Of all the time I’ve spent in Italy (more than any other country outside my own) my latest 5 days in Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast was my first time really exploring the southern-ish parts. I admit I was a little worried this neck of the woods (tongue of the boot?) simply wouldn’t live up to the hype. I mean, holy crap with the people yammering on about the Amalfi Coast–blah blah “It’s so beautiful!” “It’s so romantic!” “Chad and I are taking our honeymoon to the Amalfi Coast!” blah.
BUT OMG IS IT BEAUTIFUL AND ROMANTIC AND I TOTALLY DON’T BLAME YOU STACY! I’m officially an Amalfi Coast convert. I’ve basically gone full Diane Lane at this point. Just put me in a white sundress and sensible shoes and let’s call this a DAY!
If you, too, are interested in dipping your toes in the warm saltiness of Southern Italy, my itinerary for 5 days in Sorrento (and thereabouts) is a great way to experience the best of what this region has to offer: natural beauty around every corner, delicious food, a breezy way of life, Diane Lane twirling about, opportunities to pretend you’re BFFs with George Clooney, and absolutely insane and death-defying driving. *sigh* La dolce vita!
5 Days in Sorrento: Day 1
After an overnight flight from Boston on TAP Air Portugal (check available flights here!), we arrived in Naples around 11 am—or as they say in Italian, it’s a-wine o’clock, capeesh?
Cantina del Vesuvio
After getting picked up at the Naples airport by our prearranged airport transfer, the eight of us headed straight for lunch and wine tasting at Cantina del Vesuvio, a winery right there, just clinging to the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius like it ain’t no thang. Apparently the imminent threat of the destruction of humanity as we know it has passed. I feel good about this.
Cantina del Vesuvio offers an “organic wine tasting with lunch” that’s the PERFECT way to start your 5 days in Sorrento. Our lunch consisted of antipasto, bruschetta, pasta, and dessert, all paired with five different wines of varying colors. Yeah, I’m really not the person to discuss wine tasting with, even more so immediately following an 8-hour overnight flight. Alcohol, good. Wine words. Grapes? Meh, fuggedaboutit. This place was gooood.
Take your time wandering around the vineyards, checking out the winery, and enjoying the experience of just having drunk tons of wine on a pretty serious jetlag. With a view. It’s a different kind of buzz, you’ll see.
At the time of this writing, the wine tasting + lunch experience at Cantina del Vesuvio is only €28 per person. What. A. Deal. Not becoming the focus of an archaeological dig 2,000 years from now? Priceless. For best results: make reservations ahead of time.
Now that we’d gotten our morning alcohol consumption in, it was finally nap time. And by that I mean everyone (minus yours truly) slept on the one-hour shuttle ride from the winery to our hotel and then pretended they weren’t actually asleep the whole time when we arrived. Just like every time my husband catches me snoozing five minutes into a Star Wars movie. Just like every day in every class of high school.
GRAND HOTEL RIVIERA
During my 5 days in Sorrento, I stayed at the Grand Hotel Riviera. Now, this place was a splurge as far as my usual hotel stays go. However, unlike my usual hotel stays, I didn’t have to shower in a shared bathroom down the hall, keep myself cool by continuously fanning myself with my used train tickets, or sleep with earplugs to drown out the sound of the ongoing back alley dice game. The fire alarm was NOT set off first thing in the morning by someone burning toast at breakfast; the mini-fridge was NOT growing visible mold inside; I did NOT have to eat my box of pizza alone out in the hallway so I could access the internet; and my window did NOT open up to the dumpster below and all its fragrant glory. End rant.
Sometimes, you need to splurge for sanity’s sake.
The Grand Hotel Riviera in Sorrento had everything you could possibly want: amazing service that couldn’t have been better, gorgeous scenery being that it’s located on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean, free breakfast buffet included every day, great restaurants, an awesome beach, and, most importantly I think we can all agree, bottomless mimosas at breakfast. Not to mention, Grand Hotel Riviera’s location was PERFECT for everything we wanted to do during our 5 days in Sorrento + the Amalfi Coast.
After checking in, we all made it straight to the hotel’s pool for sunshine, Aperol Spritz (and a beer for me), and to simply ignore how jetlagged and f*&^ing exhausted we all were. For four childless couples, we’re all pretty great at acting like children ourselves. I’m not tired, you’re tired!
I GIARDINI DI CATALDO
After getting what we could of our lives together, we made our way into town. And I guess it’s as good a time as any to share this fact with you: SORRENTO = LEMONS. Lemon everything. Lemons to eat, lemons to drink, lemons to rub all over your body to “keep the mosquitos away,” overhearing people say things like, “When life hands you lemons, make limoncello, LOLOLOL,” and lemon-flavored tears to cry when that happens.
