Sorrento is a splendid location, and great food and shopping lend this picturesque town its popularity, writes Iyat Hussain.
The Italian town of Sorrento is full of southern glamour
This small southern Italian town of just 16,000 people is a major international tourist destination thanks to its position, occupying a spectacular cliff-top with expansive views over the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius. While those looking for an undiscovered hideaway should (at least in high season) look elsewhere, if you don't mind sharing the experience, you will be rewarded with breathtaking landscapes, mesmerising seaviews, superb food and charming people. And if that doesn't do it for you, there is always a dormant volcano (Mount Vesuvius), some of the best-preserved Roman ruins in the world (Pompeii) and an impossibly glamorous island (Capri) just a short trip away.
A comfortable bed
The five-star Grand Hotel Cocumella, (www.cocumella.com; 0039 081 878 2933), housed in a converted 17th century Jesuit residence, offers views across the Bay of Naples to Mount Vesuvius, gardens bursting with palms and flowers, a swimming pool nestling among lemon, orange, banana and kiwi trees, and several superb restaurants. Prices start from €385 (Dh1,070) for a standard double room including breakfast, taxes and Wi-Fi. Maison Tofani, (www.maisontofani.com; 0039 081 878 4020), which opened this year, feels like a mix between a boutique hotel and an upmarket bed and breakfast. Located on the pedestrianised Via San Cesareo around an inner courtyard, Maison Tofani puts you at the centre of the action without any traffic noise. The 12 rooms with beamed ceilings and luxurious bathrooms are simple but tasteful. The beautiful breakfast room with its painted ceiling provides an opulent start to the day. Rooms from €100 (Dh487) per night, including breakfast and Wi-Fi.
Find your feet
The hub of Sorrento is Piazza Tasso, the main square where shops, cafes, restaurants, palm trees and, at some times of day, a steady flow of traffic, converge to form a chaotic but atmospheric mêle. Particularly in the evenings, when the centre of town is closed to traffic, this is a good starting point from which to explore Sorrento's main artery, Corso Italia, and the historic centre. Behind Corso Italia, to the north, lies the pedestrianised Via San Cesareo, a narrow, cobbled street that forms the gateway to the historic centre. Although lined with souvenir shops selling anything that can feasibly be made from lemons, Via San Cesareo is highly atmospheric and retains its authenticity thanks to enticingly laden Mediterranean fruit stalls (selling giant lemons, of course), lively cafes and the Dominova Seat - a 14th-century building adorned with Byzantine frescoes where nobles used to discuss administrative matters, but that now houses the society of workers and their cafes.
Meet the locals
Stumbling upon a delicatessen or small grocer's shop - which will probably look modest and unassuming from the outside - is a great way not only to pick up the day's picnic but also to interact with the unfailingly warm local people in an Aladdin's cave of Italian foodstuffs. They will listen patiently to visitors flexing their basic Italian, graciously speak English if necessary, encourage you to try their cheese and meats - and even slice your bread for you.
Book a table
Il Buco (meaning "the Hole"; www.ilbucoristorante.it; 0039 081 878 2354) is a high-quality restaurant housed in the vault of a church on a cobbled street leading down to Marina Piccola, the largest of the two ports. Using only local and seasonal ingredients, charismatic chef Giuseppe Avesa has designed mouth-watering à la carte and tasting menus loaded with beautifully presented, freshly caught fish and homemade pastas. The five-course Exploration menu (€90; Dh507) is an excellent option for those seeking a taste of Campania without the burden of choice. The adventurous will enjoy the "I trust you" menu that "Pepe" will come up with after chatting to you (five courses: €75; Dh365; seven courses: €100; Dh487). Pizzeria Aurora in Piazza Tasso (www.pizzeriaaurora.com; 0039 081 8781 248) serves 50 delicious types of pizza and is excellent value. Pizzas from €10 (Dh48); a takeaway pizza is for €5 (Dh24).
Whether you are looking for handmade souvenirs, local linens or designer clothes, such is the range of shopping in Sorrento that you are unlikely to go home empty-handed. Corso Italia - which stretches for over a kilometre - is lined with interesting and stylish clothes shops. Try Vanna boutique (www.vannaboutique.com; 0039 081 878 1330), which stocks a wide range of Italian labels for men and women. The historic centre (Via San Cesareo and around) is also bursting with good quality clothes shops, including Marilu (www.marilumoda.com), which is a good place to snap up linen clothes and scarves. Wooden objects made using a technique known locally as "intarsio" (marquetry) are typical of the area. A father and son sell their lovingly made picture frames and boxes at La Scatola Gioiello (0039 081 344 9406) on Via Tasso.
What to avoid
The Circumvesuviana railway that links Naples to Sorrento is useful for short trips from Sorrento, for example to Pompeii, which only takes about 40 minutes, but a taxi or bus transfer for the journey from the airport will leave you much less hot and bothered. Metered taxis within Sorrento, which wait at Piazza Tasso, are astronomical, with a five-minute journey setting you back about €15 (Dh73).
To the west of Sorrento, (on the Capo Di Sorrento about 2km away), lies Regina Giovanna, a series of coastal pathways, rocky outcrops containing Roman ruins and vertiginous swimming points. If you are travelling by car, moped or bus, it can be reached in a few minutes. Given the local coastline, a boat trip will ensure you see the area at its best. Sebastiano (0039 335 5299 826) runs daily trips to Capri from the Marina Piccola (€75; Dh365 including a simple lunch. Trips are limited to 12 people).
Emirates Airline (www.emirates.com) flies from Dubai to Naples via Munich in eight hours from Dh5,085 return, including taxes. A private transfer from Naples Airport to Sorrento costs €70 (Dh341) and takes about an hour, depending on traffic (0039 366 710 3136; firstname.lastname@example.org). Alternatively, get the bus from the airport (€10; Dh48 each way).
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