Sorrento’s siren song

La baia di Ieranto

Not many people know that one of the most famous Neapolitan songs “Torna a Surriento” is not a love song but is in fact dedicated to Giuseppe Zanardelli, Italy’s prime minister who visited Sorrento in September 1902. At that time, the ‘Village of the Sirens’ was a conglomeration of cliff-top houses built along poor roads with little or no infrastructure, no post office and few facilities. The premier was staying at the same hotel as Neapolitan artist Giambattista De Curtis, who had fallen in love with Sorrento and wanted to urge the prime minister to do something for his adopted home. With his musician brother Ernesto and at the request of mayor Guglielmo Tramontano, he dedicated the song, apparently written in 1894, to Zanardelli when it was performed in his presence to invite him to “come back to Sorrento” after it had been rebuilt. The famous song has since been performed by Luciano Pavarotti and Elvis Presley and it still calls tourists and travellers to return to the Town of the Sirens and the birthplace of poet Torquato Tasso. [charme-gallery]Sorrento has long enchanted travellers with its narrow lanes, tasty cuisine and breathtakingly beautiful coastline on which the legendary Sirens tried in vain to lure Odysseus with their song. It was a compulsory stop on any Grand Tour and the preferred destination of writers like Goethe, Swinburne, Ibsen, Nietzsche and Norman Douglas, who spread the fame of the delightful Tyrrhenian resort throughout the world. Beautiful scenery, hospitable local people, a mild climate and superb hotels and facilities mean that Sorrento is now a frontline holiday destination. Siente, sie’ sti sciure arance/Nu profumo accussi fino/Dinto ‘o core se ne va… (Smell the fragrance of these oranges, such a delicate perfume, it goes straight into your heart …) in the words of the song: you can almost taste the oranges, lemons and olives in the groves that cover the hills of this enchanting land. With its beaches, sheer cliffs, ancient ramparts and artisans’ workshops specialising in inlaid wood and ceramics, beautiful, romantic and enthralling Sorrento is a holidaymaker’s heaven and the perfect place to fall in love as if in a magical dream. The town is said to date from the time when the Sirens inhabited the caves of Punta Campanella waiting for unwary seafarers, and its name Surrentum reflects these mythical sea creatures. The coast is dotted with numerous bays and coves, some of which are equipped with beach facilities like picturesque Marina Grande or delightful Marina Piccola, just a short walk from the town centre, and the ruins of Regina Giovanna provide a unique opportunity to dive into the sea from an archaeological site.­­­ [charme-gallery]Underwater enthusiasts come diving in Sorrento to discover breathtaking sights on the sea floor, while others go out fishing, armed with nets and lines accompanied by a local ‘sea dog’ and then enjoy the flavour of the day’s catch together. A more relaxing option is to go out on a gozzo, one of the locally built boats, but there are also itineraries on land through the historic centre, window shopping for the latest fashions, ceramics, vintage items and local produce. Traditional products include suits, bed linen and table clothes with lace and embroidery details, a variety of lemon desserts and liqueurs like the world-famous limoncello, herbal liqueurs and countless chocolate products. Visitors should not miss the Town’s speciality pasta dishes, like scialatielli with seafood and gnocchi alla sorrentina. Another reason to “come back to Sorrento” is the furniture and musical boxes, hand-crafted and delightfully embellished with inlaid wood.