CINQUE NOTTE IN SORRENTO
After a leisurely breakfast on the morning of Saturday 2nd April 2016, following an amply delicious dinner the previous evening, we left the Courtyard Marriott Hotel by taxi to Gatwick North Terminal from where we were due to catch our flight to Naples round about lunchtime. The usual security screening and passport scrutiny over, we made our way into the central atrium with its inviting shops, worth a long browse – time permitting – before purchasing the obligatory bottled water and reading matter for the journey.
Our Meridiana jet eventually took off, approximately twenty minutes late at 13.15, for its two-hour-long, relatively-turbulence-free, flight to Capodichino airport in Naples. A small yet tasty snack, along with an amazingly flavoursome orange, lemon and carrot juice, served to keep hunger at bay during our journey.
The transfer, which, a friend had informed me earlier was ‘dead easy, was not! The bus for Sorrento, whose stop was located conveniently right outside the airport exit, had already left. The next was not due until 19.30, which meant at least a two-hour wait. With very limited Italian we enquired how to get to the train station and, with very limited English, which seemed far better than our Italian, a porter advised us to cross over the car park and road to the bus station.
Carting our suitcases behind us we trekked across to where the Alibus was waiting patiently for us to board. It trundled us through the unloved and uncared-for streets of Naples central and a short trip later we alighted as close as possible to the central train station, whence began another trek, dodging the crazy dodgem vehicles on the manic roads, to the train station where we then had to buy our tickets. The man behind the ticket desk insisted that our platform was number 3, so we hauled our luggage down a flight of twenty or thirty steps to that platform, only to find that we should have been on Platform 1. Another twenty or thirty steps up, across the bridge and another twenty or thirty down and, puffing and panting, we landed on the correct platform and sat on a graffitied bench, surrounded by graffitied walls, and waited.
The 16.34 to Sorrento rumbled in, in all its multi-coloured artwork glory, and we gratefully climbed aboard in the firm knowledge that ten or twenty minutes later we would surely reach Sorrento. In the event, the passage to our destination took a little bit longer than we anticipated as, just short of an hour later, we finally arrived in Sorrento. But the trip had not only been an entertaining one but also one of contrasts. From the sparkling blue sea, the beauty of the landscape and the sight of mighty Vesuvius to the pitch-blackness of the long tunnels. From the seeming neglect of the buildings along the trackway, to the apparent luxury in the area surrounding Sorrento. From loud groups of youths with, presumably, choice language, through to a small gamut of musicians, beginning with a single youth with a bongo who decided suddenly to break out into an ear-splitting beat which made everyone jump. To a troupe of young lads who harmoniously serenaded us with popular Italian refrains on a tunefully keyed and bellowed accordion.
But for the help of the latter group of young men, who stuck their feet in the train door to hold it open for us to get back on, the ladies of our party might have succeeded in getting off the train at the wrong station. This embarrassing error, however, did get us chatting with a very nice couple from Leeds who were to magically appear and reappear in our lives during the next few days. And those musicians received a handsome tip in their euro-hat the next time we heard them play.
In all honesty, it would not be my recommendation to anyone to travel round the bay of Naples in such a torturous way. Between the four of us it would not have cost much more to have taken a taxi ride to our hotel. It would have been more comfortable and a lot quicker. We could have been starting our holiday much sooner and drinking our evening cocktail that much earlier. As it was, by the time we reached our hotel, it had taken us twice as long as the flight from London to Naples. For, even when we could have got a taxi to the hotel from Tasso Square, where we got off the train, we chose tor walk to our hotel, which was, someone had told us, just round the corner but in reality was predictably much further away than we anticipated. Not only that, but also the embarrassment of traipsing through the city dragging luggage could have been spared. Note to Self: Next time take the bloomin’ taxi!
Finally, four long hours after landing at Capodichino airport, we gratefully arrived in the Hotel Grand La Favorita, on Via Tasso, and our bags were taken to our splendid rooms. It was superb. Although actually only seven years old, this hotel, with its luxurious décor of a bygone age and welcoming air was going to be well worth the wait and the arduous journey we had had to make to get to it.
After a quick turn-round in the hotel, we headed around the corner to a small cobbled street with terraced tables, at one of which sat ‘our Leeds friends’ we had met on the train who were obviously enjoying their meal. This seemed a good enough recommendation and we decided to eat there before turning in for an early night. It had been a long day. The restaurant proved to be an excellent choice: the food was delicious and the company impeccable. We would return, we told them.
DAY ONE – SORRENTO
After breakfast at 9.00 in the plush restaurant, with bespoke eggs cooked to order to one’s taste: fried, omelette or pancake, we investigated the hotel, the garden terraces, the roof-top bar and pool. Perched as it is, a short way back from the cliff overlooking the Marina Piccola, the Favorita has stunning bay views from its gorgeous gardens, its sumptuous bar lounge and several of its bedrooms. The whole of the Bay of Naples, Vesuvius and the islands of Ischia and Capri can be viewed from its attractive roof-top terrace and pool area. Even the lift is lush. The place is just phenomenal.
It was an unseasonably hot, sunny day so we settled ourselves down on the sun-beds to, very leisurely, decide on our plan of action for the holiday (and maybe take a spot of liquid refreshment). At midday we went over to the bar area for a refreshing G&T and complimentary nibbles, before heading on down, via the beach lift to Marina Piccola, for a bite to eat at Ruccio, a pretty waterfront restaurant. Whilst there we booked our following morning’s jet-ferry trip to Capri, before returning ‘up top’ to have a wander through the shopping streets and munch on flavoured gelati of our choice.
