The smell of limoncello accompanied by the excitable tweets of the sparrows, hopping from lemon branch to lemon branch swirls through the air in Sorrento.
Here is where I find and leave a piece of my heart, again and again.
Sorrento is a special place that I first visited with my university in 2008 for an Ancient History Study Tour and again with my bff in 2011, where I was sick as a dog. It is situated at the base of the Gulf of Naples and to the northern edge of the Amalfi Coast (we are in Italy, just incase you needed more information).
I had not thought I would visit this little slice of heaven twice this year, once on my own and the other with my mum.
Words really don’t do this place justice, but I will do my very best to take you on a cobblestone journey.
Nearly a 4 hour train ride from Rome, with a change in Naples, Sorrento is at the end of the line (I have included how to get here at the end of this post, just incase you wanted to sus it out a little). I guess you could say it is like the pot of gold found at the end of the rainbow (in my opinion, anyway!).
While tourism numbers are high here, the vibe is anything but what you would find in similar places in Italy. This small coastal town has one main road with little alleys fanning off from it. Many a café can be found here and restaurants with some of the best Italian style (yes it is different to what we are used to back home) pizza, pasta and gelato. Being the birthplace of the famous limoncello, many varieties can be sampled, consumed after a meal and bought for either personal consumption or a good gift.
My heart rests in its most peaceful state here in Sorrento for a few key reasons.
The Lemon Orchard: When I first stumbled upon this quaint orchard in ’08 I fell in love. Behind high bluestone walls you will find tree after tree, covered in lemons (in the right season). The singular dirt path leads one through the centre of the orchard, where wooden seats built into the railing along the way greet you kindly. 50 metres into the orchard, spanning one block back, there is a vine covered eating area and small stall that offers a sample shot of limoncello and friendly conversation.
My childhood was spent on a reasonable sized suburban property in Melbourne, where my parents maintained a killer garden and my friends and I would play ninja turtles or cops and robbers in amongst the trees. My mum still lives there and every morning you wake to the sound of wildlife, more so the sound of birds welcoming the day. So you could say that the trill of feather balls is something that centres me somewhat, especially when coupled with sunlight and a soft spring breeze. This lemon orchard embodies all of this and more.
Being able to sit here on my first visit back this year, I just felt a wave of calm flow over me followed by a beaming smile (which may have looked a little weird as I was sitting there solo). To then be able to share this treasure with my mum is something I truly will cherish for the rest of my life.
As I mentioned earlier, when you reach the end of the orchard you are greeted by a staff member who works in the local limoncello factory. In ’08, that person was Rossella with whom my friend Makushla and I had a great chat. To bring us to my first visit in May, this year, I decided to ask whether Rossella still worked in the area. As it turns out, the orchard, store and factory have been in her family for decades, so of course she was still around! I made a point to go and see her, even if she didn’t remember me from seven years ago.
On my second visit with my mum in August, we made a point to visit Rossella and her father every day and have lovely chats and laughs. International friendships are super awesome and an aspect of my solo travel I was honestly not expecting and boy am I glad to have been shown otherwise. Read about Il Giardino del Cataldo here soon.
Pasta, Pizza, Eggplant Parmigana: As well as the orchard, my other fond memory of Sorrento was the food! I may be slim (thank you parents) but I bloody love good food. Sorrento has it in the bag when it comes to cuisine. Of course, of course…Italy stands strong when it comes to pizza and pasta (I actually prefer the ‘western’ take on Italian food)…but people in Sorrento must have taken extra classes after school to learn how to make scrumptious food! In 2011 I tried to go back to the restaurant that stole my taste buds. Unfortunately I was sick as a dog and the restaurant was closed for remodelling. This time round, my health is in tip-top shape and the restaurant was open! Huzzah! It and many other restaurants spoiled me (and then my mother) with their homemade pasta, extra artichokes on a pizza, crumbed veal and limoncello gelato. Bellissimo. Our favourite restaurant can be read about here soon.
Vesuvius: Mount Vesuvius is a spectacular monster, standing at almost 2000 metres. In A.D. 79 the monster awoke, to many peoples surprise (as it was not known to be an active volcano) and its eruption covered many towns, in particular Pompeii and Herculaneum. Hundreds of years later, archeologists began to uncover these towns, which can now be walked through (excavations continue today). Standing high above the Gulf of Naples, this volcano is rather spectacular to view. One of my most loved photographs was taken in ’08 atop of our hostel roof, looking back toward Vesuvius at sunrise. Whether it be sunrise, sunset or in the clouds, Vesuvius is a wonder. Even flying over it was a treat.
