After our Sicilian 4×4 roadtrip adventure had ended we took the ferry from Messina to Villa San Giovanni. It was only a short crossing to the mainland to get our roadtrip to continue with a 4×4 camper in southern Italy. In the harbor town we first stock up on provisions for about seven days at the local supermarket and greengrocer.
In the (fore)foot of the boot there are about 5 national parks in a row. Our goal is to take a long walk in the first park. Directly from Villa San Giovanni we take up narrow winding mountain roads as the views over Calabria become more and more beautiful. Then follows a dense, dark pine forest where we regularly have to remove branches to continue the road without too much damage. Later it becomes more open again. Just got into the National Park When we arrived we spot a black Calabrian squirrel.
Table of contents
1. On the way to Parco Nationale dell' Aspromonte
Our navigation sends us on a road that, according to a traffic sign, ends at a dead end along the street. Curious as we are, we try anyway… The mountain road appears to have hardly been used for years. It is full of boulders and the overhanging branches make driving through quite a challenge. We pass a viaduct and a collapsed tunnel.
It is possible to get past it via a bypass. But at some point we have to give up. A huge boulder blocks the way. A little further on we see that a large landslide has taken place, which has made the road completely impassable.
Here we witness once again the power of the earth and erosion. A large part of the slope has been pushed down. Research tells us that this already took place in 2015. We now know for sure that we cannot go any further. Because it is getting late, we decide to park the camper here in the middle of the mountain road and spend the night. Our curiosity eventually brings us to a “worldly” place.
After a long mountain hike in the National Park, we spend the night at a coastal town called San Ferdinando. There is a beautiful boulevard, complete with palm trees. The wide, clean sandy beach is beautiful, but completely deserted. That "extinct" also applies to the village behind it. The collapsed buildings and broken roads indicate that prosperity has a different meaning here. We stay there overnight and meet a man who tells us in sign language about a village 30 kilometers away: Tropea.
Moreover, he is very enthusiastic about our camper and would like to sit behind the wheel for a while. We decide to take a look at Tropea. It turns out to be an impressive village, located on a 60 meter high rock. Just before the coast - and thus in front of the village - a limestone rock towers above sea level with a castle on top. Towards the coast, the sandy beach is clean and attractive.
The village itself has cozy streets with a souvenir shop here and there, but also many attractive terraces, restaurants and delicious ice creams in various ice cream parlors. In the evening there is atmospheric live music from the various squares. From one of the squares you can look out onto the beach and see the castle in the distance. Rarely have we seen such a photogenic village. Because we are here at the beginning of October, there is a perfect climate, about 25 degrees and the crowds are not that bad. We would probably have quickly fled here in August.
3. Sweet Calabrian Onion
In Tropea we come into contact with a very special onion. He's sweet! The onion is unique to the region and it is even used to make jam. Of course, it is also used in many typical Calabrian dishes.
4. Autumn in Calabria
It is now early October and the first signs of autumn are also visible in southern Italy. In the national parks at altitudes between 900 and 2200 meters the temperature is noticeably cooler than in lower parts along the coast. The sun is still doing its best, but it is no longer able to reach 20 degrees at these heights. 100% sunshine is no longer a matter of course and we get the "rainfall radar" from the stable again to check.
Both in National Park Della Sila and in NP Del Pollino we take brisk walks, in which we climb the highest mountain of the massif in NP Del Pollino, the Monte Serra Dolcedorme (2267m).
We see the leaves on the trees carefully changing color and the first ones actually fall to the ground. Shadows get longer every day and by 6:XNUMX you should have found a place for the night, if you want to know where you are sleeping before dark. It is no problem at all to find a wild overnight place in a national park at this time of year, it is wonderfully quiet. In such a place we enjoy our new hobby: roasting sweet chestnuts in olive oil, how Italian do you want it?
5. Puglia, the heel of the boot
We continue our roadtrip through southern Italy towards Puglia, in the heel of the boot. The heel of the boot is known as the least prosperous region of Italy. We are curious what that means! In any case, in the town of Matera they know how to sell their beautifully preserved history in a touristic way. A visit to this special town is definitely worth it.
