Preparing for the Giro d’Italia at Campo Imperatore

11/05/18

Although we’d deliberately decided to stay lower down the mountains, the lure of the snowy heights proved too much and we decided we had to go up to Campo Imperatore to see the main peaks at closer range. We could have gone up in the cable car, but it seemed that overnighting was permitted at Campo Imperatore so we decided to drive up instead, along a road that first took us away from our destination before swinging around and driving up through increasingly alpine scenery. We drove past abandoned hotels (it seems a ski resort was started but never finished in the 80’s), between high banks of snow and past purple swathes of crocuses on the meadows where snow had recently melted. It was worth it for the drive alone, and the road was reasonable because the cyclists were due to ascend to the finish line here in a couple of days time. Having said that, there were a couple of guys shovelling asphalt into potholes so still a bit of work to be done before the Giro.

Banks of snow (and my trainers)
Crocus fields stretching to the horizon
Abandoned ski resort, we think this project was cancelled due to environmental pressure, but we’re not sure

We were surprised at the tatty nature of some of the buildings at Campo Imperatore. I know that snow and cold weather takes it’s toll on buildings but we’d expected that some effort would have gone into making it more presentable. The following morning a crew arrived to start sweeping the car park clear of gravel and debris, but it was obvious that there was no time to make the hostel more respectable. I assume the TV crew would work their magic.

As we were driving we were sussing out possible spots to park up and watch the race, but after looking on facebook we realised that the road was going to be closed for at least 10k and no one would be able to park along that stretch even if we were in place before the roads were closed. We investigated parking further down and walking up to the race, but in the end decided we could make better use of the day. 

The Campo Imperatore car park

To make the most of our trip to Campo Imperatore and the brilliant morning sunshine we walked up past the silver domed observatory to the Rifugio Duca degli Abruzzi that can be seen on the ridge above the parking area. Even at this altitude we needed to cross or avoid snow patches. A ski mountaineer was hot on our heels. I couldn’t envy him, to me there is no cost benefit to slogging uphill in ski boots for five minutes of skiing, I’m definitely the type of skier who likes to be hoisted uphill by mechanical means. Once on the ridge we were able to walk along it’s crest for a little while before hitting the next patch of snow that was too dangerous for us to cross. It was just a short walk but the views or Corno Grande and the basin beyond the ridge were worth it.

Our evening view
Looking back down to Campo Imperatore from the ridge above, can you spot Bertie?
Alpine scenery from the ridge above Campo Imperatore

This wasn’t the last we would see of these mountains – in the next few days we were going to tackle them from the other side.

In the Shadow of the Gran Sasso at Fonte Cerreto

09/05/18 – 10/05/18

We made our way from L’Aquila up through the foothills of the Gran Sasso national park, climbing up on the major road (A24) that chugged almost imperceptibly uphill and through tunnels to the village of Assergi. Ahead of us the crystal white peaks of the mountains peeped out from the green forested hills. We knew we wouldn’t get to the top of these alpine mountains without proper winter equipment so we were heading for a base slightly lower down where we could enjoy some mountain walking with limited ice and snow.

Our parking spot was a large carpark built to service the traffic on the gondola that takes people up from Fonte Cerreto to Campo Imperatore. A large, flat and almost empty car park with grand views of the valley below – it was perfect. We checked out the gondola, expecting it to be shut in May as per the website, but it was running. Very few people were using it, but we soon found out that they were expecting to ferry several thousand people up to watch the end of stage 9 of the Giro d’Italia on 13th, something that took us a little by surprise, was it that time of year already?.

Parked up at Fonte Cerreto

On our first day here we went for a bike ride along a route that was recommended on the national park website. Probably our favourite mountain biking route in Italy so far, it took us up the valley from Assergi following a well marked and wide track gradually uphill to the village of San Pietro. From here we followed the road even further uphill past springs, troughs and herds of cows until we could take a steep downhill track to Vasto. Once down to the river we followed fun and easy single track below limestone cliffs and caves before eventually meeting another track just before Assergi. We had to ford the river four times, using our bike to steady us as we tried to find the stepping stones that were mostly submerged in the spring melt waters. By the time we got back we had wet feet but we’d had a lot of fun.

We took a quick detour into the cobbled streets of Assergi to try and find some tourist information. We found an ‘information point’ i.e. a carousel with lots of useless leaflets in it, but I was sure there must be more. Only once I’d walked into a random office did I realise that the carousel was it. The lady in the office helpfully pointed me in the direction of a local hotel (Hotel Giampy) who had an English speaking receptionist and more books and maps for walking than we have seen for a while. I was in my element and could have spent a fortune, but limited myself to a map and a guidebook.

Using the guidebook and map we planned another walk from Fonte Cerreto. This time we climbed up a marked track (CAI red and white markings) through woodland to the west of the gondola, taking multiple zig-zags as we got higher and higher and eventually cleared the tree line. Above the trees we started to spot alpine plants, violas and orchids, both in yellow and purple, were the flowers we could identify. Small patches of snow lay in gullies but didn’t impact the path as we traversed along animal tracks to pick up another CAI path down under the line of the gondola. On the downward path we had great views into the valley where we could occasionally make out our car park far below us. At one of the gondola supports, where red paint was splattered on the surrounding rocks and vegetation (it must have been a windy day when they painted), we mistakenly dropped into the gully rather than sticking to the ridge, the gully was uncomfortable walking over large stones and avalanche debris and we tracked back up to the ridge as soon as possible. 

It felt odd to be walking in the mountains without reaching a summit, but summiting seems to be a peculiarly British obsession that we need to get over. With over 800m of ascent and some spectacular scenery and flora it was still a good mountain walk.

Walking back down to Fonte Cerreto with the valley laid out before us
Watching the gondola go past

When we returned from our walk there were signs erected in the carpark forbidding parking all weekend. The Giro d’Italia had reserved the space for press and other support staff. We wondered how the ordinary supporters were going to get to the gondola, presumably they would have to park even further downhill and get the bus to Fonte Ceretto before getting the gondola up, then they would have to slowly be ferried back down at the end of the evening. You would have to be a pretty hardcore cycling fan to contemplate being the last person in that queue.

 

 

A City under Reconstruction

08/05/18

Between the Majella national park and our next stop in the Gran Sasso national park we decided to stop in L’Aquila.

Guidebooks have little to say about L’Aquila at the moment because it is still recovering from the earthquake of 2009. But it felt a little unfair to take it off the tourist map completely; it is the major city for the area and has a number of historic buildings. We wanted to check it out.

