Tales From the Venetian Lagoon

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Last time I visited Venice I went on a tour that encompassed three of the lagoon’s more interesting outer islands. These are the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello.

I got a ticket for a tour that took you round these three Islands. This lagoon cruise cast off from the pier adjacent to Rio dei Giardinetti, the gardens next to St Mark’s Square.

Didn’t get much time on each island but did gain a flavour of the lagoon’s huge variety. In this account I will try to convey some of this rich flavour.

Murano – Workers of Glass

Years ago I used to play a computer game called Machiavelli: The Prince. In this game you represented one of the illustrious families of old Venice. You engaged in intrigue and traded, like Marco Polo, with the pre Columbian world. The cargo of choice at the beginning of your path to trading empire fame and fortune was always Venetian glass.

The island of Murano was therefore a priority destination in my expedition across the lagoon. This is where Venetian (Murano) glass is actually made and this was the first island on the tour.

When you disembark in Murano, you are guided to one of the glass making factories only a few steps away from the quay. Here you see the glass being made, feel the heat from the furnaces and look on in wonder at this ancient art.

Murano Glass

You can then buy something at the factory shop and take a short stroll to see a bit of the Island. You can’t see much as the boat will soon leave for the next island. You do get an impression of the place and have laid the foundations for a future more detailed visit.

Murano

Burano – Vivid Colour and Lace

The first thing that strikes you about Burano is the vibrant almost surreal colour. It is a real feast for the eyes and a great place to walk around.

There was an opportunity to be guided round a lace making operation – Burano is famous for its lace. I gave this a miss and concentrated on the place rather than its commercial activities. I don’t have much interest in lace anyway! Managed to see quite a bit of the place before moving on.

Burano

Torcello – Land that Time Forgot

Torcello could almost be described as rural Venice due to its green and unspoiled landscape. It is more like a nature reserve than anything else. It’s hard to grasp this island’s historic significance.

Nevertheless, it was from this humble location that the Serene Republic of Venice began its march to commercial greatness. The refugees who founded Venice settled here to escape the ravages of Atilla the Hun and his hordes who were rampaging down the mainland. These horsemen were effective warriors on dry land but they couldn’t walk on water. The islands of the lagoon provided the perfect refuge where people could escape their wrath.

You disembark on the western side of the island and you are immediately in the Venetian countryside. You follow the canal on its eastward course and enjoy a peaceful stroll. You may be interrupted by the posh tourists who occasionally glide up the canal in their expensive water taxis.

You arrive at the eastern side of the island where the last remnants of the civilisation of old Torcello are located. If you wanted pyramids and hanging gardens then you have come to the wrong place. All that remains is a rather charming Byzantine church, but it is a lovely area to explore.

Torcello

After your visit here you return to the pier and enjoy a relaxing cruise back to Saint Mark’s Square while dreaming about the romance and drama of old Venice.

Treasures of Tuscany – The Piccolomini Library

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Above: Close up of the vaulted ceiling of the Piccolomini Library

The Piccolomini Library is located within the magnificent Duomo di Siena in one of my favourite cities in all of Italy.

I used one of its illuminated manuscripts to give a bit of colour to the article I posted yesterday. Today I thought it would be good to show people more of the library’s cultural treasures. It also gives me the excuse to showcase some of my photos.

Wikipedia describes the library as follows:

“Adjoining the cathedral is the Piccolomini Library, housing precious illuminated choir books and frescoes painted by the Umbrian Bernardino di Betto, called Pinturicchio, probably based on designs by Raphael.” (1)

The library is named after Enea Silvio Piccolomini  who became Pope Pius II. The frescoes on the walls by Pinturicchio depict his life. According to an article at DiscoverTuscany.com:

“The Library itself was built by Pope Pius II’s nephew, also a cardinal who also later became Pope Pius III…, the library was in memory of his uncle and to conserve the rich collection of manuscripts he had lovingly collected.” (2)

The Illuminated manuscripts on display are impressive in and of themselves but the library’s delights don’t end with the books. The vibrancy of colour is a veritable feast for the eyes.

