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.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Henrik Ibsen’s inspirational time in Sorrento

Famous playwright entered his Golden Age while living in resort

The Norwegian writer Henrik Ibsen spent many years living in Sorrento
The Norwegian writer Henrik Ibsen
spent many years living in Sorrento
Disenchanted with his native Norway, the playwright Henrik Ibsen took himself and his family into self-imposed exile in 1864 and settled in the beautiful resort of Sorrento.

Ibsen has since become the most frequently performed dramatist in the world after Shakespeare and was one of the most influential playwrights of his time.

He started out working as a theatre director as well as writing plays, but he felt under-appreciated and was in serious financial difficulties when he left Norway to go to live in Sorrento.

His 1865 play, Brand, brought him the critical claim he sought, along with financial reward. His next play, Peer Gynt, written in Sorrento and published in 1867, was also a success and Edvard Grieg composed incidental music and songs for it, which are still performed today.

Success made Ibsen more confident and he began to introduce more of his own beliefs and judgements into his writing, entering what is often considered his Golden Age as a playwright. Ibsen was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1902, 1903 and 1904.

He stayed in Italy for four years before going to Dresden in Germany, seldom returning to Norway for 27 years.

The plaque commemorating Ibsen's stay is just next to the hotel's elegant bridge across Via Vittorio Veneto
The plaque commemorating Ibsen's stay is just next
to the hotel's elegant bridge across Via Vittorio Veneto
The Imperial Hotel Tramontano in Via Vittorio Veneto in Sorrento record on their website that Ibsen stayed at the hotel in 1881 for six months, as he was still enchanted with the resort, and, inspired by the beautiful views of the Bay of Naples, he wrote his 1881 play, Ghosts, (Gli spettri) while in residence there.

Sorrento have commemorated the visits of the famous playwright to their resort with a small park named after him in the historic centre.  Next to the Roman archway in Via Antonino Sersale, the Parco Henrik Ibsen has been described by visitors as providing quiet respite from the busy streets of Sorrento, with a children’s play area, bar and restaurant.

There is a plaque, recording Ibsen’s 1881 stay in Sorrento, on an exterior wall of the Imperial Hotel Tramontano in the elegant Piazza Vittoria.

The Imperial Hotel Tramontano, in part of which, in 1544, the Renaissance poet, Torquato Tasso was born, has since welcomed many famous writers, artists and musicians, who have been inspired by its stunning setting.


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Monday, March 22, 2021

Basilica di Sant’Antonino

Church displays whalebone to commemorate brave deed by saint

The Basilica di Sant'Antonino dates back to at least the 11th century
The Basilica di Sant'Antonino dates
back to at least the 11th century
The Basilica di Sant’Antonino in Sorrento, considered the town's most important church after the Duomo, is named after one of the city’s patron saints.

The present building in Piazza Sant'Antonino dates back to at least the 11th century, although it is thought to have been built on top of a seventh century oratory housing the saint’s tomb.

The grey tuff façade and bell tower were added during the Renaissance period and the interior was refurbished in baroque style in the 18th century.

Some of the marble columns in the church are believed to have come from villas built in the area by the Romans, which were eventually abandoned.

The church has a beautiful example of a presepe (crib) with 17th century figures made by the best Neapolitan sculptors of the time.

The crypt, which was rebuilt in the 1700s, has many paintings and gifts offered by sailors to fulfil vows they made after they believed their lives had been saved, thanks to the intervention of Sant’Antonino, when they were in peril on the sea.

The pulpit of tarsia (inlaid wood) was made by local craftsmen in the 1930s.

The basilica has a whale rib on display in the
lobby to commemorate Sant'Antonino's bravery
The church was badly damaged in the 16th century by Turkish pirates who succeeded in landing and then invading Sorrento, but it was later restored and refurbished and was made a basilica in 1924.

