Sorrento: The First Beach Resort

What happened in Sorrento, stayed in Sorrento.

The stunning town of Sorrento – Siren’s Point – has been a holiday destination for over 2000 years. In ancient Roman times, the whole sun-drenched coastline, from the Bay of Naples to the Amalfi Coast, was lined with luxury villas, qualifying it as the Hamptons of Antiquity. Aristocrats would flock here from Rome every summer to relax by the beach, swim in marble pools and enjoy seafood banquets al fresco beneath the stars. The most magnificent villa in Sorrento, whose remains can now be seen on the cape, was built by the bon vivant Pollius Felix in the first century AD. It rose in three marble tiers, had its own bath house, extensive gardens and salt-water pools filled with lampreys (a type of eel that was a particular delicacy to the Romans). Its private beach could only be reached through a natural arch in the golden-hued rock. Other fabulous developments were built up along the jagged cliffs nearby, crowding one another out for the best sea views; legal cases erupted when pushy real estate developers blocked some favorite vistas. Much like modern beach resorts, ancient Sorrento gained a reputation for their wild summer parties. On hot nights, the hills would echo with the sound of drunken carousing, as revelers quaffed fresh oysters at swam nude. Prostitutes sailed off-shore in barges, garlanding the waves with rose petals and competing with one another in singing competitions. Not everyone was impressed with the debauchery, including the straight-laced philosopher Seneca who came to the beach in a vain attempt to relax. "Unmarried women are common property here," he complained after another sleepless night. "Old men behave as if they were young boys, and a lot of young boys behave like young girls."