‘I’d love to see Sorrento, the Amalfi coast and Capri sometime,’ said my long suffering wife about a zillion times. Like all good husbands I tried to forget her suggestion and seek a cheaper option. The years ticked by, and while we did manage to get to Italy – a seven-day exhausting trip to Venice, Verona and Desenzano in Lake Garda – that was as close as we got to Sorrento. Until early September, that is.
An email from the Travel Department popped in one day, and my eyes fell on Sorrento. Ah, seven days with excursions to Pompeii, the Amalfi coast and Capri. Hmm. Half board in a four star hotel too. Hmm again. We had been talking about the Algarve (another place Trish wants to see), so when I suggested I’d pay for her dream Italian holiday (I’m a generous lad), well, she couldn’t contain her happiness – and then pulled out the Italian brochure she had hidden away a few days earlier. Great minds think alike, they say.
One of the great advantages with the Travel Department is they do all the hard work – you just pay and turn up. No messing around online trying to find flights, hotels, transport and excursions, and that all important good guide. And we weren’t strangers: we took a Travel Department trip to China four years ago, staying in Beijing, Shanghai and a five-day cruise to South Korea and Japan, an unforgettable experience.
The one major drawback was the flight to Naples was out of Dublin, meaning we had to travel to Dublin, parking the car in Bewleys Hotel at the airport and leaving the car behind for a week because the flight was due to depart at 7.20am. We rose at 4.30pm, dashed out to catch the bus shuttle to the airport and got there in what seemed plenty of time. What greeted us was a very, very slow-moving queue and easily the most frustrating wait we’ve ever endured. By the time we got through there was no time to have a coffee never mind breakfast, so we dashed to security and boarded the Aer Lingus plane. A very attentive stewardess noticed our seats were at the back of the plane and moved us to a more spacious spot by the emergency doors, then, having heard of our ordeal, said she would put two breakfasts aside for us – which she did. That was a lifesaver.
Our arrival in Naples was less than auspicious. Once the travel representative got us on the bus the rain poured down – just like home! By the time we got to our hotel – the Grand Hotel Moon Valley – an hour later we were pretty tired, so much so that I did something pretty unusual for me: I went to bed for a couple of hours. By the time I woke, the weather had picked up and somewhat refreshed we scouted around the hotel.
If you check out Trip Advisor on this hotel you’ll see some carping about the facilities, so let me deal with them first. The best part of the hotel is not your room – it’s not very spacious and the balcony is modest. Worse for some is the view – ours looked out over the front of the hotel where you could watch the traffic go by, whereas those who opted for a sea view had an incredible vista overlooking the Bay of Naples. However, the nighttime scene at the front was pleasant enough. Even the traffic didn’t bother me after the first night.
Poolside is gorgeous, though, with a fine outdoor bar, open day and night, and we spent several pleasant evenings there with other guests. There is also a function area by the pool and in our week there we saw a wedding, two Communions and a wedding anniversary, but the festivities didn’t at all detract from our enjoyment. It’s also important to point out that the staff were very pleasant and helpful.
Because we were on half board, we were tied to a dinner at set tables for our party. Now, Trish and I love trying out new restaurants on our travels, so this was restricting. We did eat there a few nights, but the food veering from pretty good to average. The other issue is that walking to a nearby restaurant is not an option either as the road is busy and the footpath narrow in places. However, there is an excellent pizza establishment just a few minutes away, and if you want a change of bar, then I highly recommend the cafe/bar which is very close to the pizza establishment. It sells everything from pastries to magazines and even a bucket and spade for the beach. We sat outside there a couple of nights and it was lovely.
We elected to skip two of the optional trips to Vesuvius (watching it from a distance was quite enough, thank you, and I also had this sneaking fear that it might erupt again) and Herculaem, which is reckoned to be a better preserved town than its more famous volcano-hit neighbour Pompeii. I thought the three-day tours included in the holiday price were good enough, allowing us plenty of time to relax. However, we did take up one – a half day trip to Positano, a gorgeous little village along the coast, where I narrowly avoided spending too much money. We just about had time to check out many of the small shops and make our way to the beach where we stopped at the bar for a refreshing drink on what was a very hot day. The narrow streets are a shopper’s delight with so many little shops to browse, although traffic is also competing for very tight spaces.
Pompeii was a lot bigger than we had expanded and extremely crowded, so much so I wondered if it was not being overexploited. Our group was just one of many traversing the site, and we even met our guide’s father, himself a guide leading another party. We clambered over the large stone streets that eventually took a heavy toll on my sandals which finally cracked and broke (they had been close to breaking point anyway). Moving at a fairly brisk pace, one of the older members – most of us were in the grey-haired brigade anyway – elected to opt out as the sun proved too much. On we went, checking out the main sights, from the brothels to the largest villa in Pompeii. I picked up a fine pop-up book on Pompeii (complete with DVD) as a souvenir for my mum, before we dashed off for lunch nearby. A word of warning here. The set lunch your guide suggests is basic and usually comes with wine. No matter how enticing, give it a skip and go for some water or light refreshment. Our curiousity satisfied with Pompeii we left for our next stop – Sorrento.
In truth, I would have preferred to stay much closer to Sorrento. It has a touristy feel, but is also packed with some lovely shops (some with real bargains on offer – I bought shirts, Trish some nice outfits) on its main streets and sidestreets, a wide variety of restaurants to suit all pockets and palates, plus good bars and cafes. Our favourite haunt was the Il Fauno Bar which is always packed day and night, had a wide range of drinks and food, plus it’s a great spot to indulge in people watching. I highly recommended the strawberry dessert there. Positively decadent. A bonus with our hotel was that you could purchase rail tickets to Sorrento for just €1.30 each way. The station is just a 10-12 minute walk from the hotel, while the journey is just four stops away. Get off in Sorrento station and the main drag of the town is a couple of minutes away. Just be aware the last train home is 9.37pm. Taxis are expensive, but there is a decent enough bus service.
Part 2 looks at our days on the Amalfi Coast and Capri. Coming soon.