Dee..d aaaa….Torna a Surriento. Well, we did, six years after our first visit. That song was composed on the terrace of our hotel, the Tramontano. It is hard to sit in a restaurant in the town without some itinerant musician invading one’s personal space to wheeze out the tune on an accordion.
Never mind restaurants, on the packed rush-hour train to Ercolano (for Herculaneum), a Latin busking band got on and played ‘La Bamba’ very loudly up and down the crowded carriages.
‘This would never do in England,’ I hissed at the Philosopher, while directing best frosty Battleaxe glare at the musicians. The Italian commuters had less restraint – they shouted, swore and shook their fists until eventually the buskers departed, empty-handed.
The Philosopher preferred Pompeii, which we visited last time, but I liked Herculaneum. It was quieter, the houses have surviving roof timbers, stairs, iron grilles at the windows, and even furniture. I had always thought it was a modest little fishing village, but it was actually the ancient Roman version of Sandbanks, or Padstow – luxurious large second home villas for wealthy patricians, with shaded terraces overlooking the sea. Those wealthy Romans knew how to live, dividing their time between the baths, gossiping in the Forum and reclining, sipping wine, on their couches. Not too great for the slaves though.
Sorrento was very crowded and very hot. Now a popular wedding venue for English couples, the Tramontano is near the old cloister where civil ceremonies take place. Please, English people, can we cut down on the huge (usually strapless) meringue wedding dresses, fascinators and dodgy pastel mother-of-the bride outfits? It is unfair to gripe. I got talking to a bride by the hotel pool and she told me her wedding day had been the most perfect and beautiful experience she had ever had.
We love grand old hotels, and the Tramontano is a fine survivor, wonderfully unchanged since our previous visit. It perches on top of the cliffs, with huge gilded salons, wide marble staircases with slightly threadbare carpets, and a lift going right through the rock to the duck-boarded bathing platform below. A young man takes you down in the lift, and more young men run up and down the platform with drinks trays, and straighten the immaculate rows of sunbeds and umbrellas. In the be-swagged restaurant, the same classic band of waiters seem to work in all these hotels – there is a tall, thin slightly snooty one who serves the wine, a round jolly one who takes the orders, an ancient one who trundles slowly along with a single fork on a linen draped trolley, and a young handsome one who whips the silver covers off the plates, to reveal the dubious creations of Chef Alfonso.
Then there are the campari sodas, sipped on the bar terrace as the sun goes down, looking across the bay to Vesuvius... ah, never mind those Romans.....
Our bedroom was in the oldest part of the building – the former home of the poet Tasso. The ceiling must have been eighteen feet high. I spent much time on the balcony gazing across at the volcano, willing a wisp of smoke to appear from the top. Nothing happened.
Paestum was great - it was so quiet... how rarely today you can visit a site like that and hear..silence.. If the voices of the ancients were there, I could hear them. I picked up a genuine handle from a black pottery Attic vase - it had just been turned up in a mole-hill. We saw handles just like it in the museum, which has amazing Greek tomb paintings.
Enough of this. Had a great time. Back to amazingly soggy Hastings. It clearly rained most of last week and is raining still.