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Above: Close up of an example of the illuminated manuscripts

Untitled Above: Vaulted ceiling and statue of the Three Graces with Pinturicchio’s frescoes in the alcoves. People looking at the choir books at the bottom of the shot.

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Above: Piccolomini receiving his cardinal’s hat from the Pope

Untitled Above: Part of the fresco where Piccolomini introduces Eleonora of Portugal to Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III

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Above: Part of the fresco depicting the Diet of Princes at Mantua where Pope Pius II (Piccolomini) proclaimed a new crusade in 1459

If you are wandering around Italy and find yourself in Siena be sure to check this place out, it is well worth a visit.


Notes:

(1) Sienna Cathedral: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siena_Cathedral

(2) The Piccolomini Library, a Treasure within a Treasure https://www.discovertuscany.com/siena/piccolomini-library.html

Sorrento – A Guide for Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Introduction

I thought I would have a go and try to do a bit of travel writing. The subject I have chosen, since I went there last year, is the Italian holiday resort on the Bay of Naples – Sorrento.

There is a great deal to see and do in the Campania region in which Sorrento is situated. You can mimic the grand tourists of old and visit Pompeii and Herculaneum.You relive the Galaxy Bar advert and go on the famous Amalfi drive taking in magnificent coastal views and visiting the towns of Positano, Amalfi and Ravello. You can also visit Naples and ascend Mount Vesuvius. You can set sail to cover the short distance to the beautiful island of Capri or the slightly more distant island of Ischia.

However, in this short article I will highlight some of the things you can actually see and do in and around Sorrento itself. I will do this by describing a walk around town and surroundings starting near where I myself stayed at the the Western end of Corso Italia. A hi-resolution map and other useful information about the town can be found HERE. This might help with your orientation as you read the article.

Why mad dogs and Englishmen you may ask? This is a reference to the song written by Noel Coward that talks about how, unlike those from more sensible cultures who respect the power of the sun, the sun starved English go out in the sun, even when it is at its most potent at midday. When I visit a place I am usually impatient to see as much as possible in the shortest possible time. This invariably means being out in the midday sun! Since I am English I therefore saw the title as rather apt for this intensive walk around Sorrento.

Via Corso Italia

We start our walk near the town’s hospital where Via Degli Aranci intersects with Via Corso Italia. Take a note of this location, you might need the hospital if you are unfit and over exert yourself especially during the hill walking that we will undertake, if that is the right word, near the end.

Via Corso Italia is the main thoroughfare that runs the length of Sorrento. It is a therefore a good place to get your bearings. It is also the place to see and be seen on the great evening promenade. It can get quite crowded, particularly at weekends when local Italians dress in their finest and strut their stuff. As a tourist you often feel a bit under dressed and shabby in comparison.

We walk up this main artery towards the attractive red and yellow bell tower of Sorrento’s cathedral. If you take any of the streets on the left of the street you end up in “The Drains”, which may sound pretty horrible at this point, but we will cover that part of the town later on in our walk. Our first stop is on the left hand side.

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Above: Promenade on the Via Corso Italia by Night

Chaplain’s Pub

Chaplin’s is an Irish pub on the left side of Via Corso Italia. I loved this bar to such an extent that left the following review at Trip Advisor:

“Visited Chaplin’s nearly every night on my recent stay in Sorrento. Extremely friendly environment created by the lads who run the bar – they are born entertainers. There approach also means that your are likely to meet new friends. The bar seems to attract people from all the home nations of the UK, Ireland, Australia, and there were many from the United States. A great night out with great music and usually a singalong at the bar.”

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Above: Chaplain’s pub including some snaps of the characters who run it

It’s like having your local pub on your doorstep while you are on holiday and creates a sense of holiday community. The lads who run it make you feel very welcome and special and are excellent hosts. It can get quite rowdy in a very good natured sort of way as you can see in the video footage below:

Another video from this pub:

A great place to conclude a night on the town!

Café Latino

You might have had a quick pint of Guinness a few minutes ago at Chaplain’s, but being on holiday is thirsty work!  Perhaps, already, you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the busy Via Corso Italia and have another drink, you might be a bit peckish and fancy a meal. Café Latino is the perfect place to stop.

