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Saturday, 23 March 2013

Europe Trip 2012/13 - Alberobello to Capo Trionto

26th February.
I got up early to get my photos of the old town before the tourist shops opened. After a sparkling moonlit night the anticipated low sun didn’t quite put in an appearance and I had to make do with a flat, grey light. The conical roofed, limestone Trulli houses are unique and have been UNESCO listed since 1996.

Later, I did the rounds again with Sue, and we visited the Trullo Sovrano behind the church on the main square, apparently the only two-storey Trulli house in Alberobello. Although comparatively recently built in the 18th century, it has the essential features and still some original furniture to give a feel of its days of habitation – more worthy of a visit than the entro libero houses (shops) on the other side of town, where the persistence of the traders soon becomes tiresome.

The Trullo Sovrano, the only two-story Trulli house 

Leaving town, we came across many more Trulli-style houses, some obviously new constructions – it seems the Brits are not the only ones to get romantic about old cottages! We headed for Ostuni, an ancient town famous for its white painted buildings and its fortified hilltop citadel.

The "Citta Biancà" Ostuni 


There is a new camper service sosta near the old town, but we left it, thinking we would crack on down the coast in the sunshine. As we approached Brindisi however, the sky darkened ahead until it was almost black, the day prematurely dark. Then the rain came, a torrential cloudburst so heavy the wipers couldn’t cope; this was not the time to be on the motorway, half-blind, with 40 tonne trucks thundering by!

Sue had already researched a stopover by the side of the SS16 and we turned off. It was basically a secure compound for truckers, cars and service vehicles – not the most picturesque setting we have ever been in, but as a refuge from the weather; for  €10, and including free unsecured and very fast wi-fi; we were not complaining!

Any port in a storm! 

Camper sosta, Brindisi
GPS: 40.6353 N, 17.9176 E 

Sue was just lighting the fridge – the igniter sparking – when there was a brilliant flash so bright the colour drained from everything, like an overexposed black and white photograph. We looked at each other, thinking for a fleeting instant that we were being blown to kingdom come. The thunder crash came a split second later and literally shook the van, we could feel it tremble beneath our feet! Wow, that was a big one; we laughed with relief at being intact, and the uncanny timing! The rain came down like a fire hose until the flat concrete had disappeared beneath rippling eddies of water – we hoped they’d got some good drains! 

27th February 
We had a quiet night, apart from some dreadful karoke – like a Glasgow drunk after a wedding party – coming over the compound wall into the early hours. 

In the morning, the sun tried to break through without much success. We headed on down to Lecce and did a major shop in the huge commercial park just off the motorway. The ipercoop was mayhem, everybody on automatic after the public holiday. We had been talking about the mafia the night before and it occurred to me that the men either looked like a typical screen Mafioso – somehow sinister (immaculate clothes; brushed back silver hair; glassy, coal-dark eyes), or their victims (untidy, nervous, beaten down, with a limp or a tick). Offering my credit card at the till, I was asked for ID for the first time this trip.

Back on the road, I pulled into an Esso garage: they wanted €100 cash or credit card transaction before they would fill us up – we moved on!

Flooded roads around San Cataldo

Then out to the coast, and the run from San Cataldo down to Otranto. San Cataldo was a ghost town, rubbish blocking the drains in the street and sections of road flooded after last nights rain. The sea front was quite tidy however, and there was even some nominated parking for motorhomes. As we moved south, the remaining towns became progressively tattier: totally seasonal, they were sad and empty without their boozy sun-worshippers. There was sign after sign advertising motorhome camper sostas – all closed of course.

We had to do a detour inland from San Andrea as workmen had blocked off the roundabout with their truck and they weren’t about to shift it, waving us away as if we had no right to be there. We passed mile after mile of olive groves, the ground beneath the trees immaculately manicured to receive the falling olives. A rather tortuous drive through run-down villages eventually brought us back to the coast near the Lago Alimini Grande, an inland lake and resort centre.

After Otranto, or the Cape d’Otranto to be precise, the topography and atmosphere changed abruptly: raised limestone cliffs gave us a better view of the sea, and instead of cafés, tourist restaurants and disco-bars, we started to see much smarter signs for secluded holiday resort hotels, agri-tourism vineyards and up-market campsites.

The coast road south from Cap d'Otranto 

Castro looked promising, but the through traffic is directed well away from the centre and we couldn’t find any level car parks. At Marina di Andrea however, we spotted a road leading to a little fishing harbour carved out of the solid rock of the shoreline. There were plenty of pay-parking bays, but only a fishing boat on a trailer to occupy them. A fisherman in a cap walking his dog gave me a smile and a nod. A nod’s as good as a wink to us and we parked next to the boat with a view of the sea – that’ll do nicely, an off-season treat!

