Exploring Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast
The scent of lemon through the narrow old streets was intense. In Sorrento lemons are everywhere. They dominate the town whatever the time of year, their bright yellow lighting up even the shady alleyways in the old town, an unforgettable smell permeating the air. The source of the smell? No it wasn’t real lemons, it was the hundreds of bars of lemon shaped and lemon scented soap on sale throughout the old part of town. Lemons are everywhere, their design printed onto tea towels, ceramic dishes, fridge magnets and t-shirts.
A Short Break in Sorrento
The introduction of flights from our local airport in Exeter, Devon to Naples with Ryan Air seemed too good an opportunity to miss for a cheap(ish) trip to Italy. Perfect for exploring Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast
I’ve never really been one for organised holidays so that meant I started my research well in advance for a week on the Amalfi Coast. If you have been on holiday in this part of Italy already you will know that a month would be a more sensible amount of time in the area!
It soon became apparent that I would have to pick and choose carefully our itinerary. My decision was also to use public transport throughout the trip as a way of introducing my teenage girls to the delights of backpacker style independent travel (it’s hard for me to change my spots!). That also meant being realistic about what we would achieve in the time.
Sorrento – A Great Base
Easy to reach by shuttle bus or private taxi from Naples Airport, Sorrento is a good choice as a base. It’s a lovely town, perched on the cliff above the beautiful blue sea of the Mediterranean. As the largest town on the Amalfi Coast it has excellent public transport connections. There are frequent public bus services around the region (we visited Positano one day) and Sorrento is the terminus for the railway line that runs from Naples to Herculaneum and Pompeii (called the Circumvesuviana).
For water travel it’s well connected for ferries to Capri, Ischia and Naples, as well as no end of private tour operators that head out around the Amalfi Coast. In addition it is a lovely town with plenty of accommodation to suit all budgets.
Sight Seeing in Sorrento
During our visit in April, the trees in lemon groves and around the outskirts of the town were groaning under the weight of their fruit. You can see why, when you wander round the old part of the town, that the lemon features so strongly in the gifts on sale. There was lemon soap everywhere and of course limoncello plus amazing gelato and lemon sorbet. We spent a happy few hours browsing the endless gift shops in the old part of the town.
I had allowed just one full day in Sorrento after we first arrived to explore. It’s easy to get your bearings as you wander the pedestrianised areas and old town. Take your time, explore the port, gaze out to sea and marvel at the ornately painted churches. If you enjoy historic buildings and people watching with a drink, then I would allow at least 2 days in Sorrento.
Visit the beautiful 11th Century Cathedral (free entry) just off the pedestrianised Corso Italia which even impressed my teens. There is also the Basilica of Sant’Antonino. Another popular attraction is the tranquil Cloister of San Francesco. During the summer, the Cloister is used for art exhibitions and concerts and is also popular for weddings, which you are allowed to watch. For more culture visit the Correale Museum, based in a 1700 century villa featuring paintings, decorative art and a lovely garden with views over the Bay of Naples (8€ per person).
Stunning Mediterranean Views
Sorrento is perched on a cliff so make sure you head for the coast and the Villa Comunale, a park where there is a large terrace overlooking the sea for admiring the views of the Bay of Naples.
Down below is the bathing area. There is just a small beach where you pay for a sun bed, but most visitors use one of the private piers. With colourful beach huts and small restaurants overlooking the beautiful blue water this a lovely place to relax. Enjoy a swim in the sheltered sea and hire a beach hut or sun lounger. To reach the piers there is a lift down. There are also steps from the Villa Comunale or walk along from the ferry area.
The Land train
Alternatively for a view of the town, take the white land train which starts at the Plazza Tasso (6€ per person). The tour is about 30 minutes and goes through the historic districts, down to the port, back up through the centre of town and around the numerous government buildings. There are complimentary ear phones with an audio guide in numerous languages, although I’ve read they don’t work very well! It’s not possible to get on and off the train.
