I've never been to Italy
April 15, 2012 11:35 AM   Subscribe

What are the must-see places to visit around Sorrento and the Amalfi coast in Italy?

In early May, my family (parents in their 60s, "kids" in their 30s) are going to Sorrento for a week. We know that we want to see Pompeii, maybe Capri, take nice walks, and eat good food. Do you have any recommendations for things that we should see and do in that area? (or things that we should avoid?) Are there specific restaurants or walks or sites that we should be checking out? We're all reasonably fit and love to spend time outdoors, though we're more "walk along the beach" people than "sunbathe on the beach" people.

Bonus question: my parents will be celebrating their wedding anniversary. Does anyone have any advice about a special treat that my brother and I can arrange for them while we're there? I'm thinking of something like a hot air balloon ride, if we were in California wine country, or a gondola ride in Venice -- it doesn't have to be super expensive, but something special for the two of them that we can surprise them with. Would love any suggestions!
posted by cider to Travel & Transportation around Sorrento, Italy (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I was there during a heat wave several years ago, and one day it was so hot we decided to visit Ravello based only on the guidebook's suggestion that it was at a higher elevation and thus a little cooler than the coastal towns. Not only was that true (though it probably won't matter in May), Ravello is GORGEOUS. One of the most beautiful places I've ever been.

I thought Capri was lame, unless you're up to hiking to the top of the island to visit Tiberius' villa, which is extremely cool. It was not a difficult hike, but it's a long uphill walk. Should be doable by people who are normally abled and don't have problems with walking, but who knows?

The blue grotto is a total tourist trap. Don't even.

In Positano there's a path that runs along the beach to an old Saracen tower, which I remember being neat.

Re things that are along the lines of a hot air balloon ride or a gondola ride, my family chartered a little boat to take an afternoon sail in the mediterranean (with a picnic lunch?) to get to and from Capri, which was nice. Though it may have made Capri a little underwhelming. The views were gorgeous, and it was really fun to jump off the boat and swim in the Mediterranean (not sure if it will be warm enough for this in May?). I didn't organize the boat, but it couldn't have been that difficult to do as I was with pretty inexperienced travelers who speak no Italian. If you want to spend a little money, a boat to and from Capri with a nice meal there would be lovely.

It wouldn't surprise me if there was some kind of wine tourism springing up, though Campania is not well known as a world-class wine region on par with Tuscany or Piemonte.
posted by Sara C. at 11:46 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and Paestum! Go to Paestum if at all possible. It's an ancient Greek temple that was part of a colony in southern Italy before the Roman period.

I also remember seeing some Etruscan stuff on the same trip, but that may have been up around Rome. If you'll be there and have a car, look into Etruscan sites in the surrounding area or on the drive down to Campania.
posted by Sara C. at 11:56 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd pick Herculaneum over Pompei, I enjoyed it much more, it was really possible to get a real sense of Ancient Roman life.
posted by essexjan at 12:58 PM on April 15, 2012

Paestum is wonderful, by train from Sorrento you have to go to Naples and then back towards Salerno but please, please go there.

As for Sorrento itself my must see (and I'm drooling here) is a gelateria, "Davides" for the finest pistachio gelato of all time
posted by hardcode at 1:09 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

My wife does painting/sketching workshops in Italy every year ( in fact, she is there now), and then spends a second week with her 3 sisters hiking and exploring. Last year they spent a couple of days in Capri, and she was quite disappointed with it. YMMV, but she found it over-priced and crowded, and she wished they had spent more time in Sorrento. She did enjoy the Blue Grotto tourist trap though, so I guess it depends on what you are looking for.
posted by lobstah at 1:40 PM on April 15, 2012

I think both Herculaneum and Pompeii are worth a visit, if you have a half-day and a whole day to spare, respectively. Take the train rather than going on an organised tour (Herculaneum is at Ercolano).

Seconding 'Gelateria David'. I have a photo of me looking ridiculous holding a gelato the size of my head. Sorrento in general is a town of gift shops, tourist restaurants, and hotels. It's friendly, the food is reasonable (this is Italy, after all), and it's pleasant enough to stroll around.

We didn't enjoy Capri all that much either, except for the walk to Tiberius's villa, which was a bit tiring in the heat, but welcome exercise and worth it for the cliff-top views across the sea.

Ischia is supposed to have some attractive gardens.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:41 PM on April 15, 2012

I'm seconding all Ravello recommendations. If your parents enjoy classical music the concerts there are held in a very romantic setting and there are some in May.

I enjoyed Axel Munthe's villa in Capri but I did read the book beforehand.

If you are fit, walking to the top of Vesuvius was great fun. If you are lucky you'll get to see some smoke coming out of the crater. Very exciting.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 2:26 PM on April 15, 2012

It's worth noting here that although Herculaneum is very nice (indeed in some cases better than Pompeii) the surrounding area and the train station at Erculano are "dodgy", there was a used syringe in the mens toilet on the station and we heard reports of muggings.

Don't let it put you off too much though, it is worth it.

There's also the cablecar from Castellammare di Stabia to the top of Mt Faito which gives wonderful views of the Bay of Naples and Pompeii. Stabia is accessible by train from Sorrento on the Circumvesuviana line.
posted by hardcode at 2:14 AM on April 16, 2012

The Royal Palace at Caserta is even better than Versailles.
posted by 3.2.3 at 5:23 AM on April 16, 2012

Last fall I stayed in Sorrento for a few days with another couple. I thought Pompeii was absolutely cool and worth it, but I didn't go to Herculaneum so I can't compare. One suggestion I have is to get to Pompeii as early as possible, because it does get both crowded and hot. However, the further you get from the main gate the less crowded it becomes, and there are plenty of places to just silently contemplate your surroundings. We found that a half-day was the right amount of time, and we left before we became too hot, dusty and tired of walking.

We had one blowout meal in Sorrento, and it was at L'Antica Trattoria. I chose it kind of randomly because I thought the pictures made it look pretty, which it was. We did three regular tasting menus and one vegan tasting menu, and they could not have been nicer or more accommodating about the vegan in our group. It was her birthday too, so they were especially generous with the extras. The courses involved a lot of seafood and lemon and all were delicious. It was a bit touristy I suppose, but Sorrento is a fairly touristy place and I certainly didn't feel that we were ripped off or taken advantage of. I made a reservation by email about a month ahead and of course mentioned our vegan when reserving.

If you have time, find a hotel with a rooftop bar for some exquisite views of the Bay. Our friends stayed at the Grand Hotel de la Ville (again because they were celebrating her birthday; we stayed somewhere much less pricey) and we went to the rooftop bar/pool for cocktails each evening. The views were just spectacular, and very much enhanced by a few glasses of prosecco.

If you're planning to bring home limoncello for yourself or for souvenirs, get it in Sorrento rather than at the airport or whatever. It's cheaper in Sorrento.

Have fun!
posted by CheeseLouise at 8:05 AM on April 18, 2012

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