SORRENTO, ITALY

Friday, May 30th, 2008

 

Sorrento, Pompeii and a day of gastronomique delights!

 

This day could not have been any better… and it seems the highlight of the trip for everyone. It was that good – no, not good…  but great!

 

Gianpiero Fiorentino is a local guide that I found on www.tripadvisor.com. He is a jewel along with the jewel of a city called Sorrento. Months ago I was on tripadvisor.com and was looking for a day excursion for all of us that was not through the cruise line. We wanted to get a true flavor of what the area was like from a local, enjoy the scenery, see Pompeii and have a traditional Italian lunch.

 

Gianpiero met us at the Sorrento dock when we tendered off of our ship in the morning. He and I had corresponded frequently via email, but you never really know what you are going to get when you hire a local guide. We had pushed back our pick up time as we were on an independent excursion from the ship and had to wait a bit before we could take the tender. Fortunately, Janel from the Destinations Office on the ship, was able to maneuver to get us off of the ship on the first tender… so in the end, we were about half an hour earlier than expected.

 

Once Gianpiero arrived we spotted eachother immediately and made the introductions all around. He had a very comfortable Mercedes van and we set off for the day. He explained what we would do for the day as we had discussed via email. We had him for the entire day as the ship was not leaving until the following morning. The itinerary included:

*a drive through Sorrento to an olive oil manufacturing facility

*continuing onward to Pompeii for a visit

*and finishing with lunch at a local osteria (family-run restaurant).

 

As we drove up towards the crest of Sorrento on small driving lanes twisting up switchback roads, Gianpiero told us about the local area. Due to the favorable climate and the sea air, there is an abundance of vegetation. Farmers and residents utilize every part of the land to grow fruits, vegetables and most importantly, olives, for the production of olive oil.

 

Gianpiero quickly put us at ease and he is a friendly man that has lived in the Sorrento area his entire life. He knows many people in Sorrento… from cab drivers to the local carbinneri (police officers). He has been a guide for about 15 years and it shows… he really gave us an education throughout the day of what it is like to be Italian and to be from Sorrento. He introduced us to Jackie and Marko who made our day extra special.

 

After a short drive up the cliff side of Sorrento, we arrived at Girgiulo – a manufacturer of olive oil. This is where we met Jackie. Jackie, originally from Poland – who looks and speaks like an Italian – is the international sales rep for this premium brand of olive oil. She has known Gianpiero for years and took us through the entire manufacturing process. We saw the old and new manufacturing process and learned how they harvest the olives. The process reminded me of how Napa Valley works in many ways like a cooperative… the local land owners harvest the olives and bring them to a local manufacturer, where they are sorted and turned into olive oil. The farmer/resident then receive payment for their olives based on the overall harvest. Pretty fascinating…

 

After the tour we got an opportunity to sample different kinds of olive oil including the premium D.O.P. – which is probably a couple of steps up from EVOO in our world. And then there was lemon infused olive oil which was 20 percent lemons from the surrounding area. Lemons grow in ABUNDANCE in this area… you just pick what you want. And the quality of the lemon oil is so pungent… so much better than what we have at home… likely because we just picked the lemon off of the tree and it hadn’t been sitting in a crate for weeks coming from Spain.

 

We thanked Jackie for her time after buying a good bit of olive oil to take home and enjoy ourselves (and for some of our friends!)… not the lightest stuff for our luggage, but will be worth it in the end!

 

Off to POMPEII. Okay, the drive was not the best… the garbage along the route in Napoli (Naples) is pretty bad. There is a bit of a garbage war going on within the local government and the community. It is piled up everywhere. Gianpiero tells me that they do come and pick it up, but the community is so large that they can’t keep up with it.. and it has become an embarrassment to the rest of Italy.

 

When we got to Pompeii we decided to have a look around on our own. Gianpiero dropped us off at the entrance and we bought our tickets. We tried to get audioguides (MP3 pl.ayers with headsets), but all of the English-language was sold out. As we had a little over an hour, we didn’t want to pay for a guide… so we grabbed a map and headed in.

 

In a previous blog I had mentioned that the Italian historic sites are not the best about providing information in multiple languages, ie. English. Well, this was also the case in Pompeii. The local map was in Italian only… nothing in English. We had to wing it a bit and just take in as much as we could on our own, while overhearing the English-speaking guides walking around with other groups.

