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Sorrento, the  Amalfi Coast

For more pictures of Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast, click here

Tours on the Amalfi Coast

The Sorrento Marina
by Jesse Andrews

Overlooking Sorrento
by Jesse Andrews


Welcome to Sorrento
Jesse's Journeys in Italy

Population: 16,500
Official site:

Sorrento in recent years has gained a reputation as being a place to avoid - a package holiday centre with few must see sights,  no beach to speak of and numerous Irish and English pubs which have taken the place of Italian cafes. 

In reality however, Sorrento is still a romantic destination and strangely appealing despite the changes the city has seen in recent years and it makes a great base for day trips.

For good reason, Sorrento has been considered one of the most romantic and famous tourist attractions in Italy and has been a polular vacation resort since 600 AD when Roman nobles and gentry made there way here.
 Many famous Europeans throughout history have built villas here, a few of which have survived.  The rich and famous from Europe and beyond have come to Sorrento for the same reason so many people still come today; to seek the serene brilliance of its landscape, the flowering of its gardens and the mildness of its air.
 The Sorrento coast offers visitors an enchanting landscape with the town being built over high cliffs that offer superb views over the Gulf of Naples to Vesuvius.  It is an ideal place to come on holiday and tour the Amalfi Coast.  Sorrento is within easy reach of the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, Naples, Capri, Ischia,  Positano, the Amalfi Coast and Paestum. Both public and private tours to these areas are available from Sorrento. Click here to see our tours of the Amalfi coast.
 Sorrento is in effect divided in two villages: Marina Piccola , with the harbour for ferries and hydrofoils, and Marina Grande , with its lidos and beaches.
 Marina Grande is home to some of the most authentic and delicious sea-food restaurants on the Amalfi coast and you can enjoy very good fish at reasonable prices.
 The Marina Piccola is one of the busiest on the Bay of Naples or even the entire Tyrrhenian Coast.  You can catch a ferry, jetboat or hydrofoil to a number of "must see" destinations, including the islands of Capri and  Ischia, or to other points along the Amalfi Coast, including Positano, Amalfi and Minori.  Needless to say you can also cruise to Naples and other points further north.

The remarkable and bustling Piazza Tasso is the social epicenter of Sorrento and is built over a millstream in a very deep, sharply cut ravine.  If you don't mind a little vertigo with your site-seeing, you will see the ruins of an ancient flour mill below.

The patron saint of Sorrento is  Santa Anna (july 26) and every year on that date they arrange a great celebration and nice fireworks and the population of Sorrento takes part of it. It is one of the most suggestive moments of the year where ancient traditions still live on this noble coast.

Among the visitors who came to enjoy the serenity of Sorrento, were artists such as: Goethe, Byron, F. Cooper, Walter Scott, Vittorio Alfieri, Giacomo Leopardi, Alexander Dumas, Ernest Renan, Henrik Ibsen, who wrote Ghosts in 1881. Also here were Giuseppe Verdi, and Longfellow in 1862, Samuel Smiles in 1888, Oscar Wilde, Nietzsche wrote Human, too Human at Sorrento in 1876, and it was here that he had his famous dispute with Wagner.

 Grieg also wrote several of his "poems" here at Sorrento.
The description of this romantic land, with its orange and lemon groves, vineyards, walnut and almond trees, is attractive, but in real life is definitely better. The song "Come back to Sorrento" is still on for you.

Sorrento was probably founded by the Etruscans (VII century b.c.), a population coming from Tuscany, and later conquered by the Samnites (V century b.c.), native of Campania region. It eventually came under the Roman sphere influence, but with the fall of the Roman empire and the barbarian invasions, Sorrento suffered the same devastating fate as many other Roman towns in Campania.

The town reached the height of its glory in the Middle Ages as a free maritime duchy, and even contested the supremacy of Amalfi and Naples in the Upper Tyrrhenian Sea. After the long period of the Middle Age, Sorrento suffered the Spanish domination : the baroque style of so many churches is a visible heritage of that period. But the XVIII century and a part of the XIX century were an economical, social end cultural rebirth of Sorrento when the tourist vocation of this area was born and it was established with its inclusion in the so-called "Grand Tour", a journey through the most important Italian sights that every noble European son of those times had to make to complete his cultural, historical and literary formation. Thus, as above-mentioned, guests such as Byron, Keats, Scott, Dickens, Goethe, Wagner, Ibsen and Nitzsche came to stay in Sorrento in search of sun and inspiration.

Some places in Sorrento of tourist attraction include:

  • Piazza Tasso, formerly called Largo di Castello;

  • Villa Comunale; the public garden on the cliff top with a superb view over the Gulf of Naples;

  • Marina Grande, a charming bay with a characteristic fishing village;

  • The Romanesque style Cathedral dating from the 15th century;

  • Regina Giovanna, the archaeological remains of a seaside villa.

Another pearl of the town is the "Correale Museum", which is due to the munificence of the Correale Counts, who gave this beautiful villa and the park surrounding it as well as the precious collections. The museum has an archeological section on the ground floor, where there Greek, Roman and Byzantine marbles, and in particular the important Base of Augustus (sacrificial altar of a statue of the Augustian age) are kept. In the two upper floors are collections of furniture, paintings, ceramics, clocks, statuettes for Neapolitan cribs and 17th and 18th century Neapolitan porcelain. Various rooms are devoted to the so-called "the School of Posillipo", with paintings by Pitloo, Vianelli, Duclère, Gigante and some of the most representative painters of the 19th century Naples.
The visit to this museum gives a magnificent idea of the development of Neapolitan decorative arts. Outside the villa, a stone commemorates the illustrious foreigners who have celebrated the beauty of Sorrento.

