I have just returned from a glorious week in Italy, exploring Naples and the Amalfi Coast. What could be a more perfect way to spend the summer holidays? I had never been to Italy before, and was delighted by everything I saw; it was all I had imagined and yet also so much more idyllic, beautiful and atmospheric than I could possibly have dreamed. I stayed in the hills above Sorrento, with a breathtaking view of Mount Vesuvius and the entire bay of Naples from my balcony. There could not possibly be a finer view to awake to every morning, and, coupled with the sound of church bells and braying donkeys, it really did feel like I was in a timeless landscape where the worries of the modern world had dissipated entirely.
Below me was the resort town of Sorrento; a marvellous maze of alleys lined with aesthetically pleasing, slightly decrepit buildings, bustling piazzas and lavishly gilded churches, all perched precariously on a cliff top above the sparkling Mediterranean sea. The main street is lined with fancy shops and gelateries, the air is filled with the smell of pizza and lemons, and everywhere you go, you can see tantalising glimpses of the sea or Mount Vesuvius in the distance. There are palm trees, umbrella trees, colourful flowers and beautiful cloistered gardens everywhere you look, giving it a wonderfully verdant, luscious quality that makes for a vivid backdrop against the faded ochres of the buildings. Down in the marina, a mixture of fishing boats, yachts, ferries and enormous cruise ships bob in the bay, and every inch of the strip of beach is teeming with people eager to soak up the sun. Sorrento is packed with delicious restaurants and amazing food shops, so all of your Italian culinary needs can be fulfilled; I loved getting to eat so much pizza and gelato, both of which are specialities of the region, as well as the rich and tasty local tomatoes and sharp lemons that are often grown in the gardens of the restaurants themselves. Whether shopping in the lanes, gazing up at an intricately painted church ceiling, hiking down the steep steps to get to the marina, having a drink in the piazza or sitting on a bench watching the sunset over the bay, Sorrento provides endless opportunities to people watch, soak up the Italian culture and feel utterly immersed in the slow place of Italian life. I adored every minute.
One of the reasons why Sorrento is such a popular resort is because it is a transport hub for the entire region. Trains, buses and ferries can take you as far as Naples on one side of the bay and Amalfi on the other, and one of the most pleasurable trips is the ferry to the legendary island of Capri. Capri has been popular with the rich, famous and artistic since the 18th century, and it is easy to see why. Approached from the Bay of Naples, it rises from the sea unexpectedly; a sheer wall of rock and greenery, it initially appears entirely deserted, like something from a Greek myth. As you round the bend, the island lengthens and its craggy slopes reveal hundreds of white houses cascading down the rocks and into the pretty harbour. To get from Marina Grande, the harbour town, up to Capri Town itself, you board a charming funicular railway that takes you up the steep cliffside and deposits you in the town’s main piazza, which has stunning views across the bay and over the island. The winding, cobbled streets of Capri Town are filled with designer shops and expensive restaurants, as befits Capri’s status as a chic holiday resort, but amidst all of this glamour and opulence is plenty of lovely historic architecture, much of it Moorish in style, and absolutely astounding natural beauty, which is added to by the luscious and colourful gardens of residents. My favourite part of Capri, however, was Anacapri, a town perched even higher up on the island, and accessible by the public buses, which are tiny orange tin cans that trundle merrily up and down the island all day like mechanical toys and threaten to plunge you into the sea at every turn. Anacapri is a pleasant maze of much quieter streets, filled with more affordable shops, relaxed restaurants, historical buildings and pretty houses. This little town was once the home of many writers, including Graham Greene, and it’s easy to see why it was chosen as a retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life. Anacapri is absolutely idyllic, and one of its greatest assets is the chairlift that takes you up to Mount Solaro, the highest point on the island. Dangling over rooftops with the sea sparkling infinitely beneath you, it is an experience I will never forget. Capri certainly captured my heart, and I only wish I could have spent more time exploring its wealth of history and natural beauty.