Scenic Sorrento

If you follow my blog you’ll know by now that I have a bit of a travel addiction and I especially love to visit Italy.  I’ve blogged about Rome, Venice, Positano, Capri, Ravello and today I will share with you my adventures in Sorrento.  Sorrento is usually the base city for our visits to the Amalfi Coast, and even though it may not get as much attention as Amalfi or Positano, we love this quaint town.  It’s also situated on a cliffside as all of the Amalfi Coast towns, and also has plenty or history, beautiful sights, shops and restaurants.  But perhaps one of the things we love about it most is the hotel we always stay at, the Hilton Sorrento Palace.  I can’t say enough about this property, especially if you’re traveling with kids.  While it is not situated right in town, it’s only a 10 minute car or cab ride away, and it has all of the amenities you may need.  Let me just say, it’s definitely worth to spend the extra money and reserve a room with a view, because the views you will wake up to are absolutely stunning!  Take a look at this:

View from the Sorrento Palace Hotel

View from the Sorrento Palace Hotel

The hotel also has a great Kid’s Club with plenty of activities every day, situated right by the gorgeous multi-level pool area (again with stunning views of Mount Vesuvius), as well as a great poolside café, perfect for lunch or gelato snacks. Also worth mentioning is the amazing buffet breakfast served in the breakfast room every morning.  My daughter goes crazy over the freshly made crepe and pancake stations, not to mention any other item one can desire for breakfast.  And last but not least is the amazingly delicious rooftop restaurant, serving some of the best dishes we’ve eaten in Sorrento, and mind you, we are not usually big on hotel restaurants.

Hubby and daughter ordering their freshly made crepes at the breakfast buffet.

Hubby and daughter ordering their freshly made crepes at the breakfast buffet.

Dinner at the rooftop restaurant of the hotel.

Dinner at the rooftop restaurant of the hotel.

But enough about the accommodations and let’s get to the beauty of this town.  The cobblestone streets and narrow lanes that lead out of the Piazza Tasso, the town’s main square, include Via San Cesareo, the town’s primary shopping street, full of shops and cafes. If you return in the evenings, when vehicle access is restricted the central hub becomes one of the town’s most popular places for the traditional Mediterranean pastime of an easygoing evening stroll. And in typical Italian fashion, all of the stores and restaurants stay open pretty late.  Also on the main square is a terrific little snack bar, Bar Ercolano, that sells the most amazing gelato, our daughter had her nightly treat at this place. A small white tourist train (Sorrento City Train) also leaves from the square. For a few euros it takes you on a 30-minute round trip through the old town and down to Marina Piccola. But perhaps one of my favorite sights on the square is the Baroque Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, with its beautiful  yellow and white facade, stop in and take a look inside this gorgeous church. In the center of the square stands a statue of St. Antonino Abate, the patron saint of Sorrento.

Baroque Church of Santa Maria del Carmine

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Another view of Piazza Tasso

Enjoying her evening gelato  at Piazza Tasso

Enjoying her evening gelato at Piazza Tasso

Finishing our train ride

Finishing our train ride

One of our favorite restaurants in town is the Michelin star rated Il Buco, (reservations strongly recommended).  The restaurant, housed in the wine cellars of an old monastery in the center of Sorrento, has some of the best food I’ve had anywhere in Europe, not to mention some of the most exceptional service as well.  The place is not easy to find,  as it’s tucked away on a side street off of Piazza San Antonino, but ask anyone and they will lead you right to it.  You can sit outside on the romantic cobblestone street, but we much preferred to sit in the stunning indoor restaurant, created in the beautiful, old cellar of the convent of Theatine monks, dating all the way back to 1400.  The dishes rotate on a nightly basis, and if you don’t particularly like anything on the menu, (our daughter is quite picky) they will try to accomodate you by creating something special with whatever fresh pasta, fish and ingredients they have for the day.  As they like to say…You are invited to discover all tastes and flavors of our tradition, reworked and revised to create exciting new experiences for the senses. The presentation of the food was also spectacular, and every meal and wine came with a perfect explanation of its components, ingredients and where it came from.  Oh and make sure you leave room for the delectable desserts. Needless to say, we went back for a second meal.

Il Buco Restaurant

Il Buco Restaurant

You will find many types of shops in Sorrento selling leather sandals, ceramics, limoncello and soaps, all sorts of goodies.  One of our favorite leather shops is La Conchiglia, where you can have your sandals custom made while you wait.  Take your time and stroll through the town and I’m sure you’ll find something you like.