In the old historic center you will find so many narrow streets and stairs that you have the feeling that you are in a maze. On the outskirts you will find several ancient cave dwellings, several of which are still inhabited. The caves often only contain a front door, so it is dark and cool inside. Nice on hot summer days.
Tip:: also read the blog with the most beautiful sights of Matera from Ciaotutti.
6. Puglia – Inland
The heel of the Italian boot is much less mountainous than the forefoot (Calabria). In the northern part of Puglia you see a lot of fruit growing and agriculture. We often drive on small roads between grape vines, olive trees and other fruit trees. The clay-like soil is very fertile.
We can spend the night here peacefully a few times between all those healthy crops. We also see age-old olive trees here, according to hearsay, olive trees can grow up to 3000 in these regions! become year.
We meander on back roads from village to village. The further south we go, the more austere and messy the environment becomes. The condition of the roads and traffic signs here, with the exception of the really through roads, is not good. The buildings are old, unfinished, about to collapse or have collapsed. There is hardly any question of lush fruit cultivation.
The landscape here consists of barely maintained fields with partitions of dilapidated walls, planted with (old) olive trees. Some coastal towns do benefit from the attraction of the sea. Here you will still find a bit of liveliness of the local population.
7. Caves and Bauxite
We drive along the Adriatic coast and see many apartment complexes, hotels and beaches. Most of it is closed in October. On this part of the coast you will also find several caves which are accessible -some for a fee. At Otranto we visit a bauxite lake, where the different natural colors form an amazing whole. Bauxite is the main raw material for aluminum production.
8. Lecce, Ostuni and Locorotondo
We continue our roadtrip through southern Italy in a northwesterly direction. Here we pass a number of towns to which we pay short visits. Lecce is the capital of the Puglia region and therefore has considerable suburbs. In the historic center we are surprised by the cozy relaxed atmosphere and clean streets. There are many antiquities worth admiring. The shops often consist of nice specialties instead of well-known souvenir shops. An ancient amphitheater has been excavated in the central square. That gives a nice glimpse into the past.
Of course we enjoy a cup of coffee with a pasticciotti, a local sweet delicacy, on a terrace.
A little further is the town of Ostuni. This is where the tourists come for the whitewashed houses. From afar, the town stands out on top of the rock and stands out from the rest of the area. The village has nice narrow streets, stairs and narrow passages. Judging by the shops, the terraces and restaurants, they have to rely on tourism here. We are happy that we are here in October at a degree of 20, we don't have to think about walking around here in August at 35+.
As the last town for the time being, we visit Locorotondo. The area here is known for its trulli. These are typical houses with oval, conical roofs. They are built with “dry” masonry (without mortar) walls. The trulli are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
9. Bridge to the Moon
We are ready for something sporty and adventurous again. All those towns make us drowsy. Italy is a really great country when it comes to Via Ferratas. We look for our climbing gear and soon find two mighty tours.
Our efforts are rewarded with fantastic views over the southern Apennines near the town of Castelmezzano. A little further on, near the town of Sasso di Castalda, a 2016-meter-long suspension bridge was built in 300. They have given it the appropriate name 'Bridge to the Moon'. Entry is only possible by purchasing a ticket. But then you have something! The video below will give you a good idea of the area, worth watching! In addition to the suspension bridge, we also climb a Via Ferrata in the same area.
10. Monte Cervati
And because it is still not enough, a day later we climb the Monte Cervati (1899) in the Cilento Vallo di Diano e Alburni National Park.
The first part of the walk is a fairly steep climb through a dark beech forest. The hardly trodden paths are poorly visible. But with our walking navigation we manage to find the way. Unexpectedly we pass a mountain hut on this chilly cloudy October day.
To our surprise, the door is open. The manager appears to be doing odd jobs and has set up the wood-burning stove. Great, here we can warm up. The manager asks if he should make some food. Well, that seems like something to us. A little later we are eating pasta by the wood stove, with a nice hut manager who tells extensively about the National Park.
Still, after an hour and a half, we have to break off the unexpected fun for the last meters to the top. Unfortunately, the view at the top is minimal due to the cloudy weather. After 2 hours of descending we reach the camper again, where we rinse off under our outdoor shower.
