Sorrento

He says TV travel shows never really influence him, but watching Francesco da Mosto’s Italy reawakened Malcolm Bassett-Smith’s love to see Sorrento once more.

I regard Francesco da Mosto, Spike Milligan and myself as being especially lucky, we have all fallen in love with this, the most simplistic of Italian fishing towns and there are good reasons why.

Located a short drive southwest of Naples, Sorrento is very easy to get to with direct easyJet flights to Naples from Gatwick. Like most European airports, Naples has a good range of car hire operators to choose from. The one I chose had Smart cars which I would never be seen dead driving at home! But, this is a million miles from my Alfa Romeo GTV and even further from Francesco’s Alfa Spider, and the Smart car did appear to run happily on petrol fumes which can make a big difference if you plan on driving any distance.

I navigated via a woman with a map, will I never learn? We leave Naples and pass the huge archaeological site which is Pompeii. To do Pompeii justice you need to spend a full week there and I hadn’t a week to spare, so best save it for a future visit. Sorrento welcomes us, it is late at night, but there is life and warmth on the streets. By choice we have selected a small family hotel on the hillside, the chance to look over the town without any of the inconveniences.

Sorrento became popular with the Brits thanks to WWII and whilst Italy saw its share of fighting, areas such as this became popular as R&R spots for war weary and wounded soldiers. Gracie Fields (our Gracie) settled on the island of Capri (just off the coast of Sorrento) and entertained our Tommies after 1945, as Spike Milligan wrote of in such glowing words. Capri has since taken on the reputation for ultra fine dining and chic short stays.

A gentle and relaxed breakfast is followed with a short swim, it’s now time to explore. Sorrento is a small town with a pearl hidden in its heart; I do of course mean its old fishing harbour. An invitation has been issued we are to take lunch somewhere really very special. I am given Sorrento’s version of a AAA pass allowing me to take my Smart car down to the water’s edge and with it the ultimate eating establishment south of Naples – Delfino’s.

There is nothing pretentious here, down to earth waiters, a simple menu, ordinary furnishings, but the food... I genuinely salivate thinking of it now. This is the perfect Italian where time stops, the world passes by, and cares... well they are for another day. Once eating has finished we are ushered through onto the pontoon which stretches into the harbour and I drink more wine whilst enjoying my sun-bed. This is what lottery winners dream of!

Children frolic in the water around us, young boys show off the arms that one day might have muscles to the dark eyed local girls, everybody looks coolly shabby-chic. It is so ultimately Italian here, even the Vespa’s look sexy.

Eventually we have to move on any explore the town itself. As you would expect there are signs of tourism, but nothing too ghastly or garish. We see a small mini-market and pop in to buy a bottle of glugging wine, a 2 litre bottle of Lambrusco for 1.50 euro. It tastes like nectar and we have no shame in sharing it with newly made friends at the hotel.

Everywhere we go there is a genuine feel to the place, no Formica furniture, no Coca Cola culture and espresso coffee that even Francesco would be proud of.

Continue along the road and you will join up with the world famous Amalfi Coast; sadly being world famous means it is manically popular with day trippers. In order to get a car parking space you need to be there by 8am (at the latest). Yes, it is stunningly beautiful in a rugged way, but the sheer number of tourists can easily dampen the pleasure to be had. Just like me you may have to settle for a drive through.

Every village in the area has its festivals and competition to impress is intense. Religion is always behind these events, which brings me to believe Jesus Christ absolutely loves fireworks, well the Italians think he does as every festival ends with a monster pyrotechnic display.

As I can’t park up in Amalfi I decide to continue onto Salerno. This is much more of a city, but with a pleasing feel to it. My navigator says turn left, I miss the turning and end up driving my Smart car through the city park. She is in shock as people jump to one side, I simply think of the Italian Job. If Michael Caine can drive over buildings in Turin, me driving through a public park in Salerno is a mere nothingness in comparison.

We take dinner in a hidden restaurant on the hillside and enjoy glasses of Lemoncello served almost at the point of freezing. The restaurant keeps a low profile as every celeb that visits Amalfi dines here.

Sorrento exudes such complete style whilst being nothing more than a small fishing town that has been lovingly nurtured by locals for generations. And thankfully it hasn’t been allowed to become a second-home haven for the rich or an amusement park for the unimaginative.

Sorrento, you relax me in ways I could never dream of and I am willing to do a deal with Francesco, if he drives me around Sorrento in his Spider, I will drive him around Thames Valley in my GTV – have we got a deal?

FACTFILE

• EasyJet flights from Gatwick to Naples start from £27, but are highly seasonal in price
• Hotel rooms in Sorrento can be booked for under £40 a night www.trivago.com
• For car hire www.rentalcars.com is highly competitive
• Visits to Capri and Amalfi are highly popular, seek assistance from your hotel in booking
• Delfino’s requires maximum notice to reserve a table, ask your hotel front desk to assist
• If hiring a car in Italy, take your own satnav with you (be sure it has European maps)

Malcolm Bassett-Smith