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Typical souvenir store

La Conchiglia leather sandal shop

La Conchiglia leather sandal shop

Gorgeous leather sandals made while you wait

Gorgeous leather sandals made while you wait

Lemon drinks, soaps and candles, all very popular throughout  the Amalfi Coast

Lemon drinks, soaps and candles, all very popular throughout the Amalfi Coast

Sorrento is also a great place to take day trips from, especially by ferry.  You can take a boat to Positano, Amalfi, Capri, and many other Amalfi Coast towns.

A view of Sorrento from the ferry

A view of Sorrento from the ferry

Here are a few more photos from our various trips for your enjoyment. Have you ever been to Sorrento? I’d love to hear what you enjoyed most…

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Bell Tower of the Sorrento Cathedral

Bell Tower of the Sorrento Cathedral

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Kid’s Club activities by the hotel pool

One of the many pedestrian shopping streets in town

One of the many pedestrian shopping streets in town

Typical limoncello shop

Typical limoncello shop

Beautiful view from our room balcony at the Hilton Sorrento Palace Hotel

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On Piazza Tasso, getting ready for our evening stroll

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One of the many unique shops in this town

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Beautiful scenery on our drive leaving Sorrento

 

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Captivating Capri

When in Italy, visiting the beautiful island of Capri should be on everyone’s itinerary. Every time we vacation at the Amalfi Coast we take the ferry from Sorrento and spend one full day in Capri. The island is simply breathtaking, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited.

Arriving at Marina Grande

Once you’re off the ferry, which leaves you at Marina Grande, if you’re not familiar with the island, or you’re visiting in August (as we usually do), it can appear chaotic at first. But have no fear, it’s pretty simple. The quickest way to travel to the center of Capri from the port is by the island’s funicular, a little train which makes its way up to the center through the island’s lemon gardens in just 3 minutes.

Sign for the funicular

Sign for the funicular

Or, if the queues are too long, as they often are in the summer months, you can take a bus, or my personal favorite, catch one of the famous open air taxis up to the center of Capri.

Open air taxis available by the funicular station on Marina Grande

Open air taxis available by the funicular station in Marina Grande

Of course, you can also walk if you feel up to it and it’s not too hot. The taxis and buses will leave you at Piazza Umberto I, better known as the Piazzetta, the heart of Capri’s social life. There are numerous bars and cafes on the Piazzetta, perfect for people-watching and enjoying a cold drink on a hot summer day. On the Piazzetta is the 17th century Torre del Orologio with its beautiful clock, believed to be the old bell tower of the cathedral. Right off of the Piazzetta, are the main shopping streets where you can find many designer boutiques.

Torre de Orologio on the Piazetta

Torre de Orologio on the Piazzetta

If you would like to see the entire island, boat rides are offered that explore the coast. The amazing rock formations, called the Faraglioni, are truly a magnificent sight.

Faraglioni rock formations

Faraglioni rock formations

The boat ride can also take you to the famous Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto), a sea cave along the coast of Capri known and admired by all for its brilliant blue color. Once you arrive near the grotto, you will be transferred into small wooden rowboats. Because there is no headroom, it is common for tourists to lie on their backs in order to clear the entryway. Warning: in the six times or so that I have visited Capri, I have only been able to enter the Blue Grotto once! This is because many times there is a 2-3 hour wait for one of the rowboats, during the busy months. Other times, it is impossible to visit, and the boats will not take tourists, if the sea levels are too high. The last time we tried, we had our hotel in Sorrento call the port in Capri very early in the morning to see if they were taking boats to the grotto. Although they were taking passengers that day, once we arrived at the grotto, there was a 3 hour wait for a rowboat. If you have your hotel check on a particular day, my recommendation would be to take the ferry to Capri as early as possible, as this will cut down your wait time for the rowboats. If you’re staying in Capri, you already have an advantage and can get on the earliest boat out to the grotto.

Top; my only visit to the Blue Grotto Bottom; Rowboats with people lying down

Top; My only visit to the Blue Grotto
Bottom; Rowboats with visitors lying down as they’re entering the grotto

To experience the “other” Capri, far from the glitz and glamour of the Piazzetta, you’ll need to take the 3 kilometer winding road up the cliffs to Anacapri (my favorite area on the island). Here, in the picturesque historic center of Anacapri, you’ll discover a very different island with smaller streets, peaceful piazzas, and beautiful bougainvillea all around. The bus or taxi will leave you at Piazza Vittoria, full of tourist shops and cafes. Piazza Vittoria is also where the Via Giuseppe Orlandi commences, a pedestrian road which winds its way right through the historic center of Anacapri.

