A Chorus of Frogs and Owls

04/04/18

When we got on our bikes the following morning it was with the intention of heading east and exploring the nearby WWF nature reserve. But first of all we had to cross a river. At one point we crossed a canal, thick with reeds and noisy with the burbling of frogs. We thought it was the river but a check of the map revealed we hadn’t gone far enough.

When we found the river we followed it’s bank northwards on a farm track, hoping to find a bridge used by one of the many farms in the area The only thing we found was a railway bridge until we got to the main road. As the main road was the equivalent of a motorway I wasn’t happy to cycle on it – and besides it probably wasn’t allowed.

A quick look at google showed the nearest bridge that was suitable was 14k upstream, of course there was always the possibility we might find that elusive farm bridge but we decided it was time to change our plans. So we set course for the inland town of Nova Siri. At this point I managed to get another puncture which needed a roadside repair, my inner tubes look like they have measles.

We cycled under the main road and got onto the Strada Provincial that heads to Nova Siri. The road inland was quiet, a gentle but consistent uphill along the side of a ridge. The landscape was mostly farms, cherry trees thick with blossom and pear trees starting to bud but vines still looking bare. The verges of the roads were colourful with spring flowers, reds, oranges, yellows and purples. Farm dogs grew excited as we passed, chasing us down their fence lines but well trained to stay inside their territory.

Colourful verges on the road to Nova Siri

As we approached Nova Siri we branched off to the right on a closed road and past a small church. Then finally we went up into the pretty little hill top town. In the distance the higher town of Rotondella looked inviting but we fought off the temptation to go that far, instead we rode downhill out of Nova Siri and this time followed the valley south. We took the Contrada Grotte del Carmine along the valley next to a river still singing with the frog chorus. We had to cycle up switchbacks out of the other side of the valley for a while before we re-joined our outward route where the underpass took us below the main road.

The hilltop town of Nova Siri, a far cry from the beachside resort with it’s modern grid layout

Once back closer to Bertie we spent a while pottering on our bikes around Nova Siri Scalo trying to find a shop that might be open so we could buy some bread. Nothing was open over the extended lunch period so we changed our plans for dinner. Italy, similar to Spain, is wedded to an extended lunch break (sometimes as long as 12:30 – 16:00) when only cafes and restaurants and large supermarkets seem to be open, down in this sleepy holiday resort it was eerily quiet. Later that afternoon everyone was back out for their early evening passegiata down the seafront.

That evening we decided to stay put for a second night, serenaded for the evening by the strangely mechanical car alarm hooting of Scops Owls in the pine forests behind us. 

In Search of Gas

03/04/18

Today didn’t go exactly to plan. We drove to Camigliatello Silano during the morning expecting to have at least one night here to do some further walking, but when we stopped for breakfast we noticed the light on the fridge was flashing red. This is a sure sign that we are out of gas. Often the fridge will then run for a day or two with the occasional hiccup requiring us to re-ignite the burner. This time, however, the fridge was not going to play ball.

We might have decided to live with this for 24 hours – the fridge was pretty cool and takes a long time to warm up – however our freezer was stocked up and we didn’t want to risk any of it defrosting. So, after a bacon and egg buttie, we went in search of some LPG.

LPG has been pretty easy to find in Italy and there was an ENI garage with LPG only a short distance from Camigliatello, but for some unknown reason it was closed and you cannot self-serve LPG in Italy. A look on the mylpg.eu app and the nearest LPG was on the outskirts of Cosenza only 40k away down a main road so off we hopped. We found a garage with lpg but it was now the lunchtime break and we couldn’t get lpg until the attendant got back. We took a trip to the Lidl next door to while away the time – the sort of Lidl trip where you find yourself looking through their tat aisles even though you know you have no interest in buying anything. Finally the lunch  break was over and we joined a queue of vehicles waiting for lpg. By this time we had lost our desire to go back up to the mountains via the pot holed and noisy road; we decided to head onwards instead, to Italy’s instep.

