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.

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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Friday, November 13, 2020

Sedile Dominova

Last surviving noble ‘seat’ in Campania

The Sedile Dominova is decorated with colourful frescoes
The Sedile Dominova is decorated
with colourful frescoes
In the historic centre of Sorrento, among all the shops, bars and restaurants, visitors will come across a gem of 14th century architecture known as Sedile Dominova, which used to be an ancient meeting place for the nobility.

It was a building where the important men of Sorrento would gather to discuss politics and make decisions about the affairs of the city and it is the last surviving Sedile (seat) in the whole of the Campania region. 

Sedile Dominova is on the corner of Via San Cesareo and Largo Padre Reginaldo Giuliani. It has an elegant loggia, open on two sides, decorated with colourful frescoes of Sorrento’s coat of arms and the heraldic symbols of the nobles who used the building, which have been faithfully restored over the centuries. The building is topped with a 17th century cupola tiled in green and yellow.

Members of the Workers Society
of Mutual Support playing cards
It was built between 1319 and 1344 for a faction of nobles who wished to break away from the group who used to meet at the Porta Seat. This was located on one side of what is now Piazza Tasso, only a few minutes walk away from where the new seat was built.

Hence the name Sedile Dominova, which translates as sedile (seat), domus (house) and nova (new).

The building is now used as the headquarters of a Workers Society of Mutual Support and you will see members of the society playing card games sitting at tables in the loggia overlooking Via San Cesareo. However, visitors are welcome to have a look round inside the building.


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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.