The Plazzo Tasso is suggested in the guide books as a lovely place to sit and watch the world go by – to be honest it’s a busy road junction and although picturesque with many cafes, there were plenty of quieter places to sit.
For an excursion just outside the town centre head to the Marina Grande, the little fishing village of Sorrento. We missed this on our trip but it looks pretty as we passed it on our way back to Sorrento from Possitano. To reach it by foot head towards the coast from the town centre and bear left past the tranquil Piazza della Vittoria. Follow this road and it heads downhill towards the small fishing harbour. It should take about 20 minutes to walk. Not surprisingly the fish restaurants are recommended where you can enjoy the views of the little boats and watch the world go by as you eat.
Returning to Sorrento centre it’s a steep walk up the hill or you can get the local bus back. The EAV bus service (red and orange buses) goes approximately hourly from Marina Grande to Sorrento centre. Tickets cost €1.20 and can be purchased at tobacco shops (“tabaccaio”) or at the Circumvesuviana train station. Tickets cannot be purchased on board. Please check locally for details.
Mariana Grande – Photo Source WikiMedia Commons
Exploring Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast
Where to Stay
There are endless places to lay your head in Sorrento depending on your budget. I chose an AirBnB self catering apartment, Il Siculo, which was a modern, clean apartment not far from the train station on Via degli Aranci. It was an excellent location for exploring the town. In April it cost about £80 per night (with two double beds). For budget stays I was also recommended Seven Hostel which is in a great location.
From the airport you can take the Curreri Viaggi shuttle bus to Sorrento and other towns. Buses run every couple of hours to Sorrento (to the train station) via Pompeii. It’s possible to book on line in advance, 10€ per person. A private taxi will cost upwards from 80€.
Getting around the coast is easy and cheap on the SITA bus which has it’s terminal at the train station in Sorrento. Bus tickets must be purchased in advance at a newsagent, there is one at the train station. Single tickets 2€ or whole day tickets can bought (I think it was 3.40€ to Positano). Buses may be busy so arrive early to make sure you get a seat.
Train travel – Sorrento is the terminus for the Circumvesuviana railway line that runs from Naples via Herculaneum (Ercolano Scavi) and Pompeii. It’s a fairly slow train with lots of stops but costs just 3.60€ from Naples to Sorrento. There is also the Campania Express service with less stops.
Ferry to Ischia
Ferries are run around the Amalfi Coast and up to Naples and Formia by Alilauro. We went to Ischia from Sorrento and then back to Naples. There are daily ferries in peak months i.e from Easter which was 22.90€ one way (about a 1 hour journey). Tickets can be bought at the port or online.
There’s a blog post to follow about Ischia but our highlight was a trip to Negombo Thermal Park – take a look at the video we made of our day.
Heading Home – Getting Across Naples
There’s a frequent public bus from Naples Ferry Terminal to the Airport via the Central Train Station, 5€ each on Alibus. Turn right out of the ferry port exit along the main road for about 200 metres to the bus stops.
Early Flight Times
Staying near the airport: we had a really early flight back home so I found an AirBnB apartment literally 500 metres from the airport called “Little House in Naples Airport”. It wasn’t as nice as the place in Sorrento, but good enough for a few hours sleep. It also meant not worrying about getting a taxi at 4am.
Places to Eat
We kept it simple and ate in a couple of nights, helped by the fact that there was large a supermarket just 200 metres from us. My girls love pizza and Da Francos on Corso Italia was a big hit. Casual dining (served with a plastic fork) and full of tourists, it was fantastic pizza, freshly made and huge (8-12€ each), we couldn’t fault either time we ate there.
Of course anyone with a sweet tooth won’t be able to resist the delicious gelato and cakes on offer as well.
Coming soon will be a write up of our day trip to Vesuvius, Positano and Ischia. The Amalfi Coast is a beautiful place to visit, I hope to go back and see more as I keep learning about other places to visit. Please share your top tips and best experiences in the comments below.
If you enjoyed reading this then why not take a look at our trip last year to Crete. That was our first time using AirBnB which we managed in a great budget.