 

Considering that we were on our own, we were not lost in the fact of what was around us… from the ruins themselves, to the details of the frescos that still partially remain. We also came across a mid-size home that was very much in tact and had tiled floors and frescos still very visible on the walls. You could make out where the kitchen was and the entire main living area. Many Pompeii residents had inner open-air courtyards with plants trees. That would be nice to have at home!

 

I would say that within the timeframe that we had, we were able to see about one-third of the site. It is much larger than I expected, and only one-half or so of the site has been excavated. Monies collected from tourists are going towards further excavation which is visible as you exit the ruins. Some areas are blocked off to tourists as they have deteriorated further with the foot traffic. I guess it is a double-edged sword… they want people to see the site to help generate funding, but what has/what will it do to the site in the long term?

 

Of what we did see, we were in awe of how it has been maintained and you can only imagine what the residents of Pompeii went through when Mt. Vesevius erupted and what a horrific death those had that remained behind.

 

So now, time for lunch! We set off back towards Sorrento ready to have our traditional Italian meal. We had no idea what we were in store for…

 

Once in Sorrento, we drove further up the mountainside through back lanes that barely one vehicle could fit through. These roads were not built for motorized vehicles… donkeys and carts, yes, but not vehicles! I am amazed at the homes that were built all the way up the side of the mountain.. and how beautifully they have been maintained. When you buy a home in this area it is not meant to be remodeled… it remains with the landscape and you just modify the interior with plumbing and heating, etc… the buildings are many feet thick made of layers and layers of stones.

 

We arrived at Cantina Torre Ferano Osteria. The osteria (restaurant) is owned by a book publisher and managed by Marco. Gianpiero has known Marco for many years (of course) and worked out an arrangement that he would bring his clients up here from time to time for lunch. We were the only ones at the restaurant. Okay, it isn’t a restaurant per se, but a villa with a wine cellar that has been converted to an osteria.

 

It is really, really difficult to describe this place. I would just say that it was a bit of Heaven. The view was just incredible. Gianpiero took us around and showed us the place first. Marco then took us into the wine cellar where they make their own wine from the locally harvested grapes that are adjacent to the villa. Marco gets up early each morning and makes his own buffalo mozzarella in the stone building adjacent to his house just below the villa on the lower ridge. During the day, he prepares meals for the locals… no tourists… such an out of the way place. He uses only local ingredients and farms the stone walls for the different herbs (thyme, basil, rosemary, mint, etc.) that grow naturally between the outcropping of rocks on the side of the building. I am not making this up. Heaven.

 

After a glass of white and a glass of red in the wine cellar, we were taken up to the terrace that was adjacent to the main building. It was a warm and sunny day (thankfully), so the Mediterranean breeze relieved the heat a bit as we sat at our table under the natural palm shaded canopy. Lunch, well, the best meal in so many ways. It was more than a meal, it was an event.

 

We started with rustic Italian bread (is there any other kind?) and had locally made salami, the buffalo mozzarella that Marco had made that morning, along with freshest ricotta cheese… the kind of which I have never had nor will probably have again, unless of course, for our next visit! Following, we had a tomato salad with onions, basil, balsamic dressing and brown bread mixed in. Jean was dying over the tomatoes… the best she has had. It was all so good…

 

So we thought that we were done. We were all so happy and then next came out the best eggplant parmesan that I have ever had. I am not a fan of eggplant parmesan, but this was so tender and so flavorful. After that, we had two different types of pasta: one with mussels and the other with beans. From there, Marco brought out the most tender beef (Tuscan ribeye) that we shared along with potatoes with parmesan cheese sprinkled on top… sort of a gourmet steak frittes.

 

Okay, not done… samples of dolce (dessert)… panna cotta with raspberry sauce that jbom is still talking about, to lemon cake and strawberry cake… all small samples for each of us to try. Much was still warm as they had made them while we began our meal. We were all “puffed out” as Jean says with regularity after most meals (indicating that she is full!)

 

“Puffed out” turned into “pooped” as we all needed a nap by then. We talked about stringing a hammock across the area and taking a rest… what an afternoon…. Gianpiero loved “pooped” and in a recent email mentioned how “pupd” he is… his new word! J

 

The meal just far exceeded our expectations. I can’t say any more. It was an experience that we’ll have forever. Thank you Gianpiero for making our day and our trip so memorable!

 

 

 

 

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