Traffic moves at a painstaking crawl as it snakes along Italy’s Sorrentine Peninsula, heading from Sorrento, on the Bay of Naples, onto the world-famous Amalfi Coast, framing the Gulf of Salerno. The road hugs, at times, perilously close to steep coastal cliffs, winding through villages such as Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello. Visitors flock here during an increasingly long high season that stretches from Easter holiday well into the fall.
Though it may be argued that a romantic getaway should be spent traveling away from crowds, traffic, and congestion, to avoid the Amalfi Coast would be to deprive oneself of the very reason so many gather here each season. This sun-dappled landscape affords visitors some of the most spectacular views in Europe, if not the world.
Exploring the Sorrentine Peninsula
Streets fill with buses, motorcycles, and cars while people cram into shops, restaurants, and onto narrow sidewalks. The forcibly slow pace tests even the mellowest of travelers, but the exercise in patience is well worth it. Surrendering to inconveniences in exchange for the chance to explore the jewels strung along this part of the Campania region is to enjoy both the journey and the destination. This is what it is to spend time here, falling in love yet again with each other and with hidden discoveries made slowly, as time unfolds.
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Technically, the Amalfi Coast stretches between the towns of Positano and Vietri sul Mare, but many tourists include Sorrento in their itineraries; it’s a good place to begin exploring the region, close to the airport in Naples and the must-see attractions of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
It’s simple to take a train from the central station in Naples or a ferry from its port to Sorrento, then grab a taxi to your hotel. Our secluded refuge from the crowds at the Grand Hotel Cocumella provided a quiet, yet luxurious place to regroup after active days spent sightseeing and shopping. Built in the 16th century as a monastery and a recovery place for Jesuits, it became one of the map points for the Grand Tour in the 19th century, then a hotel/hostel after WWII, before finally undergoing its final transformation in 1978 as the family-owned luxury property it is today.
Our first day was spent at the ancient Roman ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, frozen in time when Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. A guide accompanied us through both locations, explaining that we could barely scratch the surface at Pompeii; divided into nine large districts, it’s the second most visited archaeological site in Italy. To walk the ruins of this city is to glimpse at ancient Roman life in its entirety, whereas the much smaller Herculaneum gives a look at what was once a wealthier, suburban area. Both are fascinating and well worth the trip.
Our next day began with a walk into downtown Sorrento to explore the touristy shops lining the narrow streets leading out from Piazza Sant’ Antonino, the main square. Nino & Friends on Via San Cesaro became our favorite place to sample local olive oil, chocolates, cookies, and limoncello — a liqueur made from lemons grown on trees that pepper the terrain. A quick umbrella-shaded lunch at L’Abate cemented our introduction to local pasta and Neapolitan pizza while dinner later that evening at Bistro Sorrento proved our best meal of the entire trip. It’s a drive from town, but the owner’s son will pick up restaurant patrons in his convertible, upon request, later dropping them back off, fully sated on homemade high-quality meats and pastas cooked by his brother.
A taxi ride early the next morning brought us back down to the port and onto another ferry, this time to the isle of Capri. This departure from the Amalfi Coast is worth at least a day trip, or a few days if time permits. Passengers disembark at Marina Grande, where day-trippers from cruise ships and the coast add to the almost continuous congestion that overnight visitors break free from after….
By Suzanne Carmel
Photo: freeartist/Alamy Stock Photo