You will find Café Latino a few steps up the street from Chaplain’s and on the same side of the street. It has its own wrought iron arch with its name underneath. It looks like a private verdant side street, which of course it is.

When you enter this establishment you will be amazed. You will move from the busy hustle and bustle of Sorrento’s main street into the peace and quiet of a lush oasis. You will find yourself in the midst of a lemon grove festooned with other greenery.

If you look at the a Café Latino website you will see it described as “A large colonial style sofa garden in the heart of Sorrento”. You will also see photographs and appreciate the verdant surrounding that I just described. Enjoy!

Cathedral

We leave Café Latino and turn left into the street. After a few minutes walk we arrive at Sorrento’s cathedral. You will already have seen its red and yellow bell tower looming larger on the left hand side of the road. This tower is an excellent orientation point from where ever you are in Sorrento. I mention it here primarily as an aid to prevent you from getting lost. Perhaps you can also say a few Hail Mary’s for all the eating, drinking and general overindulgence you have enjoyed so far! Anyway, we are in a hurry to see things so lets pick up our pace.

Bar Ercolano and Tasso Square

We now reach Tasso Square, Sorrento’s main square. This is another good orientation point to head to if you get lost. We will come back to this place a few times during our walk.

Bar Ercolano is on the left as you enter the square. It is the perfect place for people watching and chilling out. You also get to see people embarking on the little white train that provides a guided tour of the streets of Sorrento. Let’s sit down and have a quick coffee and do a bit of people watching.

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Above: Bar Ercolano by day – the street on the left is Via Corso Italia

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Above: Bar Ercolano by night

There is also a nice garden in the square which can be seen in the photo below. Lets drink up and take a look as we cross the square.

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Albergo Lorelei et Londres

From Tasso Square we take the Via Correale. We continue to the junction and turn left onto Via Aniello Califano. We then arrive at a great place where you can sit and look out over the Bay of Naples. In the foreground there is a beautiful red hotel. This makes a striking addition to any photographs you take of the Bay and it is one of my favourite viewpoints in Sorrento. The last two times I was in Sorrento, this hotel has been derelict and unused, which is a great shame. It must have been magnificent in its day. You can just about make out its name from the cracked paintwork – “Albergo Lorelei et Londres”. I previously wrote an article about this hotel which can be found HERE. It sounds like it was a great place back in the day.

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After resting and taking in the view, we go back down Via Aniello Califano. But instead of turning right down Via Correale we continue straight on. The street name changes to Via Bernardino Rota and then to Via Bartolomeo Capasso. Turn right at the junction with Via Corso Italia heading towards Tasso Square. After walking for a few minutes, you see Via Ernesto De Curtis on the left hand side. We move down this street to reach our next destination.

Railway & Bus Station – A Bus Tour of the Sorrento Peninsula

We have arrived at an noteworthy place that will be useful if you plan on venturing beyond Sorrento, that’s if you survive our mad dogs walk! But since our focus is currently the Sorrento area itself we must note that this is where the hop-on hop-off open top bus leaves from. This City Sightseeing bus gives you a tour of the Sorrento peninsular and is quite refreshing and takes in some spectacular views. The main highlights are the views of the Island of Capri, and the drive back down to Sorrento when you can see the whole of the town laid out below you.

Without further ado we retrace our steps down Via Ernesto De Curtis and turn left into Via Corso Italia and continue back to Tasso Square. From  Tasso Square we take Via Luigi De Maio and take the first right where this street continues. We then take an immediate right which brings us to the building that contains Foreigner’s Club.

Foreigner’s Club

This is owned and run by the town council and is relatively affordable. So let’s take a break from our walk and go in there for another drink – a cold one this time, we are getting hot from the sun.

You will be struck by the magnificent views across the bay. It’s worth drinking there for the view alone, so let’s make the most of it and sit on the edge. If you are hungry feel free to order a meal. You pay on the way out.

 

Before we leave this splendid location we call in at the tourist information office to the left of the exit. We pick up some leaflets, a map, some timetables, we ask the helpful staff if we have particular questions about Sorrento.

We are refreshed from our ice cold drink and now hurry to our next destination. We turn left out of the grounds of Foreigner’s Club into Via Luigi Maio and then right again onto Via San Francesco. We walk for a short while, keeping up our brisk pace and see the Villa Comunale on the right hand side.

