We didn’t have a huge amount of discussion about where exactly to head first with the new Motorhome, we had of course thrown about some ideas of places we’d like to visit and then the night before we collected the van we said something like ‘so….. Sorrento? It makes sense to head south early and then head north as it gets hotter’. So once I returned with the van the next morning and after stopping at a supermarket across the street where we collected necessities which were not included in the rental (they were optional extras which were cheaper to buy than to rent for a month) like kids car seats, some camping chairs and an outdoor table, some sheets and an all important stove stop espresso maker (they start at just €5 here!), kids toys like Duplo and Playdough, and of course food and wine, we plugged Sorrento into the GPS and we were on our way.
The GPS says Sorrento should be just a 3.5 hour drive south of Rome, but I have now realised that it calculates the trip time based on the maximum autostrade speed of 130kmh and our van prefers to cruise around 110kmh, alarms ring at 120kmh, and so with the kid and coffee stops it took about 5 hours. We have since used this timing to give us a good basis for planning trips beyond Sorrento (I.e. GPS time + 40%).
Our 3-4 intended nights in Sorrento turned into 6 nights because we loved it so much, it’s a fantastic place in itself and there are so many day trip options from there to places like Pompeii, Amalfi, Ruffallo, Salerno, Capri, Naples, etc., etc., etc. although having been to many of these places before, we stayed fairly local, chose places that would interest the kids, and relaxed a lot.
The camping ground we chose in Sorrento hangs on the hill above a cliff overlooking the Gulf of Naples and Mt Vesuvius, about 2km up the road from the centre of town. It is set amongst Olive Grove Terraces, and by choosing to forego the best of the view on the ridge and moving down the rows a little we acquired a whole terrace to ourselves (it would usually hold about 5-6 campers), and we could not see another soul out any window, yet a short walk up the hill was the convenience of the restaurant and mini market. Surrounding our terrace were Cherry, Fig, Orange and Lemon Trees, all fruiting, and there was enough room to kick a ball around with the kids, although Ari and I spotted a small football field with goals, near the pool, which was much more fun, until he found some stinging nettles while fetching the ball from the overgrown side lines, he only sustained minor stings to his hands though and recovered fast, he should have spotted them since Neal showed him what they looked like when we were in England.
The camp ground has its own private little ‘Spaggia’ (beach!), which is quite a hike, albeit a picturesque one, down a steep dirt path, there is a photo from the camping level looking straight down to the beach to give some idea. It’s such a nice little spot once down there, with a large rock ledge for playing and deep swimming, and a small rocky beach with some shallow pools for Tess, it even has an ice cream stall.
The 2km walk down to town alternates between precariously narrow sections of road with stone walls on both sides providing no escape from passing traffic (yet oddly with bus stop signs on the stone walls where there is clearly no standing room to wait for a bus), and wide terraces providing changing views of the bay at each steep turn. We walked up and down it a couple of times but did catch the bus when our timing was right.
Sorrento Town has a mix of narrow pedestrianised streets through old overhanging buildings, and wide piazzas full of restaurants. It too sits atop the cliff overlooking a small strip of beach. There is an amazing zig zag walk down the cliff face which actually takes you inside the cliff about half way down, in a sort of medieval looking spiral stair with brick arch ways, or, there is an elevator cut through the cliff to save your legs. The beaches in this section are lined with deck chairs extending out onto the rock piers, which are also restaurants. On one of our wanderings Ari’s ears pricked up to a sound which he asked to investigate, it took us into a lovely old hidden courtyard where a choir was rehearsing their singing and we sat to listen for some time. We ended up staying quite late in town a couple of nights to see it come alive after dark (late for the kids since dark is not til about 9:30/10pm), to see people still swimming under the setting sun and the main street closed to cars so people are more free to roam.
We also found a fantastic kids playground in the yard of a private villa, which is now used as a gallery, kitted out with loads of modern play equipment and open to the public (well, the gate was open, there were other kids in there and no one kicked us out!)
Whilst in Sorrento we made sure we visited Pompeii, it’s an awesome sight, overwhelmingly large already even with part still fenced off to visitors and with 20 hectares or so still yet to be uncovered. There are many villa houses in tact enough to be able to wander through living areas, bedrooms, and gardens, over 2000 year old mosaic tile floors and through still clearly visible frescoed halls. There are casts of people, pets and plants exactly as the were, frozen in time, in the compacted ash.
Ari loved Pompeii, he has mentioned it many times since we left, he understood it was a whole city, or ‘another Rome’ as he calls it and that it was buried for nearly 2000 years after the Volcano erupted. When we read that the city was still recovering and re-building after a major earthquake that hit 17 years before the eruption, he was almost relieved, because he said that all the people would have already moved to ‘the new Rome’ while their houses were being re-built and so Pompeii would have been empty when it was burried, except for the few workers which he says are the ones cast in the plaster. I think some of the most awesome sights are the Mystery Villa, the two amphitheaters, the mosaic floors and the large colosseum, as well as all the little shop fronts to the houses and villas which were the businesses of the owners, such as bars, food outlets, grain merchants, wool merchants, bakers etc., some still with the original stone grinding mills, ovens and serving counters, which let the kids imaginations really run wild as they pretended to cook and make coffee and serve in these 2000 year old ‘bars’. I think we spent about 5 hours amongst the ruins, which says something for the kids attention being able to be held for such a long time in the scorching heat. Tess insisted on walking just about everywhere, she and Ari put on their own little show in the smaller of the two theatres and Ari battled with his Mum in hand to hand combat in the Colosseum, due to a lack of both Gladiators and his Viking gear.
We were sad to leave Sorrento and no doubt will return again. It would be great to bring the kids when they are teenagers so we can all hire scooters and take on the Amalfi Coast Road in true Italian style, it’s one of my best memories from our trip in 2006, so much so I’ll add a pic to end with, for nostalgia sake.