Our “Weekend escape to…” 48-hour guides provide failsafe insight, great tips and original suggestions. Today we lend some insider advice on how to make the best of a long, off-season weekend in Sorrento.
In the 1800s Sorrento became one of the preferred stops on the Grand Tour. Yet Sorrento has been attracting visitors since ancient times when the Greeks and later the Romans built their plateau settlement on the breathtaking coast just south of Naples. Thanks to its romantic views and dramatic cliffs, Sorrento became a magnet for poets, playwrights, composers, painters, writers, historians as well as photographers and filmmakers. Each celebrated the coastal town as the subject of their art, or chose it simply as their vacation place. Among famous Sorrento dwellers, Johan Wolfang Goethe, Henrik Ibsen (during his stay here in 1881 he wrote Ghosts), Charles Dickens, Helman Melville, Fredrich Nitzche, Axel Munthe, not to mention Italians like Giacomo Casanova, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Enrico Caruso and Salvatore Quasimodo.
The best time to travel to Sorrento
May, June, September and most of October are the perfect time to visit the Sorrento peninsula. July and August are quite hot, with cliffs exposed to scorching sun for most of the day. This provides for sensational sunsets, but also temperatures that hardly drop in the evening. In summer the heat also contributes to often making the sky a little hazy. None of this happens in early spring and late fall, though. In Autumn the air is crisp and the sky is crystal clear. Not to mention the water: deep azure, with patches of dark navy blue, ruffled by surface breezes. During off-season, there are less crowds visiting Sorrento, which translates to having a front row lounger on the beach – yes, Italian beaches will stay open until the end of October – short to zero lines in restaurants. There’s also an overall more relaxed and welcoming vibe. The low season is also best for deals, since hotels, restaurants, services and shops apply lower rates during this time of year. Less people also means less boat and car traffic and lower parking fees.
Ready? Here’s how to plan a perfect weekend escape to Sorrento…
5:00 pm – Get lost in the alleys
Check into your hotel, drop the luggage in the room and go straight for a walk.
My favorite thing to do as soon as I arrive in Sorrento is getting lost in the maze of alleys and narrow streets. Despite having visited Sorrento many times from a young age, I still manage to lose my bearings in the weaving vicoletti. Bring your camera and a light sweater.
7:00 pm – 8:30 pm – Aperitivo & dinner
The best way to get a sense of a new place is sitting and watching daily life unfold before your eyes. Aperitivo and people-watching is a fantstic way to do all that, glass of prosecco in hand. Choose a front row seat at Il Fauno in Piazza Tasso, and enjoy the spectacle until it’s time for dinner. My first meal in Sorrento is always pizza and beer. The best place for that here is Acqu’e Sale – water and salt. Chef and pizza authority Antonino Esposito bakes sensational Napoletana-style pies, fagottini and other pizza-based specials. Located in the heart of the harbour, this popular pizzeria bakes perfect pies in its specially built brick wood-fired ovens. Do not forego the house specialty, the “frusta sorrentina” you won’t regret it. There’s a separate brick wood-stoked oven reserved exclusively for celiac guests. Great craft beers from local micro-breweries and charming staff complete the setting. Average cost per person, without beer €25.
9:00 am – Hit the road
Energize on breakfast at the hotel and get ready to embark on your adventure. Have the desk call you a cab or rent a car with driver and head out on exploration of the surroundings. We suggest driving inland, towards Sant’Agata dei Due Golfi. This is a promontory from which a scoping view of two gulfs can be enjoyed visible: Golfo di Napoli and Golfo di Salerno. The best place for a bird’s eye view of the two gulf is the Benedictine nunnery Monastero delle Monache Benedettine. In this hilly area farmers still work in pastoral bliss overlooking the sea. Ever wonder where the delicious fiordilatte cheese – similar to mozzarella but made with cow’s milk instead of water buffalo – comes from? A fantastic way to explore the area is booking a private visit in a family-run cheese farm present in the area. Here visitors are welcomed like family and introduced to the cows, shown the orchards and privvy to the magical procedure of obtaining stretched curd cheese, right before their eyes. Another local delicacy is the Sorrento IGP lemons, protected by EU Geographical Appellation. The best way to learn about the area’s most famous citrus is going on a private lemon grove visit and tasting the fruit picked straight off the trees.
12 noon – Gourmet lunch
Nestled in the hills above Sant’Agata, is stunning culinary retreat amid olive groves and patches of blue sea down below: gourmet restaurant Don Alfonso 1890. Here host and chef Alfonso Iaccarino with wife Signora Livia will welcome you warmly for a memorable dining experience. All ingredients used in the kitchen are supplied by the owners’ organic farm Le Peracciole; pasta, bread and desserts are all homemade. The cellar, which was originally an ancient Roman tunnel dating back to the 6th century BC, is probably one of the most striking in Italy. Located 35 meters deep, it contains a separate cheese aging room, and shelves upon shelves storing 25,000 unique bottles, prestigious labels and rare vintages. The experience of dining here is well worth the rather steep price.
