I’m obsessed with lemons. From lemon sorbet to tarte au citron, to that fresh hit of citrus on a delicious grilled fish, lemon is one of my favorite flavors of all time.
So it was a bit embarrassing when I received an invitation to visit Sorrento with the world’s top limoncello producer Villa Massa, that I realized I didn’t know much about that lemon-flavored Italian digestivo: limoncello. Well, I couldn’t call myself a proper lemon lover until I knew everything there was to know about limoncello. Thankfully, the folks from Villa Massa were happy to educate.
From family recipe to limoncello empire
Villa Massa produces limoncello according to a family recipe that goes all the way back to the 1890s. Once only served to family and friends at home, the Massa family’s limoncello is now shipped to 51 countries worldwide. But it’s still produced in Sorrento, Italy, where the lemons are grown—and the destination of our limoncello adventure.
Together with Cityguys, Manify, Dishtales and Grazia NL vlogger Shady Fereidooni, I got a sneak peek into the Villa Massa production facility in Sorrento, where the process of distilling limoncello begins with hand selecting only the finest lemons. But these aren’t just ordinary lemons. Sorrento lemons have such a unique size, colour, juiciness and fragrance, that the European Union recognizes them as PGI, or from a Protected Geographical Indication. Only Sorrento PGI lemons are used in the making of Villa Massa limoncello, making it truly special and unique.
The lemon skins—which hold the essential oils that give limoncello its heavenly taste and scent—are peeled and infused in alcohol. Then the lemon-infused alcohol is bottled. Each batch undergoes extremely strict testing and controls to ensure that every bottle is the same in flavor, aroma, and quality—regardless of how nature might have affected the lemon harvests that year. It’s pretty impressive, and shows Villa Massa’s commitment to providing the best limoncello experience in every bottle.
An afternoon in Sorrento, lemon paradise
The Villa Massa factory visit was a special insider treat. But if you visit the Sorrento Peninsula (next to the famous Amalfi Coast), you can enjoy the Villa Massa experience by planning a visit to Le Grottelle, the groves where Villa Massa’s lemons are grown.
Le Grottelle is a totally different world from the factory. Here, you feel a connection to the Italian sun, the volcanic soil of nearby Mount Vesuvius, and hundreds of years of tradition. The lemons grow on terraces built into the mountainous terrain of Sorrento, protected by traditional chestnut trellises called pagliarelle, just as they have for centuries. All farming is organic, with no pesticides, to preserve the PGI lemons’ unique qualities.
You can book a tour of Le Grottelle through Villa Massa’s website, which I wholeheartedly recommend. The lemon harvest is four to five times a year, peaking between May to August. Imagine how amazing Le Grottelle must smell during those months!
If it gets too hot during your visit, there’s always a refreshing Villa Massa and Tonica—served with a smile—to cool you down.
Exploring the Sorrento Peninsula
After visiting Villa Massa’s lemon orchard and drinking lots of limoncello, what else is there to do in Sorrento? Here are some of the hotspots we visited that make the lesser-traveled Sorrento Peninsula a great alternative to its more glamorous, but also a more touristic neighbour, the Amalfi Coast.
Fly to/from: Naples Capodichino airport
Eat: Ristorante Parruchiano (Sorrento) is a garden restaurant where you can enjoy the traditional cuisine of the region while sitting under real lemon trees. Lush and green, it’s very special atmosphere… and super photogenic, of course.
Drink: The bar and restaurant of boutique hotel Relais Blu in the village of Marciano-Termini is a chic modern hotspot to enjoy aperitivi. Don’t forget to Instagram the stunning sunset view over the famous island of Capri!
Visit: Drive along the breathtaking Amalfi Coast to Ravello, where Villa Cimbrone and Villa Rufolo will give you latergrams for days. Formerly the private villas of powerful noble families of the 11th and 9th centuries, respectively, they’re filled with Instagram-proof gardens, medieval buildings, and sweeping views of the coast.
Sleep: Live la dolce vita at the Imperial Hotel Tramontano in Sorrento, a historic and elegant seaside hotel where literary legends like Milton, Keats, Shelley, and Goethe once stayed. Check out the original tile floors from the 1800s for a fabulous #ihavethisthingswithfloors moment!
Drive: Lello Cibelli of Easy Driver Sorrento made getting around Sorrento Peninsula and Amalfi Coast a breeze. The winding roads and crazy Italian daredevils can rattle even experienced drivers, but in Lello’s hands, we were safe and secure. Book Lello for day trips in and around Sorrento, and he’ll keep you entertained with a wealth of information about the region.
So, when are you going to discover limoncello land?