Capri: In May I decided to do a day tour of Capri with a few other tourists. The rocky island is rather spectacular to view from a boat, with grottos, coral fragments and archways naturally existing and in full view dropping into the ocean. The island itself has the town of Capri and Anacapri, both with exorbitantly priced restaurants and boutiques. In my opinion, Capri is a place you kind of have to go to in order to experience once, but there is not a whole lot to do. With days like this, I would always suggest doing a tour so that you can not only meet other travellers and make lasting memories, but also to see as much as you can in the short space of time you may have.
Amalfi Coast: Whether it be a ridiculous winding road or choppy waters, there are a few ways for you to get to areas along the Amalfi Coast. The port has many companies offering day trips to Capri, Positano and Amalfi…I recommend that you do some research as prices vary form company to company. For example, I had booked my mum and I in for sailing day to Amalfi and expected to pay €45 but was confronted at the port with another company with the same itinerary for €25. Just think….that is more money for gelato!
Both Positano and Amalfi are beautiful locations to spend a day or two just meandering the alley ways and peeking in the quaint shops. They are not very large and so it does get to a point where you feel like you have seen it all, and this may happen quicker than you realise. The coloured houses are propped on the cliff face as if they grew out like trees. The views are quintessential Italy and can only be beaten by their sister, Cinque Terre (which I am yet to get to).
If boats are not your thing, you can book a 2-day ticket for about €8 and catch the bus to Positano and Amalfi (departing from Sorrento Station). Just note that the bus drops you at the top of Positano and there are hundreds of stairs to get down to get to the centre of town and the beach. And let me tell you, they are not fun to walk up when they induce a waterfall due to the downpour I got! What goes down must come up, in this case!
People: this was where I stumbled across a lovely couple, Steve and Kim. I heard their Australian accent as I was taking photos of Vesuvius at sunset. They were taking selfies! I asked if I could take their photo, and to my surprise, they said no! That didn’t matter, however, as we ended up talking for about 45 minutes and shared some cool stories before they went off for dinner…never to be seen again, or so I thought. The next night, after my day trip to Positano, I was sitting having dinner for one, as is my tradition, and low and behold, at the table down from me there are Steve and Kim! They invite me to dinner the following evening and we have a splendid time eating, chatting and have some great laughs. I get quite overwhelmed and amazed when I think about how this whole solo travel thing has been anything but solo, with the random encounters that I have. These two, I am sure I will see again in Australia!
Sorrento and I are having an affair. There, I said it. I am not ashamed and don’t feel the need to go to counselling about it. We will see each other again and I am even projecting and putting it out there that I will try and do a month or two of summer work there. When you find one of your happy places, be it your home town, your bedroom, New York City, the depths of Cambodia or even the shower…you make sure you see it again…or if you can’t (which I hope is not the case for the shower), you take yourself there in your mind when everything else becomes a bit too much. So with that said, I will be seeing Sorrento again and the thought makes me weak in the knees!
How to get to Sorrento:
There are many sites saying the same thing about how to get to Sorrento, but in case this is your first encounter with such information let me share with you my experiences.
From Napoli Airport: this is easy peasy as going to and from the airport there is a direct bus that drops you at Sorrento Station, where you can easily walk to your accommodation.
From Rome Airport/Termini/Station: this is a little tougher but totally doable. My mum is in her late 60s and stuck out the journey with me, where we caught an airport shuttle (€4-6 each) to Roma Termini (Central Station). From here, I booked us on the fast train to Napoli Central Station (€80 each for business class – reclining seats and air conditioning). There are other fares on the fast train and also another train that takes 2.5 hours, as the opposed to 1.10 hours we had. It all depends on your budget and level of comfort required. I have done both the fast and slow train…the slow one is more primitive, but if you can suck it up, it is not all that bad. From Napoli Central Station you have a few options. If you have a hotel booked in Sorrento, you may be able to arrange for a transfer (€80-110 for the car) or can often find porters offering you a ride (I’m not sure how much I trust them, especially departing from Napoli) and finally you have the option of catching another train (€3-6 for a one way ticket and 1 hour-ish ride). Now this train is the most basic of basics. If you have luggage, you will struggle to get a seat and need to be ok with either sitting on your bag in the throughway or watching your bag from your seat as it sits near the door. This train is not air conditioned and through May-August you can expect to perspire and need a shower as soon as you have checked into your accommodation.
Expect to do the same in reverse with any of these options. We did the train from Sorrento – Napoli, fast train Napoli – Roma Termini, shuttle bus Roma Termini – Roma Airport, free shuttle to hotel (ps. With the bus…make sure you print your ticket, as they will not accept the ticket that is emailed to you. We ended up having to pay for the tickets again, even though I had them in my email. Such a joke).
If you go, walk down Vico Primo Rota and look for my Maldivian sticker that I pushed into a wall!