Stopover, Marina di Andrea
GPS: 39.9733 N, 18.4074 E 

28th February 
I awoke at first light, grabbed my camera and left the van to catch the sunrise over the sea. Apart from a guy out running with his dog I was on my own to enjoy the spectacle. 

Sunrise at Marina di Andrea

The sun lights up the van with a rosy glow 

The drive down to Capo Santa Maria di Leuca, the most southerly point of Puglia, was by far the most enjoyable of the entire coast; the sun sparkled on the sea and warmed us enough to sit in our shirtsleeves for the first time this trip. The elevated road gave us a vista of limestone cliffs tumbling into the sea and the pretty Porto Tricase with its intricate little castle and marina. 

Porto Tricase  

At Capo Santa Maria we parked up by the Basilica. There was a breathless stillness in the warm sun and we soaked up the views out to sea and from the Sanctuary’s steps down to the town and marina. The Basilica was open and is worth a visit.

GPS: 39.7966N, 18.3677 E

Basilica Santuario Di Santa Maria di Leuca

Capo Santa Maria 

Up from the Cape the scenery changed back into tatty and deserted holiday towns, albeit with some nice beaches. Town after similar resort town rolled by – perversely, many have labyrinthine one-way systems that feed you away from the waterfront and then do their best to get you lost on the way out.

We had seen many signs for camper service, almost all belonging to campsites (and consequently closed until April or May), but we found a newly built, standalone area at Marina di Mancaversa. The water and electricity were isolated but we were able to dump the loo.

Camper sosta, Marina di Mancaversa
GPS: 39.9692 N, 18.0247 E

The great sweep of the Baia Verde below Gallipoli is lined with pay-parking bays, but you couldn’t deny the beauty of the beach. As we passed, there was hardly a single vehicle to be seen and yet it was warm enough to sit out and dig your toes into the sand.

Gallipoli appears at the top of the Baia Verde

The seafront and centre of Gallipoli is off-limits to motorhomes and caravans, but we found a patch of waste land on the north side to park up, eat our lunch and enjoy a view of the sea and Gallipoli’s small port.

Lunch stop, Gallipoli
GPS: 40.0684 N, 18.0030 E

Gallipoli's small harbour 

We headed inland a bit for a change, but it was still olive grove after olive grove. Back on the coast just above Torre Lapillo the road was abruptly barrier-ed off with the simple: “Strada Chiuso”. Forced to backtrack several kilometres, and head inland again on the S359, we saw a solitary girl dancing by the side of the road. Having passed many kerbside “working girls” in Italy it was a shock to realise how young this one was: clad in what looked like a nightie under a denim jacket, her animated jig was a parody, her face a mask behind dark glasses as she leered up at the cab; no more than fifteen, perhaps less.

We returned to the coast once more at Torre Colimena. We had more or less had enough for one day and found a quiet beach car park next to small wood in San Pietro in Bevagna. The town itself was still an eerie shell, awaiting its spring clean and summer occupants – just one bar open and a few cars about.

Stopover, San Pietro in Bevagna
GPS: 40.3062 N, 17.6702 E 

1st March 
A peaceful night, and again we were treated to a fine sunrise. I had a walk on the beach in the crisp air, small waves rippling onto the sand, a single fishing boat a half-mile offshore.

Sunrise at San Pietro 

Our over-night pitch

Driving out of San Pietro we saw yet another graffiti style sprawl on a wall: "no scarico a mare" – no dumping in the sea; initially I thought this message was aimed at uncaring and ignorant motorhomers, but I began to wonder if it had a wider theme for it to be defacing so many buildings.

The rest of the run to Taranto is designated an Itinerio Magna Grecia for its many Greek and Roman ruins, and was altogether a tidier and more attractive piece of coastline than the first stretch up from Gallipoli.

I “paid off” the first ship of my sea-going career in Taranto in the 1970’s, and for some mad reason decided it might be interesting to drive through the centre of the city and pass over the lifting bridge that separates the inner and outer harbours. In the end it wasn’t so bad, but you have to be prepared to be swept up with the traffic and go with the flow – which can be a bit nerve shredding if you’re not sure which stream you want to be in! The 1930’s art deco apartment blocks were still there – with many modern additions – and the ancient Ponte Girevole as I remembered.

