“You may have the universe if I may have Italy,” said the great opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi, well, his librettist said it but his love of Italy is there for all to see.
Quaint cobblestone alleys scented with citrus blossom combine with spectacular views of Vesuvius and the glittering Bay Of Naples to make Sorrento the ideal place for your Italian holiday. Many of us return to Sorrento year after year for a large slice of la dolce vita, or “the sweet life.”
Swish street-cafes and restaurants surround the busy Piazza Tasso and this is undoubtedly the place to see and be seen. The Piazza Tasso, in the centre of town, was built in 1866 and the statue of the patron saint of Sorrento, Sant’Antonino Abate or Saint Anthony the Abbot stands proudly in the middle. There are three statues of him in Sorrento and another one is in Piazza Sant’Antonino. It’s beside the town hall and the 11th century Basilica di Sant’Antonino, also named after him, is nearby.
Behind Piazza Tasso are even more quaint cobblestones, cafes and restaurants. This area is often overlooked but it is well worth exploring. It’s said that this is where some of the richest Romans lived, in the narrow alleys in the shade. There is a good Limoncello shop at the side and just behind the Fauno Bar with an interesting courtyard boasting original frescoes.
If you look down to Via Luigi de Maio, between the flags flying at the side of Piazza Tasso facing the sea, you will see the deep gorge that ran through Sorrento until the piazza was built. The gorge was caused by an earthquake many thousands of years ago and is thought to be linked to the Valley Of The Mills, just behind the piazza. The gorge is now a main road to the Marina Piccola or ferry and hydrofoil port. You can walk down the stairs and down the road but there are much easier ways to the port, especially the Sorrento Lift in Villa Comunale Park.
If you fancy putting your feet up while doing some serious sight-seeing around Sorrento, there is a little white “noddy train” that stops beside the flags and it can take you on a short tour of some of the main sights. There is also a horse and carriage operating from the side of the Fauno Bar. A taxi rank is at the other side.
Quite close to the communal gardens and the lift, is the five-star Hotel Bellevue Syrene which was originally a Roman Villa and was thought to be one of the homes of Emperor Augustus when he was in political exile. It was rebuilt in 1750 and converted to a hotel in 1820. It has an indoor and outdoor restaurant open to the public, as do most of the better hotels in Sorrento. It’s not cheap, but hey, it’s magnificent.
Just to the right of Piazza Tasso is another famous hotel, the five-star Hotel Excelsior Vittoria. The great Neapolitan opera singer, Enrico Caruso, stayed here a few times and there is a plaque on the wall in his honour. His original piano and writing desk are in the suite named after him, and one of the most famous photos of the great Caruso was taken in 1921, on the outdoor terrace of the Hotel Excelsior Vittoria. The restaurant has a Michelin star and is open to the public.
Piazza Tasso is surrounded by historic buildings and just past the grand entrance to the hotel, the yellow and white façade of the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine catches the eye and is very attractive. Built in 1572, it has frescoes, beautiful stained glass windows and is well worth a look inside.
From here, if you walk straight down Corso Italia, you will go past lots of shops and supermarkets before coming to Piazza Lauro and the bus/train station entrance is opposite and is beside Hotel Nice. Local rail travel is very cheap and from Sorrento Train Station you can travel to Pompeii, Herculaneum and Naples but it’s mainly for local people to go about their business and it can get very crowded. In the summer season, late March to late October, another train, the Campania Express, is especially for tourists and goes to the same places but makes fewer stops; therefore it’s quicker and more comfortable although not as frequent.
The Coast To Coast Coach normally stops in the top left hand corner of the bus/train station and it goes to Positano and Amalfi. You can buy tickets from the agent who is normally standing beside a red sun-umbrella with a red bag. It’s a comfortable journey and there is no standing or room for luggage. Another open-topped bus is run by the same company and goes out towards Massa Lubrense and up towards St Agata.
The newsagent inside the bus/train station normally sells train, bus and coach tickets and gives good advice in English. There are Sita buses that also go along the Amalfi Coast with a hold for luggage and they can be very cheap but they can get packed full with standing room only.
All local train, bus and ferry timetables are available under our Travel section here.
Have a great time in Italy and Sorrento!
My name's Eddie Best. I'm from the North-East of England and a self-confessed Sorrentophile. After countless visits to Sorrento and the surrounding area I'm here to share my knowledge and insight to hopefully enrich your upcoming trip. You can also see my photos of Sorrento and the surrounding area on my Flickr page here.