11. Amalfi Coast
We visit the Amalfi Coast in the knowledge that an awful lot has been written about it and many consider this to be the (world's) most beautiful coastal road. The famous coastal road starts from the town of Salerno and takes you west along the south coast of the Sorrento Peninsula. It is indeed a beautiful road with breathtaking views over the water where the steep coast rises from the water with the "stuck" villages. The road itself is a challenge to drive on because of the many tight hairpin bends where you regularly encounter a honking bus.
With a few centimeters between them, they still manage to pass each other again and again.
In addition to driving the well-known route, we decide to take a day walk.
The Sentiero degli Dei, the path of the gods.
On Monday morning immediately after sunrise we leave for a long walk. We have decided to add an extra loop to the walk. That means a serious climb. The views and entourage are amazing. We are short of words to make a correct description.
On the way - built in between the steep rock walls - we pass a terrace where we have a drink. The extremely friendly owner who runs the business with her sister gives us bread with cheese and tomatoes from her own garden. The tomatoes are as thick as tennis balls and taste great. Together with the beautiful place it was difficult to say goodbye.
It has to be, because there is still a big climb at stake. At 1100 meters above sea level, with a phenomenal view, we enjoy maximum.
For your information: The Sentiero Degli Dei is a walk of about 3 hours. You can walk back and forth or take the water taxi back. (We made an extra loop and walked back “over the top”). Along the way you can light up at B&B Villa Sofia, where you are guaranteed to be pampered by the owner. (On your bucketlist would we say)
12. Herculaneum and Vesuvius
As an alternative to Pompei, we visit Herculaneum. Herculaneum is less touristy than the world famous Pompei. This town was also buried in 79 AD under a layer of ash and lava from the same volcanic eruption.
The excavations give a visual impression of life some 2000 years ago. It is very impressive to see how well the remains have been preserved over the centuries. One of the differences with Pompeii is that Herculaneum was more prosperous, probably due to its location on the coast, where there were more opportunities for fishing and trade. Most corpses were therefore found on the coastline where it was apparently no longer possible to flee.
We do not visit the neighboring volcano Vesuvius. After we visited Mount Etna in Sicily in complete freedom a few weeks ago, Vesuvius seems to have become a huge tourist attraction where you can walk the marked hiking trails in a row of visitors after buying a ticket. The Vesuvius is still a serious danger, because 600.000(!) residents are directly threatened by an eruption that is theoretically possible every day.
From the campsite in the suburb of Arcolano we take the train to the main station of Napoli and then the metro to the metro station Toledo. The journey is an experience in itself. At stations and in trains you already see so much of the environment and the lifestyle of people. A number of times we are spontaneously shown the way by Neapolitans who see that we are searching. The working-class district of Spagnoli is located behind Via Toledo. We walk around here and are deeply impressed by the cozy and friendly atmosphere. Bars, terraces, honking scooters and chaos in narrow streets where it seems as if the laundry is permanently hanging outside. We regularly grab a terrace and enjoy everything that happens around us.
We walk towards the historic center and hardly get bored. While strolling we pass a street where the shops sell all kinds of knick-knacks and Christmas decorations. Amazing how it's all made. Our walking pace is very slow and time flies. Finally, we come back to the main station and realize that we have only seen a fraction of the city.
We had spoken in advance with several people who spoke negatively about Napoli. As far as historical architecture is concerned, Napoli is not among the top, but when it comes to conviviality, atmosphere and conviviality, it is a unique city. We are very excited!
We hereby conclude this phase of our journey through the world. We left on June 3rd, so we have been on the road for almost 5 months. We started in the Ardennes where we walked part of GR5. Then we visited in France the Champagne region and part of the Vosges. In the beautiful, clean Switzerland we stayed longer than expected and enjoyed the Alps immensely. Via France and northern Italy we took the ferry to Sardinia, where we completed 4 weeks without any problems. From Sardinia we crossed to Sicily and then we discovered the south of the Italian mainland. We have enjoyed so much, we have seen a lot. We met a lot of nice, lovely people.
How we have enjoyed our freedom!
Back to The Netherlands, take a break… Yes, traveling is quite tiring. Process all impressions further in photo albums so that we keep the memories alive. Visit family and acquaintances and arrange a number of practical matters.
We'll let you know as soon as we're out. Wishing everyone a nice winter! Love, Cor and Grietje