Antonino Abate, who became Sorrento’s principal saint, died on 14 February, 626 AD. He is credited with saving the life of a child who had been swallowed by a whale by rescuing it from the whale’s stomach.  A whale rib is on display in the lobby of the church to commemorate the brave deed by Sant’Antonino. The saint is also revered by local people for protecting Sorrento against plague and invasion as well as intervening after shipwrecks to save lives.

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.

(Whale rib picture by Mentnafunangann via Wikimedia Commons)

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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Villa Tritone Sorrento

When philosopher Benedetto Croce stayed in Sorrento

A plaque on the exterior wall of Villa Tritone in Sorrento records the residence there during World War II of the philosopher Benedetto Croce using the words  ‘quando l’Italia era tagliata in due'  (when Italy was cut in two).

This refers to a difficult period in Italian history during the second world war when the Germans were retreating from the Allies northwards up the peninsula and trying to do as much damage as possible on their way.

Benedetto Croce was one of the most important figures in Italian life and culture in the first half of the 20th century. He was an idealist philosopher, historian and erudite literary scholar whose approach to literature influenced future generations of writers and literary critics. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature 16 times.

Croce became a Senator in 1910 and was Minister for Education from 1920 to 1921 in the last pre-Fascist government of the so-called Giolitti era. He is also remembered for his major contribution to the rebirth of Italian democracy after World War II.

Croce kept a diary during the war entitled ‘Quando l’Italia era tagliato in due'.

He made daily entries in this diary between July1943 and June 1944 after he had left his home in Naples, Palazzo Filomarino della Rocca, and gone to Sorrento to escape the Allied air raids.

He was staying in the Villa Tritone, a stunning clifftop residence in Via Marina Grande overlooking the sea.

A view from the sea shows the imposing Villa Tritone
perched on the cliff to the left of Marina Grande

The Germans entered and occupied Naples during September and on 12 September the Germans rescued Mussolini from his prison on Gran Sasso in the mountains of Abruzzo with a glider-borne team.

On 13 September Croce writes that he has been receiving anonymous threats. The following day he reports that there were lots of Fascists roaming the streets of Sorrento.

He is advised to leave the Villa Tritone immediately to avoid being taken hostage by fascists who would use him for propaganda purposes.

The next day’s entry was written by him on Capri. Croce reports that a floating mine was found in the sea below the Villa Tritone and it was thought the retreating Germans might have been planning to come and take him as they had taken other prominent Italians in Salerno.

A motorboat was sent for him and his daughters from Capri, which was at the time firmly in Allied hands. The family were able to use the stairs that led from Villa Tritone down to the beach to get away. On board were a police commissioner from Capri and an English army officer who had been tasked with rescuing him. 

The boat returned to Sorrento later to collect Croce’s wife and another of his daughters who had stayed behind to pack up their possessions. On board were the same police commissioner and a Major Munthe, the son of Axel Munthe,  the Swedish doctor who had been a Capri resident for much of his life and who wrote a best-selling memoir entitled The Story of San Michele.

The Fascist and German radio stations broadcast that ‘Croce and others’ were to be severely punished, but the Allies were able to counter this by broadcasting that the philosopher was now safely on Capri.

The entrance to Villa Tritone on Via Marina Grande
The entrance to Villa Tritone on Via Marina Grande
History of the Villa Tritone

A villa had been built on the site of the present day Villa Tritone in the first century AD by Agrippa Postumus, grandson of Emperor Augustus, and Ovid was said to have been a frequent visitor there.

This became the site of a convent in the 13th century and then the land was purchased in the 19th century by Count Labonia and the present villa was built.

At the beginning of the 20th century William Waldorf Astor bought the villa and designed the garden behind it, which is screened by trees and has windows cut in the high wall on the seaward side that give views of the sea and Vesuvius across the bay.

Croce’s life story

Benedetto Croce was born on 25 February in 1866 in Pescasseroli, a small town in the region of Abruzzo, into a wealthy family. He was raised in a strict Catholic environment but from the age of 16 he gave up Catholicism and developed a personal philosophy of spiritual life.

