The craggy coastline of southern Italy is the stuff of legends thanks to personalities over the years like John Steinbeck and even Jackie Onassis who have made the small coastal towns the ultimate places to see and be seen. Whether it’s the drive itself or spending time in communities like Positano or Ravello, millions of tourists visit every year for their chance to capture some of the brilliance found along the azure coast. Sadly though, too many people only spend a day or so exploring this, one of Italy’s most beautiful regions whether on a day trip from Rome or part of a longer cruise. That’s how I first experienced the Amalfi Coast, more than seven years ago on a Mediterranean cruise. While I don’t regret the experience in any way, it wasn’t until I recently traveled to Italy with the “untour” company Monograms Travel that I truly began to understand why so many people from around the world truly love this special corner of Europe. A key factor in my enjoyment wasn’t only just spending several days in the area, but it’s thanks I think to staying in the city of Sorrento, using it as my home base for wider explorations. There are many reasons to love visiting and living in Sorrento, but for me there are a few qualities that make it the ideal spot for experiencing this gorgeous region of Italy.
Location and Ease
Stepping off the train in Naples, my Monograms Local Host was there on the platform, waiting to meet and whisk me off to Sorrento. The train from Rome couldn’t be easier; just an hour or so and traveling with Monograms also meant I was in the business class car, adding a little extra luxury along the way. Traffic in southern Italy can be a force of nature, but we lucked out as our driver easily took us an hour or so down the road until we reached the coastal city of Sorrento. I knew of Sorrento of course, but had never spent time there and I was eager to get out and start exploring. That’s one of the many ways in which the Monograms Local Host helped me in my four days of independent travel. Local Hosts are what separates Monograms from everyone else and they are on-site locals available to help with anything you might need. From knowing where the cleaners are to finding the best spot for dinner, they’re the fix-it people that are priceless to have on a trip.
Sorrento also has any number of great hotels, but I was thrilled with the property included with my Monograms trip. The Hilton Sorrento Palace is well located within the city and thanks to what must have been a recent remodel, is truly beautiful inside. An expansive great room design for the lobby, restaurant and bar area means that you never feel cut off and expansive views of the bay make the experience unbeatable. Those priceless views carry on to many of the staterooms, and I could have spent hours on the balcony just admiring the mountains and water surrounding the city. But I had a lot I wanted to accomplish while in Sorrento, places to visit and experiences to enjoy.
If you haven’t read my reviews of Monograms Travel before, they aren’t a tour company, not really. Instead they take care of major details like hotels, transfers and orientation tours, but then it’s up to the traveler to decide what they want to experience. It’s independent travel with a little bit of extra ease built in and I love the experiences this unique way of travel enables. There are a number of excursions offered if that’s what the traveler is looking for, and my Local Host adeptly helped me as I figured out how best to explore the region.
While there are many special spots along the Amalfi Coast that are famous for their high rolling visitors, Capri may be at the top of that list. And, as it turns out, it’s been that way for a long time. Even though the island is a short and very easy ferry ride from downtown Sorrento, I joined a day tour over so that I could easily visit several spots on the island, as well as benefit from the expertise of the guide. As incredible as it sounds, the island has been a popular resort since the time of the Ancient Romans, but most of us know it today as the stylish retreat for the rich and famous. And stylish it is, from the mountaintop town of Anacapri to the village of Capri itself, there’s no doubt that this is a place to see and be seen. I always love being on the water though and that was the highlight of my day. The ferry ride over of course is nice, but for something a little extra special I took a short, 1-hour boat trip around Capri itself, seeing this gorgeous place from literally every angle. This almost impossibly romantic region of Italy has so much to offer and I think that the sparkling island of Capri perhaps best encapsulates everything that makes it so special.
The Amalfi Coast isn’t just one of the most famous areas of Italy, but that serpentine drive hugging the coastline is one of the most well-known routes anywhere in the world. There’s a good reason for that, the tiny communities along the road are colorful and impossibly beautiful in every every way imaginable. Hugging the hills, it seems as if the homes erupted from the stone itself, once quiet fishing communities they’ve nearly all been transformed into destinations for posh getaways as well as day-trippers looking to capture that feeling of exclusivity, if only for a few hours. It’s also very easily reached from Sorrento, and I was just one of many visitors using Sorrento as their home base to experience the full width and breadth of the Amalfi Coast.
I love many of the towns along the coast, but for many people Positano is the highlight of any visit. In 1953, John Steinbeck published an essay in Harper’s Bazaar in which he wrote, “Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.” True to form that’s exactly how I now feel, just a couple of weeks removed from my far too brief visit to this star of Italy’s Amalfi Coast. The entire coastline lives up to its well-deserved hype, but there’s something special about Positano. It’s funny though, up until the 1950s it was just another sleepy fishing village, a place that time forgot. Then the post-war global tourism boom began and the village was never again the same. The early jet-setters all spent time here, enjoying the sunny weather and posh hotels that seemed to pop up overnight. Today it’s one of the most popular tourist spots on the coast and during the day a seemingly endless array of tour buses filter through the narrow winding streets of the city on the hill. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t special moments to be found, there definitely are. As soon as we arrived, I meandered along the labyrinth of alleyways until I reached the beach, oddly quiet given the number of people in town. but it was there and then that I began my slow appreciation of Positano, a love that sadly only germinated once I returned home. Funny how some places are like that. Sometimes we simply can’t appreciate new destinations until long after we’ve left, giving us new fodder for our afternoon daydreams.
Perched high on a hill overlooking the city of Sorrento and the bay on which it sits, I couldn’t help but fall in love. This is the promise, this is what the coastline of Italy should be and living there, even if only for a few days, was a travel experience I won’t soon forget. One of the great advantages of traveling with Monograms is that on the first or second day in a new city, the Local Host takes guests around town to show off the top sights, answer questions and help visitors get their bearings in an unfamiliar place. That’s how I found myself strolling along the languid pedestrian streets of Sorrento, the homes and businesses all basking in the golden hues of the late afternoon. While many people visit and stay in Sorrento, their ultimate goals are usually further afield to places like Capri and the Amalfi Coast. That’s fine, but Sorrento absolutely deserves some attention in its own right. There’s a certain magic in the air, Sorrento is what we all imagine these communities in southern Italy to be like. A slower pace of life, kind people and delicious food; add in amazing scenery and you have a recipe for success. While I loved learning more about the city, one of my favorite experiences there had nothing to do with the views or long history, it was instead an experience I booked with Monograms to learn more about the culture through food. Chef Carmen has long been a fixture in Sorrento and has led cooking classes for years. She’s famous not only for her stellar cooking skills, but for a personality that lights up a room. Spending several hours with her, along with a small group of other students, I laughed more than I have in a long time as I learned the intricacies of making such classics as pizza, gnocchi and eggplant parmesan. While I’m not sure I can replicate the recipes at home exactly, there’s no doubt I had a fun afternoon and a delicious meal as a result of my time with Carmen.
Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast have a lot to offer visitors from the scenery that has made it so famous around the world, to the luxury lifestyle that attracts a different sort of visitor. For me, spending part of my trip in Italy with Monograms Travel based in Sorrento was the best decision I’ve made in a long time. Although I had briefly visited the region many years ago, I never felt as if I really knew it, understood everything that makes it so special. While my education certainly isn’t complete, I get it now. I get why visitors have been flocking here since the time of the Roman emperors and how those unique qualities that brought guests here 1,600 years ago still exist today in the 21st century.