Look beyond the package tours (and there are plenty of them), and Sorrento really has something to offer the modern traveller. You just need to know where to find it…
Grand (hotel) tourism
Once the leaping off point for every 19th-century traveller’s Grand Tour, Sorrento was as glamorous a destination as any along the Amalfi Coast and today, in spite of its popularity with the package-tour set, she still has plenty to recommend her. There are spectacular hotels, such as the Imperial Hotel Tramontana, where the likes of Goethe, Byron, Scott and Shelley spent time and, during a six-month stay, Ibsen wrote his immortal ‘Ghosts’. But among the cool newcomers on the hotel block are the likes of cliff-hanging La Minervetta (Via Capo, 25, +39 081 877 4455, www.laminervetta.com), with steps to the beach, and, more recently, Hotel Palazzo Jannuzzi (Piazza Torquato Tasso, +39 081 877 2862, www.palazzojannuzzi.com), both by local architect/designer Marco de Luca. With a palette of yellow, white and black, and the quirky de Luca touch, Jannuzzi offers stylish and spacious accommodation, some with terraces, and an apartment complete with its own terrace, kitchen and, er, exercise bike.
And while we’re thinking about exercise bikes… there is some excellent food to be had, with twenty-five Michelin-starred restaurants in the Campania region. In nearby Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi you’ll find the wonderful two Michelin-starred Don Alfonso 1890 (Corso Sant’Agata, 11, Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi, +39 081 878 0026, www.donalfonso.com). Many of the ingredients for Ernesto Iaccarino’s exquisite dishes are gleaned from his organic farm in the verdant Punta Campanella region, and, for those who can’t bear to leave (or are tempted by the idea of more great cooking for breakfast, or even lunch the following day), there are rooms (also designed by Signor de Luca). Another chef who makes use of his farm in Punta Campanella is the owner of Lo Scoglio (Piazza Delle Sirene, 15, 80061 Massa Lubrense, +39 081 808 1026) in Marina del Cantone. A typical starter consists of a dozen of his vegetables simply prepared, followed by the house speciality of spaghetti with zucchini and a seriously good babà (a famous Neapolitan dessert). Closer still is Sorrento’s Michelin-starred Il Buco (2a Rampa Marina Piccola, 5, +39 081 878 2354, www.ilbucoristorante.it), where amuse-bouches of little sfogliatelle (typical Neapolitan pastry) filled with scarola (local greens) and a ‘doughnut’ with tomato sauce might be followed by baby tuna with aubergine-stuffed cannolo (another favourite pastry, usually stuffed with cream), lobster risotto or ricciola (local fish) with pistachio sauce. Down at Sorrento’s Marina Grande (the smaller of the two marinas) you can have a simple freshly-caught fish, grilled and dressed with nothing more than a drizzle of oil and a wedge of lemon in one of the cafes where Sophia Loren may have lunched when she was filming ‘Scandal in Sorrento’ or ‘Pane, Amore e…’
Every meal should be accompanied by sensational local wines, many from grapes grown on the slopes of Vesuvius, such as white Fiano, and red Lacrima Christi (tears of Christ). The Cantina del Vesuvio (via T. della Guardia, 18, Trecase, www.cantinadelvesuvio.it) is one such vineyard and it’s possible to have lunch here too: typical cheese and meat, followed by simple spaghetti and Neapolitan desserts as well as wine tastings of course. And apart from the fabulous wines of the Campania region, the lemon liqueur ‘limoncello’ is made from Sorrento’s famous lemons, and can be sampled at I Giardini di Cataldo (Via Correale, 27, 80067 Sorrento, +39 081 878 1888, www.igiardinidicataldo.it).
Walk this way
A more stimulating way of enjoying the food without consequence is to take a walk; the Sorrentine peninsula is absolutely stunning. It is said that the Sirens lived along the coast here and lured sailors to their deaths by enchanting them with their hypnotic song. The legend goes that, when they failed to captivate Ulysses, the Sirens flung themselves into the sea, where they turned to rock and you can still see them today: the islets known as Li Galli. There is a network of paths stretching for around 100 kilometres and one of the paths is to the Punta Campanella. Guided walks and route maps can be picked up at the Sorrento Tourist Office in the entrance to the Foreigners’ Club (Via Luigi de Maio, 35, www.sorrentotourism.com) and more information can be found here: http://www.positano.com/en/i/punta-campanella.