Visiting a famous monastery and church on a Sunday was probably not a good idea. Especially on a sunday leading up to Easter. Our poor excuse was that we had forgotten what day it was, but when we turned up at the Sanctuario di San Francesco di Paola to find the car park rammed with cars and buses it didn’t take long for us to remember that it was a Sunday. The parking attendant gave us a pitying look and called his boss to see if there was space for us in the bus area, but no joy. Luckily someone chose that time to leave a parking spot on the side of the road and Paul negotiated us into it as tightly as possible.
San Francesco di Paola was the founder of the Order of Minims, who espoused respect and kindness towards all living things (the order is vegan) alongside poverty, chastity and obedience. The sanctuary in Paola has been built around the caves of the original hermitage. Much of the sanctuary can be visited and so we took a wander around the cloisters, ancient monastic cells and chapels. Mass was taking place in the large modern church, and the saint’s holy relics were being visited with obvious sincerity. We did feel a little out of place amongst so many honest Roman Catholic worshippers, but one couple wandering around with a selfie stick left us feeling slightly less invasive.
Having had our fill of the religious observations at the sanctuary we extricated ourselves from our parking spot and headed further south to Pizzo. Our sat nav had refused to believe that the pretty decent SS18 road existed all day, showing us travelling along a number of nearby minor roads before getting it’s knickers in a twist and asking us to do a U turn every few minutes. This didn’t let up until we were nearly at Pizzo, where it finally gave us good directions to the motorhome and bus parking area at the top of the town. Our initial impression of Pizzo was not very good as we had driven along a road lined with overflowing dumpsters, but a walk down through the old town soon revised our opinion. The steep streets, churches, castle and harbour combined into a pretty seaside town. Murals adorned some of the walls and a wire sculpture by Edouardo Tresoldi sat looking out to sea – we’d seen some of his ghostly wire sculptures previously.
It was incredibly busy on this pleasant Sunday and the narrow streets were struggling to cope with the weight of traffic, particularly with the number of people trying to park as close as possible to their chosen restaurant presumably to sample the local speciality gelato – Tartufo di Pizzo. I’m still not entirely sure why we didn’t try some ourselves.
Another sight is the Chiesa di Piedigrotta, actually about a kilometre along the coast north of the town, this chapel contains many mossy statues sculpted out of the rock, mainly of religious scenes. We decided to walk to it, dodging hissing stray cats along a small path and across a rickety bridge below the road. Three euros gets you access to this sight which only takes 15 minutes to walk around but has a certain novel appeal.
The motorhome and bus parking area was pretty quiet that evening, too far to walk (it must have been a good 7 minutes to the town square) for it to be anyone’s first choice of parking. It was also free in low season so a bit of a bonus for us.