The Amalfi Coast from Capo d’Orso to Atrani

We leave behind Capo d’Orso and its beautiful beaches to reaquaint ourselves with the curves before reaching the long beach of Maiori, the largest in this part of the Amalfi Coast. Today the city is very well equipped for the tourism industry, which has of course distorted the original beauty a bit, but there are still opportunities to take a step back in time to when, with the birth of the Amalfi Republic, the city was home to several arsenals and the Admiralty, as well as the Customs House and Salt deposit.

Click HERE to read the first part of our mini-guided tour to visiting the Amalfi Coast.

Maiori, the beach - photo from flickr user Adrian Scottow

Maiori, the beach – photo from flickr user Adrian Scottow

It seems among other things that it was in the arsenals themselves that the name ‘Tramontana’ was born, the word used in Italian to indicate the wind coming from the north, taking the name from the nearby town of Tramonti, from which the wind came funneled by the valley. And if you want to extend your visit, here is a proposal among many of a visit created especially for those wishing to explore the castles and fortifications of Maiori: HERE. Another curiosity about Maiori is linked to the film “Paisa” by Roberto Rossellini, which was shot mainly here, in spite of the fact that it is a film that traces the advance of the allies from Sicily to the north. In the Norman Tower the Sicilian scene was filmed and the street urchin from the Neopolitan scene was actually a boy from Maiori who happened to be wandering around the set in those days. It was Federico Fellini, then assistant director, who chose the local boy to star in this particular scene.

Maiori, Norman tower - photo from flickr user pululante

Maiori, Norman tower – photo from flickr user pululante

But it’s already time to leave again, and a few turns later, proceeding in the direction of Amalfi, you will see Minori, which once upon a time was just a small fishing village.

Minori, the 'spiaggetta' beach - photo from foto flickr user Uljana Egli

Minori, the ‘spiaggetta’ beach – photo from flickr user Uljana Egli

In the past it was an active center of production of handmade pasta, before everything was transferred to Gragnano, but the memories of the bounty of the land are still alive here today. From the famous lemons growing on the terraces, which were sculpted from the hillsides by the tenacity of the local farmers, to the sweet delicacies of the area, led by the well-known confectioner by the name of Sal De Riso (taste the eggplant with chocolate at least once before you die!) and the typical ndunderi, a sort of giant dumpling with ricotta cheese in the dough that still are one of the specialties of Minori today, you will not find it hard to understand why the city is the proud owner of the title of City of taste (Città del gusto). Do not miss a walk through the charming narrow streets, a visit to the Basilica of Santa Trofimena and the splendid Roman villa dating back to the 1st AD, a confirmation of how even the wealthy Romans knew how to appreciate the beauty of these places a couple of millennia ago.

Minori by night - photo from flickr user Eugene Regis

Minori by night – photo from flickr user Eugene Regis

By continuing for some kilometers, and turning right climbing your way up the mountain, you can enjoy some clear examples of the splendor of these places throughout history. Just take a trip to Ravello to breathe the history and culture, and enjoy both the stunning scenery and the architecture of its beautiful villas.

The gardens of Villa Rufolo, Ravello - photo from flickr user Greg Willis

The gardens of Villa Rufolo, Ravello – photo from flickr user Greg Willis

From the 11th century Cathedral to a tour of incredible palaces, like Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone, you can breathe the same air that has fascinated and inspired artists throughout history, and still makes Ravello a place which attracts celebrities of all kinds, as well as crowds of future husbands and wives who select it as the “beautiful setting” for their special day.

