Sorrento, located on the Gulf of Naples, offers an intoxicating mix of Italian culture, with simply stunning views across orchard-lined hills and its rugged coastline. It is also an ideal base for exploring nearby Capri, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Mount Vesuvius and the Amalfi coast.
The picturesque harbour town has been in use throughout European history, first as a Phoenician colony, then later as a port for ancient Greece. During Roman times, Sorrento became an imperial holiday destination with emperors Agrippa, Augustus and Antonius all having villas there.
More recently, in the 18th Century, the town became one of the most significant Italian cities for intellectuals and artists to study Italian history, art and culture. They included musician Richard Wagner and literary genius Charles Dickens.
As testament to Sorrento’s romanticism, Casanova, possibly the most famous lover in the world, was a visitor to the town’s alluring shores.
Compared with other tourist hot spots in Italy, Sorrento has relatively few historical sights to see. The attraction, however, is the whole pretty package. The town itself is laid upon a terrace perched high above the Campanian coast and the panoramic views are spectacular. Steps and narrow alleys winding down the cliff face reach the ancient main harbour, Marina Grande. Oldie-worldly hotels around the cliff top edges drip with colourful bougainvillaea.
The cafe culture around the main square, Piazza Tasso, is bustling day and night. And modern architecture seemingly piled on top of the old, creates interesting layers of history framed with green hills and brilliant blue sea. The area is also renowned for its citrus fruit orchards.
Between Corso Italia and Via San Cesareo lie Sorrento’s most prominent historical buildings. The cathedral was originally built in the Renaissance period but has been reconstructed several times since, although it still contains a portal from that period and later period frescos from Neapolitan painters.
The Basilica of Saint Antonino was erected around the 11th Century on the site of a 9th Century oratory built in honour of Saint Antonino, the patron saint of Sorrento and of navigators. Today his tomb is still adorned with gifts from local sailors seeking his protection from the seas.
The church and monastery of Saint Francis has an idyllic position in the surrounding hills overlooking the town and coastline. The tranquil and beautiful monastery cloisters have been restored during a number of architectural periods, hence the mix of late gothic to Renaissance styles.
Correale di Terranova museum exhibits a wide range of Neapolitan painting and decorative art. It also has an interesting collection of European clocks and one of the most prestigious collections of Chinese, European and Neapolitan porcelains of the 18th Century.
From Sorrento you can easily daytrip to the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, both destroyed and preserved after the devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. The cosmopolitan island of Capri can be reached by boat from Sorrento’s harbour. Once on the island you can take the funicular to exclusive celebrity haunt Anacapri, nestled high in the hills. The Amalfi coast, Italy’s most romantic coastline, has a mixture of quaint fishing villages and historic towns among its green hills and blue seas.