When we visited Sorrento, our impression was a place for the Oh-so-Chic, with expensive shops, gourmet ristoranti, over-priced hotels and perfectly tailored gardens. Little did we know that right in the heart of this tourist Mecca with amazing views of Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius was an example of nature taking over what Man had built before...
The Valli dei Mulini (Vallone dei Mulini, singular) are actually two deep gorges where abandoned mill buildings from centuries past have been taken over by Madre Natura and turned into a nature preserves, often looking like they deserve to be in one of the Lord of the Rings stories.
The abandoned mills in Sorrento are in an ancient gorge formed 35,000 years ago during an explosive volcanic eruption. You can easily find the valley adjacent to Via Fuorimura, just behind Piazza Tasso, and can be visited on foot. One of the hiden gems of Sorrento, this site is known for the variety of unique plants and ferns, growing in their own microclimate--a shady, moist evironment clinging to both the abandoned mill buildings and structures and the native tufa rock.
Further east, as the road comes upward from Naples toward the Amalfi Coast (just east of the town of Gragnano), there are abandoned mills alongside the Via del Presepe, winding through its millstream gorge. The Via del Presepe is a very narrow, cobblestone paved road, so don't drive it with an overly wide vehicle.
For more than 700 years the mills in these unique valleys produced flour, reaching a peak in the 18th century when producing over a million bushels of wheat flour each year. They utilized water from the Vernotico River for power. During times of drought, they filled tall towers with water for use by the people living in the surrounding Naples region. In the 10th century, a sawmill was also in operation. Inevitably, they became unprofitable and in the 1940’s the mills became overgrown and abandoned.
Today, there are walking tours of the Vallone in Sorrento and you can easily drive streamside to see the mills near Gragnano. Bring your cameras, water colors and leaf folios...