Piazza Vittoria, Anacapri

Piazza Vittoria, Anacapri

One of the most memorable things we did in Anacapri was take the chairlift up to Monte Solaro, the highest point of the mountain (1,932 feet) with 360° views. The first time I came across this chairlift was back in 1996, when my husband and I first visited Anacapri. He right away wanted to take the ride up, and I remember telling him not all the money in the world would get me to ride this thing! So he didn’t go either (I felt kind of guilty). Fast forward many years later, on our first trip here with our daughter, and of course they both went on it. I was once again terrified and decided to window shop while they took the ride up. Near the chairlift is the other shopping strip with hotels and more famous historical sites. Well as they say, the third time’s the charm. On my next visit to Anacapri, hubby and daughter begged me to take the ride, and promised I would not regret it. Boy, were they right! I couldn’t believe what I had been missing. The chairlift is a 10 minute ride up but there were definitely a few moments, especially when it tilts upwards towards the end, where I felt my heartbeat speed up. But once you arrive at the top…priceless, the most spectacular views of the Bays of Naples and Salerno around. You will not want to forget your camera on this ride! There is also a cafe at the top, so you can spend some time taking in the views, while sipping a cool drink and taking photos (always taking photos), before you take the ride back down.

Left; Going up to Monte Solaro Right; Coming back down

Piazza Armando Diaz is considered the center of life in Anacapri, where the locals can often be found relaxing. In the center of the piazza, is the Chiesa di Santa Sofia, which is beautiful. The church was constructed in 1510 to replace Anacapri’s old Parish Church of Santa Maria di Costantinopoli.  Definitely worth to take a look inside.

Chiesa di Santa Sofia

Chiesa di Santa Sofia

While all of Capri is full of designer boutiques and shops selling all sorts of items, I have to single out my two favorite stores. The first one is Margherita Boutique (Via G. Orlandi, 144). Walking down the pedestrian Via G. Orlandi, you continue past the church of Santa Sofia, and the boutique will be on your right hand side. They sell beautiful cotton clothing with prints of anchors, Capri pants, beautiful lively blues, representing the sea surrounding Capri and also prints of cancelli (the wrought-iron door elements found in Anacapri).  They also carry beautiful leather bags and some carry-on luggage pieces, of which I bought a few (couldn’t resist)!

Boutique Margherita

Boutique Margherita…my daughter picking out her bag!

The other shop my daughter enjoys stopping in every time is La Bottega Caprese (Via G. Orlandi, 26), right on Piazza Vittoria. This shop sells custom-made leather sandals, where the owner himself, measures your foot and creates the sandal on your foot, after you’ve chosen the color and style of straps. She really gets a kick out of choosing her own sandals. They’re a bit pricey, but what isn’t on this island?

La Botegga Caprese

La Bottega Caprese owner making my daughter’s sandals…

Delicious Caprese salad and beautiful limoncello bottles for sale.

Delicious Caprese salad and beautiful limoncello bottles for sale.

One thing is for sure, on your visit to Capri, you have to try a Caprese salad (first created on the island in the 1950s).  The delicious mozzarella cheese combined perfectly with the tomatoes and basil is amazing! Capri is also known for its lemon trees grown throughout the island. Not only do these lemons form part of the beautiful scenery, but they are also used to produce limoncello, a sweet, lemony, liquor prevalent on the island. Delicious any time of the day.

Have you visited the Isle of Capri? If so, I would love to hear what you enjoyed most!

Here are a few more photos of our trips, enjoy!

Hubby relaxing in a cafe on the Piazzetta, back in the day on our first trip there!

Hubby relaxing in a cafe on the Piazzetta, back in the day on our first trip there!

Views of Capri from the chairlift

Views of Capri from the chairlift

Gorgeous views from Monte Solaro

Gorgeous views from Monte Solaro

On the ferry...

On the ferry…

The open air taxi

The open air taxi

Typical street in Anacapri

Typical street in Anacapri

View from Monte Solaro

View from Monte Solaro

View of the dome

View of the church dome

View of Capri from the chairlift

More views of Capri from the chairlift

Arriving at Marina Grande

Paradise in Positano

“Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you are gone.” – John Steinbeck

Positano, often referred to as the “Jewel of the Amalfi Coast” is in one word, idyllic. The landscape will completely overwhelm you.  I first visited this magical, seaside town with my husband many years ago, because a friend recommended it to us.  It was love at first sight…needless to say, we’ve visited quite a few times.

