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, June 16, 2020

Achille Lauro - shipping magnate and politician

Sorrentine businessman once dubbed the ‘Neapolitan Onassis’


Achille Lauro built a hugely successful commercial fleet
Achille Lauro built a hugely
successful commercial fleet
Today is the anniversary of the birth of businessman and politician Achille Lauro, who became one of the most famous people born in the Sorrento area by building a fleet of commercial ships that was at one time the largest in the Mediterranean.

Lauro also served as Mayor of Naples for six years in the 1950s and again, briefly, in the 1960s. While in office, he oversaw the building of the Stadio San Paolo football stadium - home of SSC Napoli football club - and the city’s Piazza Garibaldi railway station among other projects.

Born in what was then the fishing village of Piano di Sorrento on 16 June, 1887, Achille learned about the boat-building industry at an early age. His father, Gioacchino, owned a number of vessels.

It was always likely that Achille would become part of the family business. His father insisted he spent some time on the high seas working on one of his ships in order to toughen up and after primary school he was sent to the Nino Bixio Nautical Institute in Piano.

In the event, responsibility came early to Achille and in tragic circumstances. When he was only 20, Gioacchino died. Having earlier lost two of his brothers in a shipwreck, Achille was the senior member of the family and thus inherited the business.

He operated his father’s small fleet but lost all of his ships at the start of the First World War, when they were requisitioned by the government. When the conflict ended he had no money but managed to launch another fleet by creating a company that was part-owned by its employees, who invested their savings in return for a share of the profits and a guarantee of employment.

Lauro named his first passenger liner the MS Surriento,  after the Neapolitan dialect name for Sorrento
Lauro named his first passenger liner the MS Surriento,
after the Neapolitan dialect name for Sorrento
Within little more than a decade, Flotta Lauro consisted of 21 vessels. The line became renowned both for reliable service and punctuality and grew rapidly. By the 1930s Lauro owned the largest private fleet in the Mediterranean basin.  By the time Italy entered the Second World War, he was operating 57 ships.

Again, his entire fleet was requisitioned by the state, but as a member of the Fascist party since 1933 Lauro was fully supportive of Mussolini, who compensated him by giving him 50 per cent of all Naples newspapers, which had previously been state controlled.

His support for the Fascists became known to the Allies and when Italy surrendered in 1943 he was arrested as a collaborator and spent 22 months in jail. Ultimately he was cleared of any criminal activity and allowed to resume his business, albeit with a fleet reduced to just five boats.

Ever the astute operator, however, he snapped up passenger vessels being sold off by the American military and capitalised on the mass migration of Italians to South America and Australia.

By the early 1950s, the Lauro line’s complement of ships was already back up to 50, re-establishing his position as the Mediterranean’s biggest shipping company.  Known often as 'Il Comandante', he was also dubbed 'the Neapolitan Onassis' after the Greek shipping tycoon.

Lauro entered politics in 1952 when he stood for Mayor of Naples as a member of the Monarchist National Party, a political group that had continued to win support despite Italy’s rejection of the monarchy in favour of a republic after World War Two.

Piazza Angelina Lauro in Sorrento, opposite the railway station, is named after Achille Lauro's first wife
Piazza Angelina Lauro in Sorrento, opposite the railway
station, is named after Achille Lauro's first wife
He won a landslide victory, after which he presided over a massive building programme in Naples that included the construction of the Stadio San Paolo football stadium in Fuorigrotta and a new railway station for the city at Piazza Garibaldi.  The city also saw multiple apartment blocks spring up.

Lauro moved into national politics after he had been ousted as Naples mayor in 1958 and was elected first as a deputy and then a senator in the Italian parliament.

Flotta Lauro hit the rocks financially due to the effects of the international oil crisis in the 1970s. In an effort to keep going, Lauro sold scores of business and personal assets, including his house in the heart of Naples, his luxurious villa near Massa Lubrense on the Sorrento peninsula, plus much of his collection of paintings, silverware, Capo di Monte porcelain and antique furniture, including a billiard table said to have belonged to Admiral Nelson.