It also has two free sostas, we chose the one near the Porta di Napoli where the pitches are in the gaps between trees that are just wide enough apart. Although the pitches are long enough for a large van, reversing in or out with anything over 8m might be tricky. When we looked at the route we wondered if we would fit through the 17th century entrance to the city, but we got through with room to spare.

We turned up in the evening and once I’d convinced Paul that we really did need to park between the trees (he had to look on google street view to convince himself) we settled in for a quiet evening while I researched a route around the tourist sights and possible restaurants for lunch.

So far we had seen no evidence of the earthquake, but we knew that the Porta di Napoli had been one of the first attractions restored. The following morning we set off up to the Basilica di Santa Maria di Collemaggio where restoration has been recently finished. It’s not the first time this church has been restored after an earthquake. The most attractive part of this church is it’s façade which has a distinctive chequered effect. Inside it is calm and austere with the floor echoing the red and cream of the exterior, large columns, frescos and the tombstones of various bishops. There were boards explaining the process of restoration after the earthquake when the side chapels became parted from the nave and parts of the floor had dropped by over a meter. You wouldn’t believe the extent of the damage when you look at it now.

As we walked up into the centre of town we started to see more of the impact, the main tourist sights have been restored, but the rest of the centro storico is a building site. Cranes are the dominant feature and you feel like you should be wearing a hard hat and hi-vis jacket just to walk around. Whole streets are wrapped in scaffold and strapping to hold the buildings together. Looking inside windows and doorways it is evident that major work is still required. The amount of building work that is going on is incredible; they are essentially rebuilding a whole town. I know that there are a lot of opinions about the time it has taken to restore L’Aquila; lawsuits brought against the seismologists, money misappropriated, allegations of poor building quality. Whatever has happened, ignoring the place and taking it off the tourist itineraries isn’t going to help anyone. It is worth visiting for the attractions that are restored, and we found the insight into the physical process of putting a city back together after a major earthquake fascinating.

We visited the Basilica di San Bernardino which was in complete contrast to the Collemaggio, it’s style much more baroque and the interior gilded and ornate. Lined up along the nave were the various palanquins from the Easter procession that made an interesting display. I bet the procession was quite spectacular with all of the exhibits lit up.

The Spanish Fort was still being restored, so we wandered around the outside before walking back through the town, taking in more sights, looking for the tourist information office and somewhere to have lunch. We didn’t find tourist info, but managed to find a café in the park which was open for lunch. We thought we’d seen everything we were planning to see by this point, but it was only the next day as we were driving away that I realised we hadn’t been to see the Fountain of 99 Spouts. Damn it!   

  

Three Gorges in the Majella National Park

04/05/18 – 07/05/18

When we were planning our time in the Majella national park we had looked at various maps and options for walking and cycling. Ambitiously we thought we would be summiting at least one of the mountains, even if it wasn’t the highest (Monte Amaro at 2793m). But as we approached the mountains we realised it was unlikely to happen, the weather was still humid and stormy topping up an already reasonable amount of snow on the summits. We turned our attention to alternative walks that wouldn’t go so high but would still provide a bit of a mountain feel.

The Majella (sometimes written as Maiella) mountains are peaks on a wide limestone plateau that looms over the surrounding countryside like a dark wall. Once you are up on the plateau you are already around 1500 meters above sea level, some 1000 meters above most of the surrounding countryside. The steep sides of the plateau have made it relatively inaccessible and a haven for wildlife as well as an excellent area for walking. The villages in the area surround the plateau and only a steep access road to a ski resort provides vehicular access to the higher altitudes. It is possible to get motorhomes up this road, but we didn’t attempt it. We focussed on the gorges formed by the water that has run off the plateau and created deep narrow gouges in it’s sides.

Gole di San Martino

We parked overnight in the national park car park before we walked up this gorge. There is steep parking on the side of the road leading to the visitor centre, but better parking is found by driving past the visitor centre up the dirt track to the start of the walk where there is a reasonably level car park. The only other people we saw here were a Belgian couple in a van conversion who turned up just for the day. 

This gorge has one of the most spectacular starts, almost as soon as we started our walk we were in a narrow gap just a couple of meters wide with rock walls looming high overhead. It is said that San Martino elbowed the walls of this canyon apart. Elbows might be an exaggeration but Paul could touch both walls with his fingertips at the narrowest point.

Entering the narrows

Once through the narrowest part you find the ruined monastery of San Martino in the Valley. In modern times water rarely flows through the gorge, it is all controlled and piped underground (there are a few drinking water springs along the trail), but this monastery was abandoned after being ruined one too many times by flooding. Guided tours of the ruins can be arranged for a fee, but you get a good view from the path.

The remains of the monastery

After this you can continue up the gorge as far as you wish to go, the path will eventually take you to Monte Amaro but it would be a significant undertaking, a long long day’s walk or a two day trek with a stop at a mountain hut. The path initially ran through dry riverbed with scrubby plants giving off strong herby scents of thyme and oregano (or maybe marjoram) when we brushed against them. The high rock walls inspired gawping and tripping as we tried to walk and look upwards at the same time.

The high walls of the canyon continued for several kilometres, pocked with caves.

As we got higher the walls became less steep and wider apart and the beech forest started, full of bird song but strangely devoid of undergrowth. In the beech forest the path divided by a picnic bench. We took the left hand fork and continued up until we reached the cloud at about 1300m. We hadn’t made it to the top of the plateau but it was still a good amount of ascent and enough for our poor legs that had forgotten what it was like to walk consistently uphill for a couple of hours.

Taranta Peligna

Taranta Peligna is a small town sitting under a split in the rock walls of the Majella. Somewhere up above us was the Grotte Del Cavallone, but the attraction was closed, as was the cable car that can be used to reach it. We were particularly disappointed that the cable car was not running because it’s open one-man baskets looked like a thrilling way to travel up the gorge. I’ll admit now that we didn’t walk up this gorge, even though there is a path/steps, the weather was incredibly wet and our muscles were aching from our previous day’s walk. Instead we cycled away from the gorge, up the hills to the east of the village where we got better views. Our round trip route, planned on google maps, was cut short due to a road that was washed away. In the evening we walked up to the tiny Santuario Madonna della Valle; the sonorous voice of the priest could be heard as we walked up the streets towards the church, we were unsure if it was natural acoustics or electrical amplification.  

