A weekend away - Sorrento

Over Easter, we took advantage of Trenitalia. I know, it sounds bad. The offers were too good to resist. We took an intercity notte down from Rome for only 10 euros each, and arrived, fresh faced in Napoli centrale station three hours later (while on the Frecciarossa it takes 1hr 10 mins). Missing an opportunity for one of those intense incredible espresso's one finds in Naples, we headed straight downstairs to the circumvesuviana for the 1 hour train journey out past Pompeii to Sorrento.

Aaah, beautiful Sorrento, I hear you saying... well, I won't lie to you, it's OK. I mean, sure there's beautiful views*, but only if you pay through the nose to stay in one of the cliff-top hotels (e.g. the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria for 500EUR a night), and the views from the train passing through Meta and so on were fantastic. But Sorrento, you disappointed me.

It's over-touristy. It felt a bit fake. It, unlike many of the coiffured woman snootily walking round town, felt like lamb dressed as mutton. I don't want to go on holiday to find an English pub. I can see premiership football at home. I don't want to drink Strongbow (although that's just a life-rule) and I definitely don't want to try the pub's 'fish and chips'. So yeah, we came, we saw, and sadly, we got a little disappointed.

However, over the next three days Sorrento did grow on us. We stayed at the Hotel Ulysees, defined as a budget option on Hostelworld.com. It's a 20-30 minute walk from the train station and a bit hard to find at first, partly as the roof doubles as a car park, partly as it's on a road underneath the main street. However, it was comfortable, the room quite spacious, and there was free Wi-Fi in the lobby (which led to the bizarre sight of around 30 people in complete silence checking Facebook every morning). The breakfast, baring the coffee, was excellent, with lots of local cakes, meats and fruit. We can heartily recommend it, but having said that there aren't really any views to be had and it didn't feel like a treat, so if you want a special weekend away, maybe you should look elsewhere.

Sorrento itself is pretty. It's quite well developed, with matching prices, but isn't without charm. It seems a strange cross between a quiet backwater fishing village and Cannes. The main street, Corso d'Italia, has both coffee bars frequented by locals and Gucci store. The view over the Bay of Naples, with the menacing presence of Vesuvius, is stunning. We didn't expect Sorrento to be perched on a clifftop, you can see the sea, but it's a long way down (and consequently, a long way back up again).

There are lots of tourist traps, both as bars and restaurants. We tried to avoid as many as we could. One place we can recommend though is Il leone rosso, which, along with friendly service, does a mean pasta dish. 

Of course, Sorrento, and indeed, the whole of the Amalfi coast, is famous for it's lemons. Now, I'm no lemon expert, but if life gives you lemons, there's only one thing to make... Limoncello, and Sorrento is pretty good at it.

Here's a recipe for authentic Sorrentine Limoncello, as told to me by a friend of ours from Sorrento:
  • 7 lemons from Sorrento (or your local market)
  • 1 litre of pure alcohol (usually around 95%), or standard vodka
  • 325 grams of sugar
  • 500ml of water

  • Remove the zest of the lemons, taking care not to include any white pith.
  • Add the zest of the lemons to a bottle containing the alcohol but with enough space for the water.  I usually make two bottles, so I split the mixture between them.
  • The mixture should be left at room temperature in the dark for approximately one month. It will gradually turn yellow as it takes in the flavors from the lemon zest.
  • After a month, prepare a syrup by boiling the water with the sugar, and stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Let the syrup cool down before adding equally to both bottles.
  • Close the bottles and place them back at room temperature in the dark for another 6 weeks.
  • After 6 weeks to a month, you can filter the liquid to remove the zest, or keep it in to give that rustic feel.

    So was Sorrento worth it? You know, funnily enough, we enjoyed it and would quite happily go back. It's a bit touristy, but then most places are, and you can still find enough of what feels like authentic Sorrento to make it worthwhile. It's an interesting place in an absolutely stunning part of the world. I was desperate to go off to explore the peninsula further, or to take the boat across to Capri. Despite my initial misgivings, I actually like the place. The Limoncello isn't bad either :)

    *Oh, and for a view over the bay of Naples for free, just go to the Villa comunale (off Via San Francesco). It's practically the only place (without a car) to get a free view within walking distance of the main square.


    1. Extremely clean streets and walkways. My wife and I considered Sorrento to be the "jewel" of Italy. It is a bit noisy intown, so stay at an "out of the way" hotel/motel.
      Don Surber - Morris Illinois, USA

    2. Everything about sorrento fabulous - had many holidays there with my friend - only thing now things are getting too expensive - but I suppose it's the same as everything else.

    3. Hi guys, Thanks for your comments.

      Don - can you recommend somewhere 'out of the way' to stay? Where did you stay when you were there?

      Lesley - yeah, Sorrento grew on us. It's so picturesque. Can you recommend anywhere to stay or eat for the next time we're there?

    4. Dale

      Ive always said i would never live anywhere outside of England Then we went to Sorrento i would move there tomorrow. A wonderful town friendly people a wonderful country. So it has an English pub dont go to it theirs plenty of Italian bars to visit i tried but failed.

      Dale Thanet England

    5. Life is what you make of it. If you focus on the streets that are over 2000 years old and the artisans who've been making inlaid wooden treasures or handmade sandals for 40 or 50 years, & savor the regional specialities in real local style, you will enjoy yourself. If you focus instead on the t-shirt shops & trinkets, you will be missing out on a fabulous experience. Learn the language, try to involve yourself with the locals, read the history of the place, dig deep. It will change your soul.

    6. Hi Dale, thanks for your comment. I guess I came over quite harsh on Sorrento in my post. It's a lovely place.

      Hi Bettina - I couldn't agree more. We actually went there to see a friend from Sorrento, so we had the local tour as well (she's from Sant'Agnello). We were just a bit disappointed with the 'anywhere town' feel to some parts of town.

    7. Janice Marlena Coward22 May 2011 at 16:09

      Sorrento for me is the most beautiful place on this earth. Amalfi,Positano,Capri,Napoli,and many more places round the area are so lovely and very interesting. I have many friends in Sorrento I also use to live there myself.

    8. Nice post. I like Sorrento too.

    9. Don't get me wrong, I like Sorrento, think it's lovely, etc. But in our experience at Walks of Italy, if you have Pompeii and Amalfi coast touring plans for your visit, you may be surprised to find that Salerno boasts similar beauty, a better beach, and virtually no crowds. Best of all, easy access to the entire region. You can read more on our blog here walksofitaly.com/blog/salerno-sorrento-italy-amalfi-coast-holidays.

    10. Thanks for the comment walksofitaly, we hadn't though of Salerno. I guess the whole of that area is just blessed with beautiful places to visit.

      Btw, I think the link in your comment should be: http://www.walksofitaly.com/blog/travel-tips/salerno-sorrento-italy-amalfi-coast-holidays

    11. I like your honesty ,, and considering that you had a cheap train ticket and live in Italy , I suppose it was ok. I do not want to go anywhere , where there is is anything to do with England or Britain ,, I hate seeing Irish pubs or pubs ,,and I definitely do not want to eat Fish and Chips , which I am not too keen on ,, maybe twice a year .. but not my favourite .

      The breakfast in the hotel seems very good, would keep you going for a while ,, and some views ,, so with all honesty it does not sound that brilliant .

      1. Hi Anne! Thanks for your comment. We did enjoy our time there, but I wanted to blow away some of the myths associated with Sorrento. It's a nice place, but it has its faults as well.

    12. Visiting Sorrento and Napoli is great idea. http://www.sirensandthegods.com/ You just have to hire the best guide.