Villa Comunale

This is where Sorrento’s main public gardens are located. From here you can sit down and take in the spectacular panorama, looking out across the bay towards Mount Vesuvius. We walk through the gates.

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Above: Entrance to Villa Comunale

We walk to the edge to take in views of the Bay of Naples, Vesuvius and of Marina S. Frecesco below.

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Above: View of Marina S. Francesco from the edge of the cliff

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Above: View of Mount Vesuvius just after sunset

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Above: Looking west over Sorrento just after sunset

Cloister of San Francesco

We move across to the eastern side of the paved area of the Villa Comunale. We enter the secluded space of the Cloister of San Francesco.  It is a peaceful place with a nice courtyard garden. We take a moment to reflect and meditate. It looks quite spectacular when it is lit up at night. It is also a popular venue for marriage ceremonies.

The Lidos of Marina San Francesco

We abandon the peaceful serenity of the cloister and move over to the western side of the paved area. Here, there is the lift that goes down to the bottom of the cliff. Since time is of the essence, we pay the modest fee and buy a return ticket.

The lift doors open and we walk out into the sunshine and before us we see the lidos of Marina San Francesco. If we weren’t in such a hurry to see as much of Sorrento in the shortest possible time we could hire a bed on one of the lidos, though be warned – they are very expensive! You can also buy food here, though again you might be put off by the expense. Our bank balance is relieved that we are in such a hurry!

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Above: Marina San Francesco from the top of the cliff. The beach looks like it is made of powdered sand, but in reality it is gravel.

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Above: The crystal clear waters at one of the lidos.

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Above: The beach and cliff viewed from the lido

Let’s turn right and continue along the path until we reach Marina Piccolo.

Marina Piccolo

This is the main port of Sorrento and is bigger than the old harbour of Marina Grande. It might be confusing, but remember Marina Piccolo (which in Italian means small marina) is the large port, and that Marina Grande (which in Italian means large marina) is the small port. I know, with such confusion you could almost be back in England!

Here you can book passage on various boat trips down the coast or over to Capri or Ischia. Alternatively you can explore the harbour.

Let’s get back to the lift and continue our walk. Turn left out of Villa Comunale and head back to Tasso Square to get your bearings. Enter Via San Cesaro which runs parallel to Via Corso Italia on the other side of Bar Ercolano. This takes you into ‘The Drains’.

“The Drains”

This may sound like a dreadful place to visit, but this is a very nice shopping area.  It encompasses all the narrow streets that run off the main Via Corso Italia on the coastal side. It almost has the feel of a Souk that you would find in an Arabic city.

There is a lot of hustle and bustle by night when these narrow streets get rather crowded, but it is a great atmosphere. In the daytime, the narrow streets give you a good degree of shade and comfort.

The Drains
Above: The narrow streets of ‘The Drains’

You can explore The Drains as you see fit, that is what makes it so interesting. You will become more familiar with the streets as you use them. Here you have the opportunity to shop, get souvenirs, buy clothes, have a meal, take a drink, or soak up the atmosphere and watch the world go by.

However, our current and most urgent goal is to walk to Marina Grande. We therefore continue down Via San Cesaro which continues as Via Fuoro. Towards the end turn right into Via Sopra La Mura and follow it right to the end.

This street follows the old wall of Sorrento and it is an interesting walk down.

Via Sopra La Mura
Above: Via Sopra La Mura

We walk under the arch (above bottom right) and find ourselves on the beech at Marina Grande.

Marina Grande

Marina Grande is the old port of Sorrento. Walk to the left to enter the little fishing village or to enter the beach. You can also book boat trips down here and have lunch in one of the many great fish restaurants. It is much cheaper to hire sun beds here than at Marina San Francesco and is a very friendly environment.

Marina Grande

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To get back into town you can get a bus or a taxi, but since we are walking we retrace our steps and follow the wall back up the hill. In addition to being English, I am from Yorkshire and therefore a bit too tight to be splashing out on taxis! We emerge on Via Corso Italia at the spot where we began our Walk near Caplain’s.