Every night on your way into town and every night on your way back to the hotel, stop at I Giardini di Cataldo, the best little local limoncello joint this side of citrus. I Giardini di Cataldo is a lemon grove, lemon products shop, gelateria, bar, and so much more. It’s where you’ll get your shot of limoncello both before and after your night out in Sorrento.
PIZZERIA DA FRANCO
After walking around downtown Sorrento for a bit, we ended up at Pizzeria da Franco because the first day of every trip to Italy should end with pizza and house wine of questionable alcohol percentages.
At this point, we were all basically extras from the Walking Dead. On the verge of tears, I remember saying “I’ve never been this tired in my entire life” while I physically tried to keep my head from hitting the table like it was being pulled by those huge magnets that lift shipping containers. But then prosciutto pizza happened and all was right with the world. I consumed just enough calories to get my ass back to the hotel.
DAY 2 of 5 DAYS IN SORRENTO
Day Two started out with breakfast at the hotel, as will every other day of our 5 days in Sorrento so lemme just get that outta the way. As far as Italian breakfasts go, this is the best one I’ve seen. Ever. If you’re into more than a shot of espresso and a sugar-filled sugar bomb for breakfast, stay here at the Grand Hotel Riviera. Plus, breakfast takes places on a seaside, sun-soaked balcony and comes with a side of THESE MF’ING VIEWSSS, YO!
Not since Magic Mike Live added a lunch buffet has there been a sexier dining scenario.
The rest of the sunlit hours of Day Two in Sorrento were spent in the water, on top of the water, near the water, and not drinking enough water.
When you think of Italy you might think of the Vatican, and Renaissance artworks, or Roman ruins and Venetian canals… but Southern Italy is all about that #vitaminsea. Sorrento’s location on the Gulf of Naples, in the Tyrrhenian subdivision of the Mediterranean Sea, means its waters are clear, warm, and saltier than your mom after not calling her back for a week.
Spend the day enjoying that #beachlife and being all fancy and shit. Wear your floppy beach hat and drink things with umbrellas in them. Speak your gibberish Italian words to the cabana boy and laugh about yacht prices. This is the Riviera, dahling! (That is what rich people do, right?)
After becoming sufficiently pruney, we hit up lunch at the Grand Hotel Riviera. My lunch of fried prawns + calamari was fantastic! Simply mahvelous, dahling.
And during your 5 days in Sorrento, Beach Day should always be followed by Lemon Night. It’s time to steer into the skid, y’all. Prepare to fully embrace Southern Italy’s lemon obsession. And no, we do not know the meaning of ‘overboard.’
To start the night out, we strolled around downtown Sorrento (but not before stopping by I Giardini di Cataldo for limoncello) stopping for drinks here and there at places like D’Anton, a furniture store/bar that is a completely real thing. Fancy the chair you’re sitting on? Take it home with you! It’s like you’re in one of those showrooms at Ikea, but with alcohol and like four dollar signs instead of one weird Swedish word.
While in downtown Sorrento, you can (and should) pick up a new leather purse—you deserve it, girl! (For that, my favorite place is the Mary Shop.) Actually, all kinds of leather products. Also, lemon-flavored goods, custom-made sandals, home décor items, things made out of porcelain, and, for reasons I can only assume are related to Italy’s tradition of being way behind the times, you can also pick up a variety of frilly kitchen aprons.
Eventually we ended up at Ciro’s Tavern – a hole-in-the-wall-ish tavern, small in size and big on… well, big on this:
Ciro is a self-proclaimed sea pirate of yore so, I think it goes without saying that our night at Ciro’s was SO FUN. Pietro played classic Italian jams all night while Ciro himself made certain the food did. not. stop. coming. And it was some of the best food I had my entire 5 days in Sorrento. If you’re looking to “start dream in pirate’s cave,” look no further than Ciro’s. But also, is there more than one pirate’s cave in Sorrento? Methinks not buuuut menotsure either.
DAY 3 of 5 DAYS IN SORRENTO
Day Three of our 5 days in Sorrento started with a door-busting breakfast at the hotel to fuel up for our day of physical activity that was more than just twirl pasta, lift fork. On Day Three we hiked the Path of the Gods.
PATH OF THE GODS
Known in Italian as Il Sentiero degli Dei, the Path of Gods is said to be one of the most beautiful hikes in the world (spoiler alert: DA TRUTH!). It was named for the fact that, here, you’re closer to the sky than you are the sea, some mythological stuff, and the fact that you’ll feel like you’ve died and gone to Heaven when you see these views. Probably from an infection picked up from petting street animals of questionable health if we’re gonna be honest.
