Southern Italy boasts beautiful stretches of dramatic coastline, picture perfect beaches, and gorgeous coastal islands. Find out how to make the most of your time in paradise!
The south of Italy is known in Italian as the 'Mezzogiorno' or 'Midday' region. This area boasts some of the oldest and most historically significant cities in Italy, as well as several important sites from what was once part of Ancient Greece.
In terms of tourism, Southern Italy boasts beautiful stretches of dramatic coastline, picture perfect beaches, and gorgeous coastal islands. Despite its small geographical size, one could easily spend an entire summer exploring Southern Italy without even scratching the surface of all there is to see, do and eat!
Some of my favourite areas in the region include Sorrento, Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast. If you’re ever lucky enough to find yourself in these picturesque spots, read on to find out how to make the most of your time in paradise!
Sorrento is the perfect blend of resort town and tourist-friendly Italian city. It’s best known for its gourmet cuisine, stunning cliffside dwellings, and views of Mount Vesuvius (the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years).
The easiest path to Sorrento is through Naples. Head to Capodichino airport (about 30 miles from Sorrento), which is served by British Airways and Easyjet from Gatwick. Curreri runs regular transfers between the airport and Sorrento.
Larger cruise ships also dock at Naples; from there you can reach Sorrento either on the Circumvesuviana railway (via Pompeii) or, during the summer months, via hydrofoil, a 35-minute journey direct from Naples’ main Beverello wharf.
In Naples, Cathy and I picked up a rental car and drove towards Sorento. I must warn you: this route can be incredibly nerve-wracking for even the most experienced drivers. As you get closer to Sorrento, the roads become quite narrow and the number of Vespa scooters increases rapidly. These scooters will dart in front of your car with no notice as they weave quickly through traffic—stay alert!
With its mild climate and privileged perch above the Golfo di Napoli, Sorrento enjoys one of the Mediterranean’s longest tourist seasons. Visit in spring before the mercury rises, for a profusion of Mediterranean flora and perfumes—wisteria, mimosa, jasmine and vivid agapanthas—and for trees heavy with lemons. Drink LOTS of Limoncello in Sorrento as orchards of lemons abound.
Within striking distance of Naples, Pompeii and Herculanium, Sorrento is a springboard for walks and hiking trails in the rugged Lattari Mountains that hug the Sorrentine peninsula as well as trips by bus or hydrofoil to Positano (more on this later), Amalfi and the island of Capri.
Renowned for its seafood, Sorrento’s scene relies heavily on shellfish. Try Don Pedro’s, a hidden treasure located steps from the water’s edge. Don Pedro’s features spectacular views of the harbor at Marina Piccola and Mount Vesuvius across the Bay of Naples.
Trattoria Da Emilia is another great option. This family-run restaurant is a favourite of locals, and is well-known for its fresh seafood and generous portions.
If it’s pizza you’re after, Pizzeria Da Franco serves up authentic Italian pizza in a casual environment. Go early or pre-book, as this place is often packed with locals and tourists alike.
Nearby hotel options include Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, a five-star luxury hotel with views over the Gulf of Naples and Mount Vesuvius. Celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Luciano Pavarotti, Sophia Loren, and Lucio Dalla have all stayed at this historic landmark, which was founded in 1834. The Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria Ruins is rich with archaeological remains, and it’s even said that the remains of a villa belonging to the Roman Emperor Augustus lie beneath the property.
If you’re looking for a more affordable option, consider Hotel Admiral, which is tucked away in the Marina Grande port. The Hotel Admiral is well-known for its romantic environment and proximity to great restaurants and attractions.
Pompeii is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy, with approximately 2.5 million visitors annually. Pompeii is an ancient Roman city that was destroyed (and preserved) by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.
Pompeii is truly unforgettable. It is the only place in the world where you can begin to understand, face to face, how the Romans of the first century AD lived: from the brothels and lavatories to the posh dining rooms and lavish bathing establishments (the modern spa, health club and gym rolled into one).
To reach the site, catch an early-morning train from Sorrento station (the Circumvesuviana route connects the town with Pompeii and Herculanium) to Pompeii (one-day ticket $11).
Visitors to Pompeii often remark on its sprawling size (more than 170 acres), and you’ll need a minimum of three hours to do it justice. Renting an audio guide, hand-held like a mobile phone, is recommended, as it’s easy to become lost in the ruins.
The Amalfi Coast and Positano
The Sorrentine peninsula pushes out into the Tyrrhenian sea like a gnarled finger, its southern shores blessed by some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in the world. Linking the towns is the legendary Amalfi Coast Drive, a 16 km twisting, turning two-lane road that weaves and dips torturously in and out and up and down gorges, clinging to the cliff face from Positano to Amalfi. The background is lemon and olive groves, picture-perfect whitewashed villages and the ever-present shimmering blue sea.
Be sure to also book a day trip to Positano, a cliffside village on the Amalfi Coast. It’s a well-known holiday destination with a pebble beachfront and steep, narrow streets lined with boutiques and cafes. Boat cruises from the mainland to the village are popular; ask at your hotel for options and recommendations.
In Positano, the grey pebble beach of Spiaggia Grande is a good spot for a dip; it’s the main beach of Positano, as well as the center for many of the activities of the village. There you can hire a sun bed and umbrella from one of the lidos, or claim a patch of the free beach in the middle. Alternatively, a footpath leads to the right around the point to the less-crowded local’s beach of Il Fornillo where the Il Pupetto hotel and beach bar will serve you an ice cold beer.
Take the stepped path up the hill behind the hotel to see another side of Positano, a quiet neighbourhood where locals outnumber tourists.
For Andrew, travel is so much more than just learning history or taking photos. Rather, the value of travel is witnessing a lifestyle, bonding with locals, and gaining rich cultural experiences. That’s why he founded the Luxury Wanderer; a place to share itineraries, offer advice, swap stories, and foster a like-minded community of curious travellers.