In 1883, while he was still a teenager, he was on holiday with his family on the island of Ischia when an earthquake struck Casamicciola and destroyed the house they were staying in. His mother, father and sister were all killed, but although he was buried for a long time, he managed to survive.

He inherited his family’s fortune and was able to live a life of leisure, devoting his time to philosophy and writing while living in a palazzo in Naples. His ideas began to be publicised at the University of Rome by Professor Antonio Labriola.

Benedetto Croce was one of the foremost intellectuals of 20th century Italy
Benedetto Croce was one of the foremost
intellectuals of 20th century Italy
After his appointment to the Senate, Croce was a critic of Italy’s involvement in World War I. He left Government office about a year before Benito Mussolini assumed power.

In 1923, Croce was instrumental in relocating the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III to the Palazzo Reale in Naples.

After Giacomo Matteotti was assassinated by the Fascists in 1924, Croce was one of the signatories to the manifesto of the anti-Fascist intellectuals and he provided financial support to anti-Fascist writers.

His home and library in Naples were ransacked by the Fascists in 1926 and he was put under surveillance. No mainstream newspaper or academic publication was allowed to refer to him.

When democracy was restored in Italy in 1944, Croce became a minister in the governments of Pietro Badoglio and Ivanoe Bonomi.

He voted for the Monarchy in the Constitutional referendum in 1946. He was elected to the Constituent Assembly that existed until 1948 but he declined to stand as provisional president of Italy.

Croce’s philosophical ideas were expressed in more than 80 books and 40 years worth of articles in his own literary magazine, La Critica. His theories were later debated by many Italian philosophers, including Umberto Eco.

Croce was President of PEN International, the worldwide writer’s association, from 1949 until his death in Naples in 1952.

His wife and daughters established the Fondazione Biblioteca Benedetto Croce in Palazzo Filomarino della Rocca in Naples in 1955. The street on which the palazzo stands is now named Via Benedetto Croce.


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Monday, February 1, 2021

Poet Torquato Tasso’s birthplace in Sorrento

Renaissance writer came back to Sorrento later in life

Torquato Tasso, who has come to be regarded as the greatest Italian poet of the Renaissance, was born in 1544 in Sorrento.

Tasso’s most famous work was his epic poem Gerusalemme Liberata (Jerusalem Delivered) in which he gives an imaginative account of the battles between Christians and Muslims at the end of the first crusade during the siege of Jerusalem.

Part of Imperial Hotel Tramontano
was Tasso's birthplace
He was one of the most widely read poets in Europe and his work was later to prove inspirational for other writers who followed him, in particular the English poets Spencer and Byron. 

The house where Tasso was born on 11 March, 1544 is in Sorrento’s historic centre, a few streets away from the main square in Via Vittorio Veneto.

The remains of the villa, which was built on the edge of a cliff, now form part of the Imperial Hotel Tramontano.

A plaque on the back wall of the hotel quotes words written by Tasso’s father, Bernardo Tasso, who was also a poet.

Torquato Tasso lived in the villa until 1552 when his father was exiled from Sorrento along with his employer, Prince Ferrante Sanseverino, after they were both accused of being rebels.

Part of the original house where Tasso was born fell into the sea in 1662. Only a room with two arches and balconies overlooking the sea remain. In the 17th century a villa was built incorporating the remains and this eventually became the Imperial Hotel Tramontano, which was opened in 1812.

Tasso’s father, Bernardo, went on to become resident poet at the Ducal Palace in Urbino, enabling his son to study alongside Francesco Maria della Rovere, the heir to the Duke. Tasso was later sent to study law in Padua but he chose to write poetry instead.

Tasso spent years in Ferrara living at the Castle owned by the Este family, where he fell in love with a lady in waiting and wrote love sonnets to her.

He suffered as a result of the jealous behaviour of the other courtiers and this led to him developing a persecution mania and fearing he was going to be poisoned. He also believed he was going to be denounced by the Inquisition.

