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 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

The sheepdog, or how to successfully organize group travels

Photo by flickr user Don DeBold

Photo by flickr user Don DeBold

Personal Travels has kindly asked me to contribute regularly to its travel blog. I’m very pleased to oblige partly because, as the mother of the founder, I feel I belong to the company and partly because I feel my personal long-term experience may come in useful. Over the weeks I hope to tackle some worthwhile issues connected to organizing group travels and particularly to zoom in on student and religious groups.

Yeah! I know. The title. I grant that sheepdog is a bit odd for a travel blog but it describes exactly how I feel when I’m in charge of my group on our trips here and there for study or recreation.

I quite like the analogy myself. If you’ve ever watched a sheepdog working, you’ll see how seriously he takes his responsibility. He knows when to give the sheep free rein, he knows who the frisky ones are and when they might need a nip at the heels. He knows when he can take a breather and let them go at their own pace and he knows when to hand them back to the shepherd who will reward him with a well-done pat.

I was born in Ireland. My large Irish family – eight siblings – is not the stereotype Irish family, in the sense that we are not all scattered between Britain, Australia and America. I’m the only one who left Ireland and went to settle in Italy. But between family and friends who love to come and holiday in Calabria where I live, I feel I’m just down the road. Of course, going back to The Emerald Isle is always fantastic.

Home is in Calabria in the toe of Italy. I’m a teacher at secondary school level and am also a language trainer for elementary school teachers. I have three children and three wonderful grandchildren. I’m English-Italian bilingual and also try to keep my French and Irish from going too rusty.

By profession I’m an English language teacher and, over the years, I’ve taken numerous groups of Italian students on study holidays, on work experience and on cultural exchanges all over Europe. I’m really excited about being given a platform to share my experiences, offer some guidelines and help simplify the task of travel leaders getting people from A to B and once there of making the most of their stay in a host destination.

Over the weeks we will analyse group travels and related topics from simple things like remembering to take a universal adapter when going to the UK or Ireland or viceversa to complex issues like the challenge of twinning towns and how to find the funding to do so.

On behalf of the Personal travels team I wish you pleasant reading and look forward to your comments on matters that may interest you whether you are a seasoned group leader, an aspiring traveler or just someone fascinated by group travels and everything related to it.

Make or spoil a holiday: the importance of a coach tour guide

Photo by flickr user final gather

Photo by flickr user final gather

Our coach tour guide Renata met us at the airport. Just to mention guides. They can make or spoil a holiday. We are quite demanding of our guides as we just soak up information. Renata turned out to be exceptional. We boarded our coach and eventually reached the very elegant and welcoming Grand Hotel Liberty in Riva, on the shores of beautiful Lake Garda.

Lake Garda, Venice and Verona, a fantastic ten day trip. We travelled by air Dublin – Milan/Bergamo. As I wound my way though the stream of travellers heading to the Milan gate I found myself doing what I often do: you smile at the odd fellow traveller and size them up, they’d be ok to spend 10 days with or Oh! God, they look as if they’re heading to jail!

I love to see a photo or a video of some location and be able to say “We were there”. I see the professional photos on travel brochures and websites and I think my own amateurish photos are so much better! It is nice to have personal memories of one’s travels and it’s great to have someone to share them with.

I always appreciate a coach tour guide that leaves you the first day free to relax and explore and find your bearings. We strolled around Riva and visited the markets in the afternoon. Return to the hotel for dinner. We then began to mingle and people were talking about the various tours throughout the week some included in the package, some optional, which you could avail of or forego.

Going back to famous locations and the “We were there” factor, the highlight of the holiday was the full day excursion to Venice and a very informative guided tour of the city – St. Mark’s Square, Doges Palace, Bridge of Sighs. A payment of 17 euro per person collected on the bus to cover Venice, tourist tax and water taxi charge. At extra cost we just had to take the trip on a gondola. How could one not! What lovely holiday photos that little outing provided!.

Venice - Photo by flickr user Roger Davies

Venice – Photo by flickr user Roger Davies

Verona was lovely. We enjoyed the usual tourist sights, Juliet’s balcony, the Amphitheatre and, even though we’d been warned, one of our party had her purse stolen which put a damper on things.

Another memorable trip to the awesome Dolomites and a fantastic Italian lunch with lots of wine and limoncello, There was much merriment on the return journey!

Riva was our base and we travelled from there each day returning in time for evening dinner. Like kids finding all the wonders of a fun park, we availed of all the trips, organised by our coach tour guide and optional, each one of them wonderful. Maybe it was the combination of sun, food and wine but we were super energetic and super curious about every aspect of life in northern Italy.

Limone by boat, a charming little town on the other side of the Lake with lots of shops selling beautiful leather goods. Needless to say I was tempted and bought a coat there. A trip up the Alps by cable car and the mist came down around us. What a fascinating experience to hear the bells chiming as the cattle grazed about us.

