Monthly Archives: March 2023

Sojourn in Sorrento

Sojourn in Sorrento

On the Amalfi coast everything seems set in a garden

By Gail M. Murray

Just two hours south of Naples, my mid-September tour to the Amalfi Coast of Italy revealed a friendly, walkable city perched on cliffs 30.5 metres (100 feet) above the sea. Known as a shoppers’ delight, Sorrento has charming shops selling leather goods, high fashion finds as well as all sorts of other goods embellished with lemons.

Lemons are gold in Sorrento

The Sorrento lemon, famous throughout Italy, gets its name from the town of Sorrento. Lemons were brought here by from Hesperia by Alexander the Great’s armies and then cultivated by the Moorish conquerors. Many gardens along the Amalfi Coast began as farms, terraced with macere (containment walls). “Citriculture” takes pride of place here as the famed limoncello liqueur attests. Don’t leave Sorrento without a visit to a lemon grove. Agruminato, the name of the citrus garden at Giardini di Cataldo is typical of those found on the Sorrento Peninsula. Located off the main street in the heart of Sorrento, this small family-run lemon grove offers divine tastings of limoncello liqueur. The trick is to use the freshest lemon peel and serve this liqueur at room temperature. Chilling increases the sweetness as well as the alcohol content.

Hotel Gardens of Sorrento

As a gardener and Toronto Botanical Garden tour guide, you know I had to visit the gardens. Hotel Bellevue Syrene and Hotel Excelsior Vittoria are both perched on the rugged cliffs offering stunning views of the Bay of Naples.

Hotel Bellevue Syrene is centrally located near the Villa Comunale Park and The Cloisters. An imposing entrance and long walk take you past luxurious palms and to the other worldly La Pergola balcony restaurant with its white wrought iron tables highlighted against the blue azure sky and the brilliant blue of the bay.

Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, near the main square, holds pride of place. Entering under an imposing arch, you take a very long paved driveway lined with tall umbrella pines, silver olive trees and luxurious gardens to the other side where classical Roman statues come into view. To enter the hotel itself, you pass through another long path with ivy cascading down brick walls and hedges of hibiscus.


A short ferry ride from Sorrento to the island of Capri takes you to the town of Anacapri, featuring Villa San Michele’s very special cliffside garden designed by Swedish doctor Axel Munthe. The outer path runs along the cliff on three sides of the home and is framed by layers of lush, terraced plantings and tumbling water channels that provide ambient sound. Here there is the blush of pink oleander and scarlet begonia and wisteria climb the pergola. As the path moves around the perimeter, it winds through marble columns giving way to towering umbrella pines that reach up to an azure sky and look down upon the sapphire of the Tyrrhenian Sea.


Ravello is high in the Lattari Mountains boasting two unique villa gardens: Villa Rufalo and Villa Cimbrone.

Villa Rufolo with its Moorish towers and expansive views, makes a stunning backdrop for the concerts that take place in this glorious garden in summer. On two levels, juxtaposed against the sea, umbrella pines reach skyward. The gardens take on a magical quality with profuse blooms, fountains and the medieval Church of Annunziata.

With corridors of hydrangea, ivy-clad stone walls and arching wisteria, Villa Cimbrone features serene cloisters that radiate a spiritual feel. In the rose garden pale pink petals wax ethereal and a copy of Donatello’s David stands tall. The statuary reminds me I’m in a Renaissance Garden.

Cooking class a highlight

Not someone who likes to cook, I look forward to being with an Italian family in their home for a cooking class. There are 20 in our group, keen to learn the basics of southern Italian cooking—fresh local ingredients, herbs and a good heart. What you cook depends on the season.

We use lots of virgin olive oil, oregano, tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and ricotta. We prepare cucumber/tomato salad, baked potatoes and garlic, cheese stuffed meatballs, pasta stuffed with ricotta, lightly breaded zucchini flowers and lemon tiramisu, While everything cooks we learn about wine making. We dine on the pergola of their heavenly garden among fruit trees and hydrangea. This simple, yet glorious, experience is a highlight of the trip.

Everywhere on this adventure I’ve been aware of the luscious plant life, breathtaking landscape, old world architecture and warm, friendly people. That’s my Italy.

Female Travel Groups

Empower women to get out and see the world

Ladies, are you yearning to travel, yet hesitant to go solo? Perhaps you’re single, widowed, divorced, your girlfriends aren’t interested or can’t afford it, or your husband would rather play golf? You don’t want to feel like a fifth wheel among couples? Consider travel organizations that cater to women such as: Journeywoman, Wander Woman, Girls’ Guide to Paris & Beyond, Today’s Woman Traveller, and Womens Travel Network.