The Path of the Gods is over on the Amalfi Coast side of things, just a short jaunt to the other side of the peninsula. You can hike the Path of the Gods independently, or with one of the many organized tours available. My husband and I did so independently because I am all three cheap, determined to do all things on my own, and a control freak. Needless to say, he’s lucky to have me.
I loved this day so much I wrote a complete guide to hiking the Path of the Gods from Sorrento (the only guide you’ll need actually)! Check it out here.
DINNER AT MEATING
After our full day of hiking and what seemed like an additional six hours to clean all the caked-on dirt off ourselves, we ended up back in downtown Sorrento for dinner. In desperate need of a cheeseburger (hey, the hiker’s heart wants what the hiker’s heart wants), we headed over to Meating, a delightful restaurant in an even more delightful-er back alley setting. The burger was THE BEST EVER (they bake the bun in the oven right there in front of you, #onlyinitaly) and it was a great way to unwind after our day among the gods.
And I know what you’re thinking: “But don’t you not eat meat!?” And to that I say… well, I’m not a vegetarian, but I’m also not a carnivore. I guess you could say I’m like Goldilocks because I like things somewhere in the middle. But also because I have blonde hair and would absolutely eat your food if you left it sitting out.
DAY 4 of 5 DAYS IN SORRENTO
Don’t eat breakfast on Day Four of your 5 days in Sorrento! Okay, fine, you can have a muffin and a mimosa, but nothing else you hear me!? Day Four is Food Tour Day and you’ll need all available stomach real estate.
On Day Four we spent a full day with APTours on their Gastronomic Food Tour. This wasn’t your average walking food tour, small sample here, manufactured presentation there… This was an in-depth, no-holds-barred, chomp til you drop, legit food experience. We visited five locations where we were treated like royalty (you know, nicer than Burger King but not all the way to Princess Kate), served wayyyy too much food (yet the precise amount of alcohol), rode in some *interesting* transportation, and I got kissed by a baby cow. ‘Twas a good day.
OLIVE OIL @ GARGIULO
Our day began by getting picked up at our hotel and being whisked off to Frantoio Gargiulo, an olive oil production facility up in the hills of Sorrento in the village of Sant’Agnello. It’s all very charming, I tell ya!
Here, we were taken into the factory and shown how olive oil is produced from, well, olive to oil. We were then taken inside and treated to a private olive oil tasting that included buckets of bread and no less than (hang on let me count) 20 kinds of olive oil, a handful of balsamic vinegars, and an endless supply of various –cellos. Like anyone who was dirt poor through five years of college, I can smell the opportunity to load up on samples of expensive food and load up I did. I’ll be damned if I don’t do this for 10-years-ago Ashley!
Next up was a visit to Stinca Winery – great wines, unfortunate family surname. Like at Gargiulo, our time here started with a tour of the winery and a lesson in wine production, then followed with a private wine tasting with the owners Giulia and Nello.
We tasted… no idea how many wines (because wine) but it was A LOT. The seemingly endless supply of wine kept making its way into my glass, we were fed bread, cookies, cheeses, olives, and more, and there were a couple of dogs keeping everyone’s adult ADHD charged up. BUT the most entertaining part of it all was watching the local villagers stop in to have their plastic jugs filled up with wine from a hose. Umm, is this sort of lifestyle up for grabs on a permanent basis? I don’t buy enough consumables that come out of a hose and into a jug. That time my husband had to siphon the gas out of the snowblower does. not. count.
At some point we ended up in a lemon grove. Because wine.
PIZZA MAKING & LUNCH
After becoming sufficiently toasted, it was time for lunch. The next stop on our food tour was Ristorante Pizzeria da Francesco but not before stopping off on the side of the road to admire the gorgeous Amalfi Coast.
At this little local pizza joint we were taught all about pizza (pop quizzes welcome, just saying…)—the history of it, how to cook it, and how to make dough. After the dough was prepared by these obvious professionals, we were taught how to toss our dough and hilariousness ensued. After stretching our dough to its desired size (or whatever you call what we did), we added the sauce, the basil, and the mozzarella, then sent our pizzas off to be cooked in the oven.
Four minutes later exactly, lunch was served! Now, I’m NEVER one to sign up for “cooking classes” in foreign countries. I know that’s a thing people do, but that sounds about as fun to me as getting a pap smear from a plumber. (It’s a-me, Mario!) In other words, I’d rather an Atlantic City magician just saw me in half and toss out everything from the waist down. That being said, this pizza making experience was more like a round of Frisbee golf than it was a cooking class—and for those reasons, I’ll endorse it.The pizza was fantastic, there was indeed more wine (make it staaahhhhpp), and the staff was friendly and so much fun.
After everyone had finished lunch, it was time to go… eat more food. (Honestly, wear your stretchiest pants for this. Or whatever you have that closest resembles maternity clothes.)