We finally get near Taranto's inner harbour and the Ponte Girevole

On the west side of the city, passing the oil storage depots and container terminals, there is no choice but to join the E90 – the main trucking route between Taranto and Reggio Calabria on the toe of Italy.

We pulled off for lunch at Lido di Metaponto, the resort half of the ancient Greek town of Metapontum (with more archaeological remains) and found a pleasant grassed car park behind a row of beach chalets. They had yet to clear the sand deposited by the winter’s storms from the boardwalks and cafés, and the inevitable black African migrant loitered amidst the debris.

Lunch stop, Lido di Metaponto
GPS: 40.361604 N, 16.837696 E

Pushing on, we became increasingly shocked at the amount of rubbish lining the streets of every town, and the half built houses and apartment blocks: half lived in, or just abandoned, some with trees growing up through their decades-old concrete skeleton, they were everywhere, no glance out the window was without them; but this was Calabria – Mafia country – after all.

The sun had now left us, and menacing skies loomed. Sue had spotted a marina at Sybaris, and knowing that they were often good for a pitch for the night (intentionally or unconsciously) we turned off the main road. Things didn’t go according to plan: after several drivers had nearly screwed their heads off staring at us in amazement, we began to feel a little uncertain of a comfortable berth. The marina was secured by a manned gatehouse with “Vigilante” emblazoned across its roof and as we came near, a uniformed man got out of his car to approach us. His message was clear – without any further interaction – and we did a U-turn in the space provided.

Nearby was a bunch of semi-derelict shops, boats and boat stores covered in graffiti, this wasn’t a place to hang out either. We moved onto the holiday village of the same name – also deserted apart from a vigilante portacabin and patrolling vehicles. Onwards!  

It got worse: passing by Corigliano with its small port, and Rossano, the piles of roadside garbage bags got bigger, denim clad working girls milled about in the laybys alongside them, whilst black migrants picked over them (the garbage, that is) – we just had to push on.

Sue could find nothing in our guide books by way of campsite or sosta that was open, but thought another old standby, the cape-with-lighthouse, at Capo Trionto, would be worth a crack. Leaving some of the flotsam and debris behind, the landscape became more mountainous, more rural, and we found the turning for the cape quite easily. Almost immediately we came across two newish signs for Sosta Camper – we must on the right track!

Passing through numerous narrow lanes shrouded by fenced in vineyards, we eventually came to the Faro e Trionto. It was sadly and fundamentally derelict. The gates to the Sosta Camper Agriturismo il Faro, were firmly padlocked and a mean looking rottweiller/dobermann cross fixed us with a steady gaze from behind the bars.

The derelict lighthouse at Faro e Trionto 

Further along the now gravel track was the second sosta: this was a work in progress and the olive skinned guy just packing up his van couldn’t have been less interested. At the end was the beach, stony and uneven but with a big pit of soft sand denying us access.

There was only one option: park in front of the locked gates of the closed sosta – they could barely ask why we had parked there! In the event, we had a peaceful night, only the clamour of god-knows how many dogs at feeding time disturbed our tranquility.

Gates barred, we pitched up outside

Camper sosta, Faro e Trionto
GPS: 39.6212 N, 16.7520 E

Next: We begin our tour of Sicily!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Europe Trip 2012/13 - Marina di Ascea to Alberobello

23rd February.
A huge storm rolled over us during the night, rocking the van and lashing it with rain – just when we thought it had eased off, another frenzied assault detonated on the roof of our little home. We were glad we had made it down from the mountains! Thankfully, after breakfast the sun put in a rare and welcome appearance, the air temperature was now a sweaty 12ºC!

A free night by the sea at Marina di Ascea 

We continued our trek along the Salerno coastline from Agripoli to Sapri in a happier frame of mind. Sue likes these elevated coastal roads – in Croatia they gave us some of the most spellbinding vistas we have ever encountered. I probably enjoy the mountain passes more: the rise and descent; the isolated tiny hamlets; glimpses of unusual wildlife in the forests; and often, a gamble with the weather. Both roads hold the same hazards though: steep, tight hairpin bends, precipitous drops, tortuously narrow streets though small villages, and the unexpected…

A temporary traffic light signals a nasty surprise 

Just before Pisciotta we stopped at a temporary traffic light and waited and waited. Eventually, staring at the red light got the better of me and I moved gingerly forward; Sue spotted another car coming in the opposite direction but it failed to appear. I moved forward again and we were stunned to see a huge landslip right across the road – half the hillside had come down, and a track, barely wider than a car, had been bulldozed across it in the form of a steep muddy hump. I slowly crested the hump and there below us was the little Fiat Panda. It gracefully backed away to give us room, but as we descended the hump there was a loud grating sound from the left side of the van. Arrrgh!

