For some, Italy will never go out of fash­ion

The Jewish Chronicle - - Life/travel - BY LUCY TOBIN

WE WERE on an in­trepid mis­sion and there were risks: blis­ters, ar­gu­ments , fi­nan­cial ruin and a 4am wake-up call be­fore drag­ging our cases on to a Na­tional Ex­press bus at Gold­ers Green, and then queue­ing for an easyJet flight to Naples.

It was tough: traips­ing around Mafia-im­bued streets, read­ing and then aban­don­ing all guide books.

Then, stum­bling upon a dusty back­street con­tain­ing a shiny gem of a par­lour, we found it. The best ice cream we had ever tasted, so good that each of the 50 plus flavours - in­clud­ing wild straw­berry (my favourite), Nutella, caramel (which got my boyfriend’s top vote) and Amaretti - was iden­ti­fi­able in one lick. At Sor­rento’s Gela­te­ria Au­gusto Da­vide, hid­den down Via Marziale, a wind­ing street that falls from the main Pi­azza Tasso, our mis­sion was com­pleted. We made the pil­grim­age ev­ery sub­se­quent evening for a post-din­ner treat.

It was mid-Septem­ber and whilst ice­cream was a great rea­son to travel to Italy, there were oth­ers, too. Let down by the elu­sive bar­be­cue sum­mer, we wanted some late sum­mer sun but not a lengthy flight. We wanted some cul­ture, and I was des­per­ate to take to the streets with my new SLR cam­era to in­dulge in some arty photography, but wanted, too, to col­lapse by the pool with a book.

An hour away and an en­tirely dif­fer­ent at­mos­phere from the fa­mously rough and ready Naples, Sor­rento, a bustling coastal town in the foot of Italy’s boot shape, was a nat­u­ral choice. We checked into the Hil­ton Sor­rento Palace, a Guggein­heim-es­que build­ing atop a hill that be­came our main form of daily ex­er­cise and gave spec­tac­u­lar views from our sev­enth-floor bal­cony. Our ex­ec­u­tive room was spa­cious and mod­ern, with ter­ra­cotta wall pan­els re­mind­ing us that Pom­peii wasn’t far away, but firmly rooted in the 21st cen­tury with a bed­side gad­get panel to open the cur­tains and dim the lights.

We be­gan plan­ning our six days in town, want­ing to in­clude vis­its to Pom­peii, the nearby up­mar­ket sea­side re­sort of Posi­tano, a Cap­rese salad-tast­ing on the is­land of Capri, and shop­ping and cul­tural ex­plo­ration in Naples. But our first af­ter­noon was de­voted to Sor­rento. Mak­ing the five-minute stroll into the town cen­tre from the ho­tel, we wan­dered through stony streets, sur­prised by Sor­rento’s size, with each street un­fold­ing onto an­other pi­azza or un­wind­ing into yet an­other path. It was a great place for peo­ple-watch­ing.

We worked out the town’s odd re­la­tion­ship with the sea. There was a big port, where thou­sands of mopeds lined up beg­ging to be pho­tographed, a few cruise ships docked and some ho­tels hosted ‘beach plat­forms’, where wide board­walks stick out into the sea of­fer­ing steps down for a dip or loungers for sun­bathing. But from most ar­eas of town, the wa­ter is a long, long way down. More no­tice­ably, it was also a long way up again un­der the 28-de­gree sun we grate­fully

en­joyed dur­ing most of our visit.

There were a few lo­cal mu­se­ums, and land­marks like the Sedile Domi­nova, a domed, open struc­ture cov­ered in 15th-cen­tury fres­coes, but Sor­rento alone will not sat­isfy full-on cul­ture vul­tures. Luck­ily it’s easy to take the Sita bus (around £3) on a scenic, hour­long drive along the Amalfi coast. (Don’t go straight af­ter eat­ing.) We dis­em­barked at Posi­tano, wit­nessed a beach-side wed­ding and were awestruck at lo­cal vil­lages and houses that ap­peared to be pre­car­i­ously close to fall­ing off the cliff edge.

We en­dured one day of ter­ri­ble, stormy weather, which can­celled a visit to Capri, but we in­stead chilled out in the ho­tel. Since Sor­rento isn’t a tra­di­tional sea­side re­sort, try to book a ho­tel ei­ther with a pri­vate beach board­walk or a de­cent sized swim­ming pool. The Hil­ton had two, a huge out­door one with plenty of lounger space de­spite the ho­tel be­ing very full, and an in­door pool adorned with ro­man­tic fres­cos and green fo­liage — al­though it could have done with a bit more heat­ing. We liked thwack­ing balls around the free ten­nis court too, as tall grape vines and groan­ing lemon trees looked on.

The food at the Sor­rento Palace was also good, a happy mix of Ital­ian qual­ity and Amer­i­can quan­tity, with huge break­fasts in­clud­ing Nutella-filled crois­sants, and chefs mak­ing pan­cakes, waf­fles and omelettes to or­der. There was also an ‘ex­ec­u­tive lounge’, where an end­less free sup­ply of fresh fruit, snacks and drink (in­clud­ing wine, cham­pagne and beer) atop a ter­race with won­der­ful views was a lovely way to kick off an evening.

Else­where, we were dis­ap­pointed with Sor­rento’s food. Many restau­rants were tourist-dom­i­nated, of­fer­ing piz­zas and pas­tas and the same fish and meat dishes over and over. The ex­cep­tion was La Basil­ica, down Via S. An­tonino, where we re­turned twice for ri­cotta ravi­oli (around £8) as well as main meals of chicken, veal and dover sole for around £13.

On the main Corso Italia, Ris­torante Par­ruc­chi­ano had a won­der­ful set­ting in a huge lit-up gar­den, while Il Leone Rosso had good piz­zas and pas­tas for around £6.

Mid-week, we took a day trip to Pom­peii. Wear walk­ing shoes and con­sider fol­low­ing a guided tour — the huge site can be over­whelm­ing, and over 65s and un­der 25s should take photo ID to pay around £5 in­stead of £10. We then went to Naples, a very ur­ban city with its fair share of squalor, in­clud­ing di­lap­i­dated build­ings strung with wash­ing, but it had rough charm and beau­ti­ful churches.

There were also deca­dent sites for fash­ion wor­shipers: Via Toledo had the best shops, and while it’s hard to know which of the cheap pizze­rias on the side streets re­ally did in­vent the pizza, they all of­fered tasty pick-me-ups.

With loud mar­kets, the crammed Cen­tro Storico, fairy­tale build­ings like the Cas­tel Nuevo and end­less op­por­tu­ni­ties for art-lovers, Naples was fas­ci­nat­ing — but its scream­ing core, ter­ri­fy­ing driv­ers and danger­ous un­der­belly meant we were glad to take the hour­long train trip back to Sor­rento.

Naples: A very ur­ban city with its fair

Sor­rento: choose your restau­rant careully to avoid tourist food

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.