We drove north of the Sila mountains and over to the Ionian coast. A lot of this drive was on major roads, the A2 and SS106, but between the two we had to take a detour due to some road widening which took us through sparsely populated countryside. There was something appealing about this part of Italy. It’s poor and isn’t dense with cultural and historic landmarks like much of the rest of Italy, but it had a feeling of peace and serenity.

We found ourselves a sosta by the coast near Nova Siri Scalo. A well maintained spot where we found the logo of Basilicata In Camper – a tourist board initiative to promote motorhome tourism in the area. Here the services were free due to a technical malfunction of the machine, there was even electricity (for a small fee). A few Italian vans were packing up and leaving after their Easter break, leaving us with a German van that looked familiar. When they returned later that afternoon we realised we had been parked next to them in Canalello. We stopped for a chat and exchange of information, they were off to Matera the following day and we wouldn’t be far behind them.

We took an evening stroll along the lungomare in the company of a few joggers and walkers. The facilities here were still definitely in their winter hibernation but it was clean and tidy unlike many Italian resorts that seem to attract refuse until a final clean up just before they open in summer. We particularly liked the street art benches which looked as though they had been a A-level art project.

Buona Pasqua! Buona Pasquetta!

01/04/18 – 02/04/18

We settled into our campsite at Lago Arvo waiting for the predicted snow to arrive. The temperature got gradually colder and the snow started to fall in dusty sprinkles before becoming slightly more persistent. On and off it settled and then thawed, it wasn’t going to be enough to remain at this altitude but I’m sure the people who were skiing were crossing their fingers for a top up of the snow base at the local ski resort in Lorica.

It was Easter Sunday – Pasqua – and the campsite was pretty quiet, we watched some skiers come and go with their kit on the top of their car, but we stayed in Bertie most of the day, staying toasty with the heater running. Every now and again we would take a quick walk around the campsite to stretch our legs. We indulged in our usual rainy day pursuits, playing some cards and scrabble. I got deeply entrenched in a book and had to tear myself away from it to do some baking – chocolate cake for Paul and a bit of ‘anything in the cupboard’ flapjack for me.

Cake!

By the evening the snow had passed and longer clear spells were evident. The following morning the skies were clear and we set off on our planned walk, a ‘spoon shaped’ walk heading east along a path and then doing a loop through the mountains before returning along the original path.

Almost immediately we ran into trouble, the map showed a path running eastwards along the northern edge of the lake to the dam. Even the trailhead map showed the same. But the path markers were pointing along the road. We didn’t really want to walk along the road so we attempted to follow the line shown on the map. On the way back we followed the road – there had obviously been some land access issues and our walk to the dam had multiple hazards, barbed wire, fast flowing streams and livestock. When we got to the dam we found ourselves on the wrong side of the security and had to be let out, luckily by some friendly staff who didn’t bat an eyelid at us turning up inside their gated compound. 

Brilliant blue – Lago Arvo

The plan from here was to ascend path CAI438 and descend CAI420 making a loop that ascended to a ridge line and some minor summits. We started off going up the well marked path past the farmhouse and ascending through orchards before entering the forest. The sunlight was streaming through the trees and plenty of golden beech leaves were lying on the ground giving an autumnal feel to the landscape.  As we climbed higher we started to encounter snow patches on the ground until finally we were walking across snow. Crocuses and other spring flowers created dots of colour and the only footprints disturbing the snow were animal tracks, rabbits and deer we think. We could see distant views of the ski resort on the other side of the lake and every now and again we heard a blast of loud music echoing off the far hills. We assumed it was the Easter celebrations at the ski resort, little did we realise that it was a family having a party at our campsite. Today was Pasquetta – Easter Monday – it’s the traditional day on the Easter weekend for spending time with family and friends in the countryside. Their celebrations and extremely loud music lasted well into the evening but not so late that it caused us any issues getting to sleep.