Villa Cimbrone, Ravello - photo from flickr user Ronnie Macdonald

Villa Cimbrone, Ravello – photo from flickr user Ronnie Macdonald

And if you are not lucky enough to dine at one of the two Michelin-starred restaurants located in Ravello – ‘Rossellinis’ and ‘Il Flauto di Pan’, who along with four other Michelin-starred restaurants in the area make these 40 kilometers of Amalfi a real oasis of gastronomic taste – you can console yourself with the many other proposals that this place has to offer. Here you’ll find every thing you need: the beauty of nature, the wonders of the architecture and works of art, so all you have to do is let yourself go, relax and enjoy.
Let’s go back to the coast, and head towards Amalfi. We will stop just before, Atrani, where you can find the house of the maternal family of Masaniello, and a cave that was apparently used by the hero of the Neapolitan revolt of 1647 to hide from soldiers of the viceroy of Naples. Here you can see very tangible signs of the fishing village that it was in the past, with the town square that still has direct access to the beach, well protected from storm surges, which was used to keep the fishing boats safe.

Atrani, view from the sea - photo from flickr user Uljana Egli

Atrani, view from the sea – photo from flickr user Uljana Egli

Atrani is an ideal place to stop before diving in the uber-tourist hotspots of Amalfi and Positano. Just a short visit will conjure up images of the past when the inhabitants of these places mainly supported themselves by fishing and crafts: Atrani was particularly known for its precious fabrics. Today it is a village well worth preserving: a little gem, and it’s a real pleasure to stroll through its narrow streets, between the houses resting one top of each other.

Originally published in Italian

Translation and adaptation for English by Ciarán Durkan

A trip around the Amalfi Coast: from the hinterland to Capo d’Orso

One of those trips that can only be called unforgettable is a trip around the Amalfi Coast. The beauty of the landscape and views, has been carefully preserved in this area, and not only in the smaller, more unknown and difficult to reach coves. The journey outlined in this mini-guide to the area, is designed for those who have decided to take a trip around these parts, during the summer holidays. However, it should be mentioned that during the off-season, these places take on a different kind of magic, equally worth experiencing, with the added benefit of being able to do so without the crush the masses who flock here during the summer months.

We will start the journey a few kilometers before the junction that leads to Vietri sul Mare, the gateway to the curves of the Amalfi coast, and specifically from Cava de’ Tirreni. A walk under the shady porticos of this town, which is steeped in history, accompanied by a visit to the Cathedral and the Abbey dating from 1011, are only some of the possible ways to discover the wonders of this part of Italy, and are a good warmup before facing the many curves ahead before we reach the heart of the Amalfi Coast.

The porticos of Cava de Tirreni - photo from flickr user Chiara Marra

The porticos of Cava de Tirreni – photo from flickr user Chiara Marra

Here, until a couple of decades ago, you would have found in the grounds of the town hall, a cart that sold paper cones filled with nose of pork and boiled corn on the cob, and in all likelihood they would have been our ‘what to eat’ recommendations for the place. Now that the old traditions have given way to new habits, the city boasts more than one proposal to stop and eat, with a good attitude to street food, to sink you teeth into as wander through its alleyways.

And if  there are some keen walkers among you, from the mountains surrounding Cava de’ Tirreni it is possible to set off and explore the Amalfi coast with a backpack and a great desire to walk, to see the scenery from the top down and have the opportunity to appreciate a hidden, but no less impressive side of this dramatic landscape. There is no shortage of proposals and itineraries online, selected according to the distance you feel you can manage, but it will certainly be a unique way of experiencing the area.

Driving by car in the direction of Salerno, after a few kilometers you will reach Molina di Vietri, a small village where you can stop to enjoy a hot ‘zeppola’ (Italian style donut), before getting lost among the many proposals that you will find for traditional pottery stopping in Vietri sul mare, a UNESCO world heritage site, as are all the other towns along the Amalfi Coast. Here, after a walk in the upper area of the town and a stroll down again, as far as the Marina, you will start to breathe a holiday atmosphere. And once you’ve re-energized yourself with a slice of thick crust pizza with sliced tomato (according to tradition it should be more than one fingers’ width high), and cooled off with an italian Gelato, you can enjoy a legitimate break dedicated to finding the hand-painted china set you’ve so often dreamed about.

