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.

Friday, June 9, 2023

Spaghetti alla puttanesca

Quick and easy southern Italian pasta dish has a colourful history

Spaghetti alla puttanesca is a tasty dish that is easy to cook at home
Spaghetti alla puttanesca is a tasty dish
that is easy to cook at home
The distinctive aroma and piquant taste of a puttanesca sauce is something I always associate with Naples. It somehow evokes the atmosphere of the city for me because you enjoy the enticing smell of tomatoes and olives cooked in garlic as you pass restaurants hidden behind unobtrusive doors in the narrow streets in the centre.  

There are various theories about how the sauce, which can be served with either spaghetti or linguine, acquired its name. Puttana is the Italian word for prostitute, so it means literally, spaghetti cooked ‘in the style of the prostitute.’

People have speculated that the dish could have been invented to lure men into houses of ill repute, to be served to them while they waited their turn. Or, the prostitutes may have cooked it to eat themselves, because it was quick and easy to make.

Another version is that pasta cooked alla puttanesca was convenient for married women to make so that they could spend less time in the kitchen and more time with their Neapolitan lovers.

The sauce began to crop up on restaurant menus under various names in the 19th century and the ingredients would vary slightly, according to the area of Italy.

There was a reference to the dish in a 1960s Italian novel when one of the characters says: ‘Spaghetti alla puttanesca, like they make in Siricusa’. In Sicily, the sauce is referred to as spaghetti alla siciliana and has green peppers added to it.

Most Neapolitan cookery books do not suggest adding anchovies to the sauce, but In Lazio, where they also claim it as their own, puttanesca sauce contains chopped anchovies.

It has also been claimed the sauce was invented at a restaurant on the island of Ischia out in the bay of Naples. A group of customers arrived late in the evening when the restaurant had practically run out of ingredients. The customers asked the owner just to give them what he had left, so he quickly made a sauce using four tomatoes, two olives and some capers and garlic, to serve with their spaghetti.

You can use either fresh or tinned tomatoes to make spaghetti alla puttanesca. If you want to make the Neapolitan version, you should fry some garlic in olive oil, add the tomatoes, capers, black olives, and parsley and let it simmer for about ten minutes while the spaghetti is cooking. 

I sometimes add a couple of chopped anchovies and a pinch of dried oregano to it, just because I enjoy the taste. Buon appetito!



Tuesday, February 7, 2023


Sorrento restaurant where culinary secrets of former priest still delight diners

O'Parrucchiano has been serving diners on Sorrento's Corso d'Italia since 1868
O'Parrucchiano has been serving diners on
Sorrento's Corso d'Italia since 1868
One of the longest established restaurants in Sorrento, O’Parrucchiano continues to serve high-quality, traditional Sorrento dishes in a magical setting, despite being right in the centre of the resort.

Although O’Parrucchiano is just off the busy Corso d’Italia, you feel as though you are in a citrus grove as you sit on the glass-covered dining terrace, surrounded by a garden filled with lemon trees.

O’Parruchiano was originally named La Favorita when it first opened as a tiny trattoria in just two rooms, a few metres away from Sorrento's Duomo, in 1868. The founder, Antonio Ercolano, had learnt the art of cooking while working for the Archbishop of Sorrento.

Because of Antonio’s past connections with the priesthood, he gained the nickname of ‘o’parrucchiano’, which in Neapolitan dialect means, parish priest.

The restaurant became famous for its cannelloni, which Antonio originally named strascinati when he first created the dish more than 100 years ago. Cannelloni did not appear on the menus of other restaurants until well into the 20th century.

Diners on O'Parrucchiano's upper terrace feel like they are eating in a lemon grove
Diners on O'Parrucchiano's upper terrace
feel like they are eating in a lemon grove
Antonio bequeathed his restaurant to his young nephew, Giuseppe Maniello, after teaching him all his culinary secrets. Giuseppe then enlarged the original trattoria and helped it to become more widely known.

O’Parrucchiano was invited to be included in the Association of Historical Places of Italy and it has been featured in magazines and newspapers in many different countries. In 1958, it was awarded the title ‘Excellent Kitchen’ by the Academy of Italian Cooking.

Over the years, many famous people from the worlds of art, culture, entertainment, and sport have dined there.

Giuseppe’s son, Enzo has since taken over the running of the restaurant, and is helped by his two sons, Giuseppe and Mario, who represent the fourth generation of the family of the founder, Antonio.

The restaurant has a botanical atmosphere throughout
The restaurant has a botanical
atmosphere throughout
O’Parrucchiano’s two spacious dining rooms, furnished with statues, amphorae and other family heirlooms, provide the perfect setting for diners to enjoy the wide selection of Sorrentine specialities on the menu.

You can start with some local seafood and fish antipasti dishes. For primo piatto, you can choose between the famous cannelloni del centenario, gnocchi alla Sorrentina or risotto alla pescatora, among the many other pasta and rice dishes on offer.

For secondo piatto, you have the choice of scallopina alla sorrentina, maiale di Avellino, pesce all’acqua pazza or alla brace, and alici locali as well as many more tempting dishes, which are served with the tomatoes, lemons, vegetables and herbs that provide the authentic aromas and flavours of the Bay of Naples. Buon appetito!


Saturday, December 31, 2022

Celebrating the New Year in Sorrento

Firework displays are a major part of New Year celebrations in Sorrento
Firework displays are a major part of
New Year celebrations in Sorrento
In Sorrento the arrival of a New Year is celebrated with fireworks and parties and the hotels and restaurants put on special festive dinner menus. 