Although not the same as a specified garden tour, tours catering to women often include garden visits and nature destinations. I traveled with the Womens Travel Network on  this trip and was not disappointed.

Experienced travel professional, Debbie Ross, created this small company 20 years ago “to empower women to get out and see the world”.  All the planning is done for you; hosts ensure everything runs smoothly. Groups are small: from 10 to 16 people. Trips range from exotic locales such as Bali and Galapagos to Britain and Italy. I chose Amalfi based in Sorrento, Italy. Over a ZOOM call, Debbie introduces us to our fabulous host Deb K.; we meet fellow travelers as Debbie discusses all the trip details. So reassuring.

In the age of COVID, it is comforting to meet everyone at a relaxing airport lounge before flying across the pond. You are welcome to arrange your own flight but how bolstering to travel as a group. Once checked in at Hotel Plaza Sorrento, we gather on the rooftop, the Mediterranean sparkling in the distance, to savor a limoncello spritzer.

Our well-designed itinerary encompasses a variety of interests, a balance of scheduled excursions and free time to reflect or pursue personal interests. Without this group, I’d be on the couch with Netflix. I feel safe and secure. Drivers, local guides and restaurants are all preselected and vetted.

Our local guide, Roberta, meets us at the Naples airport, charming us with her genuine warmth. Throughout our holiday, she guides us through her city on a two-hour orientation, on the ferry to Capri, a minibus to Anacapri amid a myriad of tourists and a picturesque boat tour around the fabled isle. Her knowledge and passion bring ancient Pompeii to life.

It is relaxing to have dinner companions at a wide range of ristorantes. We share past travel adventures, shopping finds (elegant Capri watches) even re-entering the dating scene. It is a leap of faith for me to travel solo with people I have never met, yet here I am toasting and laughing like I‘m with my girlfriends back home! Our leader, Deb, is calm, responsible, fun and empathetic. She sets the tone.

Womens Travel

Airport Tips That Make Your Trip Smoother

Airports are bustling with activity and full of people doing their best to get from A to B as quickly and smoothly as possible. As much as we love traveling, it’s no secret that it can sometimes be be stressful. In order to help relieve your stress I’ve compiled a list of things you can do to make your journey smoother.

Packing something extra can make the difference between an awful flight and a great one. You might already have a great airport routine but considering some of these tips might make it better.

Bring your own headphones or earbuds.
You won’t have to wait till the stewardess hands them out and they will be more comfortable and won’t fall out of your ears. You can watch your downloaded shows and movies or listen to music while waiting.

When entering security head to the left checkpoint
Head left and to the furthest away from you on that side. Most people are right-handed so they head to the right side. By heading left you’ll likely get through faster.

Bring a portable charger.
We love our tech so keeping it charged is our trop priority. Travelling without a charged cell phone can be annoying as well as unsafe. Airports have plenty of charging stations but the chances of landing a seat next to one is unlikely.

Bring wet wipes and hand sanitizer.
Planes are rarely cleaned the way would expect and other people’s germs are a sure way of catching a bug. To be on the safe side use your hand sanitizer regularly and wipe down the surfaces in your personal space, arm rest, tray, infotainment screen.

If you don’t like turbulence, book an early morning flight.
Turbulence is a horrible part of flying that no one enjoys. A white-knuckle ride that lasts for hours isn’t pleasant. Most turbulence happens in the afternoon, so booking an early morning flight could mean a smoother ride.

Bring some Ziplock bags.
Even though you’ve packed all your liquids, you might buy something last minute at the airport or when you get to your destination. Having a zip lock will come in handy for these extras. If you plan on going to the beach, placing your electronics in a clear bag will protect them while you use them.

Check in online 24 hours prior.
That way you don’t have to stand in line while an agent checks you in. You can simply drop your bags off and head through to security with your electronic boarding pass. You can also print it at home to take with you.

Find the best seat on the plane.
Different airlines have different planes and different layouts so it can be difficult to know whether the seat you choose is going to be comfortable. That’s where SeatGuru comes in handy. You can use it to read reviews on your seat, so you’ll know if you made the right choice.

Bring an empty water bottle.
One of the major ways airports make money is selling people overpriced water.  Bring an empty bottle with you and fill it up after you clear security.

 Check your flight status before heading to the airport.
Getting to the airport early is wise but there are instances when you arrive, only to find out your flight is delayed. Instead of assuming that everything is running on time, check your flight status before heading to the airport. That way if your flight is delayed by many hours, you can relax at home rather than at the airport.

Avoid waiting in line to get your flight rebooked.
When something happens and your flight is cancelled, everyone rushes to the airport counter. It seems like it’s the only thing to do. Instead, call the airline and talk to someone there. The rep on the phone has the same abilities as the airport agent, so they will be able to sort out your problem. Plus, you’ll have more time to talk to the agent to discuss your financial options, too.