We were about 100m of altitude below the top of the ridge when we had to turn back. The snow had become deeper and deeper and ideally we would have had snow shoes, but without them we couldn’t continue to safely get through the snow. There is always that moment when you know you should turn back but just continue anyway. We struggled through knee deep snow for a few more meters hoping in vain that it was just a drift and would get shallower, but really we knew it was time to turn around and when Paul stepped into a thigh deep drift we did. 

Making tracks through the snow – real spring weather, snow on the ground but warm enough to be in a t-shirt

As we turned back and walked down the path we had so recently ascended it was amazing the difference an hour or so had made. Much of the snow from earlier had melted, leaving flowers in open meadows rather than snowy plains. Our footprints had become yeti prints, expanding with the melt. More water was running down the path and within a short while we were below the snow line and walking back to Bertie in warm spring weather.

 

 

Black Squirrels in La Sila

30/03/18 – 31/03/18

It might seem like we’re doing the Hokey-Cokey with our regular alternation between coast and inland. It was time to put our left leg in and move inland again. Our destination this time was the Sila mountains. The landscape here is a densely forested high plateau with several lake reservoirs. We were attracted by the well marked and maintained forest trails, unusually for Italy we could find the routes online which gave us lots of opportunity to prepare.

La Sila has several ski areas as well as walking, mountain biking and plenty of interesting flora and fauna. While we were there the ski resorts were in their last throes, but events were being held for Easter and snow conditions still looked ok for a bit of morning skiing in Lorica. Other resorts had lots of brown patches. We weren’t here for the skiing though, tempting as it was. We were here for the walking and biking.

Our first night was spent on the shores of Lago Ampolino, parked on a small spit of land that extends into the lake. The motorhome service point, owned by the nearby café, was shut when we arrived; winter covers were over the water supply and the waste disposal, but the owners must have spotted us and it was uncovered by the following morning.

Parking spot by the lake

Our drive up had been slow and winding but nothing too adventurous, the highlight being just a few meters away from our parking spot when a black squirrel darted across the road in front of us. We saw several other black squirrels while we were in the area, but this was the only one we managed to capture a grainy photo of. The black squirrels here are assumed to be a genetic variant of the red squirrel, although a bit of web trawling reveals an opinion that they are a separate species.

Black squirrel from Bertie’s window

The weather was good when we arrived at the lakeside so we spent the afternoon lazily pottering around, strolling around the village and very low key ski resort (just a hotel and a lift really), watching the wildlife and getting excited (Paul) about a sea plane that skimmed back and forth over the lake a few times. That evening it was pleasant enough to sit outside and watch bats skim over the lake hunting insects. In Italy we have spent a lot of time in car parks with lighting, so it was nice to get a bit of darkness and see the stars for a change.

The following morning we got on our mountain bikes and headed west along the main road, the SS179. Only a couple of cars passed us, the area seemed very quiet considering that it was the Easter weekend. We took a right hand turn off the road towards the village of Zimmaro and followed random tracks northwards through the forest to try to connect up with the SP216. As we ascended over the small ridge between the two valley roads we encountered more snow between the trees, but also signs of spring starting to emerge. Crocuses were blooming and small bluebell like flowers dotted the verges. When we finally reached the other road we headed east between farmsteads where sheep and cattle grazed. We followed the opposite shore of the lake whose banks were high and tributaries swollen with snow melt. Eventually we had made a full circuit of the lake and arrived back at Bertie. 

View of the lake

That evening we decided to move northwards into the heart of the mountains. There was a forecast for snow so we fancied a campsite where we could use our electric heater. Camping Lago Arvo is just outside Lorica and was €8 per person per night in winter. This huge campsite has a lot of very attractive grass pitches by the lake, but we wanted to avoid getting bogged down so stayed near the entrance where the pitches were firmer. 

   

Stuck on a Rock

29/03/18

Our next stop was Le Castella, known – strangely enough – for it’s castle that sits on a spur of land connected to the mainland by a narrow land bridge. We turned up hoping to find a large flat parking area near the marina. The parking was there but closed with gates and barriers. We weren’t the only ones to turn up and be bemused by the lack of parking – a couple of French vans towing car and motorbikes also turned up. The French vans moved on, but we decided to stay at least for the day time; there was a walk we wanted to do along the coast.