When Lauro died, aged 95, in November 1982, the fleet was broken up and sold.  His popularity was such that thousands of Neapolitans turned out for his funeral. In Sorrento, his name is commemorated in Piazza Angelina Lauro, named after his first wife. There is a bust of Achille in the square.


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Sunday, May 17, 2020

Pizzeria Da Franco Sorrento

Sample a Sorrentine pizza with a crispy base


To enjoy the authentic Neapolitan pizzeria experience while staying in Sorrento, look no further than Da Franco, which is handily located right in the centre of the resort in Corso Italia.

Pizzeria da Franco, at Corso Italia 265, is just around the corner from the Circumvesuviana station and stays open late
Pizzeria da Franco, at Corso Italia 265, is just around the
corner from the Circumvesuviana station and stays open late
(Picture: instantstreetview.com)
You sit at long wooden tables and the pizza is served in a tin tray, but many reviewers agree that the pizza is of excellent quality. There is a long list to choose from and also a selection of antipasto dishes. The drinks are reasonably priced as well.

Italian dishes often have regional variations and the Sorrento pizza is said to have a slightly crispier base than the Naples pizza. You will see many local Sorrento people enjoying the food in the pizzeria, or queuing for take-aways, which is always an encouraging sign.

Da Franco also has long opening hours, serving pizza all day and remaining open till two am.

This is helpful for travellers arriving in Sorrento in the middle of the afternoon after some restaurants have closed after lunch, or very late in the evening when you might struggle to get a meal in a restaurant.

You could, of course, take the Circumvesuviana and travel all the way to Naples to visit Pizzeria Brandi, where it is said Pizza Margherita was invented, to experience the atmosphere of a traditional pizzeria.

But for Sorrento holidaymakers, Pizzeria da Franco offers an excellent alternative.

It is on the right hand side of the Corso as you head towards Sant’Agnello, at number 265, just after the turning that takes you to the Circumvesuviana railway station.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Chiesa di San Francesco Sorrento

 Historic church in a stunning setting


The simple white façade of Chiesa di San Francesco next to Villa Comunale in Sorrento conceals an ancient church with a fascinating history. 

Sant’Antonino, the patron saint of Sorrento, founded a place of private worship there in the eighth century.
The old carved wooden entrance door. 

In the 14th century, Franciscan friars transformed it into a much bigger church and dedicated it to their founder, Saint Francis of Assisi.

The building, in Piazza San Francesco Saverio Gargiulo, was later renovated in the baroque style and embellished with stucco decorations.

The façade was updated in 1926 for the seventh centenary of the death of San Francesco but the beautifully carved 16th century wooden door was retained.

Inside, the church has a single aisle with three chapels on each side.

Among the treasures to be discovered are a wooden statue of San Francesco with Christ crucified, donated to the church by a local family in the XVII century, and a 1737 painting depicting San Francesco receiving the stigmata, by Antonio Gamba, a pupil of Francesco Solimena.

Some of the elements of the 14th century building were uncovered during later restoration work, such as two old frescos representing Sant’Antonio of Padua and San Giacomo.
The baroque interior of the church.

During the 14th century, municipal documents and the seal of the town, which was considered so valuable it was kept in a box that could be opened only with four different keys, were kept in the sacristy of the church.

Some ancient items were found during the 20th century restoration work and were given to the Correale Museum.

Next to the church is a campanile topped with an onion shaped dome and a door at the side of the church leads into the 14th century cloisters. These are considered to be one of Sorrento’s finest historic attractions and are often used for weddings and art exhibitions and concerts.

The cloisters are next to the Villa Comunale, gardens filled with trees and bougainvillea, well away from the main road and the traffic.

It is one of the most peaceful parts of Sorrento and the rectangular open area in the middle provides an ideal space for seating wedding guests or a concert audience.
The 14th century Cloisters of San Francesco.

The Villa Comunale has a terrace with a panoramic view over the bay of Naples making it a perfect backdrop for wedding photographs.

