Most visitors come to Sorrento for the cultural activities, but those in the know also take advantage of the many opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. You'll soon realize though that the ruggedness that makes this stretch of coast so beautiful can be a serious obstacle to your physical enjoyment of the shimmering sea: While rocky points and cliffs are part of the visual charm, swimming from them isn't easy. Most of the major hotels in town have worked this out by building their own floating docks that are equipped with umbrellas and lounge chairs -- usually connected by elevator to the top of the cliff and the hotel. The only small stretch of pebbly beach is at Marina Grande, but it isn't the perfect swimming spot. For real sand, you need to venture east out of town to the small Marinella Beach, or farther away to Vico Equense.
Nautica Sic Sic, Via Marina Piccola 43 (tel. 081-8072283 or 330-706947; www.nauticasicsic.com; closed Nov-Apr), is a good place to rent boats; they cost from 50€ for an hour, depending on the size and type. Sic Sic also organizes cruises and offers certified diving courses. Another reputable vendor is Tony's Beach, Marina Grande (tel. 081-8782170).
A half-hour away by boat (or a longer trip on foot, from a trail starting from the Calata Capo di Sorrento, off Via Capo) Bagno della Regina Giovanna (Queen Giovanna's Bath) at Punta del Capo is our favorite local swimming spot: A small pool of water enclosed by rocks, it was once the private harbor of an ancient Roman villa -- Villa of Pollio Felice -- the ruins of which you can visit at the top of the cliff. Another pleasant boat ride is the one to the Grotta delle Sirene (Grotto of the Sirens), which is east of Marina Piccola and past Sant'Agnello. In the grotto, the constantly changing light causes the water to take on surprising hues -- as if by the charm of magical sea creatures.
Hiking is also high on our list, and the great number of trails, most of which are well maintained and marked, offer treks for people of all skill levels. We recommend using a good trail map; the best is Carta dei Sentieri published by C.A.I., the Club Alpino Italiano and for sale at libraries and some newsstands in town. It covers the Monti Lattari, Penisola Sorrentina, and Costiera Amalfitana, and costs 10€. One of the most beautiful hikes is the one to Punta Sant'Elia, starting from Piazza Sant'Agnello in Sant'Agnello; the trail ends at a rocky point across the peninsula overlooking the little islands of Li Galli, along the Amalfi Coast in the Gulf of Salerno. To reach the trail, take Via Bonaventura Gargiulo up to Trasaella, at an altitude of 196m (643 ft.), and then continue toward Colli di Fontanelle at an altitude of 343m (1,125 ft.). From the center of this village and across Via Belvedere begins the trail to Punta Sant'Elia.
It is also possible to hire a professional guide; we recommend Giovanni Visetti (tel. 339-6942911; www.giovis.com), an expert on this coast and its hinterlands, who organizes guided hikes of varying difficulty and cost.