Through my networking endeavours I recently met a new colleague and friend, PJ van Zetten. I found PJ to be a warm, humorous, experienced and well-travelled business woman, and I wouldn’t hesitate to put my future travel plans in her expert hands!
PJ van Zetten is a bit of a League of Nations – born in Germany, of British parents, educated in the UK, France and Germany and married a Dutchman. PJ considers herself a second generation travel agent, as her mother opened a branch of a well-known agency on the Isle of Wight. PJ worked there during the holidays for no wages, as to pay her would have been ‘nepotism’, according to her mother.
PJ went into business travel and loved the decisiveness of people who had to be in a certain place at a certain time. She became involved with leisure travel when her clients wanted to fit in a holiday, with their family or loved ones, in between the business elements.
PJ found she loved this even more as it opened up a whole new area of creativity. And then came redundancy. Via a couple of short term jobs, she landed in a book shop, to learn the business with the aim of starting her own bookshop café.
PJ found she was talking to customers about travel and giving them hints and tips and the benefit of her 30+ years in the business. Shortly thereafter, someone asked her if she had ever heard of Travel Counsellors. She drove up to Bolton for an interview and came away with an offer. It was the best 400 mile drive of her life. As PJ goes into her eleventh year; having built a business from scratch, with an upward curve to the graph, year on year, she cannot imagine doing anything else with her life.
The best feeling in the world is phoning a client, who has just returned from holiday, to hear the words ‘That was the best holiday ever’, followed by ‘Let’s talk about the next one’.
PJ’s clients stay with her for years, because they know she tailors their holiday to their needs, wants and desires – PJ is not an order taker, she is a dream maker!
As my clients set off, in less than a month, for their 10 day holiday in Sorrento, I feel a huge sense of satisfaction and achievement.
Last year I decided to go to Italy for my early autumn holiday. I had not decided which region to visit, when a networking client gave me a referral for his 2017 holiday… To Italy!
The family wanted to go to an area I knew only by reputation and other people’s holidays.
Why not, says I to myself, go there? ‘Two birds, one stone!’
So off I went, flew to Naples, hired a car and drove to Sorrento.
Named after the ancient Greek word for ‘Siren’, Sorrento would surely have provided a beguiling coastal allure to Ulysses on his Odyssey! The town was colonised by the ancient Greeks and their town plan still survives: East to West for the sunlight, and North to South for the prevailing winds.
Note to the wise – if your nerves are not in first class working order, I would not suggest you drive the Amalfi Coast. Narrow, windy roads, stunning drops, assertive Italian drivers and large oncoming coaches can test the strongest of nerves.
Sorrento is a great place both to enjoy for itself and to use as a base to explore the area.
Let the local buses take the strain! The SITA local bus service will take you from Sorrento to Positano and Amalfi, both visually pretty and attractive towns. For anyone with mobility issues, Sorrento is a bit flatter – the upper town and the marina.
These coastal towns get pretty crowded in high summer, so going, as I did in September, worked really well. Enough people to make it interesting but nowhere was too full, and I could always get a table at my favourite people-watching restaurant, right in the central square of Sorrento, Fauno Bar.
Across the main square, Piazza Tasso, is the little Dotto train that trundles around Sorrento.
Also well worth a visit is Ravello, inland and high up, served by a one track road, controlled by traffic lights. When the lights turned green, I went …. only to meet a truck coming down…gulp!
Fortunately he knew the driveway to squeeze into so I could pass. As I drove past he yelled, “Signora bella e folle!” at the top of his voice. When I asked at a shop in Ravello what this meant, the owner laughed and said, “Oh you met Giovanni. He says that to all the women drivers…it means beautiful, crazy lady.” There is a bus from Amalfi up to Ravello, if you prefer not to be ‘crazy’.
The views from Ravello are stunning and it has an interesting history, dating back to the Romans. It is now a UNESCO world heritage site. It has had many famous visitors including Humphrey Bogart, who was filming Beat the Devil. He and John Huston, the director, and others drank and played cards there so often, they named the room after him.
If you want a week away from everything, maybe with that special man, the Hotel Rufolo is the ideal romantic getaway, superb views, a pool overlooking the bay and scrumptious food – the menu is posted at the gate if you fancy a lunch there. It is not cheap, about €100 for two but worth it for the views and the ambience.
Pompeii and Herculaneum
I spent one heavenly week exploring the area – delightful locals, delicious food, stunning views round every bend, the amazing Herculaneum for my historical and cultural fix (if wanting to visit Pompeii as well, always do this before Herculaneum – doing it the other way can lead to disappointment).
If you are not taking a private tour of the ancient sites, the next best way is to take the Circumvesuviana Train, the Sorrento-Napoli line. Not the most elegant of trains – think London Underground in the 70’s – it is cheap, convenient and it stops at Pompeii and Herculaneum – you can get off, do Pompeii, and get back on again for Herculaneum. Also you can visit Naples, the opposite end of the line from Sorrento.
Another word to the wise – pickpockets are rampant on the trains, especially out of Naples. Only take exactly what you need and keep it close!
I found Herculaneum one of the most moving places I have ever been. I took the audio guide and walking round, listening to the commentary, I could get a real sense of what it must have been like for the inhabitants, literally having nowhere to go and waiting for the end of the world. A humbling experience that made me very grateful for all my blessings.
On the day before my departure, I planned my trip to the magical island of Capri, as the cherry on my Amalfi cake. It is certainly beautiful and the scenery is breath taking. It is billed as one of the most romantic places in Europe … You can decide.
Many locations in Sorrento offer a day tour to Capri. Well worth booking of one these, as a boat trip around Capri is also included. They take you to the Blue Grotto, where swimming is banned. If you hire your own boat, the choice is yours.
As a lone female traveller, I never felt uncomfortable or threatened. The locals are friendly and have a good sense of fun. They are delighted to talk to you, and of course sell you something if they can, and learning a few words of Italian will go a very long way towards aiding communication.
A bird’s eye view (by drone) of the stunning Amalfi Coast:
I took dozens of photographs and could recommend, with personal digital backup, a great place to stay which ticked all of their boxes. I suggested things they could do, told them of some nice restaurants I had tried and where were the best places to take a day trip, when they wanted more than to lounge round the pool, soaking up the sun.
They loved this and I left their home, with a booking tucked into my iPad.
If you would like to know your Amalfi from your Zabaglioni, I would love to talk with you. PJ’s website.
A half hour complimentary chat, by phone, Skype or at a local coffee shop could save you hours of time, effort and possibly money.