The town of Taranta Peligna from our bike ride, behind you can see the gorge we didn’t walk up

We stayed in a well equipped but overgrown sosta in Taranta Peligna, on the notice board at the entrance it told us to ring a number on arrival, but where the number should have been was a blank space. We waited for someone to turn up and take our money but no-one arrived. Like many out of season locations in Italy I assume they just don’t care until summer when I hope they strim the pitches and de-infest the bathrooms before they start charging. The bathrooms were open and we turned on the hot water heater and had the luxury of showers, luckily neither of us are worried by critters, Paul even found a scorpion in his shower tray.

The Orfento Valley

Next stop was Caramanico Terme, a spa town on the north west side of the massif. When we hit a closed road our journey changed from 50ish to over 100 km, but at least our detour took us onto better roads. In Caramanico Terme we stopped in the car parking at the bottom of the hilly town. There is a lift at the back of the car park which allows people to avoid the steep hill to the main street, but by this time our legs were back to normal and probably a bit better at hills.

Sulphur springs in Caramanico Terme come with all sorts of health benefits

We had a quick shop for lunch items in the town bakeries and popped to the national park office to pick up our walking permit. These permits are free, but you have to take an ID document and register your intended route before you walk, then you are issued with a copy of the permit to carry with you. In theory you could be asked for it, but I cant imagine that it happens very often. The national park office here was really useful and stocked with maps and books, I think I would start in this town if I was visiting  the Majella again.

Streets of the old town, our sat nav tried to bring us up through these streets – luckily it was pretty obvious that we were heading the wrong way.

This was another walk up a gorge but of a completely different nature than our first one. For a start there is a river running noisily through the valley, it was slightly opaque, sulphurous and gave off a misty vapour. The overhanging mossy greenery gave it a mysterious and prehistoric feel. We started our walk by descending to the Ponte di Caramanico where a signposted path took us down steps to the bank of the river, it criss-crossed the river several times giving ample opportunity for photos.

The Orfento river
Jurrasic park?

Then we continued along the bank, following the ‘Spirit’ path, one of the three long distance paths across the park. Our registered route was to cross the bridge at the Ponte del Vallone and return along the other side of the river, which we did eventually, but first we continued on a little further – shh don’t tell anyone!

The bridge was more sturdy than it may appear – honest!

After crossing the bridge the path took us high up the other side of the valley, giving us a completely different perspective. We enjoyed the longer views across to deer tracked scree and rocky cliffs and caves. As we walked back along this trail, which took us back into the top end of the town, we bumped into a group from Devon who were on a walking holiday. It’s a small world! We had a conversation with them and like starving people presented with a feast we may have enjoyed our English conversation far too much. I bet they were happy to get away!

Looking down from the high path

Finding a collection of walks whose start points had car parks that were easily accessible by motorhome makes this area really attractive to us. One day we’ll come back for a late summer assault on the higher peaks.

Goodbye Puglia, Goodbye Sun

02/05/18 – 03/05/18

After Vieste we went further round the coast to Peschici, a white walled fishing village that tumbles down the side of a headland and finishes at the harbour below. We took the coastal SP52 – having cycled along much of it the day before we knew it would be fine for a motorhome and would have pleasant views.

At Peschici we had decided to use one of the privately run Sosta/Campsites that sit behind the beach. There wasn’t much in the way of alternative parking and the warm weather was enticing us into a camping situation again. We ended up in Camping Bellariva with a wide assortment of nationalities who seemed to have converged on the area. We were quickly shown around the site and a selection of possible parking spots before Paul was taken away to get Bertie – in no uncertain hand waving terms I was told to stay behind on the space. Unnecessary to the process I assume!

It was a friendly and pleasant campsite, it’s prime beach side location reflected in the price of €19 (plus tourist tax). The night we arrived it was May 1st and holiday mood was in full swing, with loud bass coming from the beach cafes. The following morning the mood had relaxed and we spent a warm and sunny day lazing around the campsite, ambling to the beach for a swim and exploring the streets of Peschici.

It would prove to be the last day in our long run of sunshine and sea swimming. That evening the sky slowly turned from blue to grey. The web showed that there was a massive depression sitting in between mainland Italy, Sicily and Sardinia due to bring several days of strong winds, thunderstorms and rain. A quick debate and we decided to head north to our next destination – the Majella national park – we weren’t sure of better weather there, but it looked a little drier.

It was sad to say goodbye to Puglia; despite it being a bit of an obviousltouristy area it has been one of our favourite parts of Italy with a combination of glorious coastal scenery, historic whitewashed towns and prolific, good quality, motorhome stops both free and paid. We felt that we had been visiting at the right time too – the spring flowers and wildlife of the Salento district had been the icing on the cake. We will be back.

But for now we made a longish trek northwards to Fara San Martina. As we left the Gargano the rain, threatened by the heavy grey clouds, started to fall with a vengeance. Lightening flashes kept catching our eye and heavy rumbles of thunder made an interesting accompaniment to the rumble of the road surface. Would we find it any drier further north?

The Day we didn’t get to the Forest

01/05/18

During yesterday evening we searched for a spot to park in the famous forests in the central Gargano. We found parking spots, but they were off road and deeply rutted. With a sigh of frustration we opted to continue to our next coastal parking spot at Vieste rather than carry on driving round the forest roads. Who knows, we might have found the perfect parking spot just around the next hairpin, but we’d run out of enthusiasm for looking.

Vieste has an attractive old town by all accounts, but I couldn’t persuade Paul to walk to it’s streets. We parked in a large carpark behind the wide sandy beach where there was specific prevision for motorhomes, then promptly copied the other dozen Italian vans and parked in the car area where there were better views (there were no cars in the car park as they had all decided to park on the street-side parking). From here we could look out to sea and see the buildings of the old town from afar.

We woke on the 1st still frustrated by our failed attempt to get parked in the forest, so decided to take a bike ride along the coast and then loop back inland where we would get a taste of the forest. Along the coast our frustration continued as we found ourselves stuck on the main road and unable to get to the coast proper due to so many private homes and businesses with locked gates. This is the first time we’ve really been thwarted by Italy’s private beaches. Usually they have been unguarded during the low season and open for anyone to use, but here all access routes seemed impossible (perhaps we were just going too fast to see them – not likely!). Finally we found a dirt track leading to Torre Calalunga and could see that we would be able to work our way back from here around the coast – at least for a while. We abandoned plans to go inland and instead cycled over grassy sward and limestone pavement back along the cliffs, stopping often to admire the views, caves and arches that are one of the natural attractions on the peninsula. At one point we came across a group of four motorhomes parked up on the grassy clifftop, we weren’t sure how they had got there but they were enjoying the May public holiday with the type of lavish spread that one associates with a food-proud nation like Italy. Our picnic was slightly less gastronomic.

