A Letter from…Sorrento, Italy

Kate and John Stephenson spent a week exploring UNESCO World Heritage sites, sampling Italian wines (and those famed Neapolitan pizzas!) and exploring the beautiful Amalfi Coast. Here’s what they had to say about their trip…

“In March 2016 we had a brilliant week’s holiday in Sorrento, in the Province of Campania, Italy. It was organised by our Travel Counsellor, Liz Standley, who found us a superb hotel looking out over the beautiful Bay of Naples towards Vesuvius. She arranged our flights to and from Naples and our car hire at Naples airport. Everything went very smoothly and it was good to know that Liz was available 24/7 to help us if we needed her.

Sorrento and the Bay of Naples from our hotel balcony
Sorrento and the Bay of Naples from our hotel balcony

Sorrento is less than an hour’s drive from Naples. It is a beautiful town set high above the Tyrrhenian Sea and provides a perfect place from which to explore a wide range of amazing places, such as the Amalfi Coast, the Isle of Capri and Pompeii. Sorrento has narrow streets to explore and is famous for its lemons and limoncello, a delicious lemon liqueur.

Lemons in Sorrento, which is famous for its lemons and limoncello
Lemons in Sorrento, which is famous for its lemons and limoncello

Instead of Pompeii, we chose to visit Herculaneum (Ercolano), a Roman town which, like Pompeii, was buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Unlike Pompeii, however, the deep volcanic material which covered it preserved wooden and other organic-based objects such as roofs, beds, doors, food and also 300 recently discovered skeletons. Herculaneum was a wealthier town than Pompeii, possessing fine houses decorated, for example, with coloured marble cladding. We chose Herculaneum in preference to Pompeii as the site is smaller and therefore is easier to walk round.

Roman frescoes at Herculaneum
Roman frescoes at Herculaneum

Another trip we took was to Torre Annunziata to visit the Villa of Poppaea (in the former Roman town of Oplontis), which was destroyed by the same eruption of Vesuvius which destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. The Roman frescoes were truly remarkable. The villa is believed to have belonged to Poppaea Sabina, the second wife of the Emperor Nero. Its size and lavish decoration clearly showed that its owner must have been very wealthy.

A lovely bird fresco at Villa Poppaea - a pigeon sitting on a window ledge
A lovely bird fresco at Villa Poppaea – a pigeon sitting on a window ledge

Herculaneum and the Villa Poppaea were both easily accessible from Sorrento on the Circumvesuviano train, which runs regularly to and from Sorrento and is very cheap. The sites are both within easy walking-distance of the stations of Ercolano (Stavi) and Torre Annunziata.

We spent another day exploring the Amalfi Coast, a short drive from Sorrento and, like Pompeii and Herculaneum, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Amalfi Coast is famous for its towns (such as Positano, Ravello and Amalfi) which hang on the sides of cliffs that drop steeply into the beautiful turquoise sea. We bought a huge lemon (known as a sfusato amalfitano and used to make limoncello) from a roadside fruit-seller and took it back to England where we used it to make delicious lemon marmalade!

The Amalfi Coast just before Positano
The Amalfi Coast just before Positano
Fruit seller on the Amalfi Coast. We bought an enormous lemon from him and made lemon marmalade!
A fruit seller on the Amalfi Coast. We bought an enormous lemon from him and made lemon marmalade!

One of the most memorable days of our stay was our visit to Paestum, an important archaeological site less than two hours’ drive south of Sorrento, where three incredible Greek temples stand in the middle of open countryside. Paestum was founded by the Greeks in about 650 BC and its temples are truly amazing. In fact, the Temple of Hera is the oldest, best preserved and most beautiful Doric temple in existence today. The Paestum site also has an excellent museum which contains, among other things, beautiful Greek vases and the famous Tomb of the Diver. The area around Paestum is famous for its delicious mozzarella di bufala.

Paestum
Paestum

We have some wonderful memories to cherish from our trip to Sorrento. Not only do we have memories of our visits to heritage sites but also of the little squares we sat in drinking wine, beer and espressos, and eating the delicious pizzas for which this area of Italy is particularly famous. Sitting on the hotel balcony and looking out over the Bay of Naples at night towards Naples and Vesuvius was truly memorable.

Pizza and a beer for lunch in Sorrento
Pizza and a beer for lunch in Sorrento

We are really grateful to Liz, our Travel Counsellor, who arranged it all for us.”

Kate and John Stephenson

Tempted to take a trip to Italy? Contact your Travel Counsellor to plan your adventure!

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