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Published: August 31st 2009
..from the ferry, en route to Capri.
Motorhome News from Europe 19.
Italy March 2005
The Amalfi coast and into Umbria
Capri, Sorrento, Amalfi coast, Ravello, Monte Cassino, Abruzzo National Park, Roccaroso, Assisi, Perugia
Capri is everything you could possibly ask for. Take away the tourists and you are left with the most wonderful and romantic destination imaginable. It’s just half an hour by ferry from Sorrento, rising steeply from the Med on the edge of the Bay of Naples. It was busy at the portside; in the summer they expect around 5,000 visitors each day, but once off the beaten track we saw few people. The coastline is truly spectacular, the emerald sea meeting the steep cliffs at every viewpoint and white flat- roofed buildings spread like strings of pearls along the hillsides. We walked for hours through the tiny shaded streets where the only traffic is battery-operated vehicles and beautiful villas nestle amongst the pines. Yes, I could live here. Gracie Fields had a home on the Island I’m told and she sang about it! Emperor Tiberius also made his home and palace here, high above the town overlooking the sea, but that was a long time ago and the palace
..from the bus on our way back to the ferry
is in ruins now. The walk took us up - and down, hundreds of steps, until, exhausted, we returned to Capri to ogle at the designer shops and expensive hotels and restaurants, smart and tidy, getting their final spit-and-polish before the tourists come in numbers at Easter. We’ll be in Venice by then if all goes to plan.
Sorrento, back on the mainland, sits atop the vertical cliffs in a long line of fine shops and grand hotels. It swarms with Americans and Japanese even at this time of year, perhaps with fond memories of the many songs written, and films made, about this clean and pleasant town facing into the bay.
From our campsite ‘Nube Argento’ at Sorrento, we took the local bus along the fabulous Amalfi coast road clinging precariously to the edge of the mountainside hundreds of feet above the sea. We walked through the tiny farms and villages of flat roofed houses perched on the hillside from the lovely town of Ravello high above Amalfi. Just a couple of hundred metres from the town centre the only route into the mountain villages is along tiny paved mule tracks where everything still travels
..a short walk up the hill out of town
by mule or horse. There was a thriving paper industry here alongside the rushing mountain stream a century ago, and many of the old mills now stand forlorn, roofless and crumbling, leaving the village people dependant on their vines and lemons. We were joined on our walk by a couple from Cornwall on a walking holiday, and everywhere we went the locals greeted us with a friendly smile; often toothless, and a few words of greeting in broken English. The Italians in this area are truly welcoming.
True to plan for a change, we travelled northwards on Wednesday to visit the Benedictine Abbey at Montecassino before heading into the mountains of the Abruzzo National Park for some walking with bears and wolves - if they haven’t shot them all yet. (There are even holes in the road-signs hereabouts!) Our route took us through miles of virgin snowfields along the valley floor between snow-covered mountains.
I am compelled to visit military graveyards at places like Motecassino. Here lie 30,000 young men; sons, fathers, brothers and lovers, who gave their lives in the last war for this mountain top monastery, a German stronghold, now rebuilt, overlooking the endless
neat rows of white gravestones. And here we met a mother, her son, his daughter and a friend from Brandon, near our home-town. Mother was there to visit the grave of her father who died at Montecassino when she was just seven years old. That was enough to bring a tear to the eye. It happens that the two men are traffic police and we got news of our great friend and plod, Andy, who we learned is now a radio celebrity. We’re proud of you boy!
True to form, thirty miles on, we later discovered that our route into the Abruzzo Park was blocked by an avalanche higher up in the mountains. We phoned the campsite to check on access and the owner said, ‘We’re a metre deep in snow. You can try to get here, but you will see the problem if you do!’ We opted for another site and a 50 mile detour and arrived in Roccaroso in the heart of ski country at nearly 4,000ft. Yes, you guessed it - this one had a metre of snow too, but they had cleared an access and there were three other motorhomes already parked in
a camping area beside the hotel. We managed to get stuck on the ice on the steep driveway in, but after half an hour and with help from a few non-English speaking campers we eventually parked for the night, with frozen snow up to the roof either side of the motorhome, exhausted and up to our ears in snow and mud.
Thursday morning came with bright blue skies burning the snow-bound hills, temperatures touching zero and very slippery ice on the incline out of the camp-site. There was no way that we were going anywhere without chains! All of our motorhoming neighbours had left for the ski slopes before we rose. We were on our own, with no sign of help! So, it was off on the long three mile walk into Roccaraso in the remote hope of finding a set of chains to fit Smiley. The Cavalry came to our aid on the way down the long hill when two soldiers gave us a lift into town in an army mini-bus in response to a nonchalant thumb and we eventually found the local tyre merchant. He hunted through his stock without success, but promised to come to the site
at 1pm to see if he could help us. Just ten minutes later he caught us up with his van as we were walking back, waving his hand out of the window and cheering - a big smile on his face pointing to a brand new set of chains on the seat beside him. €100 lighter and an hour or two later, the chains were fixed and we were able to wave good-bye to that nightmare site! Lesson learned - ‘Be Prepared’ (Dib dib, dob dob, etc. And don’t get in if you think you can’t get out!)
There was too much snow around to even consider walking and no other campsites open yet in the area so we headed north again to Assisi, the home of St Francis, (‘poverty, chastity and obedience’), now showing little sign of the devastation caused by the earthquake in 1997. Assisi takes your breath away; its medieval mellow stone houses and churches, broad paved squares, glistening fountains on stunning squares and tasteful shops along every street. It is one of those special places where it’s natural to talk in a hushed voice and there’s a smile on every face. Some might say
....getting ready to fleece the tourists
that it’s manicured, but for me, that is part of its passion. The tourists were few there now, but there were large numbers of student groups. Italy is 90% Catholic and doubtless this pilgrim town is an important part of the country’s heritage. This has to be one of the Italian tourist hot-spots, but there was only one other motorhome on the campsite and somebody in a tiny tent lower down the hill.
We camped looking directly out over the wide fertile valley below Assisi and, in the evening, we ate ‘al fresco’ listening to the birds staking claim to new territory. The shorts and sandals came out for an airing today too. It has been around 25 degrees with clear blue skies for the past week and we’re loving it!
A few miles to the west lies Perugia, a medieval city of much greater size. The motorhome car park is at the bottom of the long hill up to the old town, but in Perugia you get escalators like the London Underground to get you to the top. We had expected funiculars! The wide panoramic streets and piazzas, and endless incredibly beautiful buildings have made
... 30,000 young men lie burried here; sons, brothers, husbands and uncles.
this town a great rival for Sienna over the centuries. Like Assisi and Sienna though, this town is clean and tidy with lovely shops and friendly people. They should ship a few coach-loads of Napolitanos here to see what a nice place they could have with a brain and a bit of TLC - and probably a lot of money too. We’re learning our way around the bars now. Two coffees and two custard doughnuts can be bought for as little as £3 if you really try!
Janice loved Umbria and I can understand why. It comes extremely close to Tuscany for the beauty of the countryside, the culture of the people and the warmth of its buildings. There was little graffiti and we felt less threatened there than in the towns further south.
David and Janice
The Grey Haired Nomads
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