We were able to enjoy this less developed coastline for a few kilometres, winding inland a couple of times to avoid hotels, before the Baia di Sifinale where we stopped for a swim and a snorkel back around the rocks. Then it was back up onto the main raod to cycle back to Bertie.

One of the many defensive towers along the coast. Notice the fishing Trabbuco, they are common from this point northwards along the Adriatic coast.
Arches and caves marked the coastline. Some of the caves reached through to the cliffs above where you could hear the strange gurgling of the sea echoing under your feet.

We were a right pair of whingers today, feeling like we had missed out on the forest (both of us) and the town of Vieste (me) but in the end we found somewhere spectacularly beautiful to enjoy, just not forest.

 

Whose Pigs are these?

29/04/18 -30/04/18

We spent some time in Camping Torre Sabea thinking about our plans for the next few weeks. We need to be back in the UK for the end of June and have a wish list of things to do between then and now. We mulled over our options – do we continue tootling around and taking things as they come, or do we start to make more firm plans to visit the areas we know we want to see. We decided on the latter…for now.

So first on our list was a visit to the Gargano peninsula. We had seen mixed reviews of the area, but most of the negative reviews were about the busy summer period when it gets incredibly busy. The positive reviews extolled the beauty of the coastline and the forested interior. It’s a popular destination for Italian holiday makers and campsites can get full. We felt we were safe enough in the low season, although we did wonder what the May public holiday might bring. 

The Gargano Peninsula is still in Puglia, but when you look on the map Puglia is a very long region and by the time you reach this ‘spur’ that sits above the heel of Italy you are actually further north than Naples. It was a pretty long Sunday drive and for the first time in ages we had to pay a toll for the main roads (the motorways in the south are free).

We drove to a couple of spots in busy Manfredonia, but didn’t really enjoy the vibe of the place, it was just too busy for us and the parking was all in quite noisy locations. So we trundled around the coast to Porto di Mattinata where we parked in a large parking area right by the harbour. Our drive was a little more exciting than we expected as the tunnel was shut and so we had to climb switchbacks over the ridge before taking further hairpin turns back down to the coast. The road was fine though and the views were amazing.

We had expected to pay for the parking by the harbour, but no one was manning the entry so we were lucky. Although the little seaside resort was very busy the car park was almost empty, everyone seemed to be parking along the side of the roads. That evening the couple of restaurants and bars were busy and the atmosphere was cheerful, we wandered down for a late evening drink to get a taste of the atmosphere.

Evening view across the bay at Porto di Mattinata – one of the first times we’ve seen the brollies and sunbeds out

The following day we walked south along the bay and up the marked path to the headland of Monte Saraceno. From this vantage point we could see the orderly ranks of olive trees on the flat land behind the bay. Mattinata town itself sits as a shining white highlight in a sea of green on the steeper land a couple of kilometres back from the bay. The olive trees may have been an important part of the economy once, but many of them now have dual purpose, doubling up as campsites, private parking areas or providing access to the beach lidos. Who can blame the local population for making the most of this beautiful location.

Olive trees taking up all the available flat land

Our walk followed one of the ‘running trails’ that are marked up for the Gargano running week. In the temperatures we were experiencing I wouldn’t want to be running, it was sweltering enough to be walking in the heat of the sun on this exposed bit of coast. The path took us around the north side of the headland and then up onto the ridge heading from east to west. The limestone rocks of the ridge were carved into strange shapes and overhangs and the mostly good path was eroded in one section – a rope had been provided to help people up or down.

Walking the coast path around the peninsula

On the top of the ridge we startled a couple of groups of pigs who were keeping cool under the scrubby trees. Did you ever sing the song ‘Whose pigs are these?’ ? I remember school coach trips and family drives where we had fun trying to think of rhyming solutions to the pig conundrum. ‘They are John Potts’ and I know them by the spots’ is the usual first verse but of course you can make up any version, as rude as you like (if the teachers aren’t paying attention). 

Whose pigs are these?

As well as being home to a herd of pigs the ridge is the location of the necropolis of the Dauni tribe who lived here over 2500 years ago. Grassy paths wind in and out of the tombs carved into the rock, some obviously man made, some that might be natural. It’s a mysterious place to wander around and try to identify the graves, it’s a shame there isn’t much information  locally about their discovery or their contents.  

Our first sighting of a gecko in Italy, hiding in the corner of a rocky grave
Tombs cut into the limestone at the necropolis on Monte Saraceno

After wandering along the ridge we found a footpath downhill that crossed the switchbacks of the road we had driven down the day before. We were too hot to venture into Mattinata itself so we headed back through the olive groves to the beach where we could cool off in the sea. 

Camping Again near Gallipoli

26/04/18 – 28/04/18

We chose Camping Torre Sabea as our campsite to give us time and space to solve our mosquito problem. We ended up staying for three nights at this pleasant ACSI site, the weather was still warm and once we had settled in – set out the chairs and table, rolled out the awning and sorted out the bloodsuckers – it seemed too much of an upheaval to put it all back again. The site got steadily busier while we were there because it soon to be the next public holiday. While we were paying at the end of our visit the campsite owner described the procession of horses and other festivities happening in the nearby town of Galatone. We always seem to miss events and festivals, and were sorely tempted to go back to our pitch, but our minds were already on our next destination.  

The campsite was near the tourist town of Gallipoli, not the location of the famous WW1 campaign, but a historic town that has made it as a tourist hotspot. We decided to walk into Gallipoli, mistakenly thinking that we could walk along the coast. Sadly we were forced back onto the main road when we got to a boatyard, with no pavement we walked along the hard shoulder, both feeling a bit exposed. We would recommend using the campsite’s navette (minibus) service instead. Gallipoli is a good town for wandering around; the medieval castle and walls surround a centro storico that sits on a promontory, separated from the modern town by a causeway. Within the walls you can wander around narrow streets where tourism sits cheek by jowl with more traditional pursuits – particularly fishing. We saw groups of fishermen mending nets, or sorting their long lines and one man weaving traps as well as more decorative items for the tourist market. The streets around the walls have views over the sea and so this is where you find plenty of restaurants, bars and cafes. In the warm weather they were doing well and we heard many northern European accents amongst the Italians, including a few British voices.

Checking nets in Gallipoli
Walls, castle and harbour

Under the walls are a number of harbours and one sandy beach where we took a swim to refresh ourselves from our dry and dusty roadside walk. After wandering around we stopped for a couple of panini for our lunch before heading back to the campsite. On the way back we stopped in the nearby supermarket (almost next door to the campsite) where they had lamb on offer. We hadn’t had any lamb for ages so we bought some to barbeque that evening, marinated in mint and balsamic vinegar and served with charred sweet potato, onions and courgette. Yum. The cadac was doing it’s job.