House of Cornelia Tasso
While still enjoying the patronage of the Duke of Ferrara, Tasso entered a Franciscan convent for the benefit of his health, but later escaped, disguised as a peasant and travelled to Sorrento.

He went to visit his only sister, Cornelia, in her house in the historic centre of Sorrento, situated between the main street and the sea.

You can still see Cornelia’s house, tucked away in a narrow street, Via San Nicola, at number 11. It became known as the Sersale house because Cornelia had married Marzio Sersale in 1558.

Cornelia continued to live in the house with her sons Antonino and Alessandro after she became a widow.

The house can be identified by a pretty little balcony on the front, which is supported by decorative stonework.

It is said that Tasso arrived at Cornelia’s house and pretended to be a messenger who had come to inform her of her brother’s death.

Tasso is believed to have been trying to test Cornelia’s loyalty to him, but her shock and distress on receiving the news was enough to reassure him that she could be trusted.

Despite enjoying happy months with his sister in Sorrento, Tasso found that he missed the court at Ferrara and wrote humbly to the Duke asking if he could come back.

But he continued to be unwell on his return to Ferrara and his erratic conduct eventually led to him being confined in the madhouse of Sant’Anna.

Although Tasso was to enjoy some freedom and was able to travel around Italy again in the last few years of his life, his health started to decline. Tasso died in Rome in 1595 when he was just about to be crowned poet laureate by Pope Clement VIII. He was 51 years of age.

Statue of poet in Piazza Tasso.
To find the house of Cornelia Tasso, leave Piazza Sant’Antonino and walk along Via Santa Maria delle Grazie, which runs parallel with Corso Italia. Continue in a straight line along Via dell’Accademia until it becomes Vico San Nicola. The house of Cornelia Tasso can be found on the right hand side.

Sorrento’s main square, Piazza Tasso was later named after the poet and there is a statue of him there.

Piazza Tasso is the hub of Sorrento, in the middle of the main shopping street, Corso Italia, and looking out over Marina Piccola, Sorrento’s port. Surrounded by bars and restaurants, the square has stops for the local buses and a taxi rank. It is also the resting place for the horses that pull the carriages that can be hired for sightseeing.

Tasso’s statue is set in a pretty little garden opposite Bar Ercolano.


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Monday, January 11, 2021

Chiesa San Paolo Sorrento

Sorrento’s Church of St Paul dates back to the ninth century

One of the most striking features of the Church of Saint Paul, in Via Tasso in the heart of Sorrento’s historic centre, is the carefully-preserved, majolica floor.

The Church has a single aisle
The designs featuring animals, leaves and flowers that were  painted on the terracotta tiles by artists from Naples in the 18th century are still visible to visitors today.

Documents show that the Church of St Paul already existed in the ninth century and it is known to have been sacked by the Turks during their invasion of Sorrento in 1558.

The Church used to be attached to the old convent of Benedictine nuns of St Paul, but this later became an educational institution.

The current façade was added in 1725 but it still remains incomplete at the top. The lower part is in Doric style with the entrance to the church encased by two columns. The top of the façade is simply painted with a central circular window and there is a tiled cupola and small bell tower.

Inside, the church is in the shape of a Latin cross with barrel vaults and it is decorated with 18th century paintings on the walls and ceiling.

The hand-painted 18th century
 majolica floor
There have been many alterations made over the centuries and after the earthquake of 1731 the church was restored in baroque style.

It still has the wooden boxes overlooking the congregation that the nuns would have sat in when attending services.

There are small chapels on both sides of the church. The one on the right has a door leading to the convent and the one on the left has an entrance to the vestry.

Above the main altar there is an 18th century painting depicting the conversion of Saint Paul of Tarsus, the apostle to whom the church is dedicated. The painting is flanked by statues of Santa Scolastica and San Benedetto.

The Church is in Via Tasso, which goes off Corso Italia, and is on the left hand side before you reach Piazza Vittoria.

