Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast capture all the colours of Italy, finds Janine Kelso.
Wild and atmospheric, the scene before me is like something out of Jurassic Park. Tucked away within a lush-green gorge are the moss-covered ruins of a 13th-century flour mill that has lain abandoned since 1866.
Reminiscent of the dinosaur movie’s verdant vegetation, the overgrown Valley of the Mills is, incredibly, just steps away from Sorrento’s main square, Piazza Tasso. Although the valley is inaccessible to visitors, the view from above has the power to surprise and delight – like much of this magical city.
I’m visiting Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast with 18 travel agents on a fam trip with Citalia to celebrate its 90th birthday, showcasing the very best of the region.
Bay of plenty
Overlooking the glittering Bay of Naples with swoon-worthy views of Mount Vesuvius, Sorrento is famous for its lemons, soaring cliffs and abundant sunshine. The town has charmed visitors since ancient Roman times, even inspiring literary legends including Dickens, Byron, Keats, Ibsen and Tolstoy.
Sorrento’s small size makes it easy to explore on foot, and it’s on a walking tour that I discover its everlasting appeal. Green and leafy, the city’s streets sparkle with sunshine-yellow buildings, interspersed with gardens filled with lemon trees and giant cacti.
Main drag Corso Italia is traffic-free, a buzzy hive of heavenly boutiques, bars and restaurants. We meander through the winding streets of Sorrento’s charming Old Town, lined with tiny shops selling everything from leather goods to mouth-watering cannoli, small tube-shaped pastries filled with cream.
“Green and leafy, the city’s streets sparkle with sunshine-yellow buildings, interspersed with gardens filled with lemon trees and giant cacti.”
As we walk farther into town, shops’ shelves are piled high with all things lemon-related: think lemon soaps, lemon aprons, lemon socks, lemon-flavoured sweets, lemon magnets and, of course, limoncello, a local liquor that’s served ice-cold at the end of a meal.
Heading towards Sorrento’s coastline, we stop to marvel at the dreamy open-air courtyard of the medieval Cloister of San Francesco, which provides an enchanting setting for weddings, exhibitions and concerts. Postcard‑pretty gardens are filled with bougainvillea and archways with hanging vines, perfect for those oh‑so‑Instagrammable photo opportunities.
This region has plenty going for it. It’s easy to reach from the UK, with a flight time from London to Naples of just two-and-a-half hours, followed by a 70-minute transfer to Sorrento.
Balmy from mid-April until October, advise clients to avoid visiting the region in July and August when the streets heave with tourists and traffic. The shoulder months of May, September and October are considered the best months to visit as there’s still plenty of sunshine, but restaurants and attractions are not overrun.
Sorrento’s dining scene is a major draw too, with a bounty of restaurants for all budgets. Great for people‑watching is Fauno on the sun-drenched Piazza Tasso, with crowd-pleasing, affordable pasta dishes and classy cocktails. Other star turns near the main square include the higher-end Ristorante Tasso, which boasts a dazzling Mediterranean menu (along with a glass case stuffed full of copulating ceramic donkeys, sure to guarantee a giggle). For fresh-from-the-sea catch, head for Marina Grande where seafood restaurants abound.
Sorrento is the perfect launch pad for the glitzy Amalfi Coast. Boats whisk passengers from the marina to Capri (20 minutes), Naples (40 minutes), Positano (one hour), Amalfi (90 minutes) and Ischia (one hour); or tourists can soak up cinematic vibes on a road trip along the dizzying Amalfi Drive, as we did.
The 30-mile coastal road between Sorrento and Salerno is full of stomach-churning hairpin bends, but the sensational scenery makes up for it: the sparkling sea is backed by towering cliffs dotted with cacti, lemon terraces and picturesque villages.
“The real star attraction here is the decadent Pasticceria Sal De Riso, where counters groan with artfully designed desserts.”
Our first stop is the camera-loving Positano, where pastel-coloured buildings cling to the steep hillside. We wander through the zigzag of cobbled streets, shaded by wisteria-covered trellises, stopping to admire the facades of tempting boutiques and restaurants that dazzle with decorative tiles. Paths are steep, so recommend that clients pack their trainers and prepare for a workout.
We have lunch in the tiny maritime town of Amalfi, home to a spectacular cathedral that combines an Arab-influenced exterior with a mix of Norman, Gothic, Renaissance and baroque architecture inside; along with a string of atmospheric piazzas, boutiques and restaurants that throb with tourists while still maintaining their charm.
Other must-stop villages include the glamorous hillside spot of Ravello with its picturesque gardens; and my top pick: the under-the-radar Minori, where small fishing boats dot the sand among swaying palms. But the real star attraction here is the decadent Pasticceria Sal De Riso, where counters groan with artfully designed desserts.
No trip to this region is complete without a pilgrimage to the Unesco-listed ruins of Pompeii, an ancient city frozen in time when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79, and just a 45-minute drive from Sorrento.
We stroll along the Roman streets on which chariots once trundled, peek inside grand villas, explore the lavish thermal baths, and swing by the ancient equivalent of a fast food restaurant that sold salty fish.
“For a much-needed dose of comic relief, our guide draws our attention to a phallic symbol on the cobbled street.”
The horror of the eruption is brought to the fore when viewing the plaster casts of a dog, baby and man, who were buried under the ash. Frozen in terror, the casts capture their final harrowing moments as they were trapped or suffocated by the volcanic cloud.
For a much-needed dose of comic relief afterwards, our guide draws our attention to a phallic symbol on the cobbled street. “This was used to point the way to Pompeii’s red light district for visiting sailors and merchants,” he tells us.
With its winning blend of heart-melting scenery and gastronomical treats, it’s plain to see why Citalia chose to showcase Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast to agents for its 90th anniversary celebrations.
“Sorrento is one of Citalia’s most popular destinations,” says Travelopia’s head of trade partnerships, Simon Garrido. “It’s the blend of medieval sights and coastal scenery. It’s perfect for well‑travelled people who are looking for new experiences.”
Ask the agents
“I think Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast is a romantic destination that’s perfect for couples and honeymooners, with its breathtaking scenery, beautiful small hotels and quirky towns like hilly Positano with its cute little streets.”
Eighann Morgan, director, Opulent Travel
“Sorrento is not for beach lovers; it’s better suited to historians and explorers. There are some fantastic places to eat and it’s less expensive than you might think. for adventurous clients, I’d suggest hiring a scooter to explore the Amalfi Coast. A must-do is to visit Capri and take the cable car up to Anacapri.”
Lance Fougere, senior sales Consultant, Baldwins Travel
Citalia offers seven nights’ B&B at the four-star Imperial Hotel Tramontano in Sorrento from £1,069, including flights and transfers, departing May 6. citalia.com
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