Vietri sul Mare - photo from flickr user Elicus

Vietri sul Mare – photo from flickr user Elicus

If you suffer from the car sickness, hold on tight, because from here on there will be curves a plenty, all the way Positano, the end of our mini-guided tour, located approximately 40 km from Vietri.

Taking the state road 163 (strada statale 163 Amalfitana), from the very first curve you will be able to enjoy the magnificent scenery, stretching from the port of Salerno, in the background, to the points that can be seen beyond the bends, with mountains that descend steeply down to the sea.

Cetara by night - photo from flickr user Alessandro Bonvini

Cetara by night – photo from flickr user Alessandro Bonvini

After a few more hair raising curves we arrive at the small port of Cetara, with the town that extends behind it, at the foot of Mount Falerio. Once a place dedicated solely to fishing, Cetara today deserves its status as a tourist attraction, thanks to products such as Colatura di alici (a traditional, salted anchovy sauce), a real gastronomic gem of this place, which is none other than the modern version of the “garum” much used by the ancient Romans in their kitchen. A stroll along the arms of the port is a must, with fishermen preparing nets for fishing, and a wander through the lanes of the village, to discover small bars that have sprung up just behind the Via Marina. From Cetara itself you take a boat to explore the beaches and coves in the area, which are difficult to reach by land. From the ‘beach of lemons’, so called because it is surrounded by lemon trees that grow on terraces on the mountainside, to that of Cauco, in Erchie, there are plenty of distinctive places take a dip surrounded by beautiful scenery, admiring from the sea the breathtaking landscape of these very special places, with the Lattari mountains that plunge straight into the sea and the small towns that dot the territory.

Cetara, the tower - photo from flickr user Paolo Salmaso

Cetara, the tower – photo from flickr user Paolo Salmaso

After rounding the promontory headland of Capo d’Orso, we will take a visit to Maiori and Minori before arriving in Amalfi. But we will continue our mini-guided tour in part 2. If you want to book your next vacation on the Amalfi Coast, please contact Personal Travels HERE.

 

Originally published in Italian

Translation and adaptation for English by Ciarán Durkan

A visit to the National Park of Abruzzo: Opi and Val Fondillo

Leaving Pescasseroli behind you and taking the SS 83 Marsicana in the direction of Lake Barrea, you will find yourself immediately surrounded by a valley where in the warmest months of the summer a large number of animals graze, before reaching a junction that leads to the Forca d’Acero pass on the right, and on the left the road climbs up in a series of hairpin turns to the small town of Opi. Around here the atmosphere is a bit more authentic, less touristy than Pescasseroli, which certainly helps the visitor to envisage a time in the not so distant past when the local residents dedicated themselves almost exclusively to the care of their livestock.

The references to the past are all clearly legible, both in the shape of the landscape in this area and in the local gastronomic traditions, all of which have been more or less inspired by the kind of cucina povera, a rustic style of cooking using cheap, local ingredients, literally ‘poor cusine’ (and in some cases very poor indeed) from the times of transhumance. For thousands of years farmers have started out on long journeys to move the heards of cattle along grassy tracks south to Puglia, where they would winter during the coldest months of the year. In fact the creation of these tratturi (tracks), some of which would have originally stretched for over 300km (approx. 190 miles), has shaped the landscape which can be seen from the air if flying from Puglia to the north of Italy. The significant historical, cultural, and geographical impact of this transhumance route, known as The Royal Shepherd’s Track has meant that large areas of the tracks through the valleys and mountain side of the Appennines have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. In the region of Molise, along the shepherd’s track are the remains of the 1st century AD town of Saephinum (Sepino) complete with temples, basillicas, baths, and cemetary. The ruins of the ancient roman buildings were later used as farm buildings to shelter animals. This provides evidence that the tracks have been in continual use for at least 2,000 years. For more information or to visit the town of Sepino contact personal travels HERE.

