Things to Do in Sorrento
Sorrento is known for its coastal views, scenic landscapes and beautiful beaches. But perhaps none are more iconic—or remote—than Bagni della Regina Giovanna (AKA The Baths of Queen Joan). Tucked below rocky cliffs and nestled into a protected shore, Bagni della Regina Giovanna is accessible only by foot. As a result, this beach has become the perfect escape for adult travelers seeking kid-free shores and beachcombers who prefer to share their sun with only a handful of others.
Once the seaside villa of the Roman era, Bagni della Regina Giovanna has today become a destination for those looking to escape the city and settle into the quiet natural wonder of the Italian coast. Its epic views, ancient ruins and quick access to La Solara, only add to this sweet spot’s already major charm.
Ravello is a tiny village, with only about 2,500 permanent residents, but it has a history and cultural life that belie its size. The Romans founded the city in the 6th century, escaping the barbarians and no doubt appreciating the lovely views Ravello offers.
The annual Ravello Festival is one of Italy’s finest and celebrates the music of one of Ravello’s greatest fans, the German composer, Richard Wagner, who was inspired by the architecture of the magnificent Villa Rufolo when he stayed there in 1880. Since then the Arab influenced villa and its splendid garden has hosted luminaries such as Jacqueline Kennedy and Hillary Clinton.
The other villa worth seeing is Villa Cimbrone, dating from 1905. Also of note is the Cathedral of San Pantaleone, dating originally from the 11th century. Less hectic than some of the other towns along this coast, Ravello is the place to go for some elegant respite from the madding crowds. It lies only a few miles from Amalfi.
Sitting astride the gorge that once divided cliff-clinging Sorrento in two, you’ll find Piazza Tasso, the central living room of the town. Piazza Tasso is where the locals come to see and be seen, to sit in cafes and bars, or to catch a bus; it all happens here. During the day it’s a busy traffic hub, but at night the traffic is limited and the residents take the space back from the cars and buses. The square is named after the Renaissance poet, Torquato Tasso, born in Sorrento and due to be crowned King of the Poets by the Pope until he died mere days before the ceremony. A statue of the great man stands in one corner of the piazza. Around the square you’ll find the lovely Baroque Church del Carmine Maggiore , and the Palazzo Correale, an 18th century mansion built around a 15th century house owned by the aristocratic Correale family. Leading from the square is Sorrento’s main shopping street, Via San Cesareo, a busy pedestrianized commercial hub full of lemon-based treats.
The Emerald Grotto on the beautiful Amalfi coast lies south-east of Sorrento along a wondrously dramatic coastal road that swoops up cliffs and dives around switchback roads with typical Italian charm and recklessness. Discovered in 1932 by a local fisherman, the grotto is an underground cavern famous for its translucent, turquoise-blue waters, which sparkle as the sun’s rays percolate underground. Encrusted with dripping limestone stalactite and stalagmite formations, the cave was submerged by the Mediterranean Sea during the last Ice Age, spanning 45 meters (147 feet) by 32 meters (105 feet) and in places reaching a height of 24 meters (79 feet). It is best visited between noon and 3pm, when sunlight filters through the grotto entrance to create ever-changing colors dancing across the waves. A Nativity scene was created underwater in the cave in 1956 and every Christmas divers come to place flowers around the crib.
Step into the tiny fishing village of Marina Grande and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Still connected to the historic center of Sorrento by an old zigzagging stone staircase, the best way to visit Marina Grande is to walk.
Pass through the 15th century Ancient Greek Gate and you’ll feel you’ve entered another world. This is Sorrento’s largest harbour and has long been home to a fishing fleet of traditional wooden boats. The fishermen still sit and mend their nets by hand, sharing the beach with sunbathers. And of course this means that the small, family run restaurants surrounding the harbour serve delicious fresh seafood.
Tradition says that Marina Grande differs from Sorrento due to its plundering by the Turks in the 16th century. Perhaps this difference has kept it separate and intact as a tight-knit community.
Wander along the walkway, Via Positanesi d’America, which is dedicated to the thousands of people who emigrated from here to start a new life in America, largely in New York. The ferry terminal is also here but these boats don’t go to America, only as far as the lovely nearby islands Ischia and Capri, and the Greek ruins at Paestum.
