‘Vedi Sorrento e poi muori’

By Staff Reporter

There’s nothing like a prolonged period of grim weather to make daydreams turn to the hot and sunny climate of Europe.

And where better than the spiritual home of good food when you’re dreaming of relaxing in the sun with a crisp glass of white wine in one hand a bowl of pasta in the other?

Sorrento is an old friend. I’ve been there three times now, and it gets better every time. And that’s no mean feat, considering my expectations increase every time.

It’s one of the chosen few when it comes to Euro destinations – a holiday spot that brings out the same old Arnold Swarchenegger response from everyone who has been there – “I’ll be back”.

And most people do go back. For me it’s the intoxicating mix of a town that’s got a vast amount of tourists, but gives the impression that you’re the only sightseer on the radar.

We arrived during an Italian bank holiday, and while it meant a longer than normal journey from the airport in Naples to the coastal town, it was great to see the place full of Italians enjoying a long weekend.

The two Italian towns face each other across the Gulf of Naples, and the drive from the airport sets you on your way to one of the most stunning coastal drives the world has to offer, leading on to Sorrento then to the delights of the Amalfi Coast.

A trip along the Amalfi Coast is one of the must sees for any trip to that part of Italy, bringing in picturesque towns like Cetara, Ravello, Amalfi as well as the unforgettable Positano, the scene of many a movie and also the place where Jagger and Richards are reputed to have written the Stones classic, Midnight Rambler, while on vacation enjoying the town’s beach front cafes.

It’s the accessibility to other parts of the Campania that makes Sorrento a terrific base for an Italian Odyssey.

Mount Vesuvius, Capri and Pompeii are all easy to get to. The latter, a partially buried Roman town, is a 20-minute ride on the train which leaves you right outside the entrance to the town which was destroyed after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD.

The cobbled streets of one of Italy’s most popular tourist attractions is a site to behold, especially come dusk when the sun begins to set and the eeriness of walking through a town that was once filled with life sets in.

But if you think it sounds like Sorrento is merely a base camp to use as a starting point to explore the region, you’d be wrong. The town itself is full of interesting things to see and do. It’s a town that is small enough to walk from one end to the other, and even those hotels that are outside of town provide a wonderful walk along the coast to get to the centre of town.

We stayed at the Majestic Palace Hotel, which is set amongst the charming citrus groves of Sorrento, about a 10-15 minute walk away from the town itself. The staff were ultra friendly, and while my Italian is as rusty as Mick Hucknall’s hair, it always makes a difference to at least try to speak a little of the language.

While there aren’t many beaches in Sorrento (the town is mostly up in the hills), there are a few that can be accessed by bus and most hotels, like the Majestic, have their own pool.

For those fans of shopping, Sorrento’s centre is a hive of tiny streets with a multitude of shops selling local wares. You’d be hard pressed to spend any time in Sorrento and not find yourself inside one of the Limoncello shops, a local liquer made from the skin of lemons on the premises. The aperitif is one of the region’s most famous delicacies and most shops will offer you a taste of the variety they have on offer.

The Tuesday market, situated near the bus and train station, is something to behold, with stalls everywhere selling everything from big bags of fresh olives to a rainbow of coloured pashminas.

But it’s the food that sets Sorrento, and Italy as a whole, out from your average Spanish holiday. Where Spanish resorts boast of ‘sausage, egg and chips’ or an ‘english breakfast’, Sorrento stays true to its roots and offers only world-class Italian dishes.

From the simple, yet delightful, caprese salad of tomatoes and mozzarella to rich pasta dishes, it’s hard to find a bad meal in the town.

Stand-out restaurants for anyone looking a special meal include Il Buco’s, the eclectic restaurant operating from a cave and the expensive, but well worth it, Caruso’s, both close to Tasso Square, the heart of Sorrento.

Many of the narrow streets boast ice cream parlours where huge cones are sold and the Cannoli, a favourite of Tony Soprano, screams out ‘eat me’ from the shop windows.

Sorrento oozes that Italian laid-back attitude that puts enjoying a great meal with friends and family ahead of getting boozed up so you can’t remember the night before.

There’s an old Italian saying – ‘Vedi Napoli e poi muori’ – roughly translating to See Naples and Die. They were partly right, but really, it should have been ‘Vedi Sorrento e poi muori’.

 

John Ferris traveled to Sorrento, with Topflight, Ireland’s leading tour operator to Italy, and stayed at the Hotel Majestic Palace – 4 star plus – in the scenic Sant Agnello district – 20 minutes walk from the old town of Sorrento – which has half board, large swimming pool, and a free bus service to Sorrento town. Prices for Summer 2009 including flights, transfers, half board accommodation and rep services, start at £799 pps plus taxes. June special offers to the Bristol Hotel with Topflight direct charter from Belfast International airport, as well as flights from Dublin,  start at £590 pps plus taxes, including Topflight charter, transfers, half board accommodation and rep services. The Bristol Hotel is an ideal location for couples and honeymooners and is a firm favourite with Topflight guests. Log on to www.topflight.ie or call 00 353 1 2401700 for more details.

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