Updated: Aug 22, 2020
The Sorrentino Peninsula is considered correctly the “coast with the most” – from the ancient Greeks to Roman Emperors this dramatic region has been a haven for centuries. There is a postcard quality photo at every turn. And speaking of turns, one must be a very good driver or should I say, steely nerved driver to attempt the winding cliff side tight curves avoiding the buses and a few crazed motor bikes that carelessly ignore left and right sides of the road. It was for that reason we hired a car and driver to meet us in Sorrento.
Sorrento is a good place to start, the streets were laid out by the Greeks in a grid that take advantage of the sea breezes. The narrow streets wind through history and continually make up look up so you don't miss architectural anomalies. The main streets still very narrow are filled with carts selling every kind of tourists mementos, carts with lemons….lemons are everywhere as are the lemon colors in ceramics, bottles of lemon crème and limoncello. Sfusato is the local lemons, with a scratch of the skin there is a burst of exploding fragrance, even the leaves are scented. Restaurants here wrap fresh mozzarella in the lemon leaves and grill them imparting a wonderful lemon flavor. The vendors take pride in saying these are the lemons of my hills. The essential lemon oil is the perfume of this coastline. Even in the center of Sorrento there is an inviting public lemon grove that provides shaded benches that under the trees.
Wedged on a ledge and sometimes mobbed with tourists, Sorrento is a place to visit before moving up the coast to Positano, Amalfi and Ravello. These are three gems that shine as any jeweled necklace.
We stayed in Positano, which is snuggled or you might say, squished into the cove against the mountain backdrop. There are no cars allowed – a tiny Fiat Spider 124 would not fit, even if the crowds of people would get out of the way. But there is a lovely beach and of course, the most famous majestic majolica dome, inlaid with yellow, green and blue tile mosaics of Santa Maria Assunta. The town offers its share of glamour. People sit outside late into the night enjoying the glitter of lights after an enjoyable meals sipping limoncello. It’s an Italian thing, “Il dolce far niente”, the luxury of the sweetness of doing nothing. It is perfected here.
I wake to the sound of the waves lapping, the sun has yet to reach the horizon but I sit on our balcony taking in what I consider magical views and sounds, even before the sea gulls have left their sleeping spot on the beach. A day in the sun soaking up that vitamin D along the turquoise sea or you may want to take a boat out to Li Galli, the three little rocky islands just off the coast; Gallo Lungo, Rotonda and Castelluccio are supposed to be the sirens who wooed Ulysses. Finish off with dinner at Le Sirenuse or San Pietro's balconied dining rooms, here everyone uses the views as their decor and actually, no designer can top it.
If you can drag yourself away from Positano and go further south to Amalfi you will find a different town actually with a strong traditional fishing fleet of small Lampara in the marina. A small beach is edged by stone walls up to the ruins of a Saracen tower. Amalfi is the oldest of the four Maritime Republics (Pisa, Genoa, and Venice) wedged into the mountain. Here there are steps and more steps as the town rises up the mountain chiseled into every nook and cranny. Pretty much the only flat spot is the town piazza dominated by their domed Cathedral Sant Andrea, who was a fisherman apostle, the crusaders brought his bones back in 1206. The doors to the church is a thousand year old massive bronze cast in Constantinople before 1066 and is signed by the master Simeon of Syria.
Ravello is the pearl perched high on top of the mountain cliff, different than the others, you are 1200 feet above the sea. The views from here are without end, without doubt you are sure you can see the tip of Calabria. This may have tourist visitors, but they are much fewer and therefore it has a more relaxed feel. The hotels here are classic refined beauties for serenity like Hotel Caruso, Villa Cimbrone and Palazzo Avino, all former villas or palaces. They are each welcoming for a glass of prosecco in their garden or poolside to take in these views you will never forget.
Our hotel offered a cooking class that was different from the typical pasta /pizza version. We made Delizia al Limone a sponge cake filled with lemon pasticcera crème, liberally brushed with limoncello and glazed in a lemon whipped cream. I had to go pick a basket full lemons from the trees on the property – fresh is fresh. Peeling lemons here was a sensory delight –far better than potatoes. Another trick I learned in the kitchen that I will share, is steeping lemon peels in the refrigerated cream for 24 hours, whip and serve over fresh berries. Every time I taste it, I close my eyes and see that breathtaking coastline and the cliff towns jutting into the sea.