Sorrento is a beautiful town perched on a cliff high above the sea with views of Vesuvius and the islands in the Bay of Naples . Use this website to help you plan a visit to this elegant southern Italian resort and find your way to the best beaches and some lovely villages and towns along the Sorrentine peninsula that are perhaps less well known to tourists.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Birth of Francis Marion Crawford

Sorrento’s famous American resident, the writer Francis Marion Crawford, was born on this date in 1854 in Bagni di Lucca in Tuscany.

A prolific novelist, Crawford became known for the vividness of his characterisations and the realism of his settings, many of which were places he had visited in Italy.

He chose to settle in later life in Sant’Agnello, just outside Sorrento, where he even had a street named after him, Corso Marion Crawford
Villa Crawford from the sea

Crawford was the only son of the American sculptor, Thomas Crawford. He spent his childhood going backwards and forwards between Italy and America and studied at various American and European Universities.

He spent some time in India, where he found the inspiration for his first successful novel, Mr Isaacs, which was published in 1882.

In 1883 he returned to Italy to settle there permanently. He lived at the Hotel Cocumella in Sant’Agnello to begin with. He then bought a farmhouse nearby, from which he developed the Villa Crawford, an impressive clifftop residence easily identifiable from the sea.

Hotel Cocumella at Sant'Agnello
The villa, which was donated to a religious order by his descendants, has been recently refurbished to include rooms let out to guests. For more information click here.

Crawford found inspiration for his writing while living in Sorrento and many of his later novels have Italian settings, such as Don Orsino, published in 1892, which is about the effects of social change on an Italian family.

His novels sold well in America and he would often visit the country to deliver lectures on Italian history, about which he wrote several books.

Crawford died at the Villa Crawford in Sant’Agnello after suffering a heart attack in 1909.

The Corso Marion Crawford leads down to the sea from Corso Italia, the main road connecting Sant’Agnello with the resort of Sorrento.

The historic Hotel Cocumella, where Crawford stayed during the 1880s, is in Via Cocumella, just off Corso Marion Crawford. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Visit Vesuvius

The volcano that sometimes blows its top

Vesuvius seen from Sorrento across the Bay of Naples
The brooding presence of Vesuvius seen across the
Bay of Naples from Sorrento
Across the sea from Sorrento, Mount Vesuvius, the infamous volcano, looms over the bay of Naples.

Vesuvius last erupted in 1944, 72 years ago today, the only volcano on mainland Europe to have erupted during the last 100 years.

It is an easy excursion from Sorrento to visit the volcano, which is enclosed within Mount Vesuvius National Park.

People continue to live on the volcano’s fertile slopes, which have been famous for centuries for producing excellent wine from the grapes grown there. The whole area was officially declared a national park in 1955. The crater of the volcano is accessible to visitors and there is a road to within 200 metres of it, but after that the ascent is on foot only. 

The crater is about 200 metres deep and has a maximum diameter of about 600 metres. The climb is said to be well worth it because the view from up there takes in the entire coastline from the Gulf of Gaeta to the Sorrento peninsula.

To get there you can take the train from the Circumvesuviana railway station in Sorrento to Ercolano station, from where a shuttle bus will take you to the park.

There is an observatory, a museum, a visitors centre, a restaurant and a shop where you can buy Lacrima Christi del Vesuvio, the wine made from the grapes grown on the volcano.

But you have to sign up for a guided tour to actually descend into the crater.

Vesuvius is most remembered for its eruption in AD 79, which buried the Roman cities of Pompei and Herculaneum and is believed to have killed thousands of people. 

Vesuvius seen from the village of San Sebastiano al Vesuvio, which was largely destroyed in the 1944 eruption
Vesuvius seen from the village of San Sebastiano al Vesuvio,
which was largely destroyed in the 1944 eruption
An eyewitness account of the eruption, in which tons of stones, ash and fumes were ejected from the cone, has been left behind for posterity by Pliny the Younger in his letters to the historian Tacitus.

There were at least three larger eruptions of Vesuvius before AD 79 and there have been many more since. In 1631 a major eruption buried several villages under lava flows and killed about 300 people and the volcano then continued to erupt every few years after that.

The eruption that started on 18 March 1944 and went on for several days, destroyed three villages nearby and about 80 planes belonging to the US Army Air Forces, which were based at an airfield near Pompei. Some of the American military personnel took photographs of the eruption, which have been useful for today’s experts to analyse.

Since 1944 Vesuvius has been uncharacteristically quiet, although it is constantly monitored for activity and an evacuation plan is in place. Experts believe seismic activity would give them between 14 and 20 days' notice of an impending eruption. 


Thursday, February 25, 2016

How Sorrento remembers the great tenor Enrico Caruso, born on this day in 1873

The photo shows Caruso on the balcony of the Excelsior Vittoria just a few weeks before he died
The famous picture of Enrico Caruso on the
balcony of the Excelsior Vittoria hotel
Operatic tenor Enrico Caruso, who was born on this day in 1873 in Naples, had a special relationship with Sorrento that will forever be remembered thanks to the existence of a picture taken of him only weeks before he died.