At the bottom I inspected the damage: the cab step had come into contact with a boulder hidden in the mud at the side of the track and a pile of gelcoat removed – superficial damage, but annoying and probably expensive to repair. The uplifting start to our day had suffered a distinct change of mood!

Beyond that little incident we were stopped again, this time at a section of sunken road: three metres below its original level, the substructure of the road was exposed like a slice of cake! Rising up to connect with the remaining carriageway, we had to surmount what seemed to be an impossibly steep temporary tarmac infill. I took a measured run at it, knowing that a slow approach would result in fruitless wheel spin… Fortunately we crested it with just the minimum of squandered rubber and all the cupboard doors still intact!

As we turned the first corner into Pisicotta we became ensnared in another landslip aftermath – this one of an older nature, resulting in the installation of a steel frame bridge in the main street. Quite a snag, as it was laid across a right-angle bend, giving any vehicle longer than a car virtually no clearance at either end – it was like trying to shift a bedstead around a staircase!

Pisicotta: did we really drive through there! 

This time Sue got out and guided me inch by inch… Having nearly extricated ourselves, she started getting an earful from a little man in a Police Municipale uniform, agitated that we were blocking the road and holding up the traffic. She affected lack of comprehension and he eventually gave up, dismissing us with a taut-faced and resounding “arrivedechi!

Our trials were not over yet. We came across one more landslip – another new one, with a muddy river of water running across it. But this time it was a relatively easy passage, and some kind of tourism official inspecting the damage even gave us a smile and wave!

One of our lesser obstacles! 

I don’t think we have ever been through such a series of obstacles, but the exceptional rain of the night before had wrought havoc. Unfortunately, closing the road was not an option (it was the only road)  and obviously the money and manpower to keep up with repairs was not available – I don’t think we’ll be doing that one again!

Down at the attractive little marina in Marina di Camerotta, a helpful chap told us of some toilets at the far end. We found a large car park, but no toilets, and I went to the marina office. They told us all the scaricos for motorhomes were still closed, but we were welcome to take some water from their hose out front. That left us with an uncomfortably full potty and no other potential dumps in any of our guides – no matter, something would turn up.

To complete our transit of the road through the National Park, we would have to climb steeply again on the hairpin-packed SS562 to Policastro. A sign pre-warned us of a road restriction (2.4m wide and 3.8m high) four kilometres further on at Lenticosa: not a “no-go” for us, but after the morning’s events we were feeling rather more cautious!

The restricted street in Lenticosa was marshalled by a traffic light, and though a bit tight was not a problem. However, after our experience of the "coast" road from Marina di Ascea  we would not recommend traversing it in anything more than a panel van. If you have something larger I would seriously advise against it – unless you’re mad like us of course!

The narrow streets of Lenticosa were not a problem 

Climbing steadily from Sapri, we passed through the elevated town of Lagonegro – looking suprisingly smart and clean after the tired towns of the coastal area.

Lagonegro: a mountain town worth a second look 

Then, out of the blue, not long after leaving Lagonegro on the SS19, we came across a brand new camper sosta 100 metres from Lago Sirino, a pretty mountain lake surrounded by a tiny hamlet and overlooked by a small hotel.

Isolated, but pretty: Lago Sirino 

High above, construction work on the A3/E45 was the only sound disturbing the peace, and we were the only van on this beautifully constructed and prepared sosta – there were even free electric bike charging points, powered by solar panels. No charge for overnight, hook-up for motorhomes was €2 for eight hours – the water was free, and the whole area under video surveillance.

GPS: 40.0930 N, 15.8056 E

A new and beautifully laid out sosta at Lago Sirino 

Feeling that our luck had changed, I checked out the Albergo da Mimi restaurant – which had a clean and a pleasant atmosphere, but a friendly girl confirmed that they were not serving food that night. 

24th February 
The wind rocked and the rain lashed us for the second night; only this time it was pure fresh mountain rain – not blended with salt spray from the crashing breakers! By the morning daylight the rain had combined with a thick, chill mist and we lingered, uncertain what to do next. Sue wanted a walk around the little lake, but the heavy rain just wouldn’t hold off more than a few minutes. However, we did our circuit of the lake and passed back by the restaurant, never thinking to check again if they were serving food that day.

A new bridge completes the walking circuit of the lake 

Eventually, we decided to shift, despite the temptation to put another coin in the slot and settle back with a good book. Sue drew the short straw and did all the pumping and dumping, which included rodding out the cassette disposal chute with a large twig – why do they put grids in these things? Still, they can always examine the problem by watching the replay from one of the video  cameras!

