Take in the beauty of the Bay of Naples and wander round the quaint city of Sorrento. Get tips for the best ways to pass the time in the city regarded as one of the finest in Italy
You haven't lived until you've seen the waves lapping up from the Bay of Naples on the rocky shore, and sat out on your balcony in the evening, watching the headlights of noisy Vespas slowly roll across the pitch-black road on a graceful curve, winding their way up the gradient that Sorrento is built on.
It's widely regarded as one of the best places in Italy, and for good reason: when you pass the city limits, everything becomes more relaxing. Bustling Rome with its petulant Italians disappears and you have laidback nonnas welcoming you with their whole being into the Sorrento way of life.
Stay at the Hotel Metropole, a 10-minute walk from the busy but unassuming centre of the city, and you get the best of both worlds. High above the city itself, you can look down at the slight chaos that exists in even the most laidback Italian city on one side, and the overwhelming presence of Mount Vesuvius rising up across the bay on the other side. The service is attentive, the staff welcoming, and rooms can be good (including some with thoroughly modern decor and flat-screen TVs to go alongside the atmospheric balconies that come as standard with every room). The food is passable and there is a small bar area-cum-lounge, but you won't be wanting to stay in your hotel all the time - you'll want to wander the streets and sit down for a gelato or espresso.
Taking the winding walk down to the city itself can prove interesting (there are no pavements for a small section, leaving you at the whim of Italian drivers' depth perception) but you pass some of the most beautiful scenery in Italy. To your right there is a sheer cliff face, which rappels water down it into a gorge below; to your left, hundreds of tiny houses and intricate churches, a sprawling, improvised suburb with narrow roads and jagged walls. If you feel a little removed at such a distance from the city itself, the walk down passes the Hotel Bristol, a more upmarket hotel, which is closer to the city but still far enough away to seem completely tranquil.
Head straight to the main square and the large, al fresco cocktail bar. It can be a little pricey, but to sit here as the sun comes down affords you the finest view of a working small Italian city without any of the hassle. You're practically on the roadside, and can see the streams of traffic and people pass by: the former will be completely oblivious to their surroundings as they go on with their day-to-day business, while the latter will be practically floating past, enjoying every minute.
You'll want to have a drink here, but there are better places for food and ice cream. Turn right as you come out of the cocktail bar and you'll find yourself heading away from the hotel, on the same main road that brought you down to the city. Keep going, and head into any shop on this road, be it a gelateria or a pasticceria - they're all good. My favourites are hazelnut ice cream (nocciola) and a chocolate tart made with Nutkao, a chocolate spread that everyone seems to use in Italy. Ask for one of these and you'll get a great slab of slightly salty pastry supporting massive dollops of chocolatey-hazelnutty gloop, which melts in your mouth and leaves you wanting more. It's a pilgrimage I make every year I go to Sorrento, and one that shouldn't be missed.
You can head back on yourself once you've had your fill of sweet treats, because we've overlooked the ratrun of backstreets, filled with shops and restaurants all vying for your business. Go past the main square on that self-same main road, then turn right and you'll find yourself in a bazaar you'd expect to see in some Arabian country. Buy packets upon packets of dried Italian rosemary or oregano to take back home; get a bottle of limoncello (the local tipple) to drink here; give your relatives beautiful ties, or pashminas, or wallets made in the city and available at pretty much any shop. If you're looking for a meal, the same rule applies: take your pick - they're almost all brilliant.
There are a couple of bars that double as mini nightclubs, but in a city with fewer than 17,000 people, who enjoy the good life as opposed to the drum'n'bass life, you can't expect raucous nightlife. It's simply not Sorrento's style. Instead, if you're lucky enough to be in Sorrento over Easter, you can view the Good Friday parade, where almost all the population congregates in the streets at about 2am to march images of Mary, Christ and other idols through the narrow streets. With white-robed bearers carrying licking flames on torches in an eerie procession, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience and shouldn't be missed.