Sorrento and Capri have an almost magical feeling of romance.
SORRENTO, Italy — When people think of Italy and romance, most think of the Tuscany region or Rome. But Sorrento and Capri remain, for me, among the top spots for lovers.
Why? This corner of Campania has a romantic sensibility to sway even the least sentimental visitor. In fact, I guarantee that within hours of your arrival, its playful ancient magic will make you reach for the hand of your loved one.
Here are 10 ingredients of that magic.
Lemons, lemons and more lemons
They hang from trees. Their images decorate plates. They are served with every meal.
Big, plump, bright-yellow Sorrento lemons love growing in this region. In fact, my hotel door opened onto a walkway that curved under a lush, happy canopy of them.
Lemons also are used in the local liqueur, limoncello.
Sorrento and Capri boast some of the most gorgeous views in the world. Sorrento hugs the undulating Mediterranean coastline.
On Capri, an island 20 minutes by ferry from Sorrento, the views are spectacular everywhere you look. The water is crystal clear and china blue.
Leather sandals, purses and bags are highlights. Sorrento also has world-famous inlaid wood tables and boxes. Lemony-themed souvenirs abound (check out the work at the Sea Gull in Capri Town). Sorrento and Capri both have many streets of shops with twinkling lights perfect for a romantic evening stroll.
Nothing here is a straight line or even elevation. In Sorrento, you take an elevator from street level down to beach level. In Capri, you take a funicular up from the port to Capri Town.
In both spots, ultra-narrow streets wind around blind corners and up and down hills to secret spots and views. Many of these winding streets and public squares, naturally, have charming outdoor restaurants and cafés.
I strolled past a fish shop on Capri to find I was being stared at — by a fish in the window. Fish here practically jump right out of the sea and onto your plate. In Sorrento and Capri, you would definitely go to hell if you even considered eating a frozen fish.
So many hotels in Sorrento and Capri (and their Amalfi Coast neighbors) are directly on the edge of the sea.
That is what has made these places vacation havens for everyone from ancient Greek sailors and Roman emperors to modern artists, writers, movie stars, celebrities and the hoi polloi.
The greatest hotel in the world can’t compete with the view that even small hotels here possess.
Brightly painted wooden fishing boats mix with larger ferries and even-larger cruise ships. Every view has scale, because many boats ply this area of the vast Mediterranean. Here, the sea feels more like a friendly lake instead of an impersonal ocean.
The side trips
Nearby are the ruins of Pompeii, a sort of sexy historical place to visit. To the southeast are stunning tiny towns such as Positano, Ravello and Amalfi, where more romance awaits.
I was there in May, when roses were blooming their heads off and the air smelled sweet. Colors are vivid, whether it’s the sagey green of rosemary or the petal of a deep red rose.
I mean, come on, it’s Italy. Yes, this country is a slightly jaded, world-weary, seen-it-all, sighing, emotional, spend-too-long-at-the-table kind of place. But it’s got a good heart. So pack a bag, bring your lover and enjoy.
IF YOU GO
Getting here: Most visitors fly into Rome then either rent a car, hire a driver or take the train to Sorrento. You also can fly into the closer Naples airport by connecting from the U.S. through Paris, Munich or other European cities.
Getting around: I recommend the fast Trenitalia Frecciarossa train, which takes only 1 hour, 7 minutes from Rome (Roma Termini) to Naples (Napoli Centrale). From there, go down to the basement of the train station to catch the new seasonal Campania Express or year-round Circumvesuviana train to Sorrento.
To get to Capri, you need to take a ferry. From Sorrento, the fast ferry takes just 20 minutes; from Naples, it takes 45.
Some cruise ships stop at Sorrento and Capri, but I recommend staying longer than just the one day that most cruise ships give you.
Lodging: Small hotels abound in Sorrento and Capri. Look for a hotel near the water or right in town so you can walk everywhere.
Attractions: On Capri, take the funicular from the port of Marina Grande to Capri Town, an upscale village nestled in the rocky heights of the island. There are walking trails for hikers. More delicate folks can see the island by funky convertible tour taxis.
The most famous sight is the Blue Grotto, a sea grotto of the deepest blue. You can do Capri in one day, but it’s better if you can stay on the island at least one night.
In Sorrento, the biggest attractions in town are the incredible views from the rocky cliffside parks, the shopping and dining, and the limoncello lemon groves.
Side trips: From Sorrento, you can take a day trip to the ruins of Pompeii. You can take a day trip or longer down the Amalfi Coast to the wonders of Amalfi, Ravello, Positano and other small towns on the photogenic coastline. Some brave souls rent a car; others hire a driver or book one of the many tours available.
What about Naples? It seems like the entire huge city is under construction, with roads torn up everywhere for the installation of a new subway system. Naples is a prickly and slightly edgy big city. A great day trip from Sorrento is a visit to the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, with world-renowned artifacts.