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In this episode, we take a trip to beautiful Sorrento in Campania. It is a popular place to stay for many visitors thanks to its lovely atmosphere, stunning views, delicious food, and proximity to so many fabulous places to visit. Close to, but not quite on, the Amalfi Coast (as many think), there’s quite possibly nowhere else in the world that is better suited to day trips than Sorrento!
We welcome back Pierpaolo from Joe Banana Limos & Travel, a family-run company that has been helping travelers explore Italy for over a decade. A talented guide for Naples, Pompeii, and the Sorrentine and Amalfi coasts, Pierpaolo is also a huge foodie. He’s already shared his in-depth knowledge of limoncello, pizzas and here he talks to us about some of the wonderful places you can visit when based in or around Sorrento.
What you’ll learn in this episode
- Sorrento is one of the greatest locations to base yourself to explore the Amalfi Coast. Not only is it a lovely place in itself, with great atmosphere, food, great range of places to stay, but it is also a fantastic transport hub and so many destinations are easily reachable, even if you only have a short time. Before you even consider leaving Sorrento for any trips, you can take in its own beauty with some incredibly scenic views – you have the sea, Naples, and Vesuvius.
- Sorrento, although not strictly part of the Amalfi Coast, is just to the north. It’s an hour drive from Naples, an hour train from Naples, half an hour train to Pompeii, you can get to the ferry to Capri, Positano, Amalfi, and other places along that stretch.
- Not only do you have a lot of different places you can access from Sorrento but you also have a lot of different types of activities right on your doorstep.
- All of these places we talk about as trips to do in one day – and they are definitely great for day trips, but if you do have longer for your vacation you could easily (and happily) spend a few days in each!
- The island of Ischia is one of the most thermal Islands in Italy. You have the thermal mud and beaches where the hot springs warm up the water and it’s one of the few places in the area where Italians holiday in the wintertime- whilst everywhere else is pretty deserted, Ischia (and Sorrento) are popular
- In the summer ferries run from Sorrento to Ischia with one or two departures in the morning and then one ferry back, around five in the afternoon
- For a day trip, you can enjoy a spa/thermal baths and/or you can go exploring. There’s lots to see and do and the island is actually way bigger than Capri. It’s one of the biggest Islands in Italy after, of course, the main one of Sicily and Sardinia and there are 6 towns
- There’s woodland, there’s the Aragonese Castle which is built on a huge volcanic cliff and there are 2 thermal parks – Negombo and Poseidon
- The beach of Sorgeto is beautiful and small and if you’ve got some aluminum foil, you can cover some food in there buried in the sand to cook. When you go into the water, even if it’s cold, you actually have the hot spring where the water comes out at 90 Celsius so will warm you up, a pretty unique experience on a beach
- You can use the public transportation on the island to get around under your own steam or you can rent a guide for the full day to help with your exploring/getting about the island. The advantage of a guide is that they know where to go and get you around quickly and show you some great spots. Joe Bananas, for instance, will include the ferry, the car on the island, and the guide for the full day. Or to go a step further and really relax – you also can have your own private boat directly to the island. After a hotel pickup, you have an hour/hour and a half boat ride to Ischia, and tour the island by water as well as land
- From Marina Picollo in Sorrento, you can take both ferry or hydrofoil to the much smaller, magical island Capri. There are many crossings each day – the first one is around seven till around 6.30/7.00 at night. The hydrofoil is very fast – you can make it in around 20-30 minutes, maybe less. The ferry takes a little bit longer, but it’s very simple – you just turn, buy the ticket and go, so it’s the easiest without having to book in advance. It’s around $20 each way
- Capri top tip, if you’re traveling independently – once you arrive on the island, take a cab to Anacapri. This spend of around €20/25 is worth it to make the best of your time as Anacapri is a great starting point to do and see many things on the island. Alternatively, on arrival to Capri, you can take the chairlift up to Mount Solato, with a €12 to ride back and forth, you actually get a ticket that takes you directly on the Mount and you have a 360-degree view. But keep in mind that a cab will save a lot of time – otherwise, you can spend 40 minutes queueing for the funicular, then maybe 40 minutes for the bus. It’s not every day you are on Capri so it’s worth spending the extra money to get extra time to enjoy the island
- Other things to do on Capri include the Axel Munthe Museum, the Church of San Michele, with a beautiful interior with a depiction of paradise, and enjoying a drink while people watch at the Piazetta. A great place for views is to look out over the Faraglioni rocks – three big rocks right in the middle of the water with extraordinary shapes due to the erosion of the sea
- If you are into archaeology then head up to Villa Jovis – the beautiful Villa of Tiberius, the Emperor that led the Roman Empire for several years, directly from that little spot on the island. It’s hard to imagine an area much larger than Europe being led directly from that little spot on the island
- The Augustus Gardens are a great (and at 1€ budget-friendly) place to visit – the terraced gardens have amazing views in Capri town and Via Krupp – the snake-like windy road that leads up to the former villa of steel magnet
- The famous Blue Grotto is also known as la grotta della morte (the grotto of death). The Blue Grotto is popular for a reason – it is beautiful but it does get busy and there are queues to get in so you do have to organize in advance. You also can’t go in in bad weather as the rough waters may mean you hit your head – a sure vacation ruiner.