The cloisters are one of the oldest monuments in Sorrento that can still be visited today and represent a fusion of architectural styles as they feature two different types of arches.



Sunday, March 29, 2020

Edoardo De Martino


Famous artist from Meta di Sorrento


Edoardo Federico de Martino, an artist who became famous for his paintings of warships and naval battles, was born today in 1838 in Meta, just outside Sorrento.

At the height of his success, De Martino worked in London, where his paintings of ships and famous British naval victories were held in high regard by Queen Victoria.
De Martino at his easel.

He went on to work as a painter for Queen Victoria’s son, King Edward VII, and he often accompanied the King on naval tours.

De Martino was born in the small town of Meta, to the north east of Sorrento, which had a long history of boat building.

He served as an officer in the Italian Navy but by the time he was 30 his main interest was painting.

He became associated with the School of Resina, a group of artists who painted landscapes and contemporary scenes that gathered in Resina, a seaside resort south of Naples, now incorporated into the towns of Herculaneum and Portici. 

Influenced by his fellow artists, De Martino eventually went to live and work in Naples
He found fame after moving to London, where he painted scenes from the battles of Trafalgar, the Nile and Cape San Vincenzo.

For his service as Marine painter in Ordinary to King Edward VII, De Martino was appointed an Honorary Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) in the 1902 Birthday Honours. He received the decoration from King Edward VII at Sandringham House on 9 November 1902.

From 1905 onwards, De Martino travelled about, completing paintings of Italian naval ships and views of the Brazilian coast.

Edoardo De Martino died in Richmond upon Thames in London in 1912 at the age of 76.

In 2013, many of De Martino’s sketches and paintings were put on display in an exhibition organised by the Association of Commercianti del Casale di Meta.

A painting of a naval battle by De Martino.
Meta lies between Piano di Sorrento and Vico Equense on the main coastal road going from Sorrento in the direction of Naples.

 The town has a long history of boat building and by the time of De Martino’s birth its shipyards were producing hundred of boats, with the local women sewing the sails for them in the courtyards of their houses.

Although steamships eventually replaced sailing boats, the shipyards continued to produce the Sorrentine Gozzo, a small sailing and rowing boat that enables the occupant to fish and row at the same time. Meta has a magnificent church, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Lauro, in the centre of the town, just off the main road.

The church was built in medieval times on the site of an ancient temple after a local deaf and dumb woman was said to have found a statue of the Virgin Mary under a laurel tree and then miraculously had her hearing and speech restored.

It was rebuilt in the 16th century and restored and modified in the 18th and 19th centuries. The wooden door is from the 16th century building and the Chapel of the Madonna del Lauro has frescoes from the 18th century. Meta celebrates the Festa of Santa Maria del Lauro every year on 12 September.




Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Valley of the Mills

 Rare ferns now cover area that used to be full of life


Sorrento has many surprises and amazing sights, but the unusual Vallone dei Mulini (Valley of the Mills), only a short walk away from the main square, Piazza Tasso, has been captivating artists and photographers for more than 100 years. 

If you leave Piazza Tasso and walk up Via Fuorimura, past the bars and restaurants on either side, you will come to a deep gorge, close to the Hotel Plaza, that you can view from the road above. 
Ruins of the old mill

The Valley of the Mills is an astonishing, natural phenomenon caused by a volcanic eruption about 35,000 years ago.

The valley gets its name from an ancient wheat mill that once provided the entire area with its wheat requirements and was still working in the early 1900s. You can see the ruins of the mill, now partially covered with vegetation.

Because many artists have painted pictures of the abandoned valley and photographers have captured it from every angle it is known what it would have looked like in the last century.

The springs and stream that fed into the valley also worked a saw mill that provided artisans and carpenters with cherry, walnut and olive wood to work on.

Local woman would bring their laundry to wash in the public wash tubs there and the valley was once full of life, as can be seen in some of the old paintings.

Valley seen from the road above
When Piazza Tasso was built in 1866 the valley was cut off from Marina Piccola, which it used to join up with, and was gradually abandoned by people. The only access to the valley now is through an old gate.