We ended up parking on the slope leading down to the marina, avoiding driving around the small tow to look for an alternative. Then we struck out on foot, heading north towards a small stretch of nature reserve, taking the road out of the town and then a track that ran down the side of the (closed) campsite. From there we just followed the coast as far as we could. This nature reserve is mostly a marine reserve and includes a protected area for Loggerhead Turtles who nest sporadically in Italy. Not that we would see them on the beach as they lay their eggs in July and hatch in September.

We enjoyed our wander along the coast, trying to walk on the firm sand nearer the water and at the same time avoid getting wet feet. One stream provided an entertaining opportunity to play chicken with the sea as we attempted to cross via a sandbar while the waves were ebbing. Occasional rocky outcrops provided some respite from the sandy shores, including one mushroom shaped rock that we used as our lunch spot. It was easy enough to climb up, but what goes up does not always come down. And this time that included me; dropping down from the rock would have required stronger triceps than I have, so Paul had to go and find a driftwood tree truck I could use as a ladder to aid my descent.

Our lunchtime spot – good views but a tricky descent

After Paul had come to my rescue, we continued along the beach until we found ourselves at a river we couldn’t ford. The current was strong and the river deep enough to put us off wading through it. We turned round here and retraced our steps back to Le Castella.

Views along the beach
The river that ended our walk

Before we returned to Bertie we walked through the town to see the main attraction. The castle here is a fortress from the 16th century, but built on older foundations dating back as far as the Magna Graecia period. There were also some remains of the town walls near our original car park. The castle was shut while we were there, but it looks impressive standing apart from the town on it’s island surrounded by the sea.

The fortress at Le Castella

When we got back to Bertie we decided that our parking spot was far to sloping to stay for the night. There was nothing to keep us here for a second day so we drove further up the coast looking for somewhere to park. It was one of those frustrating searches. We had a few possible spots marked up near Crotone, but some of them looked decidedly dodgy and some were just closed. In the end we opted for a bit of rough ground opposite a pizzeria on the outskirts of Crotone. Not the quietest spot, but at least it was flat. 

 

Seahorses and Sunshine

28/03/18

It’s was a first for us. We had completely forgotten what we did on this day.

Normally we keep a diary of the events of each day. Nothing over the top, just a few notes to help jog my memory when I write up the blog – usually a couple of weeks later. On top of this we have our photo record, any leaflets or tickets we have picked up and a record of our ‘serious’ walks/cycles which we record on runkeeper.com. Between these things we can usually remember a day from a couple of weeks ago pretty well.

But the only note I have of Wednesday the 28th March is the location of our overnight stop. Catanzaro. No photos and no records on runkeeper. Even a look on google maps didn’t help us remember parking either in the inland town or the coastal resort of Catanzaro Lido.

It took us a couple of hours to work out what we had done. Eventually we realised that, unusually, Paul had taken the photos and from there our memories were triggered.

We didn’t recognise the car park at Catanzaro because we hadn’t stayed there. We had stayed at Soverato Marina instead, a touristy seaside town with a pleasant and well manicured seafront esplanade backed by a grassy park with skateboard ramps and a children’s play area.  After a lazy start in Gerace, taking in the views for the last time, we had driven down here and decided it was nice enough to stop. The sun was shining, although the breeze was cool, and we walked in both directions along the seafront eventually leaving the modern paved area to walk in front of hotels and apartments and along the back of the beach. Every so often we just stopped to sit and bask, absorbing some vitamin D and the positivity that seems to come with it. 

The seahorse was the emblem of the town

 

 

 

 

A Small Town with a Big Cathederal

26/03/18 – 27/03/18

After being on the coast for a while we decided to head inland. The town of Gerace was chosen mostly because of it’s location rather than any particular aim to see the place. Our drive inland was slightly confused by some signs that indicated that the main road, the SP1, was closed. We chose an alternative route along single track roads that took us through the valley of olive groves to the south of Gerace and eventually bought us out on the north side of the town. It was a nice drive, but seemingly completely unnecessary. The closed road was actually not the SP1, but one of it’s subsidiary roads. Oh well, we made it safely and Bertie was congratulated for coping well with the steep and winding roads.

