Sorrento and Sant’Agnello

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After our whistle-stop visit to Paris, we jumped on a plane from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Naples. Which makes it sound easy. It in fact involved an hour standing on a packed RER B train in rush hour, followed by 2 hours at Charles de Gaulle with no seats, no announcements, rubbish food, and an incident in the toilets in which a large woman whacked me in the stomach with her bag so hard the entire queue winced and did an audible intake of breath. And once boarded, we sat on the runway for over an hour without moving due to an air traffic control strike.

Fortunately, just a couple of hours later we had arrived in glorious Italian sunshine and blistering heat, and were on a coach with some glorious air conditioning, whisking our way down the windy coastal road, complete with stunning views, to Sorrento. That evening, we were drinking Aperol spritzes at the Foreigner Club, overlooking the Bay of Naples.

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We actually stayed just outside Sorrento, in the neighbouring village of Sant’Agnello, at the Hotel Crawford. It turns out the hotel and street were named for the novelist Francis Marion Crawford, who wrote my all-time favourite ghost story, ‘The Upper Berth’, and who lived in Sant’Agnello. But that aside, I would entirely recommend staying in Sant’Agnello, and indeed in the Hotel Crawford, which is a lovely, calming, white marble paradise. We had a slightly upgraded room, with a little balcony.

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The best bit about staying here? The beach at the end of the road! We spent 3 full days down here on sunloungers, which you can hire for €10. For an extra €4 you can also keep shady under a nice big parasol. It’s a bit of a steep hike down from the top of the cliff, but there is a lift if you need a hand. They have built a jetty out into the water, which is where the loungers are, so you can have a view both ways: back over the little beach, or out into the bay of Naples towards Vesuvius (which you can see behind Mark and I in the photo below). There is also a brilliant little restaurant and bar, La Marinella, so if you fancy a coffee or a Caprese salad or an Aperol spritz, all you have to do is amble over and it will be provided at a remarkably reasonable price. There was a lot of Aperol spritz involved…

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Sorrento itself is about a 15 minute walk from Sant’Agnello. As Sant’Agnello has its own train station and a little centre with shops, restaurants etc, you don’t necessarily need to go to Sorrento, but we walked in each night for dinner, after the sun had gone down and the heat became slightly less vicious. Sorrento is a busy, crazy resort town, but it’s a fun place to be. Staying in Sant’Agnello is far more peaceful though, and you can take advantage of all Sorrento offers without the all-consuming noise and bustle and excitement.

The action is based around a large square, the Piazza Tasso, which is surrounded by all sorts of restaurants, cafes and bars. In the streets off the square are numerous shops and yet more restaurants. We ate at a few different places and to be honest, I think it would be quite hard to get a bad meal in Sorrento. Even the most touristy places had reasonably decent dishes for a very reasonable price. You can get a pizza for €5-6, a bottle of wine for €9 and a huge bowlful of spaghetti alle vongole for €8, if you hunt around a bit, and the quality is amazing. Even so, we had a few of favourites:

  1. Ristorante Da Gigino was down a little side-alley. This was a lovely, homely restaurant with friendly service and a simple but excellent menu of pasta, seafood and pizza.
  2. La Fenice was over the far western side of town, and we would have eaten here more than once had it been closer to our hotel. This place did some superb seafood and delicious black squid ink spaghetti.
  3. Bar Ercolano is right on the Piazza Tasso. We didn’t eat here (although they do serve food), but it became a regular stopping point on our way home, standing at the bar for a little glass of local speciality, limoncello.

There are also some fantastic gelaterias in Sorrento, ranging from a choice of 10 or so flavours right up to what must be well over 50 at Bougainvillea.

As the Rough Guide describes it, Sorrento is a town which has given itself entirely over to the pursuit of pleasure. At the same time, it has retained a not-inconsiderable amount of charm and tradition. We loved it.

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