I can clearly remember my first visit to Sorrento. I was 12 years old and on a day trip from Rome primarily to see Pompeii. After the magnificence of Pompeii I wasn’t that bothered about seeing Sorrento but I soon changed my mind when I arrived. I immediately fell in love with its quaint streets and old world charm and there was no denying the beauty of the region with stunning views across the Bay of Naples to Mount Vesuvius and beyond.
Sadly it took me thirty years to make my return and I found a very different place indeed. Sure the drive from the Airport was equally spectacular and Vesuvius looked as majestic and imposing as ever but the small communities around Pompeii and been transformed into one big urban sprawl and Sorrento was busier than Piccadilly Circus! I had cause to be glad that my finances had necessitated staying beyond Sorrento in the cheaper area of Massa Lubrense.
Sorrento was now a busy hub for tourists with congested roads and thronging streets. Much of the charm of the small town appeared to have gone but that was not the case in Massa Lubrense, a group of small communities at the head of the peninsula. I was staying in Nerano which is set into the hillside above the pretty cove of Marina del Cantone and this place was much more to my liking. Marina del Cantone is the home of I Quattro Passi a restaurant which is the haunt of the rich and famous who generally arrive by yacht. I walked past this rather gorgeous establishment but it didn’t look like the sort of place that was going to tolerate my denim attire!
Massa Lubrense is the perfect base from which to explore what is undeniably a beautiful region. Whilst the serenity of Sorrento has been lost in the traffic and the crowds the small villages have retained their beauty and charm and the coastal drive to Positano and Amalfi remains one of the best on the planet. Both of these communities receive many visitors but have somehow retained their elegance and peaceful air and for the ultimate escape it is well worth making the somewhat perilous drive up to Ravello. The road to Ravello is narrow and twisting but the views from the town are not to be missed. This has got to be one of the best places on earth to sit with a good coffee and do absolutely nothing!
At Some point you just have to drag yourself away from the pastel hues, elegant buildings and charm of Amalfi to visit Pompeii. The surrounding area may be a bit of an urban sprawl but once you are past the entrance it is like discovering another world. Pompeii is the perfect window on the past and a place to savour but visitors abound and on my trip I couldn’t help turning my thoughts to the Volcano which provides the sinister backdrop to the Roman city. I just had to get up close and personal with the Volcano and it didn’t disappoint. The crater is only a short walk from the parking area and whilst I loved almost everything I saw in the region Vesuvius was the highlight for me.
The Sorrentine Peninsula should definitely be on your bucket list but if you make the trip stay in Massa Lubrense not Sorrento itself. It is a more authentic experience than the over touristy Sorrento and there is a peaceful understated elegance about the place that has an instant calming effect. Your finances will fare better here too!