If you fancy a slightly quieter but equally beautiful beach, take the path from Spaggia Grande to Fornillo beach which, nonetheless, has four beach bars!
Sorrento’s Cloister of San Francesco is an oasis of tranquility steps away from the historic town’s bustling central piazza of Sant’Antonino. The cloister unites a religious complex of seventh-century monastery and a late-medieval church, both dedicated to St Francis of Assisi, and is a showpiece of various architectural styles from pre-Roman through Arabic to medieval.
In the 14th century Franciscan friars from the monastery repurposed an ancient oratory into their church; it has some Baroque features and its simple white façade was rebuilt in 1926. Inside there are several richly decorated chapels adjoining the single nave and in 1992, a bronze statue of St Francis was placed outside the church; it is the work of Roman sculptor Alfiero Nena. But the cloister, built at the same time as the church, is the star turn here; its tranquil gardens are filled with bougainvillea and vines that climb over arched arcades.
Named for the beech trees that blanket its slopes, Faito Mountain inside the Lattari Mountains Regional Park offers some of the best hiking opportunities in the area. A road and cable car run up to the 3,750-foot (1,143-meter) peak, where the views of the Bay of Naples are stellar.
From the peak, hiking trails lead past churches and ancient cisterns and through beech and black pine forests, where it’s often possible to spot birds, butterflies and small mammals in the wild. Keep an eye out for the pinguicola plant, the only carnivorous plant in Campania.
The patron saint of Sorrento is Sant’Antonino, so it’s not surprising that there is a large church in his honour found on the square which also bears his name, Piazza Antonino. He died in AD 626 on February 14th and naturally in Sorrento this takes precedence for celebration over the commercialized St Valentine’s Day which gets pushed into the background as the silver statue of Antonino is taken from the church and marched through the streets.
Most statues of the saint depict him standing on a sea creature, and the famous story goes that on Sorrento beach he saved a child who had been swallowed by a whale; two whalebones in the church are said to come from this very creature. Within the basilica there are many other artefacts dedicated by sailors who survived shipwreck and wished to thank this patron saint of rescues.
More Things to Do in Sorrento
The picturesque seaside town of Sorrento is a popular retreat from gritty Naples across the bay, and a great base from which to explore the nearby Amalfi Coast, islands in the Gulf of Naples, and ancient ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. What many people overlook when they're in Sorrento, however, is that it's also home to museums worth visiting. Perhaps the best known is the Correale di Terranova Museum, or Museo Correale di Terranova in Italian.
The Correale Museum is housed in an 18th century villa that has a fantastic view over the water. The museum takes its name from the Correale family, which was given the property in the early 15th century and which still owns the villa to this day. What's on display is the private collection of members of the Correale family. The museum is perhaps best known for its collection of 17th and 18th century Neapolitan paintings.
Sorrento perches high on the clifftops and is best known for its shopping, its proximity to the gorgeous Amalfi Coast and also to Pompeii. Sorrento itself has a lovely old town to explore complete with historic churches such as Basilica di Sant’Antonino (patron saint of the sea-faring), and piazzas to sip coffee, watch and be seen. Via San Cesareo is the busy pedestrianized commercial hub, proudly selling high fashion and local produce such as the lemon liquor Limoncello.
The cruise tender will drop you off at Marina Piccolo and from there it is a short if steep walk into central Sorrento. Alternately there are minibuses or taxis.
Sorrento itself is a pretty town, if quite tourist-oriented. But some of the very best sights of southern Italy are easily reached from Sorrento and highly recommended. Pompeii is world-famous as the town which stopped literally in its tracks when Vesuvius erupted in AD79.
If you follow the street Corso Italia west from the middle of town, you’ll soon find it changes name to Via del Capo and begins to lead you away from the congested center of Sorrento. This is where some of the nicer hotels are located, and also the less crowded little beaches.
There’s the Marina Puolo, a small beach with fishing boats and little restaurants, or the Villa Romana Pollio, a rocky outcrop with walkways wrapped around the ruins of an ancient villa.
Even if you’re not looking to dip into the sea, the walk along Via del Capo makes for a lovely afternoon stroll. You’ll get some spectacular views over the Bay of Naples and back towards Sorrento and also of those spectacular white limestone cliffs known as the Capo (the Cape).
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