Summer in Sorrento
Take in the sights from a family-run taverna or a day-trip to Pompeii and Capri, says Teresa Machan
With its mild climate and privileged perch above the Golfo di Napoli, Sorrento enjoys one of the Mediterranean's longest tourist seasons. If you visit in early summer, before the mercury rises, expect a profusion of Mediterranean flora and perfumes – wisteria, mimosa, jasmine and vivid agapanthas – and trees heavy with lemons.
Within striking distance of Naples, Pompeii and Herculanium, Sorrento is a springboard for walks and hiking trails in the rugged Lattari Mountains that hug the Sorrentine peninsula as well as trips by bus or hydrofoil to Positano, Amalfi and the island of Capri.
Head for Piazza Tasso and explore the web of streets that branch off it. Start at the 15th-Century Duomo (6) (Via Pieta), topped by a triple-tiered belltower. The cathedral is a focal point during the Black Procession that takes place during Holy Week. Inside are examples of Sorrento's famed intarsio (wood mosaic) work as well as paintings by artists from Sorrento's Neapolitan School of the 1700s.
Get your bearings by heading along Via San Cesareo, then right down Vicolo II Fuoro for the nicely manageable Museobottega della Tarsialignea. Housed in a typical provincial terracotta-hued townhouse, its collection of furniture, paintings, prints, photos, decorative arts and artefacts is curated to reconstruct a view of 19th-Century Sorrento.
Turn left out of the museum towards Piazza della Vittoria and follow Via Marine Grande downhill beyond hotel Bellevue Syrene (Piazza della Vittoria 5) towards the fishing village known as Marine Grande. Pause at Syrene for an espresso on the delightful shaded terrace where original columns frame the view to Naples and Vesuvius.
As you meander downhill, you'll pass under one of the town's three gates, Porta Marina Grande, the ancient gate to the sea. Marina Grande (a bit of a misnomer) opens on to a small fishing bay. The clutch of family run seafood tavernas offer a peaceful diversion from the bustle of Piazza Tasso. Poke your nose into tiny Chiesa da Sant'Anna and head up Via del Mar for a peek through the door of Fratelli Aprea – builders and repairers of traditional wooden boats since 1670.
Lunch at the Trattoria Da Emilia (via Marina Grande 62), whose decked terrace skims the water's edge, is a delight. Try the excellent antipasta della casa (€9) – grilled aubergine, squid, mozzarella, sardines, dried ham, olives – followed by the mixed fried local fish – fresh off the boat – washed down with a carafe of white white (€12).
Waddle back up to Piazza Vittoria, turning right on to Via Padre Giuliani. In business since 1957 with a dazzling array of flavours, Gelateria Davide (Giuliani 41) offers interesting seasonal variations (wisteria) and can organise ice-cream-making classes to boot. I can vouch for the coupling of walnut with the tart Vesuvius mulberry.
When you visit Sorrento, you can't miss out on that most civilised of pastimes, the aperitivo. If staying at the art nouveau Grand Hotel Vittoria, even better. Take a pew on the hotel's spectacular terrace (non-guests welcome) and peruse the cocktail list – the house cocktail of gin mixed with grenadine, lemon juice, tonic and the juice of oranges from the garden (€12.50) is a winner on sultry evenings.
Book ahead for a table in the romantic vault at Il Buco (Rampa Marina Piccola, 5; 00 39 081 878 2354). It's not cheap when you factor in wine and cover charge, but my fried turbot in citrus and lavender-flavoured breadcrumbs was worth every one of my €25.
If you can manage an early start, catch a morning train from Sorrento station (the Circumvesuviana route connects the town with Pompeii and Herculanium) to Pompeii (one-day ticket €11). You'll need a minimum three hours to do it justice.
Renting a hand-held audio guide is recommended (€6.50/over-60s free – take some ID). You'll have skipped the crowds and it's well worth doing, before the midday heat starts to burn.
Need to know
Aer Lingus (0818 365 000; aerlingus.com) flies direct from Dublin to Naples's Capodichino airport (about 30 miles from Sorrento). Curreri (curreriviaggi.it) runs regular transfers between the airport and Sorrento. Larger cruise ships dock at Naples; from there you can reach Sorrento either on the Circumvesuviana railway (via Pompeii) or, in summer only, via a 35-minute hydrofoil journey.
Where to stay
Offering matchless views of the Bay of Naples and a Michelin-starred chef at its Terrazza Bosquet restaurant, the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria (00 39 081 877 7871; exvitt.it) oozes pedigree from every ceiling fresco. Doubles from €300.
Located on the Marina Grande with a host of seafood tavernas on its doorstep, the Hotel Admiral (00 39 081 878 1076; gigliohotels.it) is a water's edge three-star hotel (terrace but no beach). Rooms are simply furnished but comfortable. Doubles from €70.
A smart boutique tucked on a quiet street behind Corsa Italia, Palazzo Tasso (00 39 081 878 3579; palazzotasso.com) has 11 minimalist rooms perfect for purists eschewing fussier alternatives. Doubles with breakfast from €50.