On day trips the coach tour guide usually advises where to go for the BEST coffee, tea ice-cream etc. which is generally very close to the bus stop. There is always a stampede to such places. We never avail of those suggested stops but wander off and find a nice little place for ourselves with the loveliest cappuccino ever tasted! the tastiest gelato, the fruitiest yoghurt, the most tempting aperitivo. And do we like to tell of our discoveries when we get back on the bus!

After a few days we were on first name terms with most of the group, none of whom were of course those passengers at the airport that I’d decided would be our travel companions. All too soon our ten days were over and it was time to return home with lots of lovely memories, lots of email addresses and phone numbers and fingers itching to leaf through another travel magazine or, maybe this time, to browse through Personal Travels proposals which at this stage could pinpoint my needs and come up with an even better travel option than I myself ever could.

The group leader’s to-do list for organized student travels

There are no set rules to organized student travel, but following some of the following advice might prove useful to aspiring group leaders. Once the participants have been selected, hold a preliminary meeting and get organized.

SONY DSC

Go through the WH/H- items with the students and their families:

  • What the aim of the trip is.
  • Who is going.
  • Why they are going.
  • When they are leaving and returning.
  • Which company they are traveling with.
  • How hotel rooms/host families will be allocated.
  • What new foods they will eat and what they may or may not enjoy.
  • How daily activities are organized.
  • Check that each student has a valid travel document – passport or national ID card and that the name on this document coincides with the name on the airline ticket.
  • They should also hold a national health card valid in all EU member states. Get the students to hand in a photocopy of identity document.

At the second group meeting discuss what parents are agreeing to with particular reference to point 10 of the list. Allow time for mingling and informal conversation during this meeting so that the group can gel. If students are from different classes or schools get them to exchange contact info. They can also discuss a common policy on posting videos, photos, messages on social networks. Phone calls to/from home. Be careful of Internet access as an extra in
some hotels, hostels.

aereoplano

First-time travelers need to know how to pack and what will not pass security checks. Ensure that the student has a personal tag on his luggage to make it easy to spot on the airport carousel. Ensure that the students knows what they can and cannot carry in their hand luggage and what the max weight for checked in luggage is.

Advise students to travel as light as possible as they will be responsible for their luggage during transfers and on arriving and leaving hotels. They may need to be reminded to leave some space and weight for souvenirs and clothes they may buy. If students are going on a language-learning trip, it could be suggested that they buy toiletries at their destination and to use this as a language production exercise.

Assign students the task of reading up on their destination location. How much money to bring. What, if any, extra costs. If students are given full-board hospitality, the average amount of pocket money should not be more than the equivalent of €10 per day. If going to a non-Euro destination, discuss whether to change currency before leaving or on arrival and to cut costs, suggest one transaction by the group leader of a set amount of say €100 per student for a 10- day stay. This solution may not be acceptable to all students or to their families.

Discuss airport procedure. From the word go, create a climate where parents are relaxed about the event and students enjoy every moment starting with the buzz and the pace of the airport. What to do in an airport emergency or if a student is separated from the group. Instil in the students the importance of learning by observing. How to behave on board the plane for the first time traveler. How to deal with flight panic.

Impact with the location. First impressions are important. The group dynamic changes at this point. Being part of the droves of tourists on the move or queuing for hours will not suit everybody. Clinging students will fret, the adventurous ones won’t want to waste a second of their time. Group rhythms will clash with personal rhythms: organizing outings for 9 am when part of the group has been clubbing until 4 am. Long bus trips, delays, traffic jams, hotel difficulties, group tensions. Find the right balance for the group and remind the students of their responsibility towards each other.

studente-viaggio

Changing one’s eating habits can be stressful, take buffet-style breakfast, lunch and dinner. Reaction to self-service may mean over-eating or going out and indulging in comfort eating at the take-away. Constipation or diarrhea can often result. If such issues have been discussed prior to departure, the students won’t be embarrassed to confide about them.

Cultural awareness cannot be over-emphasized. The group must be told about respecting customs and dress codes of host countries. They must not belittle such customs. If they observe the locals on, for example, public transport, they should know what is a suitable tone of voice.

Holiday romances and heartbreak, shop-lifting, alcohol consumption in public spaces and drug use will be part of the group dynamic. This is where parental involvement comes in. A signed statement should be signed that, in the event of a student being expelled from a state for a serious crime, the return journey will be at the expense of the family, including any extra cost for restitution of stolen goods or for unaccompanied minors being repatriated,

Another area where a school may be left to foot a heavy bill is if hotel property is damaged. This problem can be off-set by having students pay a refundable deposit of about €50 per head. If the families agree, we usually refund this money for the student to have on the final day of his stay.