- A private boat tour gives a unique and very beautiful perspective of the island and the surrounding areas. You can get close up to the waterfall, view the coastline of Sorrento’s neighbor Massa Lubrense, lots of other little spots and grottos, as well as the special Green and White Grottos and what’s known as the Little Beach of the Lovers – where the rocks look like a couple embracing
- Traveling by boat you can pass underneath a gorgeous rock arch set in the Faraglioni rocks. This is known as the arch of the lovers
- Another island, more easily reached from Naples than Sorrento, is Procida. Procida is known for its colorful houses and has been announced as Italy’s Capital of Culture for 2022
- Not far from Sorrento is also Pompeii. Not just for archaeological enthusiasts – Pompeii is such a unique experience – the chance to see a city that was frozen in time. A chance to learn not only about this devastating disaster but how incredibly advanced this civilization was
- You can visit Pompeii on your own by taking a local train. You can go by car, there is parking, but it’s a much easier/more convenient train ride than trying to find your own way
- The site of Pompeii is 165 acres. The area which has been dug out there is exactly 110 and 55 are still buried. 110 acres is still a huge area and there is little markings/signage and information when walking around the complex so we always recommend going with a guide – for context of what you are seeing, for the details, and for the stories. You can get tour groups, smaller groups, or a private guide. There are a number of audio guides available but as you’ll generally not know where you are, you’re listening to an explanation, but it’s not the thing that you’re looking at
- On a guided tour of Pompeii with a driver, you can also fit in another trip on the day – for those relatively fit then the 35/40 minute hike up to Vesuvius is great, for those wanting to stay on a more even footing the site of Herculaneum, the town hit first by Vesuvius’s explosion, is a great bonus visit. You could also add a visit to a local winery. The soil of the area surrounding Vesuvius is so rich and fertile that the local production is amazing (and of course, that will always include a beautiful view from the volcano over the water)
- Pompeii is so large that you can easily go there 3 times for a few hours and each time you’ll see different things
- The drive along the Amalfi Coast is an incredible experience (which we talk about in more detail in Episode #067 Exploring the Amalfi Coast by Road and by Sea). The views and scenery are stunning. Driving yourself, however, is not for the faint-hearted. Remember these roads were originally built to carry donkeys – not cars. You also need to think about how you explore/what you’d like to see on your stop-offs. From the top of Positano, for instance, to reach the bottom is 1700 steps
- Hiring a driver to go along the Amalfi Coast not only saves you from the stress of driving, but even though they might not be there in the capacity of a guide – they are going to give you a commentary of what you’re seeing and they’re going to give you tips, etc. There is also limited parking in all towns along the Amalfi Coast and prices are steep
- If you do decide to drive yourself the biggest tip that anyone will give you is to take out the full insurance on your car rental. It’s very easy to get a scratch or scrape on these narrow roads, even in a small car and the rental companies are not forgiving. In tight car parks also – someone opening their car door onto yours or nudging your car on the way out of a tight space can create a bang or scratch that you weren’t even there for, read our article Renting a car in Italy for more tips and info
- First time visitors don’t want to miss the 3 main highlight locations of the Amalfi Coast – Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello but there is so much more along the coast and if you have a bit more time or you are returning there’s so much more to see
- Napoli (Naples) is a fantastic city to visit. It isn’t to everyone’s taste but its bad reputation is not deserved – data shows it is a safe as Milan and you’re way more likely to hear about someone being pickpocketed in Rome than in Naples. Its gruff, loud exterior may give off the wrong impression but it’s a vibrant city full of heart. That exchange with loud gesturing and violent hand gesturing might seem like someone is about to have a punch-up but in fact, they are the best of friends and will probably end up hugging!