We drove south through the Gerace to reach the parking area, a huge car park that had motorhome parking at the top of the hill. The motorhome spaces had free electricity and water, but there was no evidence of waste disposal (we eventually found a sewer manhole behind one of the buildings near the entrance to the car park). Buildings in the car park hinted that further facilities had been planned, but they were empty and shut. The views were stupendous, looking towards the coast at Locri, inland to the Aspromonte mountains and up to the medieval village on it’s sandstone cliff. I expect that there is a charge in the height of the tourist season (there was a little booth for someone to sell parking tickets) but for now this was a lovely spacious car park that was free of charge.

The town had looked lovely as we drove through it, so we decided to spend the afternoon exploring. The medieval centre sitting on the rocky ridge has picturesque alleys for wandering around, the ruins of a castle guard the end of the ridge and in the centre of the town (or maybe it should be a city) is the largest cathedral in Calabria. Everything was pristine, the golden sandstone of the buildings shone in the sunshine and the smooth flagstones of the streets added their lustre, creating a sense of warmth. The views from the top of the town were worth the walk, but there is also a small land train that can transport you around – today it was busy ferrying a school trip of loudly chattering and singing teenagers around the village. We popped into the cathedral, a couple of euros each gained us access to the small museum in the crypt as well as the cathedral proper, a very austere Norman style building with a highly ornate alter as counterpoint.

 

While we stood on the belvedere by the castle, looking out over the view, we spied a path winding up over a hill opposite. Simultaneously we said that  it looked like an interesting cycle route. So the following morning we set out to cycle out of Gerace to the north, through Prestarona and then do a loop through Santa Caterina, Agnana Calabria and the hills behind.  We had underestimated the terrain for this ride, there was a steep drop off to Prestarona which we whizzed down, and then a hearty climb up the other side. Even with switchbacks it was hard work and needed several pauses to regain our strength. Of course then we needed to reverse the process, but luckily there we found a relatively gently sloping road in Prestarona which allowed us to climb back out of the valley with our pride still intact. The circular part of the ride covered ‘roads’ that were shown on google but were barely tracks, alternating grassy sward with deep ruts in the sandy soil. At one point as we zigzagged down the slope I spotted Paul going head first over his handlebars, his front wheel caught in a deep hole. Fortunately it was a slow-mo fail and he wasn’t hurt. Despite the difficulties it was a great bike ride, but very slow over the rough and steep terrain. We got back to Bertie aching and exhausted, and decided to spend another night on this sosta, taking in the views and relaxing our muscles.

This has to be one of our favourite parking spots in Italy so far for the views. We always seem to find something special when we make a foray inland and this was no exception.     

Crinkly hills and valleys around Gerace

     

The Disappearing Roads of Bruzzano

24/03/18 – 25/03/18

We had ended up here – near the village of Canalello and Ferruzzano station – unexpectedly so we had no plans and knew nothing about the area. It seems a little ungrateful to just move on when an area has made motorhome parking available and besides we still hadn’t managed to blow the cobwebs from our hair after our lethargic campsite days. What to do? A little research was called for so we explored on google maps and wikiloc to see what was recommended in the area.

Google maps came up trumps with an interesting looking abandoned village inland. Abandoned villages are not unusual in Italy, we’ve already visited a few, but each has it’s own character and history.

The abandoned village gave us a destination to build a bike ride around and wikiloc gave us a few options for routes, and although none would take us quite where we wanted to be we could knit together bits of the off road routes with roads on google maps and end up with a good day out. 

After we’d found a local bakery for our lunches we set off inland, an initial very steep climb (i.e. I had to get off and push) up via Puglia took us onto a rough track over farmland before we hit a crossroads where we went straight onto the SP170. It looked like a main road, but there were signs forbidding any large vehicles, we could see why when we found part of the road collapsed. There didn’t seem to be any rock supporting it, just dirt that had been washed away. Apparently landslides are very common in the Aspromonte mountains, and although we were only in the very beginning of the foothills it was no different here.