This town, besides its history, antiquity and healthy climate, is also important for its trade of citrus fruits, wines, oils, walnuts and cheeses (in particular "mozzarella"), as well as for its laceworks, silks and inlaid wood-works, which may be purchased in several shops in Sorrento.
In addition, from Sorrento You can easily reach Punta Campanella , with its beautiful views and seascape from the very tip of the Gulf of Naples and also its relics of historical interest, as well as the towns of Massalubrense and Nerano.

Image of Sorrento Peninsula with its typical lemons of Sorrento.
The lemon of Sorrento is the “Oval of Sorrento” cultivar, known affectionately as “Femminello”. This fruit medium to large-sized fruit weighing at least 85 g, is elliptical in shape, has a strong scent and is very juicy. The yellow part of the peel is rich in essential oils and the juice from the fruit has an instantly recognisable combination of citrus acid and sugar. In 2000, the “Femminello” received Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) recognition under European Union regulations. This protects the cultivar and defines the geographical area where the lemon can be grown as the Sorrento peninsula and the Isle of Capri. The PGI stamp also requires that cultivation is carried out in a specific (and organic) way, under the pagliarelle, which are like “mats” that protect against the saltiness in the air, drops in temperature and delay ripening (a defining characteristic of this lemon). The cultivar is remontant: in October, the first fruit (“primofiore”) has the juiciest lemons; in March, the light yellow “bianchetti” ripen; and in June, the “verdelli” or green lemons are ready.

Due to their sun-filled beauty, citrus fruit where first used as decorative plants and were even celebrated in rawdija (a genre of Arabian poetry). It was also the Arabs who discovered the healing properties of the essential oils and juices extracted from the bark, flowers and fruit of the laymun (lemon), narang (sour orange), ‘utrug (citron) and so on. The distillation of al-kuhul (alcohol) by means of the al-inbiq (alembic) was also a part of Arabian pharmacopoeia. Adding aromatic herbs to alcohol produced al-iksir (elixirs), which, for centuries, were vital for doctors, chemists and then, in monasteries. Some time in the 15th or 16th centuries, monks started to combine flavoured alcohol with sweet syrups, thus giving birth to the era of liqueurs and rosolios (sweet liqueurs). It will always be a mistery wheter it was monks or a clever housewife who first “macerated” lemon peel in alcohol and sugar syrup, but the result, “limoncello” or “limonillo” in the dialect of Sorrento, is now a typical local product.

The town's nickname is "La Gentile" because it is genteel and cheerful. But, as the largest resort town on the Amalfi Coast drive it is also quite busy.

Sorrento is a good place for many English travelers to stick a toe into southern Italy because English is widely spoken here.  Many of the locals have learned to seduce us with renditions of "fish and chips".

The surrounding countryside is characterized by lushly wooded hills, interrupted by olive, lemon and olive groves, whose fragrances seem to permeate the air.

Unlike most of the other resort towns on the Amalfi Coast drive, the Sorrento townsite is perched on cliffs overlooking the Bay of Naples.  The City of Naples is due north approximately 30 kilometers, and can be faintly seen on a clear day, of which there are many.  The sharp-eyed can also make out the top of Mount Vesuvius to the east, and the Isle of Ischia to the west.

Tourists who want to bask on a thin strip of beach, swim, or board boats and ships must descend to the water about 150 feet below.  Obviously, the elderly, the infirm and the very young will have some difficulty participating in water related activities - unless the water is in the pool of their hotel, of course.

If you intend to stay a night or two (or longer), be careful when you select your hotel or pensione.  Those located in the center of the town, particularly those close to the Corso Italia, which is noisy even into the wee hours.  Some hoteliers even dispense ear plugs to guests who insist on sleeping!

Some of the hotels further out along the cliffs are quieter, and some of them even have elevators to take you down to sea level.

For travelers of almost any predilection, there is much to do in Sorrento.  The Moorish-style cloisters of the Church of San Francisco, close by the Piazza Tasso, are highly rated (for good reason), as is the Villa Correale where you will find Italian painting, cermamics and furniture on display.

The Societa Operaia is not an opera house, but a club where local men play cards and talk politics throughout the day - and most of the night.  The trompe l'oeil frescoes in the club create a stunning backdrop to the card shuffling.

The Via Communale terminates at the north end at a terrace from which one can gaze out across the Bay of Naples.

Shoppers will enjoy the shops where one can purchase a wide variety of luxury goods - including inlaid woods, woolen goods, ceramics, jewellery and high fashion.

There are any number of cafes and restaurants, as well as bakeries, cheese shops, butchers and green grocers for those who want to cobble together a picnic.  Local specialties include sea food, cheese, almond cakes and “Limoncello” - a sweet and sour liqueur derived from locally grown lemons.  It's an easy and beautiful drive to Positano, Amalfi and Ravello, other beautiful places on the Sorrentine Peninsula like Massa Lubrense.  You can stay in Sorrento and make them into outings, or you can simple stay a day or two and move on to one or the other.  Either way, visiting Sorrento makes for great place to visit on your trip to the Amalfi Coast.



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