The beach under Gallipoli’s walls
Decrepit APE being used as a front garden

The following day we decided to cycle north along the coast and to the Natural Park of Porto Selvaggio. This was a lovely cycle, initially along the coast road through villages and past rocky shores with occasional small sandy beaches. As the road headed inland we found a track to take us through the pine forest to the beautiful inlet of Porto Selvaggio. It was a Saturday and all of the beaches we had passed were busy with families enjoying themselves, people looking for a little more solitude had set up camp on the rocks rather than fighting for a sandy spot.

The pedalo was out!
Ruined tower, now a bar and restaurant

Porto Selvaggio cannot be reached by car, but even so there were a good number of people there who had hiked down from the parking areas. We found ourselves a spot on the rocks to one side of the inlet and settled down for a little bit of sunbathing followed by another swim. The water here was deep and cool, a few people were daring each other to jump straight in, but I was happy to make my way in by degrees and then float on the top of the water where it was warmer. When we were dried back out we cycled back the way we had come.  

The beautiful Porto Selvaggio

 

Beating the Blood Suckers

I’m not sure why I haven’t mentioned the blood sucking monsters yet, but that’s all going to change in this blog post. With rising heat and falling wind speeds it was only a matter of time before they reared their ugly heads. We’re talking mosquitos of course and they had begun appear a few days ago, just one or two to start with, and then suddenly there were hundreds of them.

On the night of Liberation Day the evil little blighters had been having a party of their own, using my body as their restaurant. All through the night I could hear the whining as they flew around and I took refuge by hiding completely under the cover (which by this time was a duvet cover with any duvet). The following morning it was evident that I hadn’t managed to escape, there were browny red splodges on the bed sheets where I had rolled and crushed them in my sleep….but only after they had feasted.

I know I’m making it sound like I’m the only one who was suffering – but I’m happy to report that Paul joined my suffering

Our problem was a lack of preparation, we had been taken by surprise and foolishly had all the windows open without any fly screens up. It was time to take action.

Step one was to find a campsite so that we could give the bedding a wash and air. Then we made a concerted effort to hunt down every mossie that was hiding in the nooks and crannies of the van, waiting to come out at night. This involved a lot of opening of cupboards and shaking stuff out, followed by an after dark torch-lit hunt. The fly screens were put into operation (including clearing all the sand and crud from the channel of the door flyscreen so that it would actually close). It made a huge difference. But sadly the fly screens stop a lot of the cooling breezes that make us comfortable at night. The solution? We remembered that in the ceiling of our bedroom we have a 12v fan that will either suck or blow. Running this while the sun was shining kept the internal temperature of the van down and any electricity used was replaced by our solar panels. This was the first time we have used the fan since checking that it worked when we bought Bertie. Finally we see why it might be useful.

In the end we managed to get the number of the blood sucking creatures down to nearly zero – small enough numbers that we could swat them before going to sleep. Gradually our blotches and bumps subsided, we stopped scratching (and then telling each other off for scratching) and managed to get a decent night’s sleep. Garlic may have been used, but the holy water and wooden stakes stayed in the kit bag for next time.

  

Liberation Day

25/04/18

The 25th April is Liberation Day in Italy. A day to remember the end of the fascist dictatorship and the end of Nazi occupation. It’s also very close to the national spring holiday on May 1st, so lots of Italians take time off work during this week. Put that together with some unseasonably warm weather and you have the recipe for some serious Italian socialising.

We moved to a carpark by the ‘Maldives of Puglia’, a long stretch of white sand beach with beautifully clear water – although it didn’t deliver the tropical fish and turtles I would have expected of the Maldives – we got there at about 10am and it was half full, including a handful of motorhomes. About an hour later it was the typical chaos of a busy Italian carpark. Every available space taken, small cars squeezed into unfeasibly small spaces (we did witness one driver climb out of his boot), cars parked on the end of rows, cars double parked (I assume they knew each other), newcomers driving round several times looking for a space. It was entertainment in itself.

The lidos had not yet opened for the season – and I bet they were kicking themselves – so there were no regimented ranks of umbrellas and sunloungers, and no payment to get onto the beach or to park. Behind the beach a fair had set up, with fairground rides, food stalls, bars, live music and some incongruous bric-a-brac sellers. It wasn’t really our thing, but sometimes it’s good to just go with the flow. We alternated lying on the beach with wandering around the fair, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying watching so many people having a good time. On the beach we witnessed people standing knee deep in the sea having vivacious conversations either with other people or on their phones. We decided that knee deep was the optimum depth, you would be cooled by the sea, no one would accuse you of sneaking in for a quick wee and you wouldn’t get your swimming costume wet, avoiding having to do the towel dance to change out of clammy swimwear and into dry undies. A group of a dozen or more teenage boys set up camp behind us, attracting the attention of passing teenage girls, who then walked past again, and again. We groaned inwardly but the lads were more interested in looking good than creating any sort of disturbance. When they played football they always had a couple of them fielding any stray balls that might hit other families – how very civil. But then, when you see how packed Italian beaches get, there is probably a strict etiquette for beach behaviour.

The partying went on until about 10pm, so not particularly late, the car park was left with just a few motorhomes parked up and we had a quiet night. Watching so many families and friends having a good time reminded us of home and how nice it is to celebrate together.

Early morning at the beach on Liberation Day

 

Driving for Fun

24/04/18

Driving for pleasure is not something we’re accustomed to. We don’t really spend much time driving for the enjoyment of it. In Italy it’s even harder to enjoy a scenic drive, the potholes and tortured road surfaces make it difficult for the driver to do anything apart from focus on the road, and the passenger might be getting a good view but is often being bounced around. So usually we enjoy taking in the scenery on a bike ride or a walk, but this morning Paul declared that he was too hot to do anything that involved physical exertion so we thought we would drive south as far as we could bear and then park up and enjoy a leisurely day.

We were pleasantly surprised then to find that the SP358 is a nice road, with a good surface and nice views inland and down the cliffs to the sea. It is a trifle sinuous, but no so much that you end up with a queasy tummy, and it’s wide enough to allow two vehicles to pass each other with ease. So we enjoyed ourselves pootling along the road, stopping whenever we could find parking spots to enjoy the views.

It’s not like we went that far, probably only about 50k, but the shock of how nice it was has stayed with us. It says a lot about Italian roads!