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Friday, January 1, 2021

Capodanno in Italy

Toasting the New Year the Italian way

New Year’s Day is called Capodanno in Italy, which literally means ‘head of the year’.

It is a public holiday and schools, Government offices, post offices and banks are closed.

After a late start following the New Year’s Eve festivities, many families will enjoy another traditional feast together. This year is obviously different, with the option of booking a restaurant for a big family meal off the agenda because of Covid-19 restrictions.

It is still possible to attend church services - another tradition before the festive meal - but anyone leaving their home under the current lockdown measures has to fill in a certificate before venturing out with police entitled to check their purpose is legitimate.  As well as going to places of worship, Italians can leave their homes only for essential shopping or to seek healthcare.

Italy is in what has been determined as 'red zone' restrictions, much like those imposed in March last year after the first outbreak of the virus. The measures will be eased for one day on 4 January, allowing non-essential shops to reopen, but are due to be re-imposed on 5 January ahead of another traditional celebration, the Feast of Epiphany.

Rai Uno traditionally broadcasts a New Year’s day concert live. This year it came from Teatro La Fenice, the famous opera house in Venice.


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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Festa di San Silvestro - the Feast of Saint Sylvester

Celebrate with a meal of pork and lentils for a prosperous New Year

Fireworks display are a traditional part of the Festa di San Silvestro celebrations in Italy
Fireworks display are a traditional part of
Festa di San Silvestro celebrations in Italy
New Year’s Eve in Italy is known as the Festa di San Silvestro in memory of Pope Sylvester I who died on 31 December in 335 in Rome.

It is not a public holiday in Italy but it is usually a festive time everywhere, with firework displays, concerts and parties. This year, however, the celebrations have had to be drastically curtailed because of Covid 19 restrictions.

A curfew is in place across the whole of Italy from 10pm until 7am, so the gatherings that normally take place in the piazze - the public squares - cannot go ahead. In any event, Italians are under orders to stay at home, venturing out for only essential purposes, such as food shopping, healthcare or to take exercise.

The bars and restaurants in Sorrento are normally busy with residents and visitors enjoying drinks and meals before seeing in the New Year in the main square, Piazza Tasso, when the church bells ring out at midnight.

TV station Rai Uno’s traditional New Year’s Eve variety concert is usually an outdoor affair, with a different town or city each year chosen as the venue. In normal circumstances, the audience would be packed together in front of a stage erected in the main square to watch some of Italy’s favourite performers in an entertainment extravaganza spanning more than three hours, culminating in a New Year countdown at midnight.

Sorrento's main square, Piazza Tasso, normally sees large crowds gather to see in the New Year
Sorrento's main square, Piazza Tasso, normally
sees large crowds gather to see in the New Year
The show, entitled L’anno che verrà - The Coming Year - will go ahead as usual, but this time the artists will be confined to a TV studio and Italians will have to be content with watching at home.

The restrictions ought not to hamper a tradition still followed in some parts of Italy, particularly in the south, of throwing your old things out of the window at midnight to symbolise your readiness to accept the New Year.

Likewise, families can still enjoy a Capodanno - New Year - feast, even if the numbers round the family table are fewer.

Popular menu items at New Year include cotechino (Italian sausage), zampone (stuffed pig’s trotter) and lenticchie (lentils).

Cotechino e lenticchie is a dish that often features on New Year's Eve menus in Italy
Cotechino e lenticchie is a dish that often
features on New Year's Eve menus in Italy
Pork is said to represent the fullness or richness of life, while lentils are supposed to symbolise wealth or money. Many Italians believe the coming year could bring prosperity if these foods are eaten on New Year’s Eve. However, in Sorrento fish is likely to feature on most restaurant menus.

The President of the Republic delivers an end-of-year message from the Quirinale in Rome, which is shown on most Italian television channels during the evening. 

Sylvester I was pope from 314 until his death in 335, an important time in the history of the Catholic Church.

Some of Rome’s great churches, the Basilica of St John Lateran, the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem and the old St Peter’s Basilica, were founded during his pontificate.


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