Where did the road go? If you look carefully you can see a round blue cycle route sign.

It is quite common for Italian railway stations to be named for a town inland, miles from the railway line. So Ferruzzano station is by the sea, but Ferruzzano was 10k inland. We had a number of false starts as we tried to make our way up the smaller roads to Ferruzzano. Some ended in fences proclaiming private property and one had been completely washed away, leaving only a stream and some exposed pipes and cables, so in the end we followed direction from google maps. 

From Ferruzzano we followed the road to Bruzzano Vecchio. The mediaeval village was finally abandoned due to an earthquake in 1906 (or possibly 1905 or 1908 – each article I’ve read gives a different date). At the highest point of the village are the ruins of the castle of Bruzzano Zeffirio, built on and around one of the natural sandstone outcrops of the area. To one side there is a ‘triumphal arch’, it’s not clear what the arch commemorates but it was erected in the 17th century by the Carafa family, the local ruling family.

Triumphal arch. Looking quite out of place amongst the medieval ruins.

We wandered around the buildings, alone apart from the ravens croaking rebukes as we invaded their privacy. We indulged in speculation about the buildings and their purpose as no information was available. Someone has made an effort to provide parking, seating and a water fountain, but no one had gone as far as to place any placards or notices. With very little tourist infrastructure in the area it must be difficult to attract enough people to make maintenance worthwhile.

Once we’d had our fill of mysterious history and had eaten our lunch, we cycled down through the new village of Bruzzano, laid out grid style a couple of kilometres away, and finally down to the river. Yet again our proposed route, a minor road on the south side of the river, had been washed away. Instead we took the ‘main’ road on the north side of the river and followed it to the sea, only a couple of cars passed us on the way. The signs of spring were in the air, orange groves were being tidied up after the harvest, roadside verges were gaining colour, small birds were flitting between the trees and buzzards hunted above.

Fiumara di Bruzzano, the end of the road

A short but rather tedious ride along the busy main road back to Bertie finished off the ride. Only about 30k in total, but with an interesting destination and some beautiful scenery. 

About 2k from Bertie it was obvious that I had a puncture. I was getting slower and slower and eventually I could hear the frustrating rumble that comes from cycling without any air in the tyres. Luckily I was close enough to Bertie to push the bike rather than attempt a roadside repair on a busy road. Once back the tyres came off and an examination of the inner tubes shower I had two punctures in the rear tyre and one in the front. The ability of thorns to penetrate the rubber of my tyres is a sign I need a new pair, but that will probably wait until I get back to the UK.

We stayed another two nights here, it was easy and convenient and after a little bit of an explore we found the manhole that is used for waste disposal so we knew we have sufficient services. We exchanged pleasantries with the German couple next to us who were very interested to know why we were carrying our kayak the wrong way up for aerodynamics (the roof bars are too low to carry it upside down). We had a longer conversation with an English couple who turned up later, they were on their way back from Sicily and in a desperate search for some good weather. No luck for them as the forecast for the next day was rain all day. We sat in Bertie and watched a thunderstorm roll in, turning the sky a murky brown before the rain and hail hit us.

Watching the thunderclouds roll in

 

 

 

Snow Forces a Rethink

23/03/18

After the rainy days stuck in the campsite we were keen to get out and about. Our aim was to head to Gambarie, a key town in the Aspromonte mountains and a hub for outdoor activities. The weather forecast still had a lot of rain in it though and we didn’t know the altitude where this would be falling as snow. We hoped to get to Gambarie before the snow started to fall, but as we climbed up into the mountains it started to rain, and eventually this turned to snow.