- The bad reputation might come from Napoli station which isn’t a fun place to hang out – lots of people trying to sell you things and scam – much the same as other big city train stations in Italy and much of Europe. The station in Naples even might have the most persistent sock vendor on Earth!
- To visit Naples from Sorrento, take the train to the station before last, to reach Garibaldi Square. You then go out and get on the subway
- The subway is one of the last subways to have been built in Europe and there was competition between the contemporary artists to get their artworks in there and the works on the subway are beautiful
- The subway will take you to the Archaeological Museum, or to the Maschio Angioino Castle from which you can explore the historical center (a UNESCO site) where there’s a mix of things that are 500 years old and that which is 2500 years old
- The Galleria in Naples, like the more famous one in Milan, is a gorgeous, historic shopping center built in the 1800s
- You also have the Royal Palace, the incredible Piazza del Plebiscito and then taking the main street you can eventually come to Spacca Napoli. After the bombing of World War 2, the streets were so broken up that it gave access to see beneath the building and churches and they unearthed the old Roman market, theatre, and streets
- In Cappella Sansevero, the chapel you can visit the Veiled Christ – the stunning marble sculpture from the 1700s. You must book in advance for this as it’s understandably very popular
- Other sites include the Museo di Capodimonte art museum, over 400 churches, the cloister of Santa Chiara, with its incredible tiles, which includes a nativity scene, making it very popular at Christmas time
- Naples is surrounded by 5 different hills, so if you get the chance to go out to one or more of those – the views are to die for. It also can be nice to start up on one of the hills to get a perspective of the city you are about to explore
- If you’re taking a driver to the city from Sorrento, you can start the day at one of these spots on your way in
- Napoli is a street food heaven – with a few challenging ones along the way from octopus broth to plenty of offal, but a food tour is a wonderful way to find the best bits and learn about the city on the way
- Experts say that the only city that you can compare with old Rome in terms of shapes and shopping, is Napoli – with peoples homes on the lower floors and their lives spilling out onto the streets you walk along
- Naples was known for making gloves, at one point covering 95% of the Italian market and they still produce great quality umbrellas (it’s where Prince Charles get his from) – a great, top quality souvenir to look out for
- One explanation for the unique and vibrant nature of the Neapolitans is that they have lived in the shadow of Vesuvius and possible eruption for thousands of years and it’s made them embrace life in a truly exuberant way
About our guest – Pierpaolo Guida
Pierpaolo runs Joe Banana Limo & Travels with his brother Giovanni. They have more than two decades of experience in the toursim business.
Giovanni’s nickname ‘Joe Banana’, is the inspiration for the name of my company. Nicknames are really popular in the southern part of Italy, where basically, every family has one. Giovanni was given this nickname when he was 9 years old. His Grandad used to sell fruits using a three-wheel minivan, and he used to sit on the back trailer as he drove street by street through their little village. One day he was eating a banana while riding on the back of his grandad’s trailer when a few of his school friends saw him, and from that moment his nickname became “Banana”.
Giovanni began his career as a tour director and driver of tour buses, taking tourists from all over the world to visit the main cities around Europe. In 2010, he started his own little business with driving and guide services. He was soon joined by brother Pierpaolo, who started his career studying management of touristic enterprises and who with further studying and a lot of experience under his belt, in 2015 became a licensed professional tour guide.
Year after year they have grown and have added private boat tours, private guided tours and other services, until the realization of their dream that was to become a travel agency. In this way, they feel they can meet all the needs of their guests.