Hiking in the Hills Above Sorrento

We proceed with ever quickening pace westward and out of Sorrento, we leave the Via Corso Italia and join the Via Del Capo. As we continue up the hill you might miss the next point of interest. On the first bend in the road keep your eyes peeled. If you keep looking towards the steep cliffs on the left hand side you will see a small sanctuary with a statue of the Madonna. What makes it even more spectacular is the relaxing sound of cascade of water coming down the sheer cliffs. This site is immaculately tended and, if you can focus on the silence between passing cars, quite serene.

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Above: Madonna and waterfall on the way to the walk in the hills.

I had a guidebook called ‘Landscapes of Sorrento, Amalfi and Capri: A Countryside Guide’ – page 103 (1) and this told me to turn left into the hills at the point opposite the ‘International Camping’ located at the other side of the road.

On my very first day in Sorrento I set myself the lofty goal of walking in the hills and getting to the end of the peninsular at Termini. This was much too ambitious. It is only for the fittest people, take lots of water and don’t get lost.

As we go higher, Sorrento starts to open up beneath us as seen in the photograph below.

DSCN5064 Above: View over Sorrento as we start to climb

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Above: View of Sorrento with Yuccas

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Above: Another view from the early climb

The main purpose of my own walk in the hills was to take in panoramic views looking out from the rugged coast towards the Island of Capri. I got quite far, but it was a mistake, the climbing was quite grueling and I had taken only one bottle of water even though I was out in the midday sun. I would have needed more and it would have taken most of the day so I eventually gave up and retreated back to Sorrento. You can get good views of Capri at reasonable cost via the City Sightseeing bus mentioned earlier. As you climb you can get some great photos of Sorrento such as the one below. You are reasonably fresh at this point if you have a good state of fitness but going further is for the serious walker. We are not serious walkers but we are English, or is that mad dogs, its a nice day and the sun’s out – our paranoid English fear of rain at any moment pushes us forward.

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Our walking group is surprised to find many of the tracks paved and in some cases complete with street lights. This is because they were originally used as official routes for pack animal based cargo transport – I learnt this from the guidebook (page 14-15) that I mentioned earlier (1).

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Above: Paved and unpaved tracks in the hills.

As we explore, we suddenly find ourselves in the middle of lemon and olive groves.

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Above: Lemon Groves

Untitled Above: Olive Groves with nets rolled up. At the appropriate time the nets are unfurled in order to catch nature’s bounty

We move further into Sorrento’s agricultural hinterland and see views like the one below:

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Onward and forever upward we reach a bit of civilisation, a bar and restaurant.

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We are now exhausted. We feel that we have gain a good flavour of what it’s like in the hills. Serious walkers may laugh at our next choice which is to turn around and retrace our steps back to Sorrento. We get lost a few times, going down some hills that we then have to walk back up. We eventually manage to get back to Via Corso Italia, to arrive at our final destination.

Ristorante ‘o Parrucchiano-La Favorita – The Birthplace of Cannelloni

This restaurant is located a bit further up the street than Chaplain’s, close to our starting point, on the right hand side of the street. The pale yellow front of this restaurant is quite ordinary but when you go in it is quite splendid and is set on multiple levels. It reminds me of the colonial splendour of the British Raj. It is here where the Italian dish cannelloni was invented.

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The survivors of our walk enter the establishment, they are exhausted, burnt by the sun, damp with sweat and their feet are cracked and bleeding. This is not the time to eat a posh meal! We book a table for the evening so we can have our fill of cannelloni. We retreat over the road to Chaplain’s to sink a few cold beers before returning to our hotels to rest up and prepare for our evening meal.

Notes:

(1) Landscapes of Sorrento, Amalfi and Capri: A Countryside Guide (sixth edition) by Julian Tippett, Sunflower Books, 2011

Old World Charm on The Bay of Naples: Albergo Lorelei et Londres

One of my favourite panoramic views in the world is one overlooking Mount Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples from Sorrento.  In the foreground is a wonderful looking pastel red coloured hotel.  You can just about make out the cracked lettering to see the name of this old hotel  – “Albergo Lorelei et Londres”. This hotel helps make a magnificent view even better.

