We took a bullet train from Rome to Naples. From the Naples train station, we took a metro to the port after walking up three flights of stairs and around a glorious castle. Luggage in tow. From the port, we took a ferry across the bay to a bus to our hotel in Sorrento.
Getting there is half the fun.
Picture the bay like La Jolla. A massive crescent holds it, with Naples at one tip and Sorrento at the other. These two cities are like comparing Los Angeles to San Diego. You will arrive in LA, but you know you want to stay in San Diego. I may be a little opinionated, here, but what can I say? It’s the same with Naples and Sorrento.
As you cross on the ferry, taking in the beautiful overview, you are being watched by a Presence. Brooding in the center of this curve, crater gaping, is Mt Vesuvius. The sunshine takes nothing away from the dramatic black hillside that slopes to the bay. Because you know what’s under it.
Certainly, it was prime real estate and still there is a townscape at its base and along the shore. We are going to tour it. Absolutely it will be an exciting place to visit and absolutely you don’t want to live there.
Arriving in Sorrento is an experience. The ferry has parked at the foot of the Cliffs of Insanity. You can see the town up there, sparkling with promise. There are three ways to reach it. First, you can hop on a little bus that will climb the road for you. This is what we did. Because second, you can walk it yourself pulling your effects behind you and gaining buns and thighs of steel. Or blisters of lava. Whatever. Third, there is an elevator hidden so well, that unless you are an intrepid explorer with nothing better to do, you will never find. I have placed the treasure map below for you, in case you ever arrive in Sorrento yourself.
Our hotel room was much larger than that in Rome, with a little balcony that let me watch the traffic go by: busses and limos with tourists, horse-drawn buggies working the plaza, a few locals trying to get to work. The street is too narrow for two-way traffic plus pedestrians…you don’t get a sidewalk and you hop into a storefront when you need to duck sideways.
The wee hub of Sorrento is delicious. Everything is a shade of yellow, the buildings, the light. It feels small, cozy and relaxing. I suppose there’s a little feel of being on Catalina Island, with the harbor below, the mountains around the backside. You can stroll down the main street (Corso Italia), closed to cars, in about twenty casual minutes. It’s lined with designer storefronts and pizzerias, perfumeries, jumbled souvenir shops, gates to museum gardens, and pubs.
But if you really want to shop, move one alley over. Or two. The narrow mazes take you up and down between the main street and the cliff. You can’t get lost, so lose yourself in delight: the smell of fresh leather purses, the dazzle of bright yellow limoncello shops, soft breezy blue linen clothing, the sound of clinking glasses from al fresco restaurant tables.
Now it’s time to sit down and put something ridiculously fabulous in your mouth. We found two spots along the main street that were so good we became life fans on day one. The first is a spot that began as a gelateria and expanded into a restaurant of sorts. We ordered a margherita pizza and one with smoked mozzarella, ham, and funghi. It was mushroom season in Italy and everywhere we went, the porcini was fat and buttery and knock-your-socks off good. Italians do not mess around with cheese. Cheese is art. Fresh, smoked mozzarella puts to shame anything America has ever plopped onto a pizza.
Which reminds me: you are supposed to eat pizza with a fork and knife. The crust is very thin, salty, chewy, and crispy where the wood oven kissed it. It reminds me of when my sisters and I used to warm tortillas over the open flame of our stovetop gas burner and snatch it off just before the bubbles began to burn. So. Good. Cooks go very light on the tomato sauce and seem to prefer sun-dried tomatoes to fresh everywhere, which surprised me.
If you wander a little further out in Sorrento, you will find their prize lemon trees, guarded and shaded from the hot summer sun. Sorrento is all about lemons in general and limoncello in specific. Samples are handed out with reverence, little shot glasses of liquid gold. There are ancient olive groves cliffside and the twisted old trees have green and black netting snaked around the trunks in preparation for the upcoming harvest. The olive oil is primo but the limoncello is specialty of the house.
Which brings me back to our table.
We ordered gelato while staring at a display case that overflowed with pastries, tarts, chocolates, flavored meringues, baba au rum, croissants, enough to know that once again, you weren’t going to be able to eat it all.
The gelato was superb. But I have to tell you about the other gelato place, too. Because there is a red velvet throne outside the door and the walls inside are completely covered in photos and the people in there are not interested in the tourist experience, they are interested in gelato that is so good, you should be thanking them that they are even open and selling you any.
Later, I am going to write you an entire post on nothing but gelato.
Meanwhile, here are some photos. The first was taken around 9am – in the morning – and sums up my entire Italian experience. Glorious.From the dock, find a tiny obscure walkway up tight against the cliff and head west. Follow behind private beaches to the elevator, 2 euros each.