“Viva!” We didn’t understand any of the other lyrics on the radio station, but we couldn’t help but recite “viva!” repeatedly along with the song that was playing. It was a perfect moment to roll up to a gorgeous view of the Mediterranean. The sun was warm, the water glittering below us. Matt, Brian, Thea, and I got out of our rental car to stretch our legs for a moment after a four-hour drive from Rome (Read When in Rome here.).
Back in the car, we drove up the winding, skinny roads of Sorrento to our Airbnb. We chose Sorrento for a home base while traveling in this area of Italy because of the location (it’s centrally situated near Pompeii, Naples, and the Amalfi Coast), and it’s a very welcoming (and charming!) town perched above the Mediterranean Sea.
I have to show you images of the Airbnb (Casa Lina Sorrento) because I would highly recommend staying here if you’re traveling with a small group. It has a three bedrooms, two bathrooms, tons of living space, a fabulously spacious patio, and it’s only a 10 minute walk to the center of town.
Right around the corner from our place is a lively trattoria, Torna a Surriento. We decided to eat there and quickly realized that the source of the liveliness came from the proprietor himself! We were the last to go after our fantastic meal. Brian had so much fun that when he hugged our waiter goodbye, he lifted him off the ground.
The next morning we headed straight to Pompeii and immediately tuned in to the self guided tour offered by Rick Steves. (We each downloaded the tour through the Rick Steves Audio Europe app ahead of time through the Wi-Fi at our Airbnb.)
It’s amazing to wander around a town that’s over 2,000 years old, yet so well-preserved. Pompeii was a middle class, bustling port city of 20,000 people, when it was abruptly covered with 30 feet of volcanic ash in A.D. 79 from nearby Mount Vesuvius. The excavation of Pompeii didn’t begin until 1748.
On the day Mount Vesuvius erupted, many of the residents fled, but about 2,000 stayed behind. The volcano did it’s business for 18 hours. During that time, with the winds changing direction, 60 feet of ash covered the smaller, ritzier town of Herculaneum. And finally, in the last hour, the lava headed over to Pompeii for a second time.
There is so much more to Pompeii. In a few different areas, you can see the cast of bodies – people preserved in their lasts moments. Of course everyone loves to visit the old brothel, but it’s such a popular (and amusing!) stop that there is a long line to go inside. From what I remember on a previous visit, there were beds made of stone which were covered in hay and racy frescoes up above which may or may not have depicted particular specialties.
Next we drove over to Herculaneum, the much smaller town that was buried under 60 feet of volcanic ash.
Did you know that you can hike up to the summit of Vesuvius? You can! You can find the trailhead up a long road from Torre del Greco (in between Pompeii and Herculaneum). From the parking area it’s a 20 minute hike with 600 foot elevation gain. We were so excited to check it out, but the trail was closed for maintenance. :(
The next day we drove the Amalfi Coast from Sorrento to Salerno and back.
Our rental car was equipped with sensors that beeped when we were close to an object (like another car, or a wall), and beeped more intensely when that object was within a few inches. While we had encountered the beeps several times while driving around Italy, we hadn’t truly experience the sensors until we were driving the road along the Amalfi Coast. What was initially amusing became extremely annoying.
Anyone who has visited the Amalfi Coast knows how slow the traffic can be, that finding a parking space may be impossible, and that the two lane road is really more like one and a quarter lanes. But the scenery is incredible.
We stopped for a snack in the tiny fishing village of Marina di Praia. If you dislike crowds as much as me, this is a great place to experience the coast.
We also stopped in Ravello, a hilltop town 1,000 feet above the sea.
The next day we had a food tour scheduled in the late afternoon. Sorrento Food Tours took us to about eight food places in three hours. We ate cured meats, a small cake with cream and cherry, saltimbocca (a prosciutto and cheese focaccia type of thing), lemoncello sorbet, a deep-fried risotto ball (!), caprese salad, Sorrentine style gnocchi (A smaller sized gnocchi made with a different kind of potato, and swimming in tomato sauce with buffalo mozzarella chunks. Yum.), and gelato.
We wrapped up our final night in Sorrento with an Aperol Spritz at sunset. I have somehow ignored this drink on my previous visits to Italy, despite seeing them on many tabletops at outdoor restaurants all over the country. Aperol is an orange flavored liqueur, just add some prosecco and a splash of soda, and you got yourself a refreshing cocktail.
Next stop: Montepulciano!