Travel review: Italy's Sorrento coast
Italy’s Sorrentine Peninsula has long been a popular destination for honeymoons and romantic breaks, but it also has plenty to offer families with young children. We got our first tantalising glimpses of the spectacularly rugged coastline from the sleek Mercedes that our chosen accommodation – the Hotel Mediterraneo – sent to collect us when we landed in Naples following our short flight from Leeds-Bradford with Jet2.
As you leave the suburbs of Naples behind, the coast road that heads towards Sorrento becomes increasingly narrow and winding – and the views evermore jaw-dropping. The hour-long journey soon passed and, as we negotiated a sharp bend in the road, our driver pointed out our hotel, an elegant, white-painted, early 19th century property sitting like a wedding cake high above the sea.
We’d chosen Hotel Mediterraneo for its quiet location in the village of Sant’Agnello, just a 20-minute walk from the centre of Sorrento, but also because it gave us private access to La Marinella beach – a rarity in a resort where most hotels are located on the clifftops. Our family room had a balcony overlooking the lush gardens and swimming pool to the rear of the hotel, but sea-view rooms are available. The hotel is still owned by the family of Antonietta Lauro, for whom it was built as a private residence in 1912.
A lift inside the hotel takes you down to a cavernous tunnel carved into the cliffs, which emerges directly onto the beach. There’s a designated area for hotel guests, complete with sunbeds and umbrellas, but non-residents can pay a daily rate to use the beach. Like most of the beaches on this stretch of coastline, La Marinella comprises a small area of sand that has been extended using raised jetties, from which steps give bathers direct access to the sea. As we were travelling with our then four-year-old daughter, the impeccable facilities were a revelation. They include spotlessly clean showers, toilets, a sauna and changing facilities, and a relaxed beach bar serving up lunches of ravioli or freshly-caught mussels cooked with locally-grown lemons.
The beach itself was pristine – staff remove any bits of rubbish washed up by the sea as soon as it appears. The jetties create a very shallow, crystal-clear lagoon, where children can play safely – there’s even a small slide for tots to whizz down into the water. Pedalos and kayaks are available to hire, so we put on our life jackets and pootled up and down the coastline, exploring some of the many hidden inlets and coves.
Keen to visit local restaurants, we’d opted to stay at Hotel Mediterraneo on a bed and breakfast basis, but we did enjoy a pizza lunch on the poolside terrace and also booked a table for the weekly barbecue evening. We were so glad we did as the term “barbecue” didn’t do justice to the amazing feast that was served up – everything from barbecued meat and seafood to pasta dishes, salads, antipasti and wonderful desserts.
A buffet breakfast, accompanied by Prosecco for those who want it, is served in the Vesuvio Roof Restaurant, which offers mesmerising views of Sorrento and the island of Capri to the left and out across the Bay of Naples towards the 1,300-metre hulk of Mount Vesuvius to the right. The only active volcano on mainland Europe, Vesuvius sits menacingly close to Naples and is best known for burying the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum under ash and pumice when it erupted in AD 79.
There are several seafront restaurants immediately outside the hotel and plenty more on the walk into Sorrento. The wonderful food was undoubtedly one of the highlights of our trip; only in Italy can a simple pasta dish made with just two or three fresh ingredients, such as spaghetti with courgette and parmesan, become a taste sensation. One of our favourite meals was eaten at La Marinella beach, where the upper floor of the cafe becomes an altogether more upmarket, fine dining proposition by night. It was a little more formal than the other restaurants we dined at and the prices reflect the high standard of the food, but our young daughter was made very welcome – she even had a special off-menu dish concocted for her.
Super-yachts seem to be ten a penny in this neck of the woods, but, as we watched the sun set over Capri, a particularly impressive vessel caused a real stir among diners and restaurant staff alike when it moored just off the coast in front of the restaurant. As we dined, we watched two smaller boats emerge from the back of the yacht and head over to Sorrento and Capri to collect guests for what we could only imagine must have been a seriously swanky gathering. Clearly unimpressed, our four-year-old loudly announced that she’d been to France with her grandpa on a very similar boat.
Day trips to Vesuvius and Herculaneum are within easy reach of Sorrento; you can hop aboard a hydrofoil and head over to Capri for the day; and there are countless picturesque towns and villages along the nearby Amalfi coastline to explore. However, I’m not ashamed to admit that we were incredibly lazy and stayed close to Sorrento because it had everything that we possibly needed for a short, sunshine break. We spent blissfully sunny days relaxing, swimming and playing by the beach or the pool; enjoyed delicious food and the occasional Aperol Spritz; and took strolls along the clifftop to absorb the scenery. We fell in love with Sorrento and are already planning another trip when our daughter is a little older so we can tick off some of the bigger sights and attractions nearby.
Lucy and her family flew from Leeds-Bradford Airport to Naples with Jet 2, booking their flights direct at www.jet2.com.
They stayed at Hotel Mediterraneo at Sant’Agnello, just outside Sorrento, booking their garden- view family room direct at www.mediterraneosorrento.com.
They arranged a private transfer from Naples Airport to Hotel Mediterraneo direct with the hotel.
To book a table at La Marinella, visit www.lamarinellasorrento.com.
For more information on places to visit on the Sorrento coast, go to www.sorrentotourism.com.