39km (20 miles) SE of Naples
The beautiful Sorrento peninsula has been tempting travelers ever since Ulysses was forced to fill the ears of his sailors with wax and to tie himself to the mast of his ship to avoid the alluring call of the Sirens. Today, the pull of the sea and imposing rock-bound coast remain as compelling as they were in Homer’s day. Graceful old Sorrento is a lovely place, perched high atop a cliff gazing across the sea toward the isle of Capri. The spectacular but nerve-racking Amalfi Drive heads vertiginously east, clinging to cliffs and rounding one bend after another until it comes to Positano, a tile-domed village hugging a near-vertical rock, then to Amalfi, a little seaside town that was once the center of a powerful maritime republic.
As transporting as the green hillsides and azure seas are, as much as the scent of lemon and frangipani entices, be warned. The charms of Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast are no secret. American writer John Steinbeck let the cat out of the bag half a century ago when he wrote about a trip down the coast, “Flaming like a meteor we hit the coast, a road, high, high above the blue sea, that hooked and corkscrewed on the edge of nothing . . . . We didn't see much of the road. In the back seat my wife and I lay clutched in each other's arms, weeping hysterically.” He was fortunate—today, in the summer, you’ll be lucky to be moving at all, so crowded is the coast road. You’ll do yourself a favor to save the pleasure of a visit for the early spring or fall, before and after the summer crowds, and even then accept the fact that you will not have this slice of paradise to yourself.