Topping the rocky cliffs close to the end of its peninsula, 25km south of Pompeii, the last town of significance on this side of the bay,
is solely and unashamedly a resort, its inspired location and mild climate drawing foreigners from all over Europe for close on 200 years. Ibsen wrote part of
, Wagner and Nietzsche had a well-publicized row here, and Maxim Gorky lived for over a decade in the town. Nowadays it's strictly package-tour territory, but really none the worse for it, with little of the brashness of its Spanish and Greek equivalents but all of their vigour, a bright, lively place that retains its southern Italian roots. Cheap restaurants aren't hard to find; neither - if you know where to look - is reasonably priced accommodation; and there's really no better place outside Naples itself from which to explore the rugged peninsula (even parts of the Amalfi coast) and the islands of the bay.
Sorrento's centre is
, built astride the gorge that runs through the centre of town; it was named after the wayward sixteenth-century Italian poet to whom the town was home and has a statue of him in the far corner. There's nothing much to see in Sorrento itself, but it's nice to wander through the streets that feed into the square, some of which are pedestrianized for the lively evening passeggiata. The local
Museo Correale di Terranova
, housed in the airy former palace of a family of local counts at the far end of Via Correale (Mon & Wed-Sat 9am-2pm, Sun 9am-12.30pm; L8000/?4.13), might kill an hour or so, with its examples of the local inlaid wood
work - most of it much nicer and more ingenious than the mass-produced stuff you see around town - along with various paintings of the Neapolitan school, the odd foreign canvas, including an obscure Rubens, lots of views of Sorrento and the Bay of Naples, and various locally unearthed archeological knick-knacks. Otherwise the town is entirely given over to pleasure and there's not much else to see, although it's nice to linger in the shady gardens of the
, whose terrace has lovely views out to sea, and peek into the small thirteenth-century cloister of the church of
just outside, planted with vines and bright bougainvillea - a peaceful escape from the bustle of the rest of Sorrento.
Strange as it may seem, Sorrento isn't particularly well provided with
, and in the town itself you either have to make do with the small strips of sand of the
lido, right below the Villa Communale gardens and accessible by a lift or steps, or the rocks and tiny, crowded strip of sand at
- fifteen minutes' walk or a short bus ride (roughly every 30min) west of Piazza Tasso. Both places cost around L5000/?2.58 a head for the day, plus charges for parasol and chair rental, although there is a small patch of sand, immediately right of the lift exit at Marina Piccola, that is free. If you do come down to either of these spots, it's a good idea to hire a pedal-boat (around L20,000/?10.33 an hour) and get free of the shore, since both beaches can get busy.
If you don't fancy the crowds in Sorrento, you can try the beaches further west. Twenty minutes' walk from the centre of Sorrento along Via del Capo (which is the continuation of Corso Italia), or a short bus ride from Piazza Tasso, there are a couple of options. You can either walk ten minutes or so from the bus stop down the Ruderi Villa Romana Pollio to some nice rocks, swathed with walkways, around the ruins of a Roman villa; or you could stroll 100m further west and take a path off to the right past the
, which shortcuts in ten minutes or so to
- a short stretch of beach lined by fishing boats and a handful of trattorias.