Blocking the valley’s access to the sea has created a humid microclimate in which plants have thrived, in particular a rare type of fern.


The atmospheric ruins and the lush vegetation seen from above now provide unusual holiday photographs for visitors to take back with them.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Sant’Agnello

 Popular resort just a short walk from Sorrento


The small resort of Sant’Agnello, just outside Sorrento in the direction of Naples, is very popular with visitors. Many holidaymakers like to base themselves there and visit Sorrento during the day, returning to its peaceful atmosphere in the evenings.

You can reach Sant’Agnello from Sorrento by walking along Corso Italia, passing Piazza Lauro and Viale Nizza, until you reach Piazza Sant’Agnello. You will see the yellow-painted façade of the Chiesa Santi Prisco ed Agnello, dedicated to San Prisco, a fifth century bishop from Nocera in Campania, and Sant’Agnello, a sixth century monk from Naples, who is now the patron saint of the town.
Church dedicated to Sant'Agnello's patron saint

You can also reach Sant’Agnello by leaving Sorrento along Via Correale, passing the Museo Correale di Terranova, and turning right along Via Aniello Califano. You pass the Church of Santa Maria della Rotonda and then join Via Bernardino Rota. After you pass the Grand Hotel Cocumella you can descend to the beach of Marinella, where you can hire sun loungers and enjoy the beautiful view over the bay of Naples.

Sant’Agnello was made famous by the American novelist, Francis Marion Crawford, who was born 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, where he even had a street named after him, Corso Marion Crawford, which is another way to get down to the sea from Corso Italia.

In 1883 Crawford lived at the Hotel Cocumella in Sant’Agnello, the oldest hotel in the Sorrento area. He then bought a farmhouse nearby, from which he developed the Villa Crawford, an impressive clifftop residence that is easily identifiable from the sea.

Crawford died at the Villa Crawford after suffering a heart attack in 1909. The villa, which was donated to a religious order by his descendants, has since been refurbished as a guesthouse.

The Hotel Cocumella, where Crawford stayed during the 1880s, is in Via Cocumella, just off Corso Marion Crawford. Over the centuries it has welcomed writers such as Goethe, Mary Shelley and Hans Christian Anderson, along with many artists, statesmen and noblemen who visited it while they were on the Grand Tour.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The aromatic lemons of Sorrento

 Visit a genuine 'agruminato' in centre of resort


Lemon products are everywhere to be seen in Sorrento, from perfumes, soaps and candles to sweets, biscuits and the resort’s famous lemon liqueur, Limoncello.

Sorrento is famous throughout the world for the quality of the lemons produced in the town and along its peninsula, which are large, oval in shape and have a distinctive perfume. They are known to have been cultivated in the area since Roman times.
Lemons growing in Sorrento

If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Sorrento for a while, you can visit a genuine agruminato, lemon grove, near the centre of the resort and enjoy some quiet time.

I giardini di Cataldo in Via Correale is a citrus garden typical of the Sorrento peninsula. Once part of a much bigger agricultural estate, the 11000 square metre lemon grove was rescued by the municipality of Sorrento at the beginning of the 21st century. The land was saved from development and it remains a working citrus garden, while being open to the public to visit.

Staff from I giardini di Cataldo look after the land, pick the fruits from the citrus tees and produce liqueurs, marmalades and sweets from them.

You can stroll under the pergolas of chestnut wood poles, enjoy the smell of the lemons and see how they are cultivated.

Limoncello on sale in a Sorrento shop
Limoncello, which is made from an infusion of lemon peel and alcohol, is now produced in other parts of Italy as well, but connoisseurs consider the best limoncello to be made from lemons grown in Sorrento and out along the peninsula. Capri’s lemon groves are well regarded too.

Limoncello should be served very cold and is usually enjoyed after a good meal. Salute!


I Giardini di Cataldo are at Via Correale, 27 in Sorrento. For more information, visit www.igiardinidicataldo.it.