Italy's Land of Enchantment
By Elizabeth Smith

Barbara Scrivner (C70), Nancy Britten (WCAS57), Carol Tice and Virginia Santoro get acquainted at the Northwestern reception in Sorrento.

Photo by Elizabeth Smith

Nestled in the heart of the Campania region in southern Italy, the medieval coastal town of Sorrento served as our home base for nine days of exploration around the Bay of Naples and the Amalfi coast in April.

This trip was part of the NAA’s Alumni Campus Abroad series that allows travelers to spend each night in the same hotel and take daily excursions.

Our base, the Grand Hotel Ambasciatori, was a short walk from Sorrento’s town center. At a small reception before dinner the first night, we were able to get to know fellow travelers and take in gorgeous views of the bay of Sorrento and a gold and orange sunset.

Our first full day we visited the magnificent palace of Caserta, north of Naples, which was designed in 1752 for Bourbon King Charles III. The opulently decorated palace has some 1,200 rooms and served as an Allied headquarters during World War II.

Throughout the trip, at the Hotel Ambasciatori and other destinations, we enjoyed wonderful foods typical of the region, such as fresh pasta, swordfish and wonderful fresh, ripe tomatoes. In Naples we had traditional thin-crusted pizza baked in a wood-burning oven — no wonder it was good, the Neapolitans invented pizza, after all. Another regional treat was limoncello, a potent lemon liqueur made of lemons, vodka and sugar. Lemons are a prominent fixture in the landscape of this region of Italy — some grow so large they are as big as your head!

On our trip to Naples, we visited the National Archeological Museum, which houses great finds from Pompeii and Herculaneum along with Greco-Roman sculpture and bronze. Another highlight was a visit to the Teatro San Carlo, the magnificent four-level opera house draped in rich red curtains and accented with gold.

On another excursion we took the breathtaking 43-mile drive along the Amalfi coast. Traveling in a large bus along the winding road and hairpin turns was often a harrowing experience, but our expert driver, Pepe, got us through the sharp curves.

The sheer cliffs and steep rocky mountains surrounding the beaches and azure blue waters create stunning views. Our first stop was Positano, billed as Italy’s “most vertical” town. The houses and buildings are so close together and the roads are so narrow, the town is closed to cars.

Our next stop was Amalfi, the largest town on the Amalfi coast. There we had some time before lunch to wander through the narrow streets and visit ceramic and art stores, as well as specialty food shops.

Another highlight of the trip was visiting the ruins of Pompeii. It was amazing to see how perfectly this town was preserved after the disastrous eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

On our final evening, local folk dancers and musicians provided a show featuring the tarantella, a folk dance that originated in our home base of Sorrento. Celebrating both the wonderful sights and the camaraderie of our week in Campania, we said our fond farewells and ended the evening with a wonderful dinner and lots of that famed Italian wine.

Elizabeth Smith (GJ00) is the director of marketing and communications of the Northwestern Alumni Association.

For information about the NAA’s travel programs, log on to or call 847-491-7987.

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