cooked to order. The only downsides were that rooms were in pretty close proximity and you could often hear next doors amusements which unfortunately for us was a couple of highly animated Italians. 

After checking in, we dipped our tired tootsies into the relaxing pool amazed by the light and heat for October, those lucky Southern Italians and their Indian summers! 

Sorrento is a picturesque little town delighting me at every opportunity with sweet and cute boutiques, endless side streets to get lost in and menu ogle, luxury if you want and need it and without the hefty price tags of places we visited but did not stay. As the sun began to set on our first evening and with the air heavy with a salty lemony tang we knew it was time for vino and carbs. We dined at Ristorante Zi Ntonio where we sipped on crisp and deliciously dry but fruity pale pink rose (Lacrimarosa) and ate tuna tartar followed by clams with spaghetti. The restaurant, truly a little gem with staff elegantly dressed in black tie, where cured meats hung from the ceiling and wooden beams and of course dinner by candlelight (which of course would have been very romantic had I been eating with a man). We followed this by a nightcap, sat outside the main square peering down the rock face below where the temperature had cooled but was still blissful. We made our way back home to rest and reflect on a perfect first day and wondered what tomorrow had in store. 

With history and a very famous volcano on our doorstep, we booked a tour to Pompeii. Sorrento has regular and direct services via the train terminal where you can purchase a return ticket with a walking tour for a reasonable price. The station is also home to the local tourist office where most of the pickup and drop off points occur; it’s really handy especially if you’re staying within the centre of town. The journey to Pompeii was a rollercoaster in itself, old school style train carts dart scenically through the countryside before the journey is suddenly and frequently plunged into darkness as the track makes its way through the middle of mountains and rocky wilderness. The train seems to pick up speed at an alarming and unsafe pace and the breeze rocks the carriages from side to side and you wonder whether you are actually on public transport or a ride at the fair, this, of course, all adds to the dramatism and fun.

Pompeii; as we were soon to find out was not in ruins, there were still moments of life trapped as if virtually untouched. They were pretty clever those Romans; if you had the money you bought your summer home here; there were amphitheatres, a sewerage system, spas and baths and endless bread shops where you could actually see the outlines of what we would today describe as the origins of the pizza oven. There was pristine marble stone, ancient pottery and of course with sex being cheaper than wine even if you weren’t educated enough to speak Latin the phallic symbols point you in the right direction. After centuries and even millennia, the oldest business in the world was perfectly preserved in time with murals depicting various positions adorning each wall.  

Back in Sorrento, we decided to book a tour for the following day. Choosing to see the most famous of the Amalfi resorts Positano which also happened to make a pit stop at the town of Amalfi with an optional boat tour at the end. This suited our trip perfectly the price was pretty reasonable (around £40pp) and the tour group was small and intimate. We were also given ample free time to explore each resort at our own pace and our guide was informative and friendly. The journey itself another nail biter, our small minibus struggling to overtake larger trucks or gain much speed as it desperately makes its way uphill. Vespa’s whipped past on a death wish only narrowly avoiding oncoming traffic. 

On our way we past glamourous 5 star resorts, the famous Fiordo di Furore and ceramic stores selling local majolica in every bright hue you can possibly name.

The elegance and majestic beauty of Positano is a sight to behold! Houses and hotels scramble for the best views, awesome boutiques dot each and every side street enticing you with their expensive array of linen’s and trinkets and the glamorous folk sit and sizzle on the sand with Bellini’s in hand. The place will always be a mecca for tourists so coming slightly out of season meant we could easily find a seat directly on the beach and people watch with a cold glass of local white wine. Bellisma!

Fun fact; People Park illegally in Positano as it is far cheaper to pay the fine than the going rate of up to 250 euros! Yikes!

We also happened to explore the town of Amalfi with its glorious iconic Cathedral and its famous steps and headed for a late al fresco lunch where the risotto and cold beer filled our hungry tummies. We wandered up and down the jetty getting a majestic panoramic view, another day of feeling ala Sophie Loren. Our final night in Sorrento had us tired but thrilled that we had managed to see so much of the famous coastline and we toasted and clinked glasses in the main square at another fine dining establishment. Had we had another day we would have surely put a boat trip to Capri on our list. 

Our final morning in Sorrento and we wandered down to the Grande harbour and sat outside a hole in the wall sipping an ice cold (real) Peroni overlooking the boats and fishermen, and watching the restaurants tout for business as they advertised today’s menu. We walked along the edge reaching the glass-fronted famous Delfino Seafood restaurant which sits directly overlooking the harbour and into the sea, another pinch yourself moment. 

Onto Naples; and yes I heard the same stories, it's loud, it’s dirty, it’s smelly but that’s why I like it. I like my cities slightly on the disturbing side. Yeah there is graffiti or to put a nicer spin on things ‘street art’ everywhere but this is reflective of the state of the city. It is if anything truly authentic. 

Of course, the one and the only real reason people usually attempt to visit the city is to sample the famous pizza. By sheer coincidence we happened to be staying within walking distance of Pizzeria da Michele, you’ll recognise this familiar and family run restaurant when Julia Roberts claims she is in love and in a relationship with her pizza in the 2010 movie ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. No reservations are taken and you’ll often see the line before you see the entrance. You wait outside with your little stubby ticket and simply wait for your number to be called.

The menu consists of only two types of pizza, but the philosophy is you don’t need many ingredients to taste a little bit of heaven! Amen to that. We sat ensconced next to two Canadians also on their last evening and a couple of clinking Cola and Peroni's and it was time to end our stay. Ciao…for now.

P.S Naples is sooo loud, bring ear plugs or double glazing.

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