The limestone Sorrento Peninsula is famous for its beautiful coastal scenery. On its southern side, high cliffs shelter such historic towns as Amalfi and Positano. From its northern edge, splendid views unfold over the Bay of Naples, to Vesuvius and Capri. Down the middle of the peninsula a mountainous spine rises to 1,300 metres, forming a typical limestone scenery of weathered peaks and deep gorges. These provide a fine range of habitats where a rich and varied flora is found, together with a wealth of attendant insects and other animals. The peninsula also lies on a major migration route, and at the time of our spring visit the resident bird population should be swollen by large numbers of many passage species. This is an unusual Naturetrek destination for it differs from the majority of our other tours by being based in a bustling, busy tourist region. However, for those looking to combine historical sites with natural history, we feel this is an excellent choice. The excitement of visiting Capri and the treasures of Pompeii will make the inevitable crowds seem insignificant and they will be left behind as we seek to discover the region’s rich natural history by means of an ancient network of tracks, many well way-marked by the Club Alpino Italiano.
We begin our holiday with a flight to Naples, just an hour’s drive from Sorrento where we will be based throughout this holiday in a comfortable hotel offering spectacular views over the Bay of Naples. Sorrento is an attractive mix of ancient cathedral city, working town, port and busy resort. As a centre for communications it is well placed to provide the various means of transport that will assist us on our explorations. Here many will have their first view of the distinctive local Italian Sparrow, whilst the monotonous but cheerful jingling song of Serins can be heard everywhere.
We will begin our programme of walks on the coast, enjoying woodlands carpeted with Cyclamen repandum, and open cliff-top grasslands bedecked with Cistus species, the colourful Tree Spurge, broomrapes and orchids, of which Orchis italica is the most common and widespread. This is the typical habitat of Sardinian and Subalpine Warblers, Tawny Pipit, Blue Rock Thrush and the ubiquitous Fan-tailed Warbler. Here, as on all our walks, there are beautiful views along the coast and across to the mountains. Photographers will be in their element!
A short boat journey, during which we will look out for Cory’s and Mediterranean Shearwaters, takes us to the island of Capri. Here we will walk to the highest point, where Peregrine Falcons breed on the steep cliffs and passing migrants are sometimes numerous. Amongst the latter we should see Alpine, Pallid and Common Swifts, Bee-eaters, Hoopoes, Wheatears, and a variety of shrikes and warblers. Once again we should find a good variety of orchids, including the local form of the Late Spider Orchid (Ophrys fuciflora ssp. oxyrrhynchos).
Vesuvius (1,277 metres high) has an interesting flora that illustrates well the colonisation of lava flows. The endemic lichen Stereocaulon vesuvianum and Mount Etna Broom (Genista aetnensis) are particularly noteworthy. A car park near the top makes exploration easy, and the walk to the summit is made well worthwhile by the fine views, the Rock Thrushes that inhabit the crater, and the birds of prey overhead. At the foot of the mountain lie the excavated ruins of the Roman city of Pompeii. These show the incredible destructive power of Vesuvius, which engulfed not only Pompeii but also the nearby town of Herculaneum. If you have previously seen no more than our humble selection of Roman ruins in Britain, then you will be quite unprepared for the scale and beauty of these buildings, and the skills and planning that went into them. There is no doubt that our visit to Pompeii will richly reward a little time off from our natural history explorations. Monte Faito is a very different mountain. A long ridge reached by cable car, the woods at its summit are carpeted with Anemone apennina, blue and white, whilst in the open areas we should find both Roman and Sicilian Orchids (Dactylorhiza romana and D. markusii), and Provence Orchid (Orchis provincialis). Around its rocky outcrops a more montane flora occurs — crucifers, violas, Doronicum and saxifrages. The views back to Vesuvius, across the Monti Lattari massif and south over to the Bay of Salerno are magnificent.
The picturesque little village of Nerano provides the backdrop for another stunning walk through olive groves and down to the coast at Ieranto. Orchids are particularly numerous here, with Sawfly, Mirror, Bumblebee and various Tongue Orchids delighting the eye, while butterfly species likely to be seen include abundant Cleopatras and Swallowtails, Southern Festoon and various blues.
We will finish our tour with a further opportunity to examine the garrigue, and the more open mountainsides, as we follow a path along the flanks of Monte Cerrasuolo, which rises to 750 metres above Positano and offers wide views around the many bays of the southern coast. These rocky areas are a good habitat for Italian Wall Lizard, Common Lizard and Moorish Gecko for, as throughout this holiday, whilst it will be the flowers that hold our primary focus, we will not ignore the many other attractions of the area — the reptiles, birds, butterflies and history. Above all, the Sorrento Peninsula is able to offer a broad-ranging holiday amongst magnificent scenery, combining fascinating historical sites with the wildlife that lives alongside them.
Good leaders and group. Slow pace of walks suited me. Good variety of plants and birds. Good hotel and meals.
Lovely scenery, good accommodation, good walks, friendly and helpful guides.
Overall, an enjoyable trip with a good group.
The leaders were excellent, not only shared their huge wealth of knowledge with us but took time to ensure everyone in the group was OK.
Dr & Mrs M
We covered a good range of places and habitats and saw plenty of flowers, birds and other wildlife.
Both our leaders had a wealth of knowledge and also the ability to bring a diverse group of people together to form a cohesive group. They were both a credit to Naturetrek and excellent ambassadors. We had fun and learnt a lot.
Very enjoyable and varied trip. Both leaders were excellent and knowledgeable.
A very enjoyable trip, the plants and butterflies were very good (I was pleased to see Southern Festoons).
J. & P.M.
Marks enthusiasm, knowledge and care to inform were of a high order. We had a well composed week of outings mixing culture with the more usual birds and flowers.
Excellent company and excellent leader.
All round an enjoyable holiday with an excellent guide.
Mark Galliott proved an amazingly knowledgeable leader for the many flowers seen. He was helpful and patient when asked to identify certain species and took trouble to try to answer everyone’s questions/needs. He obviously took his job seriously and tried his best to make our trip run smoothly in all aspects. He deserves our congratulations.
The group leaders were full of enthusiasm and fun and also very professional, a big thank you to them.
Just a big thank you to Toby and Gez for a brilliant holiday!
(Toby) his identification skills were second to none... Gez was extremely helpful, especially with his preparation of the picnic lunches!
I cannot speak highly enough of the kindness and tact with which Gez looked after me.
L. & D.M.
We enjoyed the trip and would willingly go with the same leaders again.