Whilst in town we spotted Ristorante/Pizzeria S. Antonino up a flight of green stairs. It looked intriguing so that is where we set out for later that evening. Finding it again posed a bit of a problem: there were so many small streets and alleyways, but we headed in the general direction and there, in one of the tiny side-streets were ‘our Leeds friends’ yet again. In the whole of Sorrento, we had encountered them three times in one and a half days. Sadly, they were due to fly home the next day, so we stopped and chatted a while. Undaunted and, because there were no tables free in their particular restaurant, we continued on our quest for the S. Antonino, which we ultimately came across.
Up the flight of astro-turfed stairs and the ristorante/pizzeria opened out in front of us like a garden. Trees seemed to sprout up through the floor, fences separated tables and there even seemed to be a wooden ‘shed’ eating area. We spent a thoroughly enjoyable evening eating, chatting and people-watching. We were pleasantly entertained at the expense of an unsuspecting couple sitting behind us, the lady of which seemed to want to get the whole bowl of salad in her mouth at once and proceed to talk to her companion through the green mush cement-mixing around in her jaws. We had fun trying to guess the relationship of these two unwitting persons, who obviously who were not ‘together’. Some said ‘conference’, others suggested ‘blind date’, some but we reached no solution as the strange pair descended the steps together, yet not together. We turned in reasonably early so we would be ready nice and fresh for our trip on the 9.30 to the isle of Capri.
An 8.00 breakfast saw us amongst the first to sit ‘at table’. Luigi, as always, was immediately attentive; he knew what we’d like to drink without us having to be asked. We chose our fruit dish, helped ourselves to the buffet, selected how we wanted our eggs cooked and enjoyed a hearty meal, before catching to jet-ferry from quay 4 at Sorrento’s Marina Piccola. Twenty minutes later, courtesy of the Alilaura line, we were approached the isle of Capri, towering like a fortress up from the twinkling blue of the sea ahead of us.
A leisurely coffee at one of the pretty harbour-side bars later, tickets already purchased and clutched tightly, we approached the funicular railway, the cheapest way up to the top, through a large stone archway and queued behind scores of visitors to await our turn to ascend the cliff, at the top of which awaits the lively Piazza Umberto. Here we had a light lunch before wandering down towards the Giardini di Agosto, passing on the way Hotel La Residenza, where I spent my 20th birthday with my family a million years ago. The path leading to the Giardini took us past the perfumery, Carthusia, with its smell-pots and aromatic flora. The Giardini di Agosto itself commanded a small fee of one euro to climb the steps, but once inside the views were utterly breath-taking, in particular from the camera vantage point for the stunning rocks of the Faraglioni, through which tiny speed-boats flicked and bobbed, and Marina Piccola.
Making our way back up the hill, we passed the La Residenza again and the myriad of buildings and extensions which had sprung up over the last forty-four years or so, and proceeded to the bus stop from which we caught the bus up to Anacapri. A short, rather hair-raising ride up the hill, skirting the cliff face at times, and we arrived in Anacapri, which was altogether different from the hustle and bustle of Capri town itself. Unfortunately we had arrived during the siesta and although some shops were open for business, many were not. We returned downhill to Capri by bus (taxi-drivers wanted twenty euros for that same short hop) and headed for the funicular with the intention of descending to Marina Grande immediately. However, the beautiful view from the top and the temptation of Aperol Spritz kept us in the bar at the top for a little while longer. When we eventually got down to the harbour-side I made a bee-line for the shop where I had previously lined up a pretty striped beach bag to buy and was glad to see it was still there.
Heading out towards the quay for our return ferry, there seemed to be some confusion as to which quay and which boat would be sailing for Sorrento. In the end it transpired that it was the same ferry that was continuing on from Sorrento to Naples anyway.
As we sailed away I bid Capri a fond farewell, with the one big regret that I still had not seen Villa Jovis, the palace built by Tiberius in AD27. It would be something for me to see… next time.
At 8pm we went down into the hotel bar, with its plush-white-leather-sofas, for our free welcome Prosecco and nibbles followed by Gin Martini aperitifs before our meal in the Ristorante Sorrento once again.
DAY THREE – SORRENTO
This should have been the day we went up to Positano by bus and returned by ferry. However, it was too soon in the season for the boats to be running. Furthermore, the facilities of our beautiful hotel were too good to pass up on. So we decided to have a chill-out day in the sun on the roof terrace. At lunchtime we had our drink at the bar and a delicious tuna salad all round. When our friends chose to investigate the Limoncello orchards, we continued to laze round the pool until 5pm, when we crossed the road from the hotel to have a look at the sea view and came across the Hotel Serene and the Bellevue bar. Thinking we might come back later with our friends, we left there and wandered into town. Later, as planned, we revisited the Bellevue bar for our pre-dinner cocktails – at a cost of 12 euros each – overlooking the bay with Vesuvius as our backdrop, before heading off to Joshua’s restaurant for dinner. Later, a pre-bedtime brandy was just what the doctor ordered and everyone slept well.
DAY FOUR – POMPEII
An early breakfast start at 8.30 and a trek to the station in Tasso Square saw us on the train to Pompeii. Pompeii was phenomenal in its antiquity, surprising in its immensity and incredibly tiring by the time we had walked all the way down to the amphitheatre, the latter being disappointing in that it contained a massive modern pyramid in its midst, as incongruous as the many modern bronze sculptures sited recently amid the ancient forum.
On the train journey back we were serenaded once more by the accordion band of brothers, who this time received quite a handsome tip from us for rescuing us from getting off at the wrong station last time, although they obviously had no recollection of that! We made our way to the roof terrace for early evening drinks and then out to the Ristorante Sorrento for our last meal.
DAY FIVE – HOME
The taxi picked us up at 5.15am and we arrived at Capodichino airport just as the dawn chorus began. Our flight was smooth and we landed about 10.00am GMT, so were back at home by 11.30am.