Everyone loves Rome and Venice; classic stops on any Mediterranean itinerary. But Italy’s smaller ports of call—Sorrento, Portofino, Portoferraio and Syracuse—are places of beguiling natural and artistic beauty that deserve more of the spotlight. Yet with only one day in port for a typical cruise, how do you experience the incredible array of museums, churches, Roman ruins, villas and castles, while also taking the time to slow down and savor some of the world’s most beautiful coastal towns? Take our advice: don’t dock and dash. Instead, pick one or two highlights in each port that pique your interest. By focusing on what’s most meaningful to you, you’ll have more time to relax and explore this beautiful part of the world. La dolce vita … isn’t that what an Italian holiday is all about?
Known as the Gateway to the Amalfi Coast, this beautiful resort town just south of Naples has long been one of Europe’s most beloved holiday destinations. For over two hundred years, the rich and famous have flocked here, and it’s easy to see why. Sorrento is utterly gorgeous. Filled with colorful villas flanked by sweet-smelling orange and lemon trees, the town’s narrow cobblestone alleys twist and turn their way up the steep cliffs in a striking procession. This might sound treacherous, but rest assured visitors are handsomely rewarded for their effort with spectacular views of the Gulf of Naples.
Each region of Italy has its own craft traditions. Venice has its Murano glass, Florence is known for its fine jewelry and Sorrento is famous for its exquisite inlaid wood. Made from a variety of local trees, including walnut, holly and cherry, you can see a particularly fine display of these extraordinarily detailed pieces at the Museo Bottega della Tarsia Lignea. This small gem of a museum is housed in a lovingly restored villa in the center of town and features a fascinating collection of both antique and contemporary pieces. Slightly further up the hill, the Museum Correale exhibits 17th– and 18th-century Neapolitan painters in an elegant villa with lush gardens and sweeping views.
Although it’s described as a small fishing village on the Italian Rivera, Portofino is a fishing village unlike any other. Yes, the town is small, tiny even, and there is plenty of fresh fish on the menus, but long gone are the little wooden fishing boats. Instead, the picturesque harbor is filled sparkling superyachts, the first hint of the town’s incredible glamour and sophistication.
Hidden amid the designer shops and Michelin-starred restaurants, Portofino offers several one-of-a-kind examples of Italian architecture which are open to the public. Castello Brown, a 16th-century hilltop castle creatively turned into a private mansion in 1867 by a British diplomat, has a fabulous neo-Gothic interior, magnificent views and wonderful gardens. Meanwhile, the picture-perfect Abbey of San Fruttuoso is a romantic 10th-century Benedictine monastery tucked into a pristine little bay with a rich history. Visitors come to see the Roman cloisters as well as the abbey’s museum, but the bay’s clear blue water and scenic setting also make it a popular place to swim.
Situated on the north side of the small island of Elba, just off the coast of Tuscany, the charming seaside town of Portoferraio is a throwback to the Italy of yesteryear. Although the town’s beautiful beaches make it a popular weekend destination for Italians, Portoferraio has somehow managed to retain the laidback atmosphere of a place that has yet to be discovered by the wider world. The cafés, restaurants and markets quietly buzz with locals, and visitors are warmly welcomed to join in their daily ritual of espresso drinking and vegetable shopping.
If you know your European history, you’ll recognize Elba as the island to which Napoleon was exiled in 1814. His elegant Portoferraio home, the Napoleonic Mills House, is now a national museum in which features several frescoed rooms. A few miles outside town, his summer residence, Villa San Martino, is also open to the public and worthy of a visit. As an important defensive outpost of the great Medici family, three substantial fortresses were built in Portoferraio during the 16th-century. Strategically positioned on the town’s highest hill, Forte Falcone dominates the town’s skyline as it stands watch over the sea. Today, visitors can tour the fortress’ terraces, ramparts and secret tunnels.
Syracuse, a small port city on the east coast of Sicily, is a fascinating destination founded by the ancient Greeks over 2,700 years ago. As one would imagine, this long history has left an abundance of treasures in the form of Greek temples and Baroque palaces. Ortigia, the old town, is the main attraction for visitors, many of whom find their way to the Church of Santa Lucia in the Piazza Duomo to view Caravaggio’s masterpiece the Burial of Santa Luciahanging on the altar.
Just outside Ortigia, the sprawling Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum is considered one of the most important archaeological museums on the continent and holds a fascinating collection of artifacts from prehistoric through the Roman era. Among the highlights are an exquisitely rendered sculpture of Venus from Roman times and an ornately carved sarcophagus discovered in the catacomb of St. John. Back in the old town, a short walk from Syracuse Cathedral, the Bellomo Palace Regional Gallery is devoted to the paintings, sculpture and decorative arts of Sicily.
Convinced your next vacation should be to Italy’s ports of call? Our travel agents can help you make the most of it. Not only are the insights above just the tip of the iceberg in regards to the wisdom a travel agent can offer you, but also their professional relationships with the leading names in travel can secure you exclusive perks and amenities—elevating your vacation to new levels of “dreamy.”