4:00 pm – Shopping, limoncello and fragments of daily life
Head back into town and after a restirative nap, go for a walk to build up you appetite for your next meal!
In the historic center, along the alleys surrounding Piazza Tasso, Corso Italia and Via San Cesareo during high season it will be packed. Everyone heads here for the small boutiques, sidewalk cafes and tourist shops. Seek instead the quieter and more charming Via Degli Archi, Largo Padre Reginaldo Guilani and Via Santa Maria De Grazie, to name a few. Here you can browse local artisan shops, small workshops, art galleries, leather shops. Off season the centro storico allows for a pleasant passeggiata. Expect unexpected vignettes, gorgeous art and unique snippets of everyday life.
Think elederly gentlemen playing a game of cards (briscola) seated at small tables in the frescoed portico of the XIV century Sedile Dominova; or stumbling inside a limoncello factory for a free sample; or observing women on the side of the road embroidering their granddaughter’s wedding linens. Alleys and cobbled lanes are traffic free and lined with fruit and vegetable vendors selling their goods in makeshift stalls… it’s all there and all authentic.
All this charm calls for a gelato. Fine scoops can be enjoyed at Gelateria David.
7:30 pm – Dinner time!
After the lunchtime extravaganza, you may want to keep your evening meal (and wallet) on the lighter side. A great place for typical Neapolitan dishes and wholesome cuisine is Zi’Ntonio. Built on three levels, walls covered in hand-painted plates, this trattoria offers hearty pasta dishes. The menu features paccheri and homemade scialatielli, classic secondi seafood entrees, and delicious pizzas, salads, vegetarian dishes and desserts. The service is very friendly and waitstaff quick to accommodate. Average price without wine €40.
Walk back to your hotel and stop to gaze at the stars from the romantic terrace overlooking the deep canyon in Piazza Tasso.
8:30 am – Exploring the coast towards Massa Lubrense
After breakfast, check out of your room and ask the front desk to hold your bags for you.
Hop on a bus headed south or have your rental car driver coast slowly towards Massa Lubrense in search for marine playtime and jaw-dropping beauty. A great stop on the way is Bagni della Regina Giovanna, a natural rock pool in the crystal blue sea that just beckons for a dip. This was the purported place where Queen Joan d’Anjou would meet her secret lovers and swim naked in the moonlight. The ruins of the ancient Roman Villa Pollio Felice are in plain view. Those not accustomed to walking on rocky paths should invest in a fine pair of hiking boots to reach these areas. If the weather allows, this is probably one of the coldest but most enchanting swims along the coast.
Next stop, a small fisherman village with no cell phone reception and a couple hundred inhabitants. Have the driver drop you off at the large car park above the hamlet Puolo (if you’re driving, leave your vehicle in the lot and pay €5 for the whole day). From here a snaking descent – either stairs or a steep path – stumbles down to the quaint fisherman village of Marina di Puolo. Here you can snorkel in the rocky coves in the eastern end of the beach, or rent a sunbed and lounge chairs in the two or three stabilimenti located in the central part of the small cove.
12 noon – Lunch on the beach
You can choose to grab a pizzetta (don’t be fooled by the diminutive, a single portion portable pizza can satisfy the biggest of appetites!) or sit down for a proper meal in one of the several eateries that line the small beach. A particularly charming off-season option is having your table set directly on the shore, eating with your feet in the sand. The menu at informal Capuozzo L’Angolo del Mare features only the freshest catch of the day, piquant calamari and mussel stew, various shellfish pasta dishes, which come served with white house wine and peaches, plus all sorts of homemade desserts. Francesco in the kitchen and Salvatore serving tables with a smile will become your new best friends.
Spend the rest of the afternoon napping on the beach, then mentally prepare for the climb up. Catch the bus/car back to Sorrento in time for your departure.
6:00 pm – Twilight farewells
Back in Sorrento, retrieve your bags at the hotel reception and either grab a quick snack in Piazza Tasso before leaving, or hop directly on a chauffeured limo back to Naples.
Sorrento in 48 hours:
Where to Stay
Where to Eat
Sorrento is an easy day trip from Naples or an excellent home base for exploring top travel destinations in the region, including Naples, Amalfi, Positano, Pompeii, the islands of Capri, Procida and Ischia and more. Contact us for further info on custom food itineraries, limo service, boat or hiking excursions, day trips and other bespoke activities in and around Sorrento.
Photo & video credits Eleonora Baldwin; Chris Gibbins, Telegraph.co.uk
Eleonora Baldwin is a TV host, freelance food and travel writer, and culinary connoisseur based in Rome, Italy. Her writing appears in several food and travel publications. Her shows “ABCheese” and “Uazz’america” are broadcast on Italian food network Gambero Rosso Channel. Her podcast “iCheese” is recorded live on the Radio Food Live network.