 

opi camosci

Chamois goats with a view of Opi (Photo from parcoabruzzo.it)

OPIOpi is a tiny hamlet, and the historic town centre seems to cling to the top of a hill. To get to the town you have to run a guantlet of hairpin turns, curving their way up the mountain and narrow, tangled streets, which even people who live in the neighboring towns find daunting. We met a local man called Michael, who formerly worked as a bus driver in the area and today is a hotel concierge in the town of Pescasseroli. He who told us the drive to Opi was a kind of daily nightmare that still haunts him. From the top you can enjoy a wonderful view of the mountains in the area, including Mount Marsicano and the amphitheater of Camosciara. In the town itself you can visit the Chamois Museum, this goat-antelope is just one of the many wild inhabitants of the National Park of Abruzzo. Around here in fact, walking along the paths that surround the town or going on toward the pass of Forca d’Acero through large beech woods or even to Val Fondillo and Camosciara, you will probably be lucky enough to encounter many of the small and large animals that inhabit this beautiful protected area.

FOR TOURISTS – For the tourists who usually find themselves shunted around these parts, we recommend consulting the tourist information points in the area, which will indicate footpaths and walks (remember that some areas are called “strict nature reserves”, so you can not access them) or hiring a local guide to discover these places. In winter, the Macchiarvana Fund Center is well equipped to combine the pleasure of skiing with time to admire such a picturesque and charming area.

val fondillo e camosciara

Val Fondillo and the Camosciara(photo from parcoabruzzo.it)

VAL Fondillo – Driving back onto State Road 83 and heading towards Lake Barrea, after some curves in the road, watch out for the junction on the right leading to the car park of the Val Fondillo, another of the places you should not miss if you are touring around the area. Here, in the small building at the entrance of the valley, you will find all the helpfullness and expertise of Roberto and the rest of the team of CoopSort, who will guide you in discovering a beautiful and unspoilt area, rich in flora and fauna. It is important to remember, in fact, that your behavior can have a strong and sometimes devastating impact on the balance of these places. In order to help protect the rights of the animals in this wildlife preservation area, here are some basic rule to remember:

  • When you are ready to go, after a day exploring or a picnic, be careful not to leave any trash lying around.
  • Don’t be tempted to take home a memorable selfie with you and the local wildlife residents. The animals should not be approached by humans, and should not, in particular, be enticed towards you by offering them food.
  • If you have the good fortune to meet one of the wild animals in the area, enjoy it in silence, as you would do with similar precious and magical experiences.

Don’t hesitate to ask for all the information you need, and a good sugggestion would be to start with a guide to discover the routes in the area (there are various paths, with difficulty levels running from beginners to experienced to suit all ranges of experience, some even designed specifically for day or nighttime strolls). During the warmer months you can have your fill of delicious grilled meat in the square and then take a wonderful horseback ride. One thing to keep in mind is that in this part of Italy they do tourism a little differently. Here, sometimes with a display of “muscles” and patience on the part of young people who are investing their lives in extremely commendable projects, such as the Val Fondillo example, they have created a different model, which inevitably requires the active participation and involvement of the tourist. And who knows: perhaps all this can really benefit the flora and fauna of the area, the real stars of this unique, breathtaking scenery.

 

val fondillo

La Val Fondillo (photo from giorgiodicesare.wordpress.com)

For all the advice on where to stay in this part of the National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise, please contact Personal Travels!

 

Originally published in Italian by Francesco in February, 2015.

English translation and adaptation by Ciarán Durkan

Candy in Marseille: a delicious travel tip for people with a sweet tooth.

