Sorrento is love at first sight. There is beauty everywhere, even the tiny train station with its flower-covered stone walls has me in awe. I arrive just after dark with no reservations and no idea where to go, luckily it’s mid-October, shoulder season, so I’m not worried about finding a place to stay.
As fate would have it, I met an American couple from California on the train ride from Rome. We become fast friends, especially after surviving the Naples train station experience together. With no reservations and at their urging, I decide to take a chance and share a taxi with them hoping their hotel has a room for me.
The lobby of Hotel Mediterraneo looks like a little piece of heaven, gleaming white with touches of sapphire throughout. It is crisp and immaculately clean. Francesco at the front desk tells me he does have a room for me and for a “very nice rate.” He has a warm friendly smile making me like him right away. After checking in, I say goodbye to my California friends and have a glass of wine and snacks at the lobby bar. I know the hotel is on the water, but it’s too dark outside for me to get much of a view.
Thanks to the six-hour time difference, I am wide-awake long before dawn so I shower and wait in eager anticipation of the morning light. When I can finally see, I’m blown away by the view from this Cliffside hotel- Mountains and Mediterranean as far as I can see.
Sleep deprived and desperate for coffee, I head to the 5th floor restaurant for breakfast where pastries, cakes, and fruits, meats, cheeses and eggs are spread out on tiered platters. Normally, I only have coffee for breakfast, without it my brain doesn’t function properly, but I can’t resist at least having a croissant. I should have known better, but a warm croissant sounds heavenly so I drop it into the commercial toaster. And as I do tiny little alarm bells go off inside of my head right away, but with no way to retrieve my it, I’m forced to wait for it to go through the little conveyor belt. Within seconds there’s smoke…and flames. My heart is racing as I frantically look for help. With burnt croissant smoke billowing through the air, waiters appear and rush over to extinguish the fire. I apologize profusely, but their stern-faces say shame me. The burnt smell is awful and now the other diners are staring at me, the stupid American girl who put a croissant in the toaster. I want to yell, Yes I caught the place on fire, but it isn’t my fault, I hadn’t had my coffee yet.
I sheepishly tell Francesco what I did and he just smiles, not looking the least bit annoyed with me. Relieved, I ask for thoughts on how to spend my morning since it’s chilly and rainy. He suggests I catch the double-decker bus outside of the hotel to tour the Sorrento coast. Fifteen minutes later in the drizzling rain, I hop on the upper level of the open bus, plug in my headphones for a tour narrative in English, and cruise along the Sorrento coastline. We pass through small authentic non-touristy villages, by backyards loaded with olive and lemon trees and tiny little gardens. The houses are far from beautiful, faded and chipped, some with grass carpeting on the roofs and haphazardly clothes lines strung across patios and balconies. This is the real Italy.
I spend the afternoon exploring Sorrento’s shops and cafes and they are everywhere. I’ve read Americans often make the mistake of trying to sit at café tables and order only coffee, too many trips to Starbuck’s perhaps? Tables are reserved for customers ordering food, coffee is served standing at the bar. Turns out not to be an issue for me, I can’t say seem to say no to the food, even when I set out just to have coffee. Fresh sandwiches, focaccia bread pizzas, and pastries are piled high and on display in every café, making “No” out of the question for me.
Sorrento’s main piazza is bustling with activity at all times. The main street, Corso Italia, has all of the higher end clothing and jewelry shops. Parallel to it, there are pedestrian-only alleyways lined with tinier, less expensive shops, their goods spilling out onto the sidewalks. I pass restaurants, art galleries and tons of charming street vendors along the way. Open barrels of roasting chestnuts and crepes cooking at an alley vendor stops me dead in my tracks, I eagerly hand over three Euros in exchange for paper wrapped warm Nutella and white chocolate filled crepe. “Grazie,” I say, my Italian limited to only a few necessary phrases. Most shop owners also know only enough English to make transactions possible.
Sorrento is the birthplace of Limoncello, a sweet delicious lemon liquor served with lunch and dinner in many places. There’s a shop in the alley that makes it on-site, but it can be purchased almost anywhere, even at the airport.
After realizing I may just be the only woman in Sorrento not wearing a scarf, I duck into a shop and end up buying several linen ones and a pashmina, all for under €20. Women here are not only very well dressed, but oddly bundled up with nothing, not even their toes, exposed. With such mild temperatures, I’m curious why, but it doesn’t take me long to find my answer…
It’s the men. They are incredibly bold and don’t hesitate to let you know what they are thinking. Interactions with most men, store clerks, waiters, etc. are almost all laden with compliments, “You are very beautiful.” And “Would you like to have a drink?” I’ve never been approached more in my lifetime as in one day in Sorrento. I’m flattered the first few times, but quickly learn to brush them off by saying, “Yo o Mareeto.” (I have a husband).
My new friends from California hire a private car and invite me to join them on a drive around the Amalfi Coast. I offer to share expenses with them and bring my suitcase, just in case I feel inspired to stay somewhere along the way.
Rafaello, our English-speaking driver keeps us in stitches with his antics and jokes while we cruise the coast in his Mercedes Sedan. Several times, Rafaello stops right in the middle of the road so we can all get out to look over the edge of the cliff. He’s not the only one, seems this is the way you sightsee along the Amalfi coast, No parking- No worries, just leave your car in the road and get out. We do this all along the way to take pictures and check out the street vendors perched on the edge of the cliffs selling peppers, limoncello, and fresh squeezed juice. Rafaello waves and chats with everyone along the way. He raves about a magical restaurant high above the town of Positano, which turns out to be the most incredible place I ever experience – La Tagliata, a place I end up spending the night before ending up right back in Sorrento. I have lunch near the main square at Pizzeria Tasso, where Marco the owner, sees my suitcase and asks where I’m staying.
“I’m not sure,” I say. “Do you have any recommendations,” I ask.
“I have a friend I can call. Just wait,” he says.
As I’m finishing my pizza and wine, Marco introduces me to Nello, an older man with an apartment for rent across the street. Turns out Nello spends half his time in my home state of Florida. I thank Marco and head across the street to my new apartment tucked away inside of a 300 year-old building. My place overlooks the bustling and noisy pedestrian alley with all of the shops and cafes. Sleep doesn’t come easy, even after breaking into my emergency stash of Ambien, I lay awake half the night thinking about my time here.
While I make a mental note to find a quieter place to stay next time, I have no regrets about how chance encounters lead me to all of the unique places so far along the Amalfi coast. Despite my rough start in Naples, I am deeply madly in love with this country, especially the postcard-perfect town of Sorrento. Next stop Rome…
WHERE TO STAY:
Via Crawford, 85 , 80065 Sant’Agnello di Sorrento Napoli, Italy
+39 081 878 1352 · http://www.mediterraneosorrento.com/
Ulisse Deluxe Hostel
Via del Mare, 22 80067 Sorrento Peninsula Naples, Italy
081 877 4753 http://www.ulissedeluxe.com/
WHERE TO EAT:
Ristorante Pizzeria Tasso- Via Correale, 11 80067 Sorrento Peninsula Naples, Italy
+39 081 878 5809 http://www.ristorantetasso.it/
Il Capanno- Corso Marion Crawford, 58, 80065 Sant’Agnello Napoli, Italy
+39 081 878 2453