Sunday, October 27, 2013


Torna a Sorrento?
You’d expect a place that has been praised and fussed over by the likes of Keats, Byron, Goethe, Dickens, Ibsen, Wagner and Nietzsche would be extra-special. But I guess Sorrento’s glory days are behind it.

I took a boat recently, along the coast from Amalfi, calling at Positano and Capri, and then approaching the dramatic cliffs of Sorrento. It is indeed an impressive town from the sea approach - the cliffs rise up sheer and forbidding, the fishing (and tourist) boats nestle in little coves at their feet, and the faded old ‘grand hotels’ bristle along the cliff tops.

Sorrento: arrive by sea.
Cruise ship in Sorrento's port.
Boats and cliffs. Sorrento.
The romantic effect diminishes a bit when you disembark and encounter a few of those banes of modern enterprise in small southern Italian towns: the sleazy waiter in the beachside tourist restaurant (“welcome, preencess! Did you lose-a your ‘usband?”); dozens of just-off-the-cruise-ship-for-the-day tourists, and about half a million motorinos in the parking lot. Still Sorrento manages to provide free town wi-fi, info points which are actually manned, and a shiny new lift to take you up from the harbour to the cliff tops (for a very reasonable fee of €1).

Piazza Sant'Antonio. 
OK, so the pizza was pretty good, despite the waiter.
The lift deposits you in the communal garden where there’s a nice outdoor bar and views to die for across the Bay of Naples, with Vesuvio looming - it always looms, of course, it’s an active volcano. From there it’s a short walk to a couple of Sorrento’s remaining charming squares, Piazza San Antonino and Pizza Tasso. The latter is rather clogged with traffic, but a few horse-and-carriage chaps hang on grimly amongst the cars, smog, motorinos and North African entrepreneurs selling carvings.

Piazza Tasso is named after the poet Torquato Tasso, who stands on a pedestal in a dusty little garden nook. He’s remembered as a 16th century hit, widely read until the 19th century. His most famous poem is “Jerusalem Delivered”, an imaginative account of the Crusades. He was born in Sorrento.

Torquato Tasso on his plinth amongst the trees.
Italian traffic, anyone?
And San Antonino? Not to be confused with San Antonio of Padua. Antoninus of Sorrento (or 'Antonino', sometimes spelled 'Antonio') is the patron saint of Sorrento, a local boy (he was born in Campanga) who became a monk and hermit (he died in 625). His many miracles including protecting Sorrento from the plague and from invasions, saving a small child from a whale after it had swallowed him, and protecting from storms at sea. His shrine, in his basilica, is surrounded by silver votives attesting to his generous help.

San Antonino in Piazza Tasso.
San Antonino's shrine in his Basilica.
Sorrento has a number of churches - hey, it’s an Italian town! - and one museum of any size, the Museo Correale. The Correale family were big in Sorrento, and left all of their bits and pieces to the city. There’s rather a lot of dusty 18th and 19th century tat in the museum, but also quite a few archaeological finds from the city’s Roman era (it was a favoured Roman summer villa resort, close to Naples, Pompeii and Herculaneum). Amongst the other exhibits, most interesting were the examples of fine inlaid woodwork (still to found around Sorrento today), a marvellous collection of clocks, and some good modern Napolitano presepio. There was also a rather good temporary art exhibition on when I was there - drawings of the landscape of the Sorrentine peninsular.

Lemon granita and fresh orange juice?
Sorrento in the afternoon light.

Capri at sunset.
Speaking of which, I also hopped a bus ride that took a merry throng atop an open deck around the Sorrentine penninsular, giving wonderful view of olive trees as far as the eye could see, Capri at sunset, and views of the Gulf of Salerno and the Gulf of Naples from the little town of Sant’Agata sui Due Golfo.

Vesuvio looming. Looming , I tell you.
My tips: If you visit Sorrento, approach from the sea. And avoid that waiter.

And there are those that would love to...Return to Sorrento....Torna a's a version of the famous song by the unlikely duo of Pavarotti and Meatloaf (1995):

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