Sorrento. Chaotic, loud, irreverent, as a local I’d only visit with a purpose and fight my way back home. The pretty alley ways were full of tacky souvenir shops with handwritten signs assuring buyers of cheap wares made in Italy. An occasional local with bags of vegetables battled their way through English crowds dressed in shorts and flip flops, past an art shop selling prints of the Coastline and a 3-d picture of a crucified Christ who opened and closed his eyes as we moved.
I had long decided that Sorrento was not for me. I’d come only for clothes shopping and was most relieved to get back to Positano. Especially because the Sita buses heading towards the Amalfi Coast in summer were nigh impossible to board because of the tourists. The poor devils left on the pavement in the sweltering sun would have to wait for the next bus in two hours time or get a taxi. It was a nightmare for me every time.
But when I accompanied my daughter to her driving lessons this April, it was the shoulder season in Sorrento. The Easter crowds had just died down and as I strolled along the streets I spied a treasure just off Piazza Tasso.
Through the curtains of wisteria (you’ll sense a recurring theme here) a garden of Eden beckoned me into its forbidden grounds. It was the Hotel Vittoria Excelsior. A Grand Hotel overlooking the Bay of Naples, the private gardens of which the Porter graciously gave us permission to visit.
The stately Hotel had wisteria clad arbors running the length of its grounds. Secluded niches housed in rose arbors gave promise of a sweet May flowering. I was awestruck as this was exactly what my dream garden in Positano should look like.
Following the pergola to the seaside, we admired the view of the volcano looming over a very short expanse of water and averted our eyes as clients from the hotel emerged wearing only plushy bathrobes from the hotel’s Spa and pool service.
My husband then decided to show me something very special and we zigzagged our way along the little streets until we were almost at the Belvedere over the Port. He suddenly took a sharp right turn through a doorway and inside was the most exquisite cloister ever. The Cloister of San Francesco, just oozing romance, was all for us and a handful of French tourists.
Of course, there was wisteria here too.
Making our way back past the tacky souvenir shops in the pretty little alleyways as the sun became lower in the sky, we bought up on the false-real Italian scarves and trinkets and breathed in the relaxed tourist spirit that Sorrento had offered.
Oh, and I made a note to myself to send my father here to play cards next time he visited !