A local tradition is the lighting of the ciuccio di fuoco, a donkey made of fabric stuffed with fireworks. The donkey represents the old year and it is set on fire at midnight to ignite the fireworks. It symbolises burning and obliterating bad memories from the year before.

At midnight the streets are full of people exchanging good wishes, toasting the New Year, and enjoying the festive atmosphere in a magical city that is full of lights and colours.

Il Presidente della Repubblica will have delivered his Messaggio di Fine Anno from the Quirinale in Rome, shown on most Italian television channels. This is followed on Rai Uno by L’Anno Che Verrà, a live programme of pop and entertainment transmitted from a square in a beautiful town in Italy to see in the New Year.

New Year’s Eve is known as la Festa di San Silvestro in Italy and is a time when families and friends traditionally get together for a special dinner.

There are midnight fireworks displays in many cities as well as at private parties. A custom still followed in some parts of Italy is throwing old things out of the window to symbolise readiness to accept the New Year.

Buon Anno from Best of Sorrento!



Sunday, February 20, 2022

Chiesa di Sant’Anna at Marina Grande

Pretty church at the heart of an annual celebration

The church, with its pink and green façade, is set in its own square
The church, with its pink and green
façade, is set in its own square
Right in the middle of Marina Grande, set back from the beach in its own little square, is a pretty 17th century church dedicated to Saint Anne (Sant’Anna), the mother of the Virgin Mary.

The Baroque church, with its pink and cream façade, was built on the site of a much earlier church and paid for by the local fishermen. Originally, the church was dedicated to souls in purgatory, but it was later rededicated to Saint Anne, the grandmother of Jesus.

It is about a ten-minute walk from Piazza Tasso to visit the church. You go through Piazza Vittoria and along Via Marina Grande and as you descend to the seafront, you will catch a glimpse of the green and yellow patterned cupola and the campanile of the parish church.

Walk along the seafront past the Da Emilia restaurant and you will find the church on your left. The entrance door, flanked by two marble columns, leads into the simple interior, which has a single nave and a wooden trussed ceiling. Behind the main altar is a statue of Saint Anne and the church also has sculptures of the crucified Christ and John the Baptist.

The floor is covered in white and grey marble and on the opposite wall of the church, high above the entrance door, is a pipe organ.

The church's green cupola can be  seen in the centre of this picture
The church's green cupola can be 
seen in the centre of this picture 
The feast day of the Saints, Anne and Joachim, who were the parents of Mary and grandparents of Jesus, is celebrated on 26 July each year at Marina Grande. A few days before, lights shaped like sea shells and sweet stalls appear alongside the long-established restaurants and bars.

It is a tradition that handmade handkerchiefs are sold from one of the stalls, along with a special blessing offering protection to pregnant women, as Saint Anne is also the patron saint of pregnancy and motherhood.

The first Sunday after 26 July, trumpets sound early in the morning to herald the beginning of a large procession, when the statue of Sant’Anna is carried around Sorrento. People come by boat afterwards to join in the celebrations at Marina Grande and eat traditional Sorrento specialities at the restaurants.

The day ends with spectacular fireworks that light up the bay, accompanied by classical music, signalling the end of the festivities for another year.




Sunday, January 16, 2022

Spigola all’acqua pazza

Try this recipe for cooking fish in a very Italian way

Spigola all'acqua pazza
Gently poach your spigola all'acqua pazza
until it flakes easily when tested with a fork
Once your holiday in Sorrento is over and you’re back at home, it is nice to try to recreate some of the meals you have enjoyed during your stay.

A southern Italian way of cooking fish that is delightfully simple to do in your own kitchen is spigola all’acqua pazza, which literally means, sea bass cooked in crazy water. Naples may lay claim to having invented this way of cooking fish, but spigola all’acqua pazza can be found on the menus of many restaurants in Sorrento and the surrounding area. And fish cooked all’acqua pazza is said to have become very popular with visitors to the island of Capri during the 1960s.

It is an easy dish to prepare at home and although you can’t beat sitting outside a restaurant overlooking beaches such as Marina di Puolo and Marina del Cantone while you eat it, just the smell and taste of the lovely poaching liquid flavoured with tomato and garlic will immediately transport you back to Italy from wherever you live .

Use fresh fillets of sea bass and place them skin side down in a frying pan. Cover them with a little cold water, a dash of olive oil, some chopped parsley and chopped garlic, then add a teaspoon of tomato puree or a few cherry tomatoes cut in half, or both together to provide the tomato flavour.

View from restaurant at Marina del Cantone
Best served at a restaurant table overlooking the
sea, such as this one at Marina del Cantone
The broth in which your seabass will be gently poached is thought to date back to when the fishermen, out of necessity, had to use seawater instead of fresh water to cook their fish, and with the additional flavourings it became known as acqua pazza - crazy water.

Thankfully you don’t have to go that far to recreate the authentic taste, the oil, garlic and tomato will do the job for you. The fish is ready when it flakes easily if you test it with a fork.

The sauce also goes well with branzino - sea bream - or you could even experiment with other types of white fish, such as halibut, cod or haddock.

Serve your fish with some fried potatoes, or crusty bread, and a side salad. Pour yourself a glass of Italian white wine and put on a CD of Neapolitan songs or mandolin music to complete the experience.

Buon appetito!


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.


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)