When I first told people I was spending a week in Sorrento, I was met with more than a few dubious looks and some slight confusion: "Why would you ever want to spend a week in Sorrento? What will you even do?" Usually considered a pass-through city, Sorrento is both overlooked and underestimated. Though it's seaside views don't quite match those of Positano, it's stunning cliffs, bustling town center, and close proximity to the rest of the Amalfi Coast make it an excellent home base at a fraction of the cost. While Positano's beauty is hard to beat, I found in Sorrento what was lacking in it's more glitzy neighbor - eclectic restaurants where quality offerings did not necessarily mean a hefty bill, easy transportation in and around the city, and a local atmosphere that has yet to be overrun by tourists. Of course, my Sorrento experience was made that much more wonderful by meeting my new friend Tania, a lovely Aussie native who returned to Sorrento several times before quitting her corporate finance job and moving permanently to the coastal city. I was lucky enough to have connected with her on CouchSurfing, an app that allows travelers to publicly post their trips and network with locals for either accommodation or to arrange meet ups. What started as a dinner ended up as a few more dinners, a hiking trip, and a brand new friend that I look forward to seeing again in the future. Check out Tania's blog Abi's Insights for more recommendations on Italy and abroad!
One of the most memorable things I did not only in Sorrento, but during my entire time in Italy, was hike Il Sentiero degli Dei - the famed Path of Gods. Beginning in Nocelle, about a 10 minute drive from Positano, the trail winds along the edge of the Lattari Mountain range and features stunning coastal views at every turn. I didn't think I'd have a chance to check out the hike for myself since, while accessible by public transportation, it would take almost as long to get to Nocelle and back as to complete the hike. Thankfully, Tania came to the rescue; she knew a local guide who worked for Sorrento Hiking and was happy to take us. I had heard from several people that the trail, although well marked, was much better if you went with someone who had previously done it so you can really enjoy the scenery. I quickly jumped on Tania's offer. The best part in my opinion however, was that the guided hike included pick up and drop off in Sorrento, which meant no public transportation hassles - well worth the $45 alone. We met our guide Fulvio at 8am in Piazza Tasso and off we went! A couple warnings: first, sit up front if you get easily car sick - the winding roads will make anyone feel nauseous, including me. Second, the Path of Gods is no joke - the trail gets very steep in certain areas, making it hard on the knees and can get you easily winded (at least for me since I don't believe in working out). And you will sweat. A lot. Starting early in the morning is a must to avoid the harsh noon sun, especially in summer, as are a sturdy pair of sneakers and a large bottle of water. The hike itself takes 3-4 hours, but its worth every minute of it. The views are breathtaking; with Positano harbor spread out below, the wake of the boats can be seen as they ferry passengers to Capri and Praiano. On a clear day, you can see as all the way down the coast to the where the mountains end, with the islands of Sirenuse easily spotted popping out of the sea. Fulvio not only was a wonderful guide who cheerfully pointed out various herbs and plants growing wild along the trail, but doubled as a fantastic photographer, making sure we never missed the perfect spot for a photo opp. It didn't end there though; the cherry on top was the bottle of prosecco and ripe grapes that Fulvio surprised us with when we reached the midway point. I couldn't think of a better way to work off all that gelato, pasta, and croissants. If you need a carb-load after all that exercise, make sure to stop by Lemon Point for some bruschetta, fresh squeezed lemonade, and homemade goat cheese.
Much like Florence, the foodie in me shaped the majority of my visit to Sorrento. With the help of Tania and her 10/10 recommendations, I was more than impressed with what the town had to offer; from stuffed zucchini flowers, to cheesy eggplant Parmesan, to corn flake encrusted swordfish, my taste buds were in heaven. Tania took me to Pepe Bianco our first night, a new restaurant that served classic Italian and Mediterranean dishes with a modern twist. Occupying a quiet corner in the center of Sorrento, the floor-to-ceiling glass windows open to the cobbled street, creating an inviting atmosphere perfect for warm autumn nights like when we wandered in. This was Tania's second visit and the owner immediately recognized her, joking about an unfortunate wine incident from the previous week and speaking to her in Italian. The man then turned to greet me, completely in Italian, which left me with a nervous smile and deer-in-headlights expression. Not that this was unusual by now - I quickly learned after landing in Italy that I apparently look very Italian, despite not having any Italian heritage whatsoever, which has led to many awkward introductions ("Uhm... non parlo italiano"). Naturally, I didn't do myself any favors by attempting to speak the little Italian I knew; stumbling over my words, I ultimately would have to resort back to English anyways, having no idea what the other person was saying ("Parli inglese?"). The owner seemed to mimic this disbelief, but Tania assured him that I was in fact americana, ultimately taking pity on me ("No Italiana? That's too bad"). This happened about five times while I traveled across Italy and once even while I was in Portugal, convincing both Tania and myself that I must have been Italian in a past life. Blissfully continuing the rest of the meal in English, we were presented with stuffed zucchini flowers as a pre-starter on the house, followed by an excellent Parmigiana di melanzane. I rounded out my dinner ordering a beautifully presented dish of baby pork with green apple hash and grilled vegetables. Though we were too stuffed for desert, the owner insisted that we try a slice of their traditional fruit tart and capped it off with a taste of the restaurant's homemade grappa, a strong liqueur typically enjoyed as a digestif. As with most meals in Italy, the dinner lasted about three hours, providing ample time to chat with the owner and experience the genuine hospitality that southern Italy is known for.