It shows Caruso standing on the terrace of the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, where he could enjoy the stunning view over the Bay of Naples.

The hotel later furnished Suite Caruso with the piano and writing desk used by the opera singer during his visit. The suite inspired the song 'Caruso’ to be written by Italian pop singer Lucio Dalla in the late 1980s while he was staying at the Excelsior Vittoria.

Believed by many opera experts to be the greatest tenor of all time, Caruso graced many of the most famous opera houses in Europe and America during a brilliant 25-year singing career.

He made more than 200 recordings, some dating back to 1902, and was opera's first international star.

Born in Via San Giovanello agli Ottocalli in Naples and baptised the next day in the nearby church of San Giovanni e Paolo, he was apprenticed to a mechanical engineer at the age of just 11 years and also worked alongside his father in a factory.

But at the same time he was singing in his church choir and was told his voice showed enough promise for him to consider becoming a professional singer.

He was encouraged by his mother until she died in 1888. To earn money, he started to work as a street singer in Naples, progressing to singing Neapolitan songs as entertainment in cafes.

Determined he would become an opera singer, Caruso took singing lessons before, during and after his compulsory military service.

He made his stage debut in 1895 at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples in Domenico Morelli’s L’amico Francesco, having been recommended by a musician who had heard him sing.

The Basilica of San Francesco di Paola in Naples, where Caruso's funeral took place
The Basilica of San Francesco di Paola in Naples,
where Caruso's funeral took place
Caruso went on to perform at other theatres throughout Italy and was given a contract to sing at La Scala in Milan in 1900. On his debut on December 26 he sang Rodolfo from Puccini’s La Boheme, conducted by Arturo Toscanini.

The following year he appeared in Monte Carlo, Warsaw, Buenos Aires and before the Tsar of Russia in St Petersburg.

Caruso took part in a grand concert at La Scala organised by Toscanini in 1901 to mark the death of Giuseppe Verdi.  A month later he was engaged to make his first group of recordings for a gramophone company using a hotel room in Milan. The recordings quickly became best sellers and Caruso’s fame spread.

He travelled to New York in 1903 to take up a contract with the Metroplitan Opera, making his debut in Rigoletto in November.

A few months later Caruso began his association with the Victor Talking Machine Company. His 1904 recording of ‘Vesti la giubba’ was the first recording ever to sell a million copies.

He made 863 appearances at the Met, attracting a substantial following from among New York ’s Italian immigrants. He continued to release recordings until close to his death in 1921.

Caruso’s voice extended up to high D-flat in its prime and grew in power and weight as he became older. His singing can still be enjoyed by people today as his original recordings have been remastered and issued as CDs and digital downloads.

The singer’s health began to deteriorate in 1920 and he returned to Naples to recuperate. He was planning to go to a clinic in Rome in August 1921, but while he was staying overnight at the Albergo Vesuvio in Naples on the way to Rome his condition worsened and he died there, aged 48.

The King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III, opened the Royal Basilica of San Francesco di Paola -- on the west side of the Piazza del Plebiscito in Naples -- for his funeral, which was attended by thousands of people.

The plaque outside the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria commemorating the life of Enrico Caruso
The plaque outside the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria
commemorating the life of Enrico Caruso
The Basilica is similar in design to the Pantheon in Rome with a portico resting on columns and a high dome in the middle. Caruso’s body was taken through the streets of Naples in a horse-drawn hearse and he lay in state before his funeral so that people could pay their respects.

In Sorrento, there is a plaque in his name at the main entrance gate to the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, which is just off Piazza Tasso.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Shrine to San Giuseppe Moscati in Sorrento

Overlooking Sorrento’s main square, Piazza Tasso, the yellow-painted 16th century Sanctuary of the Madonna del Carmine will be the focus of attention today as people visit the shrine to San Giuseppe Moscati in the side chapel to the left of the altar.

The Sanctuary that overlooks Piazza Tasso in Sorrento contains the shrine to San Giuseppe Moscati
Sanctuary of the Madonna del
Carmine overlooks Piazza Tasso

Doctor and scientist Giuseppe Moscati was beatified by Pope Paul VI on this day in 1975 and his feast day was made 16 November after he was canonised by Pope John Paul II in 1987.

Giuseppe was renowned for his kindness and generosity to his patients and even before his death people talked of ‘miracle’ cures being achieved by him.

The saint was born into a big family in Benevento in Campania in 1880. His father, a lawyer and magistrate, was active in the church and Giuseppe inherited his piety.

The family later moved to Naples and Giuseppe enrolled in the medical school of the University of Naples in 1897.

On graduating he went to work in a hospital but continued with his brilliant scientific research and attended Mass frequently.

When Vesuvius erupted in 1906 he helped evacuate all the elderly and paralysed patients before the roof collapsed on the hospital under the weight of the ash.

He worked tirelessly to research ways to eradicate cholera in Naples and personally cared for many soldiers wounded in the First World War.

Giuseppe Moscati was a doctor and scientist in Naples
He was compassionate to the poor and often gave them money as well as free medical treatment and a prescription.