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To me the view and this particular hotel represent the essence of Sorrento.  To find it you need to go to the eastern side of town a short walk from the main Tasso Square. It is located on Via Aniello Califano and set at the top of a shear cliff face, high above the main port, Marina Piccola.

I must admit, when I first saw this building it was love at first sight. Its vivid red colour contrasting perfectly against the blue Mediterranean sky. Nevertheless, I have never actually experienced the hotel itself. On the two occasions I was in Sorrento it was closed up and falling into disrepair.

I googled it when I returned home and it seems that it closed in 2007 (1).  A Trip Advisor forum speculated about what had happened to it (2). An article at Rebecca-East.com implies that it was particularly popular with budget travelers and that the roadside rooms were noisy (3). Reidsitaly.com refers to it as ‘one of the Secret Hotels of the Amalfi Coast, a tattered olde worlde budget gem’ (4). It made The Telegraph travel guide in July 2004 which said it had 50 rooms, 30 of which had a sea view and it refers to a price tag of £65 (5).

You would probably enjoy bread and water with the breath-taking views on offer, but it also seems to have had a reputation for good eating and drinking back in the day. It was mentioned in an article by Travelvivi.com under the title ‘The Best Restaurants With the Best Views’ (6), Thedailygreen.com had it as one of ’12 Restaurants with the Best Views in the World’ (7), and  an article published in May 2011 at Everything-Beautiful.com rated it as one of the ‘top rooftop bars in Europe’ (8). Some other reviews can be found HERE and HERE.

You also get the impression that it would be the sort of hotel that people would have stayed at while undertaking ‘The Grand Tour’. Edwardian elegance at the hotel pictured HERE and HERE present an insight into the lifestyle of that period.

The hotel itself may, in fact, have had its ultimate origins in the world of Ancient Rome, the Rome into which those Grand Tourists wanted to immerse themselves at Pompeii and Herculanium. An article at Famedisud.it entitled ‘Albergo Lorelei et Londres: un antico rifugio di pittori e letterati a Sorrento’, if I have interpreted the google translated version correctly, suggests that it could have been built on Roman foundations, probably the villas of the elite of that time – Senators, Generals, senior imperial officials, from where they could enjoy their leisure time, their wealth, and their privileged status in ancient Surrentum (9).

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Above: View of Albergo Lorelei et Londres from on of the lidos at Marina San Francesco at the bottom of the cliffs.

 

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Above: A closer shot of the hotel, with the remains of the old restaurant are in the foreground. The square structure is the lift that goes to the beach area at the foot of the cliff.

 

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Above: A small pier and crystal clear waters at the bottom of the cliff.

 

I found photos of what the hotel looked like when it was operation and provide links to these below:

Outdoor restaurant on the terrace overlooking the bay: HEREHEREHEREHERE, HERE, and with Vespas parked outside HERE. In the days of what would assume to be times when people were stilll taking the the Grand Tour HERE (looking from the sea at the bottom of the cliff), inside what looks like the dining room HERE, and another indoor room HERE. Another great pic HERE.

 

REFERENCES
(1) https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/italy/lorelei-y-londres-sorrento
(2) Trip Advisor https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowTopic-g187782-i162-k3598272-Albergo_Lorelei_et_Londres-Sorrento_Province_of_Naples_Campania.html
(3) Rebecca-East.com http://www.rebecca-east.com/traveltoPompeii.html
(4) Reidsitaly.com http://www.reidsitaly.com/destinations/campania/amalfi_coast/sorrento/hotels/hotel_loreley_et_londres.html
(5) The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/italy/southernitalyandsicily/730785/Sorrento-Weekending.html
(6) Travelvivi.com http://www.travelvivi.com/the-best-restaurants-with-the-best-views/
(7) Thedailygreen.com http://preview.www.thedailygreen.com/green-homes/latest/restaurants-with-views#slide-5
(8) Everything-Beautiful.com  http://www.everything-beautiful.com/top-5-rooftop-bars-in-europe/
(9) Famedisud.it http://www.famedisud.it/albergo-lorelei-et-londres-un-antico-rifugio-di-pittori-e-letterati-a-sorrento/