SORRENTO, Italy (eTN) – The decision to escape for one day from the comfortable and peaceful holiday being spent at the Hilton Sorrento Palace in favor of a day at sea, was stirred by my desire for adventure. Ready to rediscover the beauty of the Sorrento and Amalfi coasts, I made my way to the tiny harbor, just a few minutes away from the hotel, to rent a conducted tour in a “Gozzo” boat – a typical Sorrentine, outboard-operated, small boat whose origins stem from fisherman’s rowing boats.
Gennaro, the young, boat conductor, greeted his first early-day customer with a pleasant smile that remained on his shining face after realizing that the rental was for a full day. I considered myself fortunate to have such a cheerful young man as my guide.
We started our sea-coast tour slowly, as I had recommended to Gennaro, with my intention being to enjoy the view as if I were sipping a glass of the local Limoncello. The sun at daybreak and the fresh breeze of the sea contributed to fantastic relaxation.
My eyes began to scan around me, eager to re-discover and record in my mind the new images I would bring back home. The mighty cliffs below Sorrento city, witness to centuries of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman history who ruled the town of Sorrento and its inland area, made a thrilling start. Moving along, we spotted the old remains of Villa di Pollio Felix, which is open to visitors. Within these compounds, amongst the rocks, are private bathing establishments named after Regina Giovanna. Coves and Roman-built walls led my imagination to the antique splendor of the Patrician residences built on the coastline: the Villae Vesuviane – amongst which Villa di Poppea and the Reggia di Portici (the sea resort expressly built for queen Maria Amalia, the wife of Carlo di Borbone) – are all masterpieces of architecture built in consideration of the environment. In the 1700s and particularly during the early 1800s, when the Grand Tour started, these residence coves and beaches were a must-see and “the” place to stay for the southern aristocracy, writers, poets, and painters.
Gennaro’s shout and simultaneous pointing of his finger to the colorful harbor of Marina Grande and Marina Piccola (in its vicinity the Sorrento Diving Centre) interrupted my open-eyed dreams. He invited me to go ashore for a break and a drink. We decided to proceed and reached Massa Lubrense, a sea resort by Punta Campanella at the far end of the Peninsula Sorrentina, scarcely known by the conventional tourist, yet beautiful in its simplicity. There, we went ashore and climbed the steps to a viewing area. With the Sorrento Gulf on one side and the Amalfi Golf on the other, we were offered a breathtaking view and discovered that we were sitting on a very historical piece of ground, rich in cultural heritage and traditions. According to legend, the temple of Athena, which was founded by Ulisse, was located here.
We enjoyed a light lunch at the nearby Marina di Lobra, as advised by Gennaro, in a very local fishermen’s hostaria. A delicious fish, the catch of the day, was served to us home style. Back on the Gozzo, I could admire from the sea the silhouettes of the ancient Saracen Towers standing haughtily against the fascinating light of the setting sun with the Monti Lattari in the background. According to the navigation plan, we were floating on the Marine Park of Punta Campanella (originally named Punta Athena), a protected area stretching 11 kilometers and open to divers. This area is a paradise of flora and fauna thriving within marine grottos and antique underwater ruins. Gennaro explained that every year, off the Massa Lubrense Coast, a sea festival is held where a train of fishermen’s boats from both coasts congregate at this very point to celebrate Our Lady of the Vervece. A little statue of the Holy Lady is plunged below the rocks to seek protection for the seamen.
The calm sea and the perfect navigation stimulated my will to proceed further, and soon we reached the notorious Li Galli islands. Three minor rocks, whose story and mythology dates back to the first century (63-19 BC), are known as the home of the Sirene, whose melodic singing attracted the passing vessels, inducing them to crash against the rocks, claiming the lives of their crews. The islands were also mentioned in Omero’s poem, Odissea, when the Sirene unsuccessfully attemped to attract Ulisse while returning home after the war of Troy. Besides Ulisse, the only other ship that escaped the Sirene’s calls was the Argonauti (the crew of the ship Argo accompanying Giasone on his search for the “Vello d’Oro”). Their safety was said to be owed to Orpheus who distracted the crew from the chant of the Sirene by playing his Lyre louder.
Gallo Lungo, or Vetara, is the largest of the three tiny rocky islands know as Li Galli and is the only one that has been inhabited since the days of the Roman domination. The fascination of Li Galli has lingered on to our present time, stimulating world personalities to want to own them. In 1924, the privilege was granted to the famous Russian dancer, Leonide Massine, who became the owner of the archipelago. There, he supervised the building of a fantastic villa with the world-renowned architect Le Corbusier. In 1989, the property passed on to another famous dancer, Rudolf Nureyev.
Just at a turn of Punta Campanella on the side of the Amalfi Coast, the bay of Ierano Marina di Cantone hides a little pebbled beach with a restaurant that is frequented by the “jet set,” where one can escape from the nearby Island of Capri to enjoy a meal. Amongst the VIPs seen here lately are Bill Gates, Roman Abramovich, Michael Douglas, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. The area is within the Marine Park district where divers can enjoy underwater exploration.
More was to be seen and discovered along the Amalfi Coast: Sant’Agata dei due Golfi, Positano, Paiano, Amalfi, Maiori, and Vietri sul Mare. I could not miss the opportunity to have a bird’s-eye view of a little part of this area where I saw varied beaches comprised of white pebbles, black pebbles, coarse sand, fine sand, rocky fjords, and coves reachable only by sea. Their inland areas were covered with Mediterranean shrubs, lemon and orange groves, and tiny colorful clusters of houses. This territory has preserved the simplicity of bygone years and has an intriguing history dating back many centuries.
The Costiera Amalfitana, or Divina Costiera, is part of the UNESCO World Cultural Patrimony. Realizing how taken I was by the fairy-tale view, Gennaro approached me wearing a timid gentle smile to remind me that the sun was reaching its full setting. We must start back, he said. It was a glorious day that I will always remember.
The travel office at the Hilton Sorrento Palace has arranged tomorrow’s excursion to Ercolano and Pompei, and with time permitting, will include the ancient villas. I am sure this will be another great experience, not to be missed. Whoever the driver is for this excursion, however, I shall miss the cheerful and tactful company of Gennaro.
For more information, go to: www.sorrento.hilton.com.