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ZB Travel – Sorrento. March 30

Why do you say Sorrento is a mega-destination?sorrento coastline

Sun-kissed Sorrento, struts the volcanic cliffs of the Bay of Naples. And just as its mythical sea maidens seduced  Greek sailors to its shores, Sorrento  retains a  siren-like pull on today’s travellers. Few cities in the world are so well-endowed with such a neighbouring line-up of rock-stars. Within an hour from Sorrento, you can be exploring crazy Naples, ancient Pompeii, the villages of the Amalfi Coast and the Isle of Capri. You are spoilt for choice.

How long do you recommend people plan to stay, to take in all the sights? To tick-off all of the blue-ribbon attractions, I would give yourself at least four nights, if not a week. It’s the kind of locale that lends itself to a leisurely pace. Soak it up and savour the atmosphere, don’t rush about and exhaust yourself.

The villages of Amalfi. Positano is the most famous right? It has featured in countless movies and the pastel coloured buildings are breath-takingly beautiful. Architectural eye-candy, at its best.  But Amalfi village will hold more appeal for history lovers. Much of the old city and its residents literally slid into the sea, following a monster earthquake in 1743. Some medieval gems survived the tragedy, notably the main Piazza, and its dazzling 10th century Cathedral, with its striking marble striped façade. amalfi duomo

What other villages do you recommend? If you want to sample a village not over-run by stampeding tourists, a ten minute bus ride from Amalfi village takes you to Ravello, which is a mountain village of astonishing beauty, with insanely high views across the region. It’s a medieval village, with lovely stone buildings, very traditional and quaint. positano

Can you do “The Walk of the Gods” as a day trip? The full trek from Bomerano is about 10 kilometres long, which will take you all day to do. But if you want to enjoy the best section of it, with heavenly coastal alpine views, Positano to Nocelle will take you about 3 hours. Its easier doing it downhill, so take the bus to Nocelle, and walk down to Positano. 

The Isle of Capri. What are the key sights? The island is bejewelled in every sense. The white-washed towns are treasures, and they’re also home to a throng of luxury brands, the big fashion and jewellery labels.capri main town

It’s a great place to watch the well-heeled lovelies at play. But I reckon it’s the cliff-hugging walking tracks that are the real highlight. If history is your bag, take the path to Villa Jorvis, which was home to Emperor  Tiberius. The Roman Empire was governed from this villa for several decades. And the stairway behind the villa leads to a cliff, called Tiberius’ Leap, which is from where, bad buggars were  unceremoniously hurled into the sea. dogs_mosaic

Exploring Pompeii. What makes Pompeii so distinctive, compared to other famous ancient sites? Well unlike the Acropolis, Ephesus or the Roman Forum, Pompeii is largely intact. When Mt. Vesuvius erupted, two thousand years ago, killing thousands of citizens, it buried the city under a thick blanket of ash and pumice, which perfectly preserved most of the buildings and houses from the ravages of time. So, after much excavation, many of the buildings are still in one piece, and you can marvel at the ancient interior decoration, the intricate mosaics, and the frescoes, as vivid in colour as the day they were painted. A lot of houses have mosaics, warning visitors, “beware of the dog”. And here’s a bite-sized piece of trivia – at the time of the eruption, Pompeii had no fewer than eighty-nine fast food takeaway restaurants. (79AD)

Is Sorrento an affordable base? What about the limoncello?lemoncello  The hotel sector caters to all budgets and restaurant prices are reasonable. Time your visit for late summer, and you can literally pluck the sweetest, ripest lemons and oranges straight from the city’s trees. Sorrento’s most famous export is limoncello, and you will find the liqueur  on sale everywhere, normally in exquisitely contoured bottles, which makes for the ideal souvenir.  It’s very good poured over gelato.

How to get there? When’s the best time to go? Sorrento is just three hours by train from Rome. Change trains at Naples, where the Circumvesuvania train winds its way down the coastline, in the shadow of Vesuvius, past Pompeii, to Sorrento. Frerries and buses will get you to  Capri and the Amalfi Coast.  April and May is good, but I believe late summer, with all that ripe citrus,  is the best time to go, so aim for September or October.

GREEK MYTHOLOGY. Greek myth has it that Hercules loved a nymph called Amalfi. When she died, he buried her in the most beautiful part of the world and named it in her memory.  Homer’s Ulysses escaped the seductive tug of the sirens by ordering his oarsmen to plug their ears with wax, and by strapping himself to the ship’s mast as he sailed past Sorrento. bay of naples

WHERE TO STAY.

Perfectly positioned in central Sorrento with panoramic vistas from the glorious rooftop pool, Hotel Plaza has been a beacon of Sorrentine hospitality for 40 years. The stylish, white-washed hotel has beautifully designed rooms, high-tech amentities and an excellent complimentary breakfast. I love this four-star hotel which is relatively gentle on Kiwi budgets. ( You can bag a room for under $NZ 200 a night,.) Book direct. www.plazasorrento.com

Travel notes from Mike Yardley’s profile of Sorrento, on Newstalk ZB’s  Jack Tame Saturday Morning Show. newstalk zb

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