Famous for its production of protected lemons (like no lemons you have ever tasted), and the region’s most sought-after export, limoncello, Sorrento is a haven for foodies looking to sample a slice of the slow life. The best way to live la dolce vita is to live life like a local on a traditional lemon farm. I was invited to stay at Il GiardinoVigliano in Sorrento, one of the many ‘agriturismos’ popping up along the picturesque coastline to experience the zesty life of a lemon farmer.
Run by the Nunziata family – Joseppi ‘Peppino’, wife Ida and sons Luigi and Valentina – the farm still grows lemons year-round using the same traditional methods, preserving such an important part of their region’s history which stretches back to the 16th century. However, these days production of the once lucrative fruit doesn’t fetch quite the same prices it once did, leading the family – likemany others – to supplement their income by running a homestay.
It’s a win-win for travellers (like me) who like to step off the tourist trail and sample life as a local. Away from the hustle and bustle of the main holidaying hubs, you can really relax, rejuvenate and appreciate the region’s zest for life, literally. The setting is stunning: an old stone farmhouse, with parts that date back to the 12th century, overlooking the sun-soaked pergola of lemon trees, heavy with the perfumed yellow fruit of all shapes and sizes. The highlight is the farmhouse’s veranda with views over the Bay of Naples and the imposing Mt Vesuvius – a vista you surely could never tire of. No wonder the Nunziata family have stayed put for generations.
Limoncello is the name of the game here and most of the region’s lemons get sent to the island of Capri to be made into the popular tangy tipple, and the Nunziata family even have their own brand. It’s a simple drink to concoct, as Luigi showed us one sunny afternoon, and is made up of only three ingredients: lemon peel, alcohol and sugar. Simple!
Alongside the copious amounts of the citrusy liqueur we drank, it was also Ida’s lemon-inspired mastery in the kitchen that wowed us all. Who would have thought that lemon pizza could work? I also love the citrusy mozzarella wrapped in lemon leaves, lemon risotto – and for pudding, the unbelievably moreish profiteroles with lemon cream. I certainly learnt how versatile lemons are (and not just good for a G&T!).
One of the nicest ways to explore the region is by foot, so one morning we set off to hike along the Walk of the Gods coastal trail – linking Sorrento with Positano – armed with Ida’s freshly baked rolls for lunch.
Snaking around the coastline, past the Li Galli islands – the fabled abode of the enchanting Sirens who seduced ill-fated sailors with their beautiful voices (the Greek myth from which Sorrento derives its name) – the meandering track ends in the higgledy-piggledy town of pastel- coloured buildings, Positano. Here we explore the maze-like streets, packed with chic boutiques (and tourists) before the heavens open, when we promptly head back to the agriturismo with tired legs, hungry for more of Ida’s home cooking.
My final evening is spent, like most evenings from my stay, at Il GiardinoVigliano, sipping limoncello on the veranda watching the blood-orange sunset over the water and the shadowy silhouette of Mt Vesuvius, which caused such a catastrophe all those years ago. The perfect way to end my stay in Sorrento living like a local.