Giuseppe died suddenly in 1927 at the age of 46 having been on duty at the hospital only that morning.

After his death, a young man dying from leukaemia was suddenly and inexplicably cured when his mother dreamed of a doctor in a white coat. She was able to identify the doctor as Blessed Giuseppe after her priest showed her a photograph. The man, still fit and well, attended the canonisation ceremony of Giuseppe Moscati conducted by Pope John Paul II.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Spend the day in ‘royal’ Naples

If you go to Naples for the day while staying in Sorrento, spend some time in the area around Piazza del Plebiscito, where there are many buildings with royal connections that are well worth seeing.

You can arrive by boat and quickly walk up from the harbour to this area, which is the smartest part of the city.

Piazza del Plebiscito is not far from the port of Naples
Piazza del Plebiscito is not far from the port
The impressive Palazzo Reale at the eastern end of Piazza del Plebiscito was one of the residences of the Kings of Naples at the time the city was capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

The palace, which dates back to 1600, is now home to a 30-room museum and the largest library in southern Italy, which are both open to the public.

It is nice to browse in the shops of the elegant Galleria Umberto I nearby, which was built in the 1880s and named after one of the Savoy Kings of Italy.

You could pause for refreshments at Gran Caffè Gambrinus, founded in 1860 in Piazza Trieste e Trento. It was later remodelled in stile liberty (art nouveau) and became a meeting place for artists and intellectuals in Naples.

Close to the royal palace is one of the oldest opera houses in the world, built for a Bourbon King of Naples.

Teatro di San Carlo was officially opened on 4 November in 1737, way ahead of La Scala in Milan and La Fenice in Venice.

Palazzo Reale viewed from the Caffe Gambrinus
Palazzo Reale viewed from the Caffe Gambrinus
Built in Via San Carlo close to Piazza Plebiscito, Teatro di San Carlo quickly became one of the most important opera houses in Europe and renowned for its excellent productions.

The theatre was designed by Giovanni Antonio Medrano for Charles I, and took just eight months to build.

The official inauguration was on the King’s saint’s day, the festival of San Carlo, on the evening of 4 November. There was a performance of L’Achille in Sciro by Pietro Metastasio with music by Domenico Sarro, who also conducted the orchestra for the music for two ballets.

This was 41 years before La Scala and 55 years before La Fenice opened. San Carlo is now believed to be one of the oldest, if not the oldest, remaining opera houses in the world.

Both Rossini and Donizetti served as artistic directors at San Carlo and the world premieres of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Rossini’s Mosè were performed there.

In the magnificent auditorium, the focal point is the royal box surmounted by the crown of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Festival of San Gennaro in Naples

Worshippers, civic dignitaries, scholars and tourists meet together in the Duomo in Naples every year on 19 September to remember the martyrdom of the patron saint of the city, San Gennaro.
Every year a service is held during which the dried blood of the saint, which is kept in glass phials in the Duomo, turns to liquid.
The Bay of Naples with Vesuvius in the background.
The practice of gathering blood for relics was a common practice at the time of the decapitation of San Gennaro in 305 and the ritual of praying for the miracle of liquefaction dates back to the 13th century in Naples.
The festival of the saint’s martyrdom is celebrated by Neapolitan communities all over the world and the recurrence of the miracle each year is televised and reported in the newspapers.
On the few occasions that the miracle hasn’t happened, Neapolitains have dreaded a catastrophe occurring. In 1980 after the liquefaction failed to take place a massive earthquake struck the region. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Piazza Sant’Antonino

Palm trees shelter Sorrento saint

Sorrento’s patron saint, Sant’Antonino, has three statues honouring him in the historic centre of the resort.
In Piazza Tasso, the hub of Sorrento, in the middle of the main shopping street, Corso Italia, there is a statue of Sant’Antonino in a prominent position. The square is named after the poet Torquato Tasso, who was born in Sorrento, but his statue is tucked away in a little garden to one side.
Sant'Antonino looks out over his square
A short walk from Piazza Tasso along Via Luigi de Maio, leads to the pretty Piazza Sant’Antonino, which has a statue of Sant’Antonino Abate surrounded by palm trees with Sorrento’s Town Hall behind it.
Just off the square, the Via Santa Maria delle Grazie leads to the church of the same name. Running parallel with Via San Cesareo and the Corso, this street has many interesting shops, bars and restaurants.
The piazza is also home to Basilica Sant’Antonino, parts of which date back to the 11th century. In the sacristry is a beautiful example of a presepe (crib) with 17th century figures made by Neapolitan sculptors.
Inside the Basilica, another statue of the saint is surrounded by the many offerings from sailors who have been saved from shipwrecks over the centuries and believe it was thanks to the intervention of Sant’Antonino.
Basilica Sant'Antonino is across the road from the statue
Sant’Antonino Abate died on 14 February, 626 AD.
He is credited with saving the life of a child swallowed by a whale and protecting Sorrento against plague and invasion.
Each year on the anniversary of his death, a silver statue of Sant’Antonino is carried in a procession through the streets of Sorrento and there are festive lights, fireworks, and musical events in his name.