Store your laptop in an easy to access place. 
How often have you packed your laptop in your carry on then struggle to get it out mid-flight. The answer is simple; buy a laptop case. No more rummaging and struggling and it protects your laptop from damage if dropped.

Take a photo of your parking space.
Taking a photo of where you parked your car ensures you won’t forget where you parked.

Wear your extra luggage.
No one wants to pay for extra luggage when there are only a few essentials inside. Wear your bulkiest clothing items. It might be slightly uncomfortable, but you can always take it off when you get seated. This also works when you are travelling with hand luggage and concerned about the weight. Wear your heavy coat while you are going through checks, then stuff it inside your luggage later on.

Wrap your suitcase handle.
There are so many pieces of luggage that look like yours on the conveyor belt. The last thing you want to do is waste time looking for your luggage. There’s a handy trick that helps you get your baggage faster. Tie a brightly coloured scarf or a piece of material on your handle. You’ll be able to spot it from a mile away.

Pack your liquids at the top of your carry on.
If your liquids are in the appropriate bag on the top of your carry on it makes it faster and easier to access when going through security. These items must be placed in the bin separately for screening.

Check for free Wi-Fi.
One drawback of travelling is you won’t have a good Wi-Fi connection, without it costing a fortune. If you really need to make a call or check your email, it’s worth asking if the airport has free Wi-Fi. Many of them do, as well as the restaurants in the airport.

Get a portable weigh scale to avoid paying extra luggage fees.
Nothing is more aggravating than finding out your luggage is overweight. You can usually tell by lifting your case if it is going to be over the weight allowance. If it’s over, you can pay hefty luggage fees or you might have to take things out. Check your bag before heading to the airport to make sure it’s within the limit.

Don’t listen to your music. 
While waiting for your flight it’s tempting to put your earbuds in and listen to your music. However, there are benefits to turning off your music. Sometimes airlines make important announcements that you don’t want to miss. They can announce gate changes, flight delays and even offer a voucher to people who agree to take a later flight. Flight delays and gate changes are announcements you don’t want to miss.

Use an app to check your flight times.
Download your airlines app and stay informed.  The airline will send a text to your phone, keeping you informed of flight delays, gate changes or cancellations. The app also includes information about your inflight service, meals, entertainment options and more.

Pack your most important things in your carry on.
This tip has been around long before the airlines started losing people’s luggage. Be sure to pack your most important items in your carry on. This includes medication, important documents, phone charger, a change of clothes, toothbrush and toothpaste and any valuables.

Bring a universal adaptor with USB ports.
It can be hard to find an outlet at the airport or your plug might require an adaptor. Bring a plug adaptor that allows you to plug in anywhere in the world.  Purchase one that has USB ports so you can charge multiple items at one time. Your phone, ear buds, tablet and laptop.

Sit at the front of the plane.
The best seats are near the front of the plane. It is quieter and the centre of pressure acts around a quarter of the way down the plane. This is better for people who suffer from air sickness or are sensitive to flying. Plus, you will be first off the plane which can speed up your exit of the airport.

Download an airport map.
Downloading an airport map is helpful if travelling to a large airport with multiple terminals. This can speed up your transfer from terminal to terminal and gate to gate.

Switch from contacts to glasses.
Flying with contacts dries them out, irritating your eyes. Unless you want to keep applying drops the entire time, do yourself a favour and switch to glasses.

Wear compression socks.
Even healthy people with no circulation issues can benefit from this tip. Compression socks help prevent blood from pooling in your feet, instead circulating back to your heart.  This tip is especially important for long flights, as the risk of developing blood clots increases with travel time. You can prevent swelling and even worse, deep vein thrombosis.

Board the plane last.
This tip means fewer people clogging the airline aisles. In addition to this social distancing tip, you also minimize the time you spend on the plane. Which is helpful for people that hate flying.

Pack snacks.
Snacks are expensive at the airport. To avoid paying high prices pack some snacks in your carry on. Solid food items can go through the security scanner and are permitted on the plane.

Book a bulkhead or emergency row seat. 
There is more legroom in these seats, which means you can stretch out your legs. This can be very comfortable when on a long flight. Exit rows on larger aircraft provide the most leg room. Also, kids aren’t allowed in exit rows, which will make your flight quieter. However, you must be able bodied and prepared to help out if something happens.

Exercise to prevent jetlag.
The symptoms of jetlag range from extreme tiredness, nausea or feeling under the weather. The Journal of Physiology revealed that if you exercise at certain times of the day, you can change your circadian rhythm. After you land and get settled, go for a brisk walk or a jog for half an hour. Exercise at the same time the next day. This will help you adjust to the new time

by Debbie Ross

Womens Travel