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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Ravishing Ravello

On one of our many trips to Italy, a few years back, we discovered Ravello.  What makes Ravello so remarkable is its height, Ravello sits very high above sea level and therefore benefits from the most phenomenal Mediterranean views.  It has beautiful gardens, elegant villas, and hosts the famous Wagner Arts Music Festival every year.  There are so many restaurants to enjoy, luscious gardens to explore, and walks or hikes that take you to discover Ravello’s pathways and trails.  In 1996, Ravello was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ravello's Main Square

Ravello’s Main Square

This amazing, little gem can be seen in one day, but I recommend to take several days to really enjoy it.  As with most of these gorgeous seaside Italian towns, there is so much to see and do, but here are my top 5 favorite attractions and activities if you’re spending a day in Ravello:

A visit to the Villa Cimbrone Gardens
Villa Cimbrone occupies the most breathtaking position on the entire Amalfi Coast, perched high above the sea.  The gardens are what most people visit for, with its many statues, temples, fountains, natural grottos and of course, the spectacular Belvedere of Infinity from which the view sweeps wide to take in a panorama of the coast.  The villa was actually converted into a hotel and is considered by many one of the most beautiful gardens in Italy.  But even if you’re not a hotel guest, the grounds are open to the public for a small fee.

Cimbrone

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Strolling the Villa Rufolo Gardens
A 14th century tower marks the entrance to this villa, famed for its beautiful cascading gardens. The historic villa located right in the center of Ravello, is one of the most popular travel destinations in Campania. The gardens are truly magnificent, commanding panoramic views packed with exotic colors.   It is said that the German composer Richard Wagner was so struck by the beauty of the Villa Rufolo gardens during his visit in 1880 that he used them as the inspiration for the magical garden of Klingsor in his opera Parsifal. Following the pretty pathways through the gardens leads you to the famous Belvedere overlooking the coast. Enjoy the colorful flowers and stunning views looking down the coastline toward the seaside towns of Minori and Maiori. If you visit during the summer months, you’ll find a large stage constructed on the Belvedere where the main concerts of the Ravello Festival take place.  Definitely something to experience!

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Ravello Music Festival

Ravello Music Festival Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Limoncello
This part of Italy is famous for its lemons, which are very juicy and smell fabulous.  Although lemons are used to make the sweet but tangy liquor all over the Amalfi Coast, Ravello is known for some of the best in the area.  I always enjoy a glass of  limoncello, because I really love the taste, traditionally served as a cold after dinner drink.  I even like the creamy version a bit more.  I’ve never had a chance to visit the factory, but f you have the time, you can experience how it’s made and enjoy a nice tasting at the Limoncello Factory (Via Trinità, 37).

Walk the center of town
This town is very charming, but can get quite hot in the summer months.  Make sure you stop for a quick snack or a delicious cool gelato while you’re strolling around and taking in the scenery. There are many good restaurants and gelato places throughout the center of town.  You’ll also love admiring the beautiful rustic architecture of Ravello by following its quiet streets of colored stucco houses, lemon groves and wrought iron gates.

Ceramics, ceramics and more ceramics
While beautiful ceramics can be found all along the Amalfi Coast towns, what initially brought us to Ravello, was a recommendation of a ceramics shop by a dear friend. Knowing that I love ceramics, and that I pick up new pieces on every trip, he suggested we visit Ceramiche Cosmolena di Margherita Di Palma (Via della Marra 15/19).  Of course, hubby was a bit afraid of this visit, with good reason.  Margherita can sell ice to an Eskimo.  After my first visit there in 1999,  she somehow convinced me that I needed to make some purchases and I left with an entire 8 place setting of gorgeous ceramic dinnerware (shipped to our home of course).  Did I need it…no, but boy is it beautiful and we use it to this day!  As if that weren’t enough, we returned for one additional piece on our 2009 visit, and of course, I left with quite a few more pieces to my set.  She is charming, but beware, she is a great salesperson and will convince you of buying her entire shop. But in her defense, her ceramics and linens are breathtaking!  The store displays autographed photos of various Hollywood celebrities with Margherita up on the wall, also prior customers.  Ceramiche offers an unbeatable stunning selection of pottery and ceramics that can be shipped to any place throughout the world.  Stop in a take a peek!

The beautiful patterns on my dinnerware!

The beautiful patterns on my dinnerware!

More beautiful ceramics

Ceramiche Cosmolena

The one thing I would love to experience on my next visit to Ravello is a cooking class with Mamma Agata. She has cooked all her life and now runs a cooking school out of her home in Ravello, which is quite well-known. She has even cooked for a number of celebrities and has a fantastic cookbook for sale. I found Mama Agata’s recipe for limoncello on a wonderful blog called The Italian Dish, which is loaded with wonderful Italian recipes.  Click here for Mamma Agata’s limoncello recipe.

Have you been to Ravello, and if you have, what have you enjoyed most about it?

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