Being caught as snow was falling and settling put us in a tricky situation. There wasn’t enough snow for snow chains or to get the snowploughs out, but there was enough to make the going slippery. Possibly with full winter tyres we would have felt fine to carry on, but with another couple of hundred meters of altitude still to gain, narrow roads and lots of switchbacks we just didn’t think it was sensible to continue. We carried on for long enough to find somewhere we could turn around, a more difficult proposition that you might think as the area was sparsely populated and the snow made it difficult to tell whether a turning area was solid asphalt or mud. We eventually found a closed hotel and Paul turned us around in their drive. We weren’t going to make it to Gambarie in this weather.

Snow falling on the way to Gambarie

Now we were discombobulated. Our plans had only gone as far as the mountains, and with them out of reach we needed to decide where to stop. Lacking any other plans we made our way back down to the SS18 that runs along the coast and started to drive east. We would decide as we drove.

First attempt was Scilla, a pretty little coastal town with an impressive castle. We drove along the town’s main road to see if we could get parked on the seafront, but there were signs stopping Motorhomes from accessing the small areas of parking on the front. The station carpark looked like a possibility but made us feel a little uncomfortable taking spaces for rail passengers. So onwards we went all the time with views of Sicily to the right and the Aspromonte mountains to the left.

Next was Villa San Giovanni, but we couldn’t find a way under or over the railway to the coast. We weren’t in a city mood so Reggio Calabria didn’t appeal. At this point the SS18 ended and we moved onto the motorway. Along this stretch of coast the motorway runs above the train tracks and the railway hugs the tide line, because of this there are no built up coastal resorts and the strand looks invitingly undeveloped but is inaccessible to large vehicles.

During our lunch stop we looked further ahead and saw that there were a number of parking spots coming up along the coast. It seemed like we were entering an area where parking was tolerated on a longer term basis. We kept an eye on the coast for motorhomes and as we passed the station for Ferruzano we saw them lined up along the front. A quick turn off the main road and a drive under the railway bridge that looked like it wasn’t going anywhere took us onto a long stretch of lungomare.

We stopped for the day and parked ourselves up on the grass amongst a row of motorhomes of various nationalities. This reminded us of Spain more than Italy, not in the way it looked, but with the long term parking culture. People had made themselves at home with washing lines and windbreaks behind their vans. Some had even created ramps from stone and concrete allowing them to more easily get up and down the kerb to their parking spot. There were small national enclaves and we wondered if we would be breaking any unwritten rules by parking between two German vans.    

The seafront here was long and straight with one closed restaurant and a small clot of villas and apartments to the south. At some point money must have been allocated to tidying it up, and a number of paved areas had been built, including the ‘John Lennon Arena’. Superficially parts of it looked clean and new, but when you looked closer you could see that it was unfinished and already dilapidated. Old chunks of concrete and children’s play equipment lay amongst the weeds behind the seafront. Looking beyond the tatty seafront though the views were pleasant and the beach was clean. The parking was free and there were services. It would do nicely for a night or two. 

Looking north from the parking near Ferruzano station

All Hands to the Dumps

20/03/18 – 22/03/18

It had been some time since we last did any washing. Our washing bag was filled to bursting and we hadn’t come across any convenient self service launderettes since Sondrio (I have an aversion to serviced washes as I don’t like the thought of handing our sweaty smelly clothes to someone else to launder). With no other options available we decided to check into a campsite.

Camping Mimosa is an ACSI campsite near Nicotera, one of few campsites that are open all year round. The fact that it was open, and the friendly owner, are the main things going for it. It’s pitches are small and awkward to get into with narrow avenues between trees making it difficult to manoeuvre.  We nabbed a pitch that was on the end of a row so that we could get in and out easily, other arrivals were less lucky, and one large French van had a particularly difficult time getting out. Unusually the campsite offers private bathrooms, we got a key to a cubicle with shower, basin and toilet. Sadly the showers weren’t great, a bit tepid and weak. The cubicles were dated, but at least they had toilet seats – yay!

We did our washing, managing to get it hung out to dry in between rain showers. I dyed my hair, we did a few chores and finalised the booking of hire car and secure parking for Bertie when my sister visits in April. 