Connoisseurs from all over the world: in Marseille there is a travel itinerary for lovers of delicious candy. If you go to the French town, please let me know! I need you to do me a big favour. And before you ask, no, it’s not to bring me back some Marseille Soap or a bottle of Pastis! I went to Marseille in November, it was nice, I enjoyed it. However, as a local a shopkeeper admitted to me, it is true that in the evening during the winter there is not much to do. His exact words were: “It’s quite dead!”. But what I am still haunted by is the terrible mistake I made during the holiday. And it was a big one, like when you go to play soccer and you forget to put a towel in your gym bag.
Let me explain: I arrived at the airport and took the convenient shuttle bus (there’s one every 10 minutes, which takes you to the Gare Saint Charles in no time, the station for trains and buses going to the center of Marseille). And during this short journey I was enlightened. From the highway I received a heavenly vision, for me at least, as I love candy. In Marseille there is a Haribo factory with adjoining shop. I felt like little Charlie Bucket, the protagonist of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”: I had found the golden ticket to visit an enchanted place.

Charlie Bucket (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)

 

But I had come to Marseille with a prearranged travel itinerary: a day trip to the countryside in Aix-en-Provence, a night at the stadium to watch a soccer match (the new Velodrome is fantastic, if you have time you should go to watch a match with the Marseille team (Olympique de Marseille) who, by the way, are doing very well in the league this year) and an evening or two sampling the local food and drink, which particularly involved drinking rather too much Pastis (an anise liqueur that is produced in these parts, it’s 40 % alcohol (80’ proof) and is served as an aperitif). So, what with one thing and another, you’ll understand me when I say that I managed to completely forget the vision I saw in the bus. I got an unexpected shock when I set off on the return journey. I got back on the convenient shuttle bus and from the window I saw the Haribo factory.

 

Homer Simpson

No factory, no candy, DOH!
Remorse tormented me and so, once back in Italy, I made the situation worse. I did some research on the internet and found out that the factory was easily reachable from the center of Marseille by public transport (9 Boulevard Gay Lussac, 13014 Marseille, France). Not only that, but I then discovered that if I had remembered while still in France, I would have had the time and the opportunity to go to Uzes, a small town 150 km from Marseille, where Haribo has also opened – listen to how good this sounds – the “Musée du Bon Bon” (Candy Museum).
So there you have it, if you go to Marseille, please make me happy! Go and visit the shop, or the Candy Museum. At least my golden ticket will not have been wasted.

 

Original in Italian by Alessandro Giannace

January 15, 2015

Translation and adaptation into English by Ciarán Durkan

Excursions in the southern Tyrrhenian coast of Calabria

Our tour of the south of the Tyrrhenian coast of Calabria begins in the town of Pizzo Calabro with a ride through its narrow streets and a visit to the Aragonese Castle, before a well-deserved break to enjoy the famous truffle ice-cream. We move on from this area, steeped in history and where once maritime activities and handicraft production flourished. Down at the sea, we make a stop at the Church of Piedigrotta or, as the locals call it, the “Madonnella”. Down dozens of steps, we come to a cave carved into the rock and facing the beach, where the stalagmites have been carved and transformed into statues.

From the port of Vibo Valentia you can sail to the Aeolian Islands, a mini-cruise between Vulcano, Lipari and Stromboli. Or you can continue on south for a few kilometers towards the most popular tourist destinations in the area: Tropea. Here, in addition to the traces of the viitality of these places throughout history, you can stop to enjoy the beautiful sea, repeatedly recognized as one of the most beautiful in Italy. The welcoming narrow streets protect churches and palaces, as well as squares that overlook the sea, and make Tropea well worth a visit. And if the Hawaiian-style welcome includes a necklace for the tourist, be prepared! It could well be of sweet red onions, a typical product of the area of ​​Tropea.

Tropea - photo by flickr user simo0082

Tropea – photo by flickr user simo0082

A few kilometers to the south and here we are in the area that Skyscanner has recently selected as “destination of the year” for 2015. Capo Vaticano and its sandy beaches, protected behind a high rocky coastline. Here, nature still has a dominant role and in August finding a corner to spread out your towel can be arduous. But don your mask and enjoy all the beauty of the beautiful seabed. No wonder this stretch of coastline is known as the “Coast of the Gods”, and is indicated by many as one of the most charming places to visit.