Pictured: Tupelo Honey Berry Red Dress from Lulu’s
Next, we were picked up by Benedetto and whisked away in this contraption and taken on the RIDE OF OUR LIVES. Well, the weirdest ride of our lives, at least–referred to by my friends as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. I’ll just say, you have to experience it to get it.
Our ride ended at Turuziello Farms, AKA cheese heaven. We were given a surprisingly interesting presentation on the production of mozzarella cheese (et al), samples of each, aaaaaaaand more wine. After what was definitely the coolest lesson on cheese I’ve ever received (not counting the day I learned how to spray pressurized “cheese” from a can), we headed back into the farm to see where our cheese comes from, i.e. its udder beginnings. ‘Cause it’s cows, get it? We visited the big ol’ milking cows all the way down to the brand new baby cows and went inside the cheese freezer where I vowed to live out the rest of my days if need be. Now get off my lawn!
After a ride back into town on the… thing, we headed over to our fifth and final stop: Agriturismo Il Convento, a convent-turned-limoncello production facility… but also a hotel? The details are fuzzy.
Here, we explored the old convent/limoncello cellar, the lemon groves, learned how limoncello is produced, how it came to be in the first place (super interesting) and then were seated at a table TO BE SERVED MORE FOOD AND WINE and I’ve never seen eight people more in agony in my life.
The staff was unbelievably accommodating and the food we were served came straight out of their garden (even the prosciutto which we were told: [point to plate of meat] “my pig!”) As utterly stuffed as we were, we still managed to put away more food because SHE KILLED HER PIG FOR US SO WE HAD TO.
The rest of the 4th day of our 5 days in Sorrento is a food coma-induced blur. We were driven back to the Grand Hotel Riviera (in a regular vehicle, not a Mario Kart) and put straight to bed. A few hours later, the only activity possible was a li’l passegiatta.
Passegiatta is one of my favorite things about Italian life. It’s the act of strolling about town for the sheer pleasure of it. It usually takes place around dusk and involves simply walking around town, typically with a gelato, socializing, shopping, and, for us, digesting. I feel like I finally understand all those senior citizens at the mall now! Does this mean I’m a… grown up?
DAY 5 of 5 DAYS IN SORRENTO
The last of our 5 days in Sorrento was spent not in Sorrento at all, but on a day trip to Capri / boat tour of the islands.
DAY TRIP TO CAPRI + BOAT TOUR
Capri, playground to celebrities, birthplace of short pants, is just a quick boat ride away from Sorrento and makes for a fun day trip. The island itself, geologically speaking, is beautiful, full of interesting grottoes, and surrounded by UFOs–unique formations of stone, duh.
My day trip included hotel pick up and drop off, four hours of free time on the Isle of Capri, lunch/booze/limoncello toast, a tour of the island’s grottoes + Faraglioni Rocks, and free time spent swimming in the Mediterranean during which I tried to look sexy on a giant inflatable flamingo (spoiler alert: not possible).
If you’re picturing wandering through whitewashed streets covered in pink flowers with Gwyneth Paltrow, sailing around the island in the sun, and staring longingly at the horizon while the sea breeze gently tosses your hair, then YES, this was just like The Talented Mr. Ripley! **only without the savage murders.
DINNER AT DONNA SOFIA
To end our 5 days in Sorrento, we had dinner at Donna Sophia—because, did you even go to Italy if you didn’t spend four solid hours eating dinner?
Donna Sophia is a restaurant dedicated to actress Sophia Loren who you would think came from Sorrento, though she actually hails from Rome. Regardless, you can eat a fancy meal here under the watchful of eyes of Sophia Loren’s boobs. (eyes obviously = nipples here)
The food here was well-liked by everyone, but brace yourself for a legit, truly Italian dining experience where courses are taken seriously and customer service is merely a suggestion. Because I didn’t order a pasta course, I was still served a dish because they couldn’t bear for me to leave an empty spot at the table. Imagine the shame I felt. Not.
But the weirdest thing about this place—no, not the floor to ceiling photos of this gorgeous woman you are too young to know in the first place—is that you simply can’t get to it. Donna Sophia is so remote and impossible to get to that to dine there you’ll need to be picked up. Call the restaurant to arrange a pickup time and someone from the restaurant will come get you at your hotel. When you’re done eating, they’ll take you back. You’ll be old and gray by then, but still.
Try to chill the f$%^ out, embrace the authentic Italian style of dining, and remember the words of Sophia Loren herself: “Spaghetti can be eaten most successfully if you inhale it like a vacuum cleaner.”
The next morning, we caught our Eurolimo back to the Naples airport and headed for our next destination: Istanbul. Until next time, Italia!