One of our chores was the fixing of the toilet cassette. We had been putting this off for a while as it involved sticking a hand inside the cassette. But it had to be done as it was getting awkward to empty the cassette without any leakage. Our issue was the seal around the ‘Blade Opener’, a switching mechanism that you use to open up the toilet when you go to the loo. The seal was not working effectively and so a dribble of the toilet contents would escape unless you held the cassette horizontal. This included leakage while in transit – ugh! Armed with some disposable gloves I stuck my hand into the cassette and followed Paul’s instructions to remove the blade opener. Then we cleaned it and, with some difficulty, replaced it. We also cleaned the seal around the blade. Fortunately it has done the trick so we wont have to repeat that experience for a while. 

We ended up staying here for three nights as the rain, thunder and lightening were just so bad on the Thursday that we didn’t see the point in moving. We were a bit stir crazy by this point and crossed our fingers for some better weather so we could get outdoors.

 

 

Not Only Onions in Tropea

19/03/18

As we drove into Tropea, passing a number of vegetable selling stalls on the side of the road, I finally remembered why I recognised the name. We had recently watched the Hairy Bikers Mediterranean Adventures and in the first episode they had featured the ‘famous’ Tropea onion. It may be famous in Italy but I hadn’t heard of it until watching the programme, of course now we were here I had to try some.

The red skinned onions are sweet and mild with very little of the acridity of the cooking onions that we might buy in the supermarket. Given that the taste of uncooked onion can linger in my mouth for 24 hours they were the ideal salad onion for me. The onions are sold all year round in various guises, right now the onions on sale are slim, with very little bulb and can be eaten raw in salads like a spring onion as well as being cooked. We particularly like it in a stir fry although I imagine Italians would think that was sacrilege.

Tropea Onions

Tropea is an attractive town set on top of a cliff with an area of seafront below the cliff where we found a few carparks to choose from. At the moment the parking is free, with the parking meters removed from the car parks. Our sat nav had fun on our journey into Tropea as it tried to entice us into a dive onto a road 5 meters below, but we managed to find a route we were actually capable of and work our way down to the one way system on the seafront. Getting out was equally tricky, as the route south goes under an impassably low bridge (there are signs saying no motorhomes and vans, so it’s worth paying attention to them, guess who didn’t!). You have to head out north, AND the road was closed AND there is a ZTL! In retrospect it would have been easier to go the wrong way back along the seafront, we had seen a number of people doing this but thought that we would be good for a change.

Tropea. Looking down from the cliffs
Looking up from the car park to the Santuario di Santa Maria dell’Isola

Once in the carpark we were accosted by a ‘fisherman’ who wanted to sell us some fish. At €10 euros a kilo it wasn’t bad value, but they were small fish that would definitely not meet any regs for minimum size. Nevertheless we decided to buy some for dinner, after all they were dead already. Then he then tried to double the price. For some reason being ripped off always makes me feel embarrassed, I blame it on my Britishness.  My only defence is what Paul calls my ‘Paddington stare’, I think it makes the recipient think I’m a little simple. Anyway I handed over the previously agreed €10 with a bland look and he wandered off without any further attempt to inveigle more money from us.

Fish for dinner – a bit small and fiddly but fresh and tasty

We cycled from Tropea to Capo Vaticano, following the smaller roads where we could (a lot of them were dead ends) past endless fields of onions in the red soil. The smell of onion was always faintly in the air, especially where they were being harvested. There were views out to Stromboli and the Aeolian Islands, a little hazy but we could just about make them out. It bought back memories of our trip to Stromboli a couple of years ago. If you ever get the opportunity then do go, it’s an amazing experience to sit and watch the firework display of a live volcano as the sun goes down.

Looking south from Capo Vaticano

The day had started bright but breezy and the increasingly gusty winds drove us back from the headland and views of Cabo Vaticano to Bertie where we spent the evening watching the sky turn a dark purple, delivering thunder, lightening and hail. With a mixed forecast for the next few days we decided to head to a campsite to do some washing and chores.  

  

Two Churches but no Ice Cream!

18/03/18

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.