You can find Pierpaolo and Joe Banana on these channels:
- Trip Advisor: Joe Banana Limos
- Call free from US/Canada: +1 888 727 4707
Places mentioned in the show
- Ischia – volcanic island in the Tyrrhenian Sea
- Marina Piccola port – the main port of Sorrento
- Aragonese Castle – the castle on Ischia that stands on a volcanic rocky islet connected by a causeway
- Negombo and Poseidon – the two thermal parks on Ischia
- Sorgeto beach – beach where the hot spring warm the waters of the sea
- Lacco Ameno – a medieval castle on a volcanic rocky islet off of Ischia. A museum with artefacts from the original Greek settlement
- Sant’Angelo – a small village built next to a giant rock with lots of colorful houses
- Monte Solaro – a mountain on the island with its peak being the highest point of Capri
- Villa San Michele – Axel Munthe Museum – museum in the former home of doctor and psychiatrist who wrote a famous memoir there
- Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo – church with amazing tiles including a scene of paradise
- Villa Jovis – ruins of the villa of the Emperor Tiberius
- Augustus Gardens – terraced gardens with amazing views in Capri town
- Via Krupp – spectacular hairpin bend road that you can see from the Augustus Gardens
- Massa Lubrense – next town along from Sorrento
- The Green & White Grottos – beautiful alternatives or additions to viewing just the famous Blue Grotto
- Procida – another island, known for its colourful houses most easily reached from Naples
- Pompeii – the world famous, miraculously uncovered city that was covered by the Vesuvius volcano eruption in AD 79
- Herculaneum – the town hit first by Vesuvius’s explosion and where people died the quickest, without warning – such as the ashy rain that fell on Pompeii hours before (though few recognized it as a warning sign)
- The 13 towns of the Amalfi Coast:
- Amalfi, Atrani, Cetara, Conca de’ Marini, Furore, Maiori, Minori, Positano, Praiano, Ravello, Scala, Tramonti, Vietri sul Mare
- Raito – district in Vietri sul Mare which has a great viewing point
- Praia a Mare – beach resort which is both sandy and pebbly
- Conca del Sogno – meaning Cove of the Dream, a beach club and restaurant in a stunning spot
- Naples Archeological Museum – one of the most famous and visited museums in Italy
- Galleria – Galleria Umberto I is a public shopping gallery in Naples, located directly across from the San Carlo opera house built between 1887–1890
- Royal Palace of Naples – one of the four residences near Naples used by the House of Bourbon during their rule Naples, now a museum and tourist site
- Piazza del Plebiscito – impressive square by the Royal Palace
- Spacca Napoli – meaning split Naples – the ancient remains of Naples
- Veiled Christ – a 1753 marble sculpture by Giuseppe Sanmartino exhibited in the Cappella Sansevero chapel
- Museo di Capodimonte – art museum in Naples
- Santa Chiara – cloister in Naples known for its beautiful tiles
Food & Drink
- Sgroppino – meaning “to untie” as in, to “untie your stomach” – is made by whipping together Italian Prosecco, lemon sorbet and vodka
- Caldo de Polbo – octopus broth, Neopolitan street food that’s been around since at least the 14th century
- Friedrich Alfred Krupp – German steel manufacturer and head of the company Krupp
- Axel Munthe – Swedish-born medical doctor and psychiatrist or the early 20th Century best known as the author of The Story of San Michele, an autobiographical account of his life and work
- Faraglioni – stacks/coastal and oceanic rock formations eroded by waves
- Canova – an Italian Neoclassical sculptor famous for his marble sculptures
Resources from Untold Italy
- Find out more about Sorrento in The 15 Best Things to do in Sorrento, some Day Trips and Tours and our recommended hotels and Airbnbs. And learn about the food on the Amalfi Coast in 7 reasons to join a Sorrento food tour on your trip to Italy and Pierpaolos enthusiastically researched pizza recommendations in Best Pizzas in Naples
- Listen: Hear more from Pierpaolo in Episode #067 Exploring the Amalfi Coast by Road and by Sea, Episode #073: Pizza from Naples – the full story Episode #090: Limoncello – simply the Zest! and for more Amalfi foodie delights, Episode #021: Savoring Sorrento – a food lovers guide to Italy’s city by the sea as well as more on the coast in Episode #014: Amalfi Coast highlights and some in-depth insights into Pompeii and its history in Episode #061 New Discoveries in Ancient Pompeii
- Heading to the Amalfi Coast soon? Our digital Positano Guide is now available at the Untold Italy shop, full of load of useful info to carry with you, including the best restaurants, local dishes to try as well as beach clubs, walks, shopping, a packing list and more – untolditaly.com/shop
- How to plan a trip to Italy – our article that takes you step by step through trip planning so you can avoid our mistakes
- Italy Travel Planning – our FREE online community where you can ask questions and get inspiration for planning your trip
- Travel shop where you’ll find items mentioned in the show
Prefer to read along as you listen? You can download a PDF version of the full transcript of this episode.