Ready to depart finally, the mist had turned to a dense fog. Wondering if we were as foolhardy as we thought we were, we drove slowly past the hotel in the gloom to see the car park full and the tables packed with diners…doh! A proper Italian Sunday lunch would have been a treat  – and more fun than driving in these conditions.
The Albergo da Mimi was packed for Sunday Lunch 

However, we were soon out of the mist and fog and heading towards Matera. The sky cleared and a warm sun dried the landscape. We pulled into a layby to watch red kites circling in the air with hooded crows – real dogfights, spectacular stuff; they appeared to be scrapping over some carrion on the hill. 

This unusual landscape is home to Red Kites 

The inevitable feral dog arrived, gave us an “any grub to spare?” look and moved placidly on. Then on the S103 to Peschiera we were stopped by police – another landslip had closed the road and we were advised to take a detour out to the coast.

The Massaria de la Pantelone is not what it was 

They do say “never go back”, don’t they? In May 2008 we came across Massaria de la Pantelone in Matera for the first time. Despite giving myself a back injury (which resulted in a stay in the local hospital), we were very taken with the setting and the layout – the paved stone terraces and lighted pillars, the trees and flower beds and the bird song that rose from them, the views down over rolling countryside…

Entering the dusty track, it didn’t feel quite the same: the beds were full of weeds; the paths overgrown, the rendering falling off the toilet block. The surrounding fields had been covered with hundreds of solar panels, and a general air of seediness was all around. A couple of Italian vans were just leaving and gave us a friendly wave, but as we drove around to select a pitch we found our circuit blocked by what looked like a rabbit hutch – one of several, on stilts, placed under an overhanging tree.

The elegant parking area was looking uncared for 

Just as we pitched up, a little guy with broken English arrived to welcome us. Initially charming, he became increasingly difficult to make any sense of, and irritatingly avoided actually answering any questions – apart from the fact that the restaurant was open. He was pushing the Sassi (ancient cave dwellings) and Matera city tour that we had missed last time; eventually we got rid of him, saying we would be in to eat later.

The Sassi are thought to be some of the first human settlements in Italy – most are just stone houses built on top of one another, but many are caverns dug into the rock. Amazingly, they were still inhabited up to the 1950’s, when the then government evicted the residents to other areas of the city. Even more incredible, some people still live in the ancient town – in the dwellings of their 9,000 year-old ancestors, apparently the only such place in the world. 


Tired and hungry, we duly turned up at the dining room, but we should have taken heed of its empty state: the whole experience was dire, from our garrulous friend – still trying to push the city tour, to the absence of a written menu, the persistent arrival of unwanted and unasked for extras, the meagre and unappetizing quality of the food, and lastly the inevitable dispute over the bill; it was simply the worst meal we could remember.

Massaria de la Pantelone is still a handy place from which to visit Matera and even organise your tour of the Sassi, but since the change of management the character of the place has altered completely – and we could hardly recommend it.


GPS: 40.6526 N, 16.6068 E 

25th February 
In the morning I couldn’t wait to leave, but had a brief walk around in the chill sunshine. Looking at the curious green boxes I was startled to hear a shuffling noise and suddenly a white rabbit stretched itself against the bars – what were we eating last night? 

Get me out of here – I might be on the menu! 

We drove around and around the town, trying to find a suitable place to park within reasonable walking distance to the Sassi. Despite being directed to a park for “Campers” we were frustrated to find nothing; perhaps it was filled with cars – a common problem in Italy. Eventually we gave up, much to Sue’s disappointment.

Never mind, the sun was out, the fields were green and the roads clear as we made our way to Alberobello – home to the conical roofed Trulli houses much featured on TV travel programmes. The landscape became progressively tidier, much dry-stone walling separating the cultivated fields and vineyards. It seemed that some civic and rural pride was in evidence, in stark contrast to the “don’t bother to finish constructing/demolishing that building, chuck your rubbish over there” feel of the west coast around Rome and Naples.

Tidy fields and neat dry stone walls on the road to Alberobello 

In town, we found the Nel Verde parcheggio custido at the second attempt. A cross between a rural garden car park and a campsite, charges are tiered: 15€ for 24 hours, 12€ for 10 hours, 8€ for six hours, including pump ‘n dump. Electricity 3€. wi-fi available.

Somehow we couldn’t find the enthusiasm for a trek round the town, so we whiled away the rest of the afternoon amongst the sun-dappled olive trees.