At lunchtime we stopped at a large parking area just north of Tricase Porto and wandered into the village to pick up some lunch. With a couple of panini in hand we wandered back along the harbour, across the beach where even the Italians were sunbathing and swimming in the sea (we seem to have turned a corner from obligatory puffa jackets to exposing as much skin as possible), across the rocks and back to Bertie. Exhausted by the heat we decided to head back down to the rocks with our swimming gear and our lunch. We snorkelled off the rocks over clear deep waters and cooled our bodies down enough to feel ready to move on.

Harbour at Tricase Porto

Just a few kilometres further south we stopped at a car park for a small nature reserve. A couple of paths here allowed access to the rocky shore. We waited until the heat of the sun had dissipated and tried both of them out, finding the inlet of the  Canalone della Guardiola where we could watch fish swimming – it would have been nice for another snorkel if we had taken our stuff with us.

Canalone de Guardiola

While waiting for the day to cool down I made some Golden Syrup for Paul. It starts by caramelising some sugar, then adding a lot more sugar, water and a couple of slices of lemon and simmering. You end up with something that’s almost the same as the stuff you get in the tin. 

A Year in our Motorhome – What did it Cost?

We are now one year into our motorhome life. On the 8th of May 2017 we moved out of our house in Exmouth, our tenants moved in and we started to travel in Bertie. Actually we remained static for a while as we sorted out a number of bits and bobs, but we had taken the plunge. Since then we have spent the majority of our time in Bertie, just a few nights in our new official home and a few nights in apartments when friends/family have visited. We have travelled in the UK (England, Wales and Scotland) France, Spain, Italy and Portugal. 

Lots of people ask how much it costs to travel in a motorhome, the answer – of course – is that everyone is different, has different priorities and objectives for their travelling and so everyone’s costs will be different. But that’s not going to stop me from sharing our costs; when we were planning our adventure I looked at as many blogs as I could and used their costs to help me make my budget, based on best fit with our expected style of travelling and our route. Because I found it useful I am sharing our costs, maybe someone else will benefit.  

We wanted to be in control of our spending, but we didn’t want to let it govern us. We aren’t intending to live full time in our motorhome, for us this is a finite adventure of a couple of years (who knows, things might change) so we want to be able to visit the places, experience the adventures and take the opportunities that travelling around Europe offered. Having said that, a lot of our enjoyment comes from things that are low cost; cycling, walking, kayaking don’t cost much once you have the kit. Skiing, on the other hand, is a very costly activity; one week of skiing had not been factored into our original budget and it showed. Next year we want to do five or six weeks so our budget will have to be revised accordingly. 

To maintain an understanding of our costs (which is not quite the same thing as controlling our spending) I continue to do what I did when we were living a ‘normal’ life. I maintain a spreadsheet of all income and outgoings. We mostly try to spend on our Nationwide credit card as it doesn’t charge a fee for use abroad and uses the market exchange rate. For cash we use the Caxton FX pre-loaded currency card. This allows us to load up with currency and withdraw it without any restrictions;  although the exchange rate is usually a couple of cents below the market rate it is better than most other options for unrestricted cash withdrawal.

All our budgeting and costs are recorded in GBP, our Nationwide statements always convert to GBP and for our cash spending I use the exchange rate I’ve most recently had from Caxton FX, it’s not precise but it’ll do.

So…onto the numbers.

Summary

Our total budget and actual spend is below, of course each of these categories hides a multitude of sins, but it’s clear to see that we have spent more on our Motorhome than expected….and this is mostly buying bits and bobs. It’s amazing how quickly it mounts up, a new mattress, mattress topper, additional locks for the doors etc. We’re pretty pleased with our totals to be honest, given that we haven’t tried too hard to pinch pennies. But if we wanted to cut costs there are plenty of places we could target!

This doesn’t include our income (or costs) from renting our house out, selling our car and the money we got back from various insurances and utilities. If you take our income into account we have only spent £10435.08. We wont have quite as much income next year though. 

Living Costs

This is obviously where most of our money goes. On the day-to-day cost of living; groceries, sites, gas and other essential costs that we would incur whether we were static or mobile. We overspent on our groceries A LOT. We have found it very difficult to change our middle class habits when it comes to food and drink. We enjoy buying regional specialities from shops that are probably more geared to tourists and Paul in particular likes a taste of home so will spend over the odds on British produce (mint sauce, Weetabix, golden syrup etc).   

On the plus side we have spent a lot less on campsite costs than we expected and, the very best thing, Paul has given up smoking, he has now been nicotine free for six months and that has hopefully saved us more than just money.

Overnight Costs

How did we save money on our overnight costs? Well we didn’t really have a good feel for how often we would spend in campsites vs aires/sostas. We hadn’t enough experience to know what our preferences would be. In the UK we needed to visit campsites for any form of motorhome services (some campsites will allow you to use their services for a small fee), and that’s where we have spent the most money. All of the other countries we have visited have much wider networks of free or low cost motorhome facilities. 

When it comes to choosing where to park we have tried not to be driven by cost, it’s all about Location, Location, Location. We want to be parked near the places we want to visit and the activities we want to enjoy. We have also decided we like a campsite when the weather turns warm so that we can spend more time sitting out doors in the evenings. In case you wondered, we haven’t counted the cost of renting apartments etc, where we haven’t spent the night in Bertie we have recorded the cost of parking – our ‘holidays’ are in our Leisure costs.

Travel Costs

Our Bertie has covered 12427.8 miles since we started counting in August, it’s a good thing that our fuel economy has been improving as we work Bertie’s engine, but we still only get an average of 24 MPG. 

Other travel costs include tolls – we have spent more than expected in Italy due to the poor road quality, sometimes you just need to get away from the potholes! – ferries, public transport and day time parking. 

Leisure Costs

Our Leisure costs cover all our expenditure that is not day to day living, the things we do to pass the time and enjoy ourselves. We have underspent a little here, mostly because we haven’t eaten out as much as expected. That just about made up for the costs of skiing.

 

I hope that  you’ve enjoyed a brief glimpse at our costs. Maybe it will help you with your budgeting, or maybe you’ll think that we’re spendthrifts who should keep a tighter control on our purse strings. We’re now looking at our budget for next year which will include several weeks skiing and a trip to Scandinavia – it could be a year of big spending! 

 

 

 

Bones and Birds in Otranto

23/04/18

We left our lovely campsite to head a very short distance to Otranto, We had one of those starts where we just couldn’t settle. There is a lot of parking in Otranto, but we couldn’t find a spot that we felt happy with. After visiting several of them we parked along the side of the road while we went for a look around. That evening we finally decided on a car park. It said we had to pay, but all the parking machines were turned off so we figured we would be ok overnight.

The morning was spent wandering around this touristy town. We were parked near the harbour so we walked along looking at the boats and the fish swimming lazily in the sea. Our entry into the centro storico was via a gate in the medieval fortress, we walked through the busy streets roughly in the direction of the cathedral, there were lots of tourist shops but there wasn’t any hard sell.

Looking across the harbour at the medieval fortress walls
The monument to the Otranto Martyrs

The cathedral is the main event in Otranto, we wandered into the cool calm crypt first with it’s many marble pillars and frescos. We had obviously done this the wrong way round as we weren’t allowed to ascend the stairs to the cathedral and had to walk around the outside to get in. Once in the cathedral proper we could see the  12th century mosaic spread across the floor of the nave and adjacent areas. It is crude when compared to Roman mosaics, but it’s depictions of beasts, demons and angels were compelling; we spent some time trying to decipher the Latin and make sense of what we were seeing. Above the mosaic is a fabulously ornate gilded coffered ceiling added in the 17th century.

Also in the cathedral are the relics of the Martyrs of Otranto, killed in 1480 by Turkish invaders. The town of Otranto had put up considerable resistance to the invading Ottoman army, when the Ottomans finally gained the town they killed or enslaved the majority of the population. A group of able bodied men were told to convert to Islam or die. They chose death and were executed. The following year the Ottomans were ousted and the relics of the martyrs were exhumed. Now you can see many of their bones in glass fronted cabinets on the walls of the chapel although some of the relics have been shared amongst other churches in the Salento region and even further afield. This was one of our favourite religious buildings, maybe we’re a bit ghoulish! 

The relics of the martyrs lined the walls of the chapel – slightly surreal

Our wander around Otranto had only taken the morning so we popped back to Bertie for a spot of lunch and then decided to do some walking along the coast south of the town. We were aiming for Punta Palascia, but it was a hot day so we didn’t make it that far. We had passed a nice looking beach at Cala Casotto, so we decided to turn round there after a swim. It was a bit of a scramble down the cliffs to the beach, but it was worth it to cool down in the clear water.

Our little beach spot – perfect for a dip

This was one of our favourite coastal walks. For most of the walk the cliffs were quite high and rocky with deep water offshore. Lots of fishermen had found their favourite spots and settled in for the day. Sea birds wheeled around off shore, including mediterranean gulls with their distinctive red beaks and feet. We spotted hen harriers – mostly brown with a white strip across the base of their tail – being mobbed by swallows and other small birds. On the heathland were crested larks singing loudly from the ground, possibly distracting us from their nests. There were many spring flowers dotting the grass. The whole area was full of life.

The interest wasn’t limited to natural wonders, on the headland near the Torre Dell’Orte there were many underground buildings and bunkers built into the rocks which we explored as much as we dared (our fear mostly being of finding human waste – our motto being ‘if you see tissues turn around’). A ruined lighthouse stood sentinel on the hill, it’s rear half collapsed.

It had been a very full day, Otranto was somewhere we could have stayed for longer. If only we could make up our mind where to park!   

Camping Behaviour in Sant’ Andrea

20/04/18 – 22/04/18

Sometimes writing a blog that’s a couple of weeks in the past is a bit of a slog. Take today for instance, we have had a big detour due to a closed road, Paul is suffering from a painful muscle strain and we reversed into railings, breaking the trim around our rear light cluster. We’re not in the best of moods, and yet I need to write about a few lovely sunny, relaxing and active days. The upside is that writing about the good times should hopefully drag both of us back into a more positive frame of mind. Unfortunately it wont do anything for Paul’s painful thigh. 

We had chosen a campsite/sosta at Sant’ Andrea to spend a few days relaxing in the hot weather. We wanted the freedom to sit outside the van with our chairs out and our feet up, which is something you can rarely do if you are parking in a carpark of municipal sosta. Many of Italy’s privately owned sostas are more like campsites, with all the facilities you would expect, electricity, showers, toilets, washing up and laundry. Camping I Faraglioni (the Sea Stacks) was no exception, the pitches were fresh and grassy, benefiting from being early in the season, and although there were a few vans in situ it wasn’t too crowded. It looks like it is in the garden of the adjacent hotel – the owners probably having decided there is money in motorhomes all year long.

Letting it all hang out at Camping I Faraglioni

Not only was the campsite very nice, but it was right by the coast in a beautiful area. We didn’t quite have a sea view (unless we walked up to the wall and peered over the top of it) – there was a carpark between us and the sea. In fact we could have stayed for free in the carpark, but I’m so glad we decided to spend a bit of money. The coast here is made up of soft stone that is eroded into all sorts of sea stacks and caves, in some places there are small man-made safe havens cut into the rock where a boat could take shelter. There is an ‘undercliff’ which is barely a meter above the sea where we saw many people fishing or readying themselves for an octopus hunting snorkel. A couple of kilometers to the north is a long sandy beach, perfect for bathing and an easy enough walk from the campsite (google will show you just how busy this gets in the summer season, I don’t think we would enjoy it!). To the south are rocky coves that start shallow but swiftly leave you swimming in cold deep water.

We spent four nights here, we walked along the coast to the north, cycled along the coast to the south and even got our big yellow banana (i.e. the kayak) off the roof and into the sea. This was an interesting exercise as the beach next to the campsite was knee deep in ribbony algae. Luckily it was only a few meters to the sea, but not a pleasant walk in or back again. Well worth it though for the amazing views of the coast. The sea was so clear it was almost as good as snorkelling, we saw fish swimming between the rocks and a couple of times small glinting fish flew over the surface of the water when we disturbed them. We were able to navigate the kayak in and out of caves and under arches, waving up at the people who were taking pictures from the top of the cliffs.

Paul also used his time at the campsite to come to terms with the Cadac, we’ve been carrying this gas barbeque around for the past year, but it hasn’t seen much use. Paul had found our version (Grillogas) quite tricky to use because it doesn’t have a good gauge on the gas supply. As a result you can accidently turn it off rather than just turning it down, and as it doesn’t have automatic ignition relighting it can be tricky, you have to take all the food off the BBQ. Paul drilled a hole large enough to insert an igniter from underneath and added a couple of indicators on the dial with permanent marker. Problem solved!  

It was a very relaxing few days and we found it really difficult to make the decision to move on. And what do you know? we’re both feeling more cheerful having bought our memories back to life – a glass of wine has been helpful too.  

 

 

 

Beeping Italians

19/04/18

Our parking spot to the south of San Cataldo had been noisier than we expected. We thought we had chosen a good place as far from the town as possible and nestled against the edge of the nature reserve, but we were close to a bend on the road and the Italian habit of beeping their horn in advance of driving round a corner woke us up early. It’s not something we seem to do in the UK any more, although I have childhood memories of Dad giving a warning beep as we drove down country lanes with high hedgerows. Here in Italy a driver will beep as they round a corner, beep as they go to overtake you, beep as they approach a bicycle (which always makes me jump) or a pedestrian, beep when they see a friend…the car horn is sometimes used in anger, but most often is just saying ‘hey, I’m here’.

We had managed to identify a good campsite for the next few days, but we needed to while away a few hours before we turned up. We drove back into San Cataldo town, parked up and had a bit of a wander to find some lunch. We also found recycling bins for the first time in ages so managed to get rid of two trugs full of recycling.

Our bike ride took us south along a cycle track that ran behind lagoons. Many of the other trails through the woods were closed and the ones that were open were flooded so we weren’t able to get to the coast here. Locusts were making ungainly flights between trees, occasionally hitting us with some force before clumsily flying off. We saw white winged birds that became almost invisible when they landed. We later found out that these are Squacco Herons, their bodies are a streaked brown and well camouflaged when their wings are folded away. Plenty of other small birds and sea birds were flitting around, we tried to find somewhere comfortable to sit and watch them but there were no convenient spots. We did manage to find a group of ducklings hiding in some reeds while we were looking for somewhere to sit.

South of the nature reserve we were able to cycle alongside the coast, sometimes on the road and sometimes over the top of the low rocky cliffs. The sea was a vibrant blue, the coast was eroded into small arches, caves and holes. We stopped for the obligatory dip/paddle before turning around and heading back the way we had come.

Finally we felt that it was long enough after lunch to check into the campsite, so we headed off to Sant Andrea where we would be staying for a few days.  

Golden Stone and a Long History

18/04/18

Lecce is a golden city, famed for it’s soft Lecce stone that has allowed master crafters to create ornate baroque masterpieces on all it’s glowing buildings. The stone is easily eroded and frequently replaced and restored, giving many buildings a patchwork feel with new crisp stone adjacent to worn rounded carvings. We spent a few hours here wandering around the streets, exploring alleys and dead ends, finding piazzas and palazzi. Terraced frontages hid complex buildings, the occasional open gate providing glimpses into courtyards and the buildings beyond. Dotted amongst the predominantly 17th century facades was the evidence of an older history, part of a Roman amphitheatre, Norman walls, Etruscan and Messapian tombs. Lecce is also surprisingly flat, we have become so used to towns that are on top of hills and their steep winding streets that it felt odd to be walking on the level. 

We parked in a small motorhome parking area, seemingly little known. It is on the other side of the road from the large parking area of Piazza Carmelo Bene and must be noisy at night, luckily we weren’t intending to stay. A few permanent vans were in situ, some looking like they haven’t been started for years. Residents looked at us quizzically as we parked up and inspected the grimy facilities. It was in working order but we trod gingerly around the suspicious brown lumps near the waste disposal area.

Our wanderings took us to the MUST museum where we watched some 3D films of the history of Lecce (ok, but too focussed on the ancient history) and looked at the art exhibits. I asked where the history section was, ‘closed for refurbishment’ was the answer – I wish they had told us before we paid our entry fee. Rather grumpily we moved onto the Basilica de Santa Croce, supposedly the most ornate of the buildings in Lecce it was covered in scaffold; at least they had a print of the church façade over the scaffold so we could see what we were missing.

We did find one treasure though, the Museo Faggiano shows what happens when you start renovating a house in Lecce’s historic centre. Signore Faggiano bought the building so that his family could open a Trattoria on the ground floor and live in the upper floors. Building work to track down issues with the drains led to archaeological finds covering 2500 years.  From basement to terrace they uncovered little gems of historical interest, symbols of the Knights Templar, rooms used to prepare bodies for burial, ancient grain stores…We were handed several pages of notes and left to wander around this fascinating building. We may have started our visit to Lecce with a note of frustration, but we ended it satisfied. I can see why people rave about it.

While we were eating our lunch in the sunshine we decided that we would see if we could find a campsite to spend the next few days. That night we drove to a free parking spot on the coast near San Cataldo where we spent a little while googling the best place to stay.

       

Watching the Fishermen

16/04/18 – 17/04/18

The weather seemed to have suddenly turned a corner, we had gone from cool breezy spring days to warm and muggy almost overnight. It was the sort of weather that invited thoughts of refreshing sea breezes and taking a dip in the ocean. Our bedding did not match the weather, flannelette may have been a god-send in the winter when we wanted a bed that felt warm as soon as we were in it, but now it was time to change back to fresh flat cotton that feels cool to the touch.

We had parked up along the coast at Specchiolla, between two beach restaurants that were still in pre season maintenance mode. When we turned up there were a number of Italian vans who had been enjoying a weekend by the sea, but they left by dark and we were in peace with just the gentle sound of waves on the shore.

Bertie by the sea at Specchiolla

The following day we took a walk along the coast to the nature reserve of Torre Guaceto. It was a beautiful walk besides sandy beaches and coves with crystal clear water beckoning us invitingly. On the way back I took the plunge and went for a swim, the sea was bracing and Paul only just managed a paddle, a few other walkers going past shivered as they watched the mad English woman.

Where we were parked the rocks formed pools and inlets full of seaweed active with small crabs, shrimps and tiny fish. That evening we watched people fishing with strange lures, we weren’t sure what they were trying to catch – we didn’t see anyone catch anything.

The following day we moved down the coast, passing by Brindisi where we stopped for some supermarket essentials. We parked in Torre San Gennaro, a seaside town that was almost lifeless apart from a couple of cafes doing their pre-season painting. The coast here was friable limestone and clay, a look could crumble it into the sea. Our parking area had new bollards in it to stop anyone from venturing too close to the edge where the sea had undercut the asphalt. We bimbled around the coast, wondering what had created the perfectly round rock pools, like miniature craters. Lumps of clay – we surmised – that had been scoured out of the harder rock by the sea.

That evening we were treated to a mysterious spectacle of fishermen and snorkelers using bright torch light to hunt for sea creatures. Octopus maybe? Some of them were carrying spear guns with multiple spikes on the end, others were using glass bottomed trays to spy under the water. Whatever they were doing it provided an evenings entertainment.