If great seafood is on your must-do list, look no further than Soul & Fish. Located in the heart of Marina Grande, the original seaside village of Sorrento, this waterside restaurant is slightly more upscale but well worth the price. We started off with a bottle of wine (obviously) and seared tuna encrusted in almonds, a favorite of Tania's and now mine. While more traditional options like squid ink pasta and fried fish are available, I opted to order one of their more unique specials for my main - coco corn flake encrusted swordfish with a vanilla cream sauce. Of course my first reaction was "Who the hell would put chocolate and fish together?!" but it seemed just crazy enough that it could work, so I took a gamble and rolled the dice. Let me tell you, I couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised! The coco corn flakes gave just a hint of chocolate and crunch without too much sweetness, while the vanilla cream complimented the white fish perfectly. I wish I had thought to take a photo of the well-plated presentation, but I guess that means I'll just have to go back and order it again, damn. Looking for something more traditional? Make a reservation at Da Filippo, a local favorite that offers indoor or outdoor seating and provides free shuttle service from your hotel. While individual dishes can definitely be ordered, I recommend attacking the menu family-style; with traditional side dishes of roasted potatoes and sautéd spinach, various pizzas and pastas, and a choice of steak or seafood, you can have a bit of everything at a much more reasonable price and better quality than the tourist traps in the center of town. For my last meal in Sorrento, we decided to try something new for the both of us; Donna Sofia had been on Tania's list for a while, and it didn't disappoint. About a twenty minute walk from the center of town, the restaurant is foremost a tribute to Sophia Loren, who starred in the 1955 film A Scandal in Sorrento. Walking through the restaurant, you'll find nearly every inch of wall plastered with posters of the famous movie star, bringing you back to an era of Hollywood glitz and glamour. While you should go for the atmosphere alone, we found it difficult to go wrong with any menu choice, opting for the starter sampler to try a bit of everything and sharing our main dishes of truffle ravioli and grilled fish.
While located directly on the coast, Sorrento's deep gorges and surrounding cliffs provided a natural defense during the Roman and Greek rules of antiquity. Unfortunately for us however, that means that sand beaches are almost non-existent and forced the city's modern inhabitants to get creative. Enter Peter's Beach, a private man-made "beach" and restaurant located in Marina Piccolo. Built in the mid-1940's, beach boxes line the wide platform deck covered in loungers and the Amalfi Coast's signature striped umbrellas. Although entrance costs €15 during high season, it's well worth the price to guarantee a chair, some shade, and easy access to toilets. Owned by the same family for three generations, the beach turns into a hot spot for locals and families as soon as the weather warms up and the bikinis come out. If dramatic cliffs don't fit into your idea of "beach views," head to historical Marina Grande, where several restaurants offer their own chaise loungers for rent along the bay, at the edge of the same cobbled street Sophia Loren once walked.
As the gateway to the Amalfi Coast, it's easy to be overwhelmed by the accommodation options available; I settled on Florida Hotel based on reviews and location, and I could not have been happier with my choice. While the official site only lists private hotel rooms available, dorms with ensuite bathrooms can be booked at HostelWorld.com. The property features a restaurant, bar, and pool, with free wifi available in all shared and private areas. This was a HUGE bonus for me as a digital nomad, as it allowed to me spend my days poolside working on both my laptop and tan. The staff is also incredibly helpful, insisting on carrying my luggage to my room and organizing day trips directly from the hotel. Laundry service is also available and done in 2 hours, which really can't be beat (and I desperately needed). Overall, this ranks as one of my top hostel experiences and would definitely stay there again the next time I'm in town.
For my last day in Sorrento, Tania took me to Bagni della Regina Giovanna, a natural swimming hole named for Queen Joan I of Naples. Legend has it that between 1371 and 1435, the queen took her young lovers here and had her way with them before killing them, ensuring that no one would ever know of her secret. Popular with locals, you can find people swimming in the warm blue-green waters from May through October, while the rocky cliff facing the sea serves as a prime fishing locale. We continued to explore the area after taking a quick dip, discovering the ancient foundation of a Roman villa that dates back to the first century B.C. Lido la Solara lays a little further beyond the archeological site, a welcoming break from the heat of the sun during the summer months. Although it was unfortunately closed for the season while I was visiting, the restaurant is known for it's lively atmosphere, delicious seafood, and unbeatable views of Mt. Vesuvius. As we began our walk back to the center of town, passing through one of many surrounding olive groves, I reflected on my week in Sorrento and surprised myself at how much I would miss this city that is so often overlooked for it's more popular neighbors further south. From it's stunning cliffs, to the underrated restaurant scene, to the seemingly never ending flow of prosecco and limoncello, Sorrento is a hidden gem that I hope remains that way.