First a quick disclaimer:
Sorry that I have either no photos or poor quality ones for the next few posts. It was the olden days.
At the age of twelve, and with a couple of family holidays to Spain under our belts, my family (minus one brother) headed off to Italy. The Parratts (my lovely Grandparents), the Duttons (my Mum and Jonathan) and this Duncan arrived in Sorrento to our small and friendly Thomson hotel and prepared for the welcome meeting/tour of the area. My parents and I followed our holiday rep through the town from one commission opportunity to the next. As always, I was in complete awe of the tanned, blonde rep and so I stuck close as we moved between businesses. An old Limoncello shop (that refused to give me any) a gelateria (which we frequented often that week) and a furniture shop where we were invited to “take our time”. The group browsed halfheartedly before dutifully following onto a vine-covered restaurant where we given 20% off vouchers. Wondering if my parents liked the look of the place, I made my way through the group of adults. There was no sign of the Duttons but as a rather overconfident and independent child, I wasn’t very alarmed about my new status as an orphan. After the tour concluded, the group dispersed and my new idol, the rep, popped me on the back of her moped. We whizzed through Sorrento’s winding streets back to hotel and my frantic parents. Mum’s response to all this, “we just took our time”.
Sorrento, although on the coast isn’t a beach resort. Instead, a steep hill separates the tantalisingly turquoise sea from the town above. To compensate, a collection of T-shaped piers have been built out into the water, each as a separate little business. We took our pick, paid the entrance fee and grabbed some sun loungers. This year was the first time I had been allowed a lilo. Now this was a big deal. Every holiday I begged my parents for one but they didn’t seem to be fans of the bright, inflatable plastic beds. And so off I went into the sea with my newly acquired sense of satisfaction. Around and around I paddled in the glorious Italian sunshine, getting a big dose of vitamin D.
The Horrible Realisation
Back at the hotel I marvelled at my strap marks. Me, the Scottish/English and eternally pale rose had managed a tan! I hopped in the shower to rinse off the thick mix of salt and factor 50 and leapt straight out again. It felt as though acid was pouring down my back. The bright white lines crisscrossing my shoulders weren’t standing out from a lovely golden tan, but a quickly reddening sunburn. It was HORRENDOUS! I couldn’t lie on my back for two nights. Now I don’t like lilos either.
Sorrento is stunning, pure postcard perfection. Just up the road from the hotel, as your wind your way up the headland, is a viewing spot from which you can see the Bay of Naples. Standing here, gazing across the sweep of coast to the volcano. Vesuvius, is still my favourite view in the world. It looks harmless when viewed from a distance, just another sleeping giant. Famously, however, nearly 2000 years ago it erupted in spectacular fashion and decimated a thriving city of the Roman Empire. Pryoclastic flows, boiling ash that moves at up to 450 mph, rushed down the volcanoes sides and engulfed the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Pompeii was thronged with tourists when we arrived, following their flag carrying guides up the short, steep hill to the town. The day was blazing hot and as a keen Horrible Histories fan, I was eager to join in. Pompeii is genuinely fascinating. The ash clouds preserved the city to a level that I wasn’t expecting. Wall frescoes, launderettes and even Roman pubs all remained more or less intact. The streets, complete with drains and pavements, and even the columns of the forum were there to see. The famous shells of human bodies, curled up in fear, were haunting and enthralling in equal measure. I adored the day there, despite the scorching heat which left us feeling a little wilted. My Mum has just reminded me that our guide kept telling us, “always in the shade”. Funny the little things we remember.
We saw more of the same at Herculaneum a day or two later. The site is smaller but arguably better preserved, and the damp, chilly day kept many tourists away so we felt like we had discovered a little gem. Fifteen years on, it is probably much busier but it made us feel intrepid.
These days it’ll cost an adult €11 for each site or there’s a combined ticket for both sites and three other mini sites that costs €20. Every Sunday morning, all the sites are free, hurrah!
Sorrento’s nearest airport is Naples and from there it is easily reached by train, bus or car, there is even a boat that runs across the bay. Day trips include a boat ride to Capri, a day in Pompeii (obviously) and popping to Naples for lunch, the home of the pizza. Just like their oblong, crispy, tomato smothered slices, Sorrento is a big piece of Italian heaven.