Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Our European Adventure - Days 11 and 12 - Sorrento and Capri

Hotel Belair, Sorrento, Italy
Hotel Belair, Sorrento
Geraldine, our trusty GPS, got us safely through the tangle of traffic that is Sorrento and to our hotel, the Belair, perched on a high cliff overlooking the sea and town.  This is by far our best hotel to date. Our room is huge by the standards of the others we’ve had and has a spacious balcony overlooking the whole Bay of Naples. Across from us, over the brilliantly blue water, we can see Naples, and looming over it the menacing silhouette of Mt. Vesuvius, the volcano that wiped out Pompeii. 

Twice before I’ve been in this area and twice I’ve missed seeing one of its main attractions, the Isle of Capri. I was determined to check that off my list first. 

Mt. Vesuvius
Mt. Vesuvius
We had cased the situation earlier and realized that parking in Sorrento was hopeless so we took a taxi down to the boat harbor. There we boarded a hydrofoil for the twenty minute ride to the island that has been a favorite get-away for celebrities since the time of Tiberius Caesar.

Alas it is no more. The Blue Grotto is still there. JP saw it on our last jaunt in this area and pronounced it stunning. I’ll have to take her word for it. I don’t go in caves or any other underground spaces. Mostly I control my fear of enclosed spaces, but caves are not for me, no matter how spectacular.

So what else was there to see? There are villas belonging to the rich and famous, ancient,
Isle of Capri
more recent past and present. There are gardens. But mostly there are people. Gobs and gobs of people, all in organized tour groups following umbrellas. There are souvenir shops filled with tawdry merchandise. And of course shops with designer label names. Gucci, Fendi, Ferragamo, etc., etc…

The brochure had said there were no cars on Capri. There might not be private cars, but there are a gazillion taxis and tour buses all vying noisily for business. The resulting traffic jam on the main street would be laughable if it weren’t so sad.

We ate an overpriced uninteresting lunch and headed back to Sorrento. I think the only way to experience Capri would be to stay in one of the hotels far from the town. There are some highly rated ones, but I was left with no desire to return.

This morning we took a dip in the hotel pool (frigid even by Canadian standards) and then decided to take a drive through the countryside, out toward the tip of the peninsula.

Annunziata Watch Tower
As we wound through terraced hillsides covered with grape vines and orchards and punctuated with the elegant umbrella pines one sees all over this part of Italy, we had magnificent views of Capri. It is best seen from a distance. Some of the little villages we drove through looked as if they’ve been here forever. We stopped in one called Annunziata for lunch. The village boasts not just one but two ancient watch towers. 

We had a magnificent meal here in a small but elegant restaurant named, appropriately, La Torre. This Michelin starred restaurant, totally unexpected here in the middle of nowhere, was an incredible find. It’s owned by the Tonio Mazzola family. Mother, Maria, is in charge of the kitchen, daughters, Amelia and Alissa are in the dining room and son-in-law, Luigi helps. The menu featured something called “Maria’s Choices”, a five course taster menu. For someone who loves to discover new tastes but has a small appetite, it was made in heaven.

The antipasti came:
  • eggplant cooked with tomato and cheese
  • tiny fish fillets with a lemon and oil dressing
  • beans baked with peppers
  • Bruschetta
  • Octopus, the star of the show. I’ve tried octopus many times. It has always seemed to me to have the texture of old tires. This experience has changed my mind. It was tender and utterly delicious. I asked how it was prepared. It was first boiled, then marinated in olive oil and lemon juice. 

Now these were just the appetizers on this “taster” menu. Next came the pastas:
  • Fresh tuna and tomatoes over large cylindrical pasta shells
  • Gnocchi Sorrentino, little potato pastas with a tomato and cheese sauce.

Third course: Local cheeses
  • Provolone
  • Pecorino
  • something called (I think) Monaco.
 We liked the pecorino best.

The desserts were a chocolate mousse with nuts and a caramel cream, both perfection, and were followed by the traditional meal ending here, icy Limoncello.

At the end of the meal, Maria Mazzola came out of the kitchen to meet us and see how we enjoyed her choices. She is a lovely woman, much younger than I would have expected. Her English was about at the level of my Italian but I hope she understood how much we enjoyed her choices. This is a truly exceptional restaurant. If you are ever in the Sorrento area, do not miss it.

Me in Hotel Belair lobby with one of many metal sculptures
We are back in Sorrento now and an evening thunder storm is raging outside. There is deep booming thunder, both sheet and jagged lightning, and every few minutes we are plunged into darkness until the hotel’s back-up generator kicks in. 

These thunder storms have one very positive effect. They clean away the haze of pollution that usually enshrouds Naples. At this moment the lights of the city across the bay are sparkling like diamonds.


Following are my published novels. Go to my Goodreads page, to find more info and reviews.  

To purchase one of these books, just click on the book link below and select the vendor of your choice.

The Memory of Roses, Blair McDowell
 • The Memory of Roses ~ The story of a secret and how it impacts two generations of the McQuaid family.  It unfolds on the beautiful Greek Island of Corfu and is a tale complete with beautiful and passionate women, handsome and fiery men, and an intriguing mystery.

"The Memory of Roses by Blair McDowell is simply an incredibly lovely story. It’s also a love story, and a story about finding yourself, and about closure. The theme running through the book is “all’s well that ends well.”  --  Marlene, Reading Reality


Delighting In Your Company, Blair McDowell
 • Delighting In Your Company ~ Delighting In Your Company is a paranormal romance set on an exotic Caribbean island, featuring a handsome ghost and an adventurous heroine who travels back in time to solve a mystery!

"Delighting In Your Company is a unique paranormal romance that brings together island folklore, history, and mystery with an unlikely romance between the past and present that had me going through a torrent of emotions and made it impossible to put down." -- The Romance Reviews


Sonata, Blair McDowell
 • Sonata ~ Sayuri McAllister has just arrived home to Vancouver to find some shocking situations 
~ A robbery has taken place at her family home, and it is being investigated by her old flame;
~ Alyssa James who she barely knows, is about to become her new stepmother; 
~ and Alyssa’s brother, Hugh James, is a charming Irishman who is intent on bedding and wedding the rich and beautiful Sayuri. 

It’s a confusing and difficult time for Sayuri, especially when dangerous accidents happen to her father and herself – or are they accidents?

“I found Sonata to be a charming novel that left me laughing out loud in parts and gnawing nails in others. It was a delight to read.” – Night Owl Reviews


Abigail's Christmas, Blair McDowell
 • Abigail's Christmas (short story) ~ An enchanting tale of love and romance, with a magical touch of fantasy.
Abigail's Christmas is a holiday story about Abigail who goes looking for a tree on Christmas Eve, and ends up with the man of her dreams in a sleigh in the Rockies --- with a wedding in the offing! Is it real?  Is she dreaming?  Or is it just Christmas magic?

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Blair McDowell