When it comes to style and sophistication, Sorrento has it in (buckets and) spades. This clifftop coastal belle is the pin-up town for southwest Italy – home to the citrus groves, winding streets and pavement cafés that travellers expect from the Amalfi Coast. It’s also a springboard for day trips to some of Italy’s best-loved sites, making it a popular summertime destination. So where can you go if you want a little space?
1. Bag the best bay views
With views across the Bay of Naples and all the way to Vesuvius, it’s tempting to dedicate days (and nights) to cappuccinos and cocktails on the high-up terraces of Sorrento’s best hotels.
But Villa Comunale is particularly lovely for admiring those quintessential views – with Pavarotti-esque buskers providing the soundtrack.
In summer, the park is open until midnight, so come at sunset when the heat of the day has burnt out.
2. Go nuts for gelato
Sorrento can become blistering in mid-summer. Some visitors take the opportunity to slip into cool spaces such as the 15th-century Duomo or Museo Correale. Others dive straight into a gelateria. Family-run Gelateria David seems to serve every flavour under the sun, but the cherry on the top is its classes. Book early and learn the sweet secrets behind handmade gelato.
3. Venture into the valley
When you first see Il Vallone dei Mulino, curiously located in central Sorrento behind Tasso Square, you could think you’ve stumbled onto a film set for a Tolkien adaptation. A volcano created this towering gorge tens of thousands of years ago, and now ruined wheat mills are carpeted in green foliage. If you’ve a head for heights, walk the bridge for the best views.
4. Get out of town
Sorrento doesn’t have its own beach as such. But you’re within easy reach of plenty of coves. That said, they can become incredibly busy when the sun shines – unless you find Bagni della Regina Giovanna.
The ‘Baths of Queen Joan’ is a cerulean lagoon, circled by steep rocks and just below the ruins of a Roman villa. You can jump on a bus from central Sorrento and be at the baths in just over ten minutes. Or, if you’re feeling energetic, walk around two-and-a-half kilometres along Via Capo to get here.
5. Go Greek
For many, a visit to Pompeii is ancient history. Once you’ve explored this extraordinary site, take a trip to Paestum. It was originally named after Poseidon and its UNESCO-listed temples remain striking monuments to ancient Greek architecture and culture. Be sure to see the oldest parts, including the temples to Hera and Neptune from 450BC. And dedicate a day to this trip – getting here from Sorrento takes around two hours by car.
6. Embrace island life
When everyone else is boarding a boat to Capri, find your way to Procida – taking the summertime passenger crossing to Ischia, which stops here first. It’s the tiniest island in the Bay of Naples, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in pastel-hued good looks. And it’s a picturesque place to get a taste of authentic southern Italian life – whether in a back-street trattoria or the marinas busy with fishermen (featured in The Talented Mr Ripley).
There are historical monuments peppered across the island too. Follow the catacombs to the hideaway chapel within the impressive Abbazia di San Michele Arcangelo. Or pair the stuccoes inside Santa Maria delle Grazie with sea views from the terrace just outside.
7. See the other Pompeii
Herculaneum is another archaeological wonder if you don’t quite fancy its busier neighbour, Pompeii.
Struck by both an earthquake and a volcano, it’s now a fossilised fishing town that gives you a fascinating, if macabre, insight into ancient Roman life.
It’s also ever-changing, with academics still making discoveries. If you decide to drive here, be sure to stock up on change for the toll roads.
The best hotels in Sorrento
To branch out further along the shore, here’s how to plan a romantic road trip around the Amalfi Coast.