Beautiful Positano

Beautiful Positano

After flying into Rome and picking up our rental car, we started driving south. Many folks prefer to take another flight to Naples and then a train into Sorrento.  But my husband loves to drive in Europe, and we like having our own car which gives us flexibility to visit other nearby places, at our own leisure without schedules. The first time we drove there, I was a bit worried about hubby driving on these foreign highways where speed limits are mere suggestions. Well, the highway ended up being the least of my worries. Once you pass Naples and start approaching the Costiera Amalfitana, the roads become progressively narrow and begin to hug the coastline. I was happy that our rental car was super compact, as these are tiny mountain switchback roads with steep rocky cliffs, and the smaller your car is, the easier the drive (trust me). The roads twisted and turned and as we approached Positano, the switchbacks combined with the height of the coastal cliffs, the stress of the speeding Vespas cutting us off, and the questionably teetering tour buses, all on these narrow, two-way streets, made my heart stop a few times. If you don’t like stressful driving, do yourself a favor and DO NOT drive on the Amalfi Coast, especially at night.  However, I must recommend that you experience this drive at least once, the scenery is priceless, something that needs to be seen in person because no photo can do it justice.  Though it was truly stunning to take in, after a while I was glad to leave our car parked and check into our hotel.

Hotel Poseidon

Hotel Poseidon

The famous luxury hotel in town Le Sirenuse, is the place to stay (it is amazing and our dinner at Ristorante La Sponda, was delicious with again, amazing town views).  We stayed at the Hotel Poseidon, also recommended by our friend, and let me say, I don’t think it has much to envy, given rooms are one-fourth the price.  It was beautiful, our room had a large outdoor patio with a balcony facing the famous Positano views, and there were plenty of amenities as well.  Once you’re at your hotel, you might as well forget you have a car, unless you want to drive to nearby Ravello, Praiano or Amalfi, because everything you will do in Positano is by foot, it is an incredibly vertical town (get ready to have a daily workout).

Everyday we strolled the little streets and took in the shops, the food and the once again stunning sceneries. The first thing I wanted to see up close and personal was the very famous Positano landmark, the Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta, with its green and yellow mosaic tiled dome.  It’s even more stunning in person.

Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta

Positano has many good restaurants and cafes.  We love to frequent Buca di Bacco, at the foot of the hill, right on the beach.  My husband loves the fresh local seafood in this restaurant (well, in all of Positano) and I of course love the pastas…gnocchi, tagliatelle, fusilli, orecchiette, you name it, all deliciously prepared with yummy sauces. We also love their fritto misto di pesce, a delicious dish composed of several types of fish, shrimp and calamari, even my picky daughter likes it!

Fritto misto di pesce

Fritto misto di pesce

Another great restaurant that we enjoy very much, not only for their amazing dishes, but also for the setting and views of the church dome, is Ristorante Al Palazzo located in the Hotel Palazzo Murat (another great hotel choice). We’ve enjoyed many dishes at this restaurant, but this is one place where we try to make room for dessert, they are just as amazing as their meals!

Dinner at Ristorante Al Palazzo

Dinner at Ristorante Al Palazzo

Shopping is another must in this cute little town, with the numerous quaint boutiques selling very stylish beachwear, custom-made leather sandals and plenty of beautiful ceramic and pottery stores. I highly recommend a quick visit to Umberto Carro (Via Pasitea, 30), they have amazingly beautifully crafted ceramics.  Art lovers in Positano can find creations by young local artists who exhibit their works in the Galleria Idee d’Arte (Via Pasitea 76), which has a wealth of original collector’s items. We did some shopping here as well. Delikatessen (Via dei Mulini 5, 13, 15)  is a gourmet haven to delight your palate. It sells local products, from wines to little marzipan fruits, biscuits and babas, but also lemon-scented handmade candles, artificial flowers, handmade dolls, limoncello bottles and table linens…something for everyone!

Galleria Idee d’Arte

Galleria Idee d’Arte

Beautiful ceramics shop

Umberto Carro…beautiful ceramics shop

Positano will always be one of our favorite vacation destinations.  Here are a few more photos from our various trips to this magical town…enjoy!

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Following a bus on the drive out of town…can you tell how narrow the roads are?

Ristorante La Sponda Photo courtesy of Le Siranuse

Ristorante La Sponda
Photo courtesy of Le Siranuse

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Umberto Carro ceramics

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More ceramics and pottery

Having dinner at Buca di Bacco and enjoying the view…

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Typical clothing shop in town

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The drive on the coast, photo taken from our car!

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View from our room in Hotel Poseidon…priceless!

Poseidon View

Enjoying wine at sunset on the balcony…

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One of the many sandal shops in town

Positano-Duomo

Inside view of the Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta

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Fruit stand on the road

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We love this delicatessen selling great souvenirs and food items

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Ceramics with a view…

If you’ve visited Positano or have plans to, I’d love to hear what you enjoyed most. I guarantee you will fall in love with it just like we did!

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