Our latest tale from the boot room comes from Lindsay Salt, who travelled from Canada with her husband to Sorrento, Italy with HF Holidays.
“Last April we spent a week hiking and sightseeing with HF Holidays in the Sorrento Peninsula in southern Italy. We were lucky to have Gordon and Liz, both experienced, friendly and informative leaders, to head up our group.
The bustling coastal town of Sorrento sits high up on the cliffs locked in between the sea and the mountains. It is ideally placed for exploring all the important surrounding sights.
The charming, privately-owned Caravel Hotel in Sant’Agnello, just a 20 minute walk from the heart of Sorrento, is the base for this HFH holiday.
On the group’s first evening together, Gordon led us to the nearby Piazzetta Marinella.
Here many Italian families and tourists come to soak up the local atmosphere, to marvel at the precipitous rock face and the superb views across the bay to the centre of Sorrento, to nearby Naples and over the water to the Isle of Capri.
This is the perfect spot to slowly unwind from the day’s activities and watch the sun slowly sink below the horizon. Gordon pointed out to us the 16th century Church of the Frati Cappuccini, painted pale corn yellow and white, and a small palace which for 20 years was home to the American novelist Francis Marion Crawford, noted for his many books set in Italy.
Most patrons dine late in Italy. So when, on our own for dinner one evening, we found our way to the nearby Moonlight Restaurant just before eight o’clock only a few tables were occupied.
As if by magic, half an hour later the whole place was abuzz and the tantalizing aromas of typical Neapolitan cuisine were making our mouths water. A glass of prosecco and a tasty woodstove-baked pizza completed an enjoyable evening.
The next day Gordon guided us along narrow alleyways bordered by high stone walls turning first this way, then that. En route, we passed several small family-owned lemon groves.
Traditionally the trees were supported by a sturdy framework of chestnut poles. Overhead they were protected by a roof made of thin canes and were shielded from the wind by split chestnut strips. Blooms of mauve wisteria cascaded over the walls on either side and filled the air with their heady perfume.
Chatting companionably with our fellow hikers, we emerged into the busy Piazza Torquato Tasso, the main square, in the centre of Sorrento. Bypassing the surrounding restaurants, we made our way along the Via Pieta in the old quarter of town.
Tall shuttered buildings with wrought-iron balconies cast shadows over the crowded passageway. There were gelateria, pizzeria, stalls displaying fresh fruit and vegetables and all manner of products made from the famous Sorrentine lemons. There were scarves aplenty, colourful ceramics, inlaid woodwork and intricate lacework.
Our group made slow progress first attracted by one thing, then another. At last directly in front of us, was the triple-tiered bell tower with its elegant majolica clock and, slightly to one side, the 600 year-old duomo, the cathedral. Definitely a photo op!
Continuing this journey of discovery, we arrived at a small piazza featuring a larger-than-life-size statue as well as the Church of St. Francis with its white marble façade.
The four colonnades surrounding the secluded cloister featured variously shaped archways. Some of the arches were rounded, some were pointed and some were, well, just in-between.
Rounding a corner we followed Gordon to a large verandah overlooking the Marino Piccolo where customers were watching the ferries come and go while enjoying the sea view and some light refreshment.
Collectively, we decided to stop for a morning cappuccino or caffe latte. How satisfying it was to order a coffee and know it would be served in a china cup!
In Sorrento, coffee is definitely not for “take-out”. Amazingly, one sits at a table and converses with one’s companions.
Now it’s time to hike. We rode up more than a thousand feet by bus to the village of Fontanelle. From there, we happily surrendered to the call of the hills behind Sorrento.
With Liz leading the way, we climbed steeply uphill past small family-run vegetable plots, citrus and olive groves and vineyards. She explained that on the birth of each daughter 100 vines were planted which would mature in 20 years. However, for each son 100 olive trees were planted which, if cared for correctly, would produce fruit for several hundred years providing an endless supply of olive oil or “liquid gold”.
We were thankful to reach the high point and continue along a wide avenue on the ridge that led through a shaded pine forest. A while later we emerged at a Carmelite convent, formerly a monastery.
The views were to die for. In one direction, was distant Naples and Mount Vesuvius. The other way lay the Gulf of Salerno.
Now for the long descent. Down, down, down we went, down steps and steep paved passageways. En route, we rested awhile at a quaint little bar, the “Smoking Cat”, in Sant’Agata and sipped some refreshing ice-cold drinks.
Intrigued by the name, we asked the proprietor to explain its derivation. In the 1940s, he said, the family had adopted a cat and taught him to smoke. This proved to be a popular attraction.
When the now-famous cat died, a statue to commemorate him was erected in the courtyard.
On our “free” day we explored Sorrento a little more. From the old town we meandered down a cobbled street, then passed under an ancient Greek-Roman archway and so came to Marina Grande.
This marina, in fact, is not so grand, but is quite small. Ambling along the waterfront, on one side we watched brightly painted fishing boats bobbing in the bay; on the other pastel-coloured buildings snuggled beneath the rocky cliff face.
Lunchtime was fast approaching. A serving of fish fresh from the morning’s catch would be a welcome treat. But which ristorante to choose? Soon we were seated at Amelia’s and our order placed.
Leisurely, we watched the world go by. There were families with young children clutching stuffies … a grandpa and grandson, soccer ball in hand …an old dog lazing in the sunshine … freshly washed laundry hanging from upper balconies. Dining al fresco under a canvas canopy which protected us from the midday sun, we savoured a delicious plate of Spaghetti ai frutti di mare, spaghetti with seafood.
Everything tasted absolutely delicious.
Now that we’d learned our way around Sorrento, we were ready to venture further afield.
HF Holidays had an interesting itinerary planned for the week ahead. Gordon and Liz would introduce us to the sheer beauty of the rugged Amalfi Coast, the quaint former fishing villages precariously perched cliffside, the doomed cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, the ash-covered slopes of the slumbering volcano, Mount Vesuvius, the magic of the famed Isle of Capri and some amazing walks along ancient footpaths that were once the only connection between the hillside towns.
Let our next adventure begin!
Thank you Lindsay for your tale from the boot room, you’ve given a real flavour of your holiday in Sorrento.