The Unruly Gardener in Sorrento

May was a very good time to be in Sorrento, garden-wise. The weather was splendid and all kinds of flowers were in bloom. The narrow streets between our hotel and il centro smelled like perfume: cascades of white confederate jasmine flowers spilled down almost every stone wall.

When you live in a climate that never foists a freeze on you, everything blooms. Naturally it would appeal to an unruly gardener when plants thrive in the oddest, most unreachable places. Our hotel stood beside a hotel that had been built atop the ruins of an ancient monastery. I just loved the plants that had taken hold on the rough cliffside.

And these high above la marina grande:

I don’t know if you can see any teeny pink flowers in that shot, and yes, I realize the horizon is not level. It was the best I could do, leaning as far over as I could to get a photo of pink flowers growing in nothing but salt wind. Hang on, I’m about to lean farther out.

Who cares about level? I’m taking pictures of flowers.

Down by la marina piccola, the yellow flowers against the blues were irresistible. Vesuvius in the background.

As a dutiful gardener, I couldn’t resist ducking into a nursery on the busy street we took into town. If it weren’t for the fact that things made of terra-cotta are breakable, I would have spent all my euros right here.

On the Sunday we were in Sorrento, the sky couldn’t make up its mind whether to rain or not. We ended up taking a long walk, uphill for a change. I’ll tell about the cemetery we encountered in another post. For now I just want to mention a little fruit stand in an out-of-the-way intersection of old residential streets:

When was the last time you walked past a fruit stand and you could actually smell the ripe strawberries and melons? Wherever we ate fruits in Italy, their flavors were everything you would imagine them to be.

A few minutes later on this Sunday morning, we came across the unruliest garden in town. I had read about an old mill down in a deep canyon, but I hadn’t expected to come upon it with no notice, no thought of even looking for it, only a few blocks from the center of town. This would be il Vallone dei Mulini, Deep Valley of the Mills.

You can see a little bit of the handrail in the bottom right corner of the first photo. We were just walking along, minding our own business, when we came upon this amazing sight.


That dark line along the side is a rushing waterway. In this deep, long chasm this mill, I’ve read, was grinding corn from perhaps 900 A.D. until the early 20th century.

Artwork old and new commemorates the bounty of this place. This is just one tile piece on one stone wall outside a house:

Of course Sorrento wouldn’t be Sorrento without the plumpest, most flavorful lemons in the world (I do believe a trip to Amalfi is in order, to support or disprove such a radical statement. Want to go?); and they seemed to be growing everywhere. There were plenty of groves that looked large enough to be commercial;

and lemon trees in every square of garden soil big enough to hold one.

In our walks from the hotel into town (and we made many), we happened upon what looked like a community lemon grove, where a lovely young woman was handing out samples of limoncello. There is nothing quite like a chilly swallow of limoncello at eleven o’clock on a hot morning.

We do, however, have this:

Ordinarily I would not buy liqueur in a little bottle shaped like a country shaped like a boot, but I couldn’t resist. Fortunately, we have a larger, normally shaped bottle in the freezer. I don’t believe that I Giardini di Cataldo ships their lovely products to the US; but if you are ever in Sorrento, buy me a big bottle of limoncello and I will pay you twice what you paid for it.

Maybe I should tell you a little story about how delicious this stuff is.

On the day we went to Capri, we left our hotel by nine a.m. for the long hike to la marina grande to catch the ferry. We walked many miles on Capri, most of them straight up (because who needs to take a funicular? Riding is for sissies!). But on the walk we got to see so many lovely gardens! Too bad I couldn’t really breathe, and was having a hard time seeing in color.

As soon as we reached the village we fell into chairs in a very propitiously placed caffe. I ordered what looked on the menu like a caffe granita (shaved coffee ice served with cream), but it turned out to be the most decadent, luscious mocha frappuccino you could ever imagine. I wish I lived in it. Naturally, with all the walking, we drank quite a bit of water too.

We took the ferry back around one o’clock and had a very long lunch at one of the restaurants in the marina. A small bottle of wine and a large bottle of water were consumed, of course.

En route back to the hotel, we stopped at our favorite pasticceria for an espresso and some treats. If you are ever in Sorrento, right after you buy me my limoncello, stop in here. If you have ever enjoyed a pastry of any kind, or even if you know someone who enjoys pastry – eat a pastry from this place. It is an other-worldly experience. I have no idea how they get their creamy things that creamy.

We fell into conversation with a pleasant couple from Pennsylvania. An hour or so went by. Eventually we began to make our way back to the hotel. As we walked I realized that it was 4:20 p.m. and I had not visited the, um, facility all day. Now my bladder was speaking to me in a rather stern voice.

Ah! Il Giardino! We could take a short-cut through the lemon grove! We’ll cut minutes off our walk!

Except there was the young woman with her samples of limoncello. And there was the little wooden pickup truck Floyd hadn’t noticed before, the one that was running right up till a couple of years ago. And don’t you think we ought to buy a reasonably sized bottle, not go home with just that little boot thing? And we would never risk hurting the young woman’s feelings by refusing her sample. And didn’t she have two other types of limoncello for us to try, one made with mandarin oranges, the other of which I have absolutely no memory of?

I’ll just say that I have never walked a mile so fast in my life. I very nearly exploded. That’s how fabulous this limoncello is.

That’s how fabulous Sorrento in May is.



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