Directly across the Bay of Naples from Naples is the quaint cliffside town of Sorrento, about 30 miles by the coast, passing the looming Mount Vesuvius as you go, the still steaming vents a reminder that this giant is just taking a nap, not dormant. Though the food is similar, the character of the two towns is night and day. Sorrento is quite small and sparkling clean, the grid of small lanes is populated by tiny old Fiats driven by even tinier old women and Piaggio Apes put-puttering along alleys barely wide enough to let them pass. Built on a flat spot between the steep mountains and a sheer seaside cliff wall, Sorrento soldiers on like it has for centuries. The town is thick with citrus orchards in terraced patches and throughout all of the backyards and gardens through town. Growing oranges but mostly lemons, in a variety of sizes, from tiny handfuls to head-sized juggernauts. This is a lemon town. And every shop, blazing with yellow ceramics and clothing, will remind you. And the liquor of choice, of course, is the local limoncello!
Walking around town.
The main downtown area of Sorrento is very walkable and compact, a grid of small alleys and lanes with loads of shops, restaurants and bars, mostly pedestrian or infrequently trafficked. It’s a very clean city and a bit tourist oriented but not too obnoxiously so. You’ll find loads of lemon related items to buy, that’s the main theme. And ceramics. My leg was injured while I was in town so I wasn’t walking as much as I normally would but I found the town very easy to navigate and go slow in. Lots of charm.
Our apartment just south of downtown.
We found a great apartment just outside of downtown a few blocks south on Via degli Aranci right on the edge of a deep canyon that runs down into the middle of town. This area was perfect, nothing but locals and pretty quiet. Lots of food options within a block of our place and a great butcher/grocery. To get into town we would cross the bridge over the canyon, take some stairs down, and follow its edge until it meets the town a couple of blocks north. You could see the remains of old dwellings built into the sides of the cliffs and the canyon was so deep you could see whole buildings way down below. It was beautiful.
The cliff at the edge of town.
Sorrento ends abruptly at the edge of a sheer cliff that drops to the sea. It’s pretty spectacular. There’s a pay elevator that you can take down to the port below and a winding cliffside climb that is supposed to be reserved for locals only (though it wasn’t being enforced in any way). From the cliff’s edge you get a great view of Mount Vesuvius and can imagine the view of its eruption thousands of years ago.
Food in Sorrento.
The food in Sorrento is fairly similar to the food of Naples. Lots of pizza and pasta except here the seafood becomes more of a star. The Amalfi coast has a unique local pasta called scialatielli that originates in Amalfi town that’s sort of like fatty fettucine and typically served with seafood. We also tried the local beans with pasta that we had in Naples which here includes mussels.
I also enjoyed the abundance of alcohol vending machines throughout town.
Il Giovedi Santo – Holy Thursday processional.
In the middle of town in a church we ran across this photo exhibit of the town’s Holy Thursday processional, the day of holy week that celebrates the last supper. This procession features the long robes and pointed top masks that we encountered frequently in southern Spain but had yet to see in Italy. I don’t want to take any credit for these images. These are just my photos of Riccardo di Martino’s photos of the event. But I thought they were interesting enough to include.
As an American, it’s hard to shake the visual associations with the Klu Klux Klan and the “tiki torch whites” of more recent public demonstrations but there’s no actual relation between the two. Other than the KKK adopting the look of these outfits for their terrorist activities. Actually the KKK targeted American Catholics as well as “non-white” races.
Down by the port.
Once down to the seaside you’ll find a series of small boat docks and commercial properties which were all closed at this time of year. And beyond that the large commercial port of Sorrento with 9 commercial piers and the ferry terminal. There are lots of little places to grab a snack and chill with interesting views up at the cliffs. You can drive down from the town on a winding road but we took the elevator.