Decision…Sorrento!

The weather forecast was horrid. We texted with Paolo before breakfast and agreed we would put off the Amalfi Coast tour until the next day. No problem. But tomorrow had better be better since roads on the Coast can actually be closed since runoff from the mountains can flood them.

Sorrento itself is usually considered more a starting point to do other explorations, i.e. Capri, Pompeii/Vesuvius, the other cities on the Amalfi Coast, etc. But, Sorrento itself is charming and has more to offer than it’s hotels, restaurants, and shops. It rests on a cliff above the bay, divided in half by a deep ravine with the old historic sector offering plenty to see and do.

We gathered our rain gear (that amazingly was not needed except for a few soft sprinkles during the day), and headed from the quiet park in front of the hotel, past the great city-dividing ravine running out to the bay. Then into the central, Tasso piazza. From there we started on the old Sorrento walking tour in Rick Steves’ guide book. [Note the Christmas tree – all the elaborate Christmas decorations were already going up all over town on November 1. I guess since they have no Thanksgiving, the start the celebration early].

The Piazza was named for the poet, Torquato Tasso, born there in 1544. It always seems to be the busiest part of town, with most streets/alleys leading to it. It’s a meeting place with music, bars and working craftspeople.

A little uphill from the Piazza (which is actually a bridge over the ravine) was a part of the deep, deep old gorge dividing the city where previously rushing water from the mountains above powered a number of mills and public wash houses (it was called “The Valley of the Mills”). Looking down you can still see the steps carved centuries before Christ. Some of them are currently being renovated more for tourism than operation.

Returning to the Piazza, we stopped into the Fattoria Terranova shop, a great family-run boutique (typical, but better than many around town) where we met Susy who manages the place. She offered us tastes of biscuits and Lemoncello and talked about meeting Rick Steves, and how she was mentioned in his book. The family farm supplies all of the organic edibles offered for sale.

We wandered down a narrow, ancient alley to this 13th century palace (no balconies then – for security). Across is a tiny shrine where people pray to their saint, who contacts Mary, who contacts Jesus, who contacts God. This shrine is a bit of a shortcut as you pray directly to Mary first.

At the end of the alley is the local cathedral. Unfortunately no photos were allowed inside, but the beautiful intarsio (inlaid-wood) that dominated inside could be seen on the outer doors. Intarsio is a large part of the Sorrento culture and economy.

We were distracted from our walk a bit by a modern-day “muscle” car show stretching for blocks. It predominately featured ultra-modern and classic Ferraris, plus some photo shoots of some obviously big shot Ferrari personnel. Now, back to the old…

We continued down another ancient alley (called the Via P. Reginaldo Giuliani – probably not a relative) to find the Sedil Dominova, the Sorrento Men’s Club. For generations it’s been a retreat for retired working class men. The frescoes are spectacular. And, no women and no phones – not so spectacular.

Onward through some old shopping streets we curved around to a square with the rather unimpressive (from the outside) Basilica of St. Anthony (Antonino), Sorrento’s town saint.

It’s much more interesting inside with a chapel and reliquary that has St. Anthony’s bones surrounded by lots of votives. The tokens of appreciation to the saint for his help are fascinating (we’ve seen them in several places on this trip). The shiny (stamped metal) ex-votos (religious offerings) are thanks for healthy babies, surviving heart attacks and lung problems, plus most diseases you can imagine.

Now winding our way back toward the hotel we find the Villa Comunale, a beautiful public park that overlooks the harbor. It is also the home of a photo exhibit, The Italians, that shows off the work of local photographer Raffaele Celentano.

This gives some idea of the level of the city over the bay. There are long, switchback stairs to go up and down, and elevators that will do the task for some Euros. The beaches aren’t Miami or Atlantic City with their wide expanses of soft white sand. Here the sandy beach is fairly rare with rocky ones dominating. But, they are enjoyed fully…in better weather.

The walk continues toward Marina Grande, first passing by the square in front of our hotel, Piazza della Vittoria, with this dramatic WWI memorial across from a more recent fenced dog run.

Being a bit tired, some of us would rather go back to the hotel than continue on what appears to be a long downhill to the Marina Grande (and the long uphill back). So, one for all, and all for one, we stop and save the walk to the Marina for another day. Besides, we had made reservations that night for one of the restaurants at the Marina Grande that picks you up in a car to take you down to the beach and back up again after dinner.

Our bartender, Giovanni, had made the reservation. After some mahjong and a drink the car came and wound all around the town for probably 15 minutes before getting to the restaurant. We really believed we were at the wrong place – far from the marina/beach just below our hotel. We would learn the day after next that the walk down to the Marina Grande was a fairly easy 15 minutes from the hotel (the one we abandoned just before). Quicker than the car.

The Restaurante Zi Ntonio Mare was wonderful. One of their specialties is the local white fish (don’t know the equivalent – but much like a sea bass) baked under a mound of rock salt. The waiter breaks up the salt at the table, filets and serves it to the plate.

What a meal! The first or second best of the trip. The delicious local white wines are pictured so we can remember and see if they are available in the States. A lovely meal in a lovely environment. Always glad to have restaurant staff who consider their jobs a “real” profession.

The car took us back to the hotel up the same convoluted route – the only way to drive down to the Marina. The weather forecast was much better for the next day when we would meet Paolo for a full day along the Amalfi Coast and visits in those special towns. Make sure you don’t oversleep your alarm. See you at 9.

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