It is sunrise on October 1st. Polly and I are departing Rome via Eurorail to the Sorrentine Peninsula. First stop-Naples train station for a transfer to the Circumvesuviana line. This is where things became “oddly” interesting and, well, odd in general. Thank God Polly had the foresight before we embarked on our Italian holiday to learn a few key words and phrases “en italiano”. Said foresight came in mighty handy when we were suddenly told by some ebullient locals to disembark the train we were traveling on for transfer at an isolated station platform on the rather precarious suburbs of Naples. (As confused as we were while stumbling off the train, that advice came in mighty handy; had we remained on the original train, we’d have come face to face with Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. Would have been a lovely venture no doubt, but our hotel reservations were on the cliffs of Sorrento, thank you!) Now, back to that cool Sunday morning in the slums of Naples where the unemployment rate hovered around 60% and graffiti completely defaced every wall and train façade in sight. (Travel guru Rick Steves warns in his guidebook on Italy that the Circumvesuviana is a local line which is quite famous for pick pockets, thieves and criminals of various sorts who prey on unknowing tourists. That Napoli’s economy was in the throws of a devastating recession only fueled the situation!) Polly and I climbed aboard the Circumvesuviana for Sorrento and soon discovered this train was packed to the gills – and a mighty foreboading crowd it was … WOW! Quick decision – we took our stand in a connector and guarded our luggage with the fervor of a lioness protecting her newborn cubs. The hour or so train ride which stopped at every ramshackle, graffiti ridden platform from one end of Naples to the other, seemed more like an eternity. Upon arrival in Sorrento, Polly and I dodged out of the train to the nearest taxi in sight. And in traversing the few miles to our hotel, an astonishing wonderment of Sorrento’s stunning beauty swiftly replaced the worry and anxiety we felt earlier.
Hotel Parco dei Principi is situated high on the cliffs just north of Sorrento. This five-star resort, designed and built by Italian architect Gio Ponti in the 1960s, is a lesson in contemporary design. (http://www.royalgroup.it/parcodeiprincipi/default-en.html) Stark white walls meld with cerulean blue tiles, furnishings and accents, creating a seamless coexistence with the azure waters of the Bay of Naples splashing against the cliffs below. The hotel’s accommodations are uniquely refreshing and the staff is incredibly hospitable! We checked in, toured the lush grounds of the property, rode the lift through the cliffs down to the sundeck, found a couple of chaise lounges that were calling our names and promptly fell asleep to the warmth of sun rays on our skin and the soothing sound of waves crashing on rocks encasing the deck. I mean, given these idyllic conditions, who could possibly resist a little siesta?
The concierge at Parco dei Principi recommended Polly and I dine at L’Antica Trattoria and happily offered to make dinner reservations for us. We boarded the hotel shuttle to Sorrento and explored the shops, luxury hotels, piazzas and various attractions. As we stopped to catch the sun setting over The Bay of Naples and on the radiant isle of Capri, we reveled in colorful fishing vessels bobbing rhythmically on the glistening harbor water and the vivid hues of buildings strategically erected along hills and cliffs. Without a doubt, the Sorrentine Peninsula and Amalfi Coast are breathtakingly picturesque … and befittingly the subject of innumerable post card photographs!
Upon entering the reception room at L’Antica Trattoria, Polly and I were escorted to one of several dining rooms inside the restaurant. Colorful Italian art and ceramics were hung on aged plaster walls and exuded a cozy, intimate atmosphere. Our waiter was exceptionally courteous while emphasizing that chefs use the freshest ingredients when creating entrees. We dined on homemade angel hair tagliolini with lemon sauce, prawns and spinach, and seabass with fennel, orange and an endive pernod sauce served over parsley potatoes. An after-dinner digestif of limoncello, a locally prepared lemon liqueur, was a splendid finale to our meal. MY GOD this was dining nirvana! Without a doubt, my meal at L’Antica Trattoria was the culinary highlight of my trip! When you seize upon the treasured opportunity to visit Sorrento, please make L’Antica Trattoria one of your dining destinations! (http://www.lanticatrattoria.com/eng/)
Our trip to Sorrento was clearly too short. In retrospect I would have enjoyed a few more days to explore Positano, Ravello and other villages lining Italy’s Amalfi Coast. But then that sounds like a perfect reason to plan another visit! Polly and I had no inclination whatsoever to board the Circumvesuviana for a return trip to the Naples train station and on to Umbria. The hotel concierge agreed that hiring a driver to Naples would secure a safer and much more enjoyable experience. He was absolutely right – our driver was charming and well versed in Sorrento’s history, and insisted on pouring us a glass of limoncello made by his wife. Yes, it was a stark … and welcome contrast to our mode of transport a few days earlier!
Stay tuned for more scappatelle Italiane … Italian escapades. Next stop – Orvieto, an ancient Etruscan marvel deep in the heart of Umbria!