Alberto objects when I say that South of Rome starts Africa. Napoli, Salerno and Pompeii made the chaos in civilised Northern Italy look rather tame in comparison. Napoli is an exciting and vibrant city and Salerno is more sophisticated than I had hoped after Napoli. I would have loved to spend a few more days in Italy’s Campania province but we have been saying this almost daily now for the past two months.
One could spend an entire year in Italy alone. Seven months in Europe won’t be enough to see everything. Unfortunately!
According to our original rough and not set in stone schedule we should be well and truly on our way to Spain. Alas! Plan B has taken effect. Spain will have to wait till August, till after the Tour de France. But we may now be able to also see the Tour of Switzerland and the Criterium International. And the Vuelta a Espana starts already in mid to late August, so it all works out even better now. And we can relax and enjoy all the mountains that Italy has to offer. Oh, and have I mentioned that I increased my Gelato budget?
What else has been happening?
Last week we stayed in Pozzuoli – the town where Sophia Loren was born. The Solfatara camp ground there is located in the volcano crater, steam, hot springs and sulphur smells inclusive. It’s a short train ride into Napoli from there. Don’t even try driving! Or riding! Leave that for the Amalfi coast that starts just South of Napoli. After four days of sightseeing in Rome and Napoli… topping up after Genova and Florence… we had reached our art, history and ruins threshold. We needed a rest day from culture so we drove straight down to Sorrento and left Pompeii for later.
Up until that day I thought California’s Big Sur was the most beautiful coastline in the world.
A few kilometres before Positano, where the Amalfi Coast starts, the road hits the coast high above the deep blue Mediterranean Sea and incredible views opened up. It was lunch time and we stopped right there by the cliff and cooked a simple pasta dish, just garlic and olive oil, fresh basil and pomodorini (sweet little tomatoes) that we had bought at a fruit stall by the road side a couple of kilometres earlier. Mediterranean style and so delicious, especially when enjoyed right on that little stone wall high above the sea. The goat bells jingled somewhere below us and the jet-set from Napoli left white foam lines in the deep blue water on their way to Capri.
Cyclists came pass in numbers. We were bursting in anticipation of this cycling heaven. Amongst the cyclists was an Austrian guy with whom we got to chat. On his way from Genova to Salerno by bike, he was on his last “tappa” of his ten day cycling holiday. Travelling light, he carried just a little rucksack and stayed in hotels along the way. Nothing pre booked, he said, because he didn’t know how far he would get each day. He confirmed that riding through Napoli had been a nightmare but the ride up Vesuvius had been special. People had blocked the road in demonstration for stopping traffic to go up there. They had allowed him to go through because bicycles are alright, so he had the entire road to himself. We hadn’t planned to ride up Vesuvius but a mental note was made to add this to the “To Do” list.
The road was perfect, the weather was perfect, and we were dying to get on our bikes. Yet, we didn’t get to ride that day. Why? Well, instead of leaving the motorhome right there where in was, we thought it wiser to continue driving a little further. Only, we didn’t see the signs about a day time driving restriction for Motorhomes along the Amalfi Coast Road. Motorhomes are only allowed to drive on that road between midnight and 6:30am. The road is narrow and navigating it proved tiresome and slow. There were no parking spots anywhere along this stretch, let alone places to just stop. When we finally, two hours later, reached Minori and a little fishing harbour with an empty car park, you could hear the sighs of relief.
Late afternoon by now, we hurried to get the bikes off the rack, only to be addressed by a friendly policeman making us aware of the driving restriction. He didn’t fine us but instead allowed us to continue on to Salerno. Thoughts of getting on the bike that afternoon were abandoned.
We made up for this lost riding opportunity because Salerno turned out a great base for rides along the Amalfi Coast. If you head North out of town, the road climbs up to the Autostrada and the Amalfi Coast road, which also makes for stunning descents back into Salerno on your return trip. Not only is the scenery stunning, numerous picturesque villages (or should I say chic seaside resorts?) with bars and pasticcerias invite for a quick stop and a cafe and cornetto (very strong short black and a plain croissant) for as little as 1.20 Euros or 1.50 Euro if you prefer an Americano (a kind of long black or double shot espresso with extra hot water on the side).
The first ride, straight after breakfast the next morning, was a 90km out and back affair along the coastal road with a little detour up to Ravello and Scala. Ravello, high up above the coast, was highly recommended as a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of the coastal towns but we found it to be touristy and busy that morning so we stayed just long enough to cast our eyes back down. Scala on the other side of the valley was much quieter and the views across to Ravello made this village the more attractive place in my book. With the five kilometre climb up to Scala and Ravello and the up and down along the coast, the ride packed 1400m of climbing.
But if this amount of climbing is not enough then there are the higher mountains just behind the coast. During our little detour to Salerno we found this beautiful climb through quiet hinterland villages, through vineyards, lemon and olive tree groves and churches. Till today I’m not sure how we found our way back to the bottom of this climb through the maze of highly populated Cava de Tirreni but it was worth looking for it. Head towards Pagani and Corbara. The climb is 9.6km long with an average gradient of 6% and the lookout at the top offers wide views over the Amalfi Coast hinterland and across to Vesuvius. We went over and down the other side back towards Ravello and the coastal road, which made for a perfect loop.