Just saying the names of Sorrento, Capri and Amalfi Coast conjures up images of the warm Italian sun, steep seaside cliffs, and the blue, inviting waters of the Mediterranean. The beautiful Sorrentine Peninsula of Italy has inspired artists, poets and travellers for centuries, and with good reason.
The countryside, houses, and topography of southern Italy are a stark contrast to the more industrial north of the country. The south is more arid and the air lemon-scented; the landscape becomes hilly and steep towards the Mediterranean coastline, with houses and towns perched on cliffs. The local cuisine is fresh and delicious. Food is locally sourced from the land and sea.
It feels like you’ve discovered a little bit of paradise. And you have. Our stay in this gorgeous part of Italy was not nearly long enough. But we packed memorable experiences from our multi-generational adventure that will last a lifetime.
Exploring Sorrento, Capri and the Amalfi Coast
The town of Sorrento is a great place to base yourself for discovering the islands of Capri, Ischia and the Amalfi Coast. But don’t miss enjoying the lemon-scented charms of Sorrento itself. The town is very pedestrian-oriented, with narrow streets and a compact town centre. You can get anywhere quickly by walking.
Things to do in Sorrento
There are many places to stay in Sorrento that encourage multi-day visits. The shopping in Sorrento is excellent. Stroll down the lively Corso Italia and the central Piazza Tasso and pop into the charming boutiques. You’ll find shops specializing in leather goods, jewelry, ceramics and limoncello – a specialty liqueur of the region.
There are several limoncello stores offering samples of this delicious lemon-infused digestif. A bottle of this pale liquid gold makes for a memorable souvenir. The city is also very popular with British tourists visiting Sorrento. Don’t be surprised when you will hear English spoken throughout the town.
Sorrento’s Cloister of San Francesco (Chiostro di San Francesco) is an oasis of tranquility that’s just steps away from the historic town’s central piazza, Sant’Antonino. The cloister is made up of a seventh-century monastery and a late-medieval church, both dedicated to St Francis of Assisi. It’s an impressive showpiece of various architectural styles from pre-Roman through Arabic to medieval.
From Sorrento, you can travel by train north to Rome, Naples or Pompeii and Herculaneum, or by bus south to the towns along the Amalfi Coast. Even if you have rented a car to get to Sorrento (and we admire your courage), we would highly recommend visiting the Amalfi Coast by bus. You can purchase bus tickets at the train station in Sorrento, not far from the main square.
Planning a day trip from Sorrento to the towns and fishing villages along the incredible Amalfi Coast is a must do. The winding coastal road is bordered by steep cliffs on one side, and the azure blue waters of the Mediterranean on the other. It is one of the most spectacular drives in the world, but you won’t see a thing if you’re driving.
The easy solution? Book a coach trip on a bus driven by a professional local driver. Sitting up high in a comfortable coach seat, you’ll be able to enjoy the the views, follow the narrow curving road, and take some photos and videos while you’re at it.
It’s a breathtaking journey, and makes for a great day tour, depending on how many stops you take along the way and how long you stay in the picturesque hillside towns. This classic stretch of road gives you a tempting taste of what a full on southern Italy road trip would be like.
Town of Amalfi
On our all-too-brief visit, we enjoyed a wonderful stop in the town of Amalfi, complete with gelato, espressos, and sips of locally-made limoncello. One of the town’s particular specialities is hand-made paper, often scented with lemons and oranges grown on the hills above the town. This handmade stationary makes for a perfect gift for friends and family back home.
Scented lemon groves are everywhere along the Amalfi Coast. From those lemons are produced fantastic products to enjoy and take home, including; candied lemon, chocolate-covered lemon and orange peel, and of course, limoncello.
Limoncello is a strong lemon-based liqueur that is famous in the region. Many shops that sell limoncello offer tasting samples of their wares, and may even produce the limoncello in-house. It’s worth the purchase of a bottle to pack in your suitcase, as limoncello tends to be quite expensive back home.
The small island of Capri has been a favorite destination for Roman emperors, celebrities and just plain regular folk for centuries. From Sorrento, book passage on one of the fast hydrofoil ferries that leave nearly every hour to Capri. It’s a short 30 minute trip through the Bay of Naples, with views of Mount Vesuvius as you speed along the water.
One of the Island’s major attractions is the famous Blue Grotto or La Grotta Azzurra, which is accessible via hired boat tours. But the shopping on Capri is pretty swish too. It’s fun to window shop the many high-end designer shops, stroll along the narrow streets, and enjoy gorgeous views of the Bay of Naples. We also discovered the best blood-orange granita drink from a vendor in the Marina Grande, the main port of Capri. The granita was cool and refreshing on a hot day, which it will likely be on the island, even in spring or fall.
What to do on Capri
Upon docking, if you wish to visit the famous Blue Grotto, you can hire a boat to take you there straight away. The Grotto is a very popular attraction. You’ll need some time to travel there and wait your turn to enter the Grotto in a smaller craft. If you have more than a full day planned on Capri, enjoy a visit. If you only have a few hours on the Island, save it for a return trip.
From the harbour, you can walk, or take the more popular funicular up the steep hill to get to the main square of Capri. From here you can stroll the narrow, car-free streets, people watch, and window-shop at the designer stores.
We chose to do a small hike through the quiet residential areas off the main square. The regular viewpoints along the way showcase spectacular views of the Island and Amalfi Coast. Another great destination (more accessible by bus) is Villa Jovis, the ancient roman villa built by Emperor Tiberius in the first century B.C.
There are many restaurants to enjoy on Capri. You cannot go wrong by sitting down to a fabulous meal of antipasti, pizza, and pasta at the Da Gemma. It’s been a local institution since the 19th century. We enjoyed a memorable birthday meal overlooking Capri and the Bay of Naples. Le sigh.
The beauty of Sorrento, Capri and the Amalfi Coast is quite simply, magnificent. The people are friendly and they like children (just as in most of Italy), the food and weather are wonderful, and the views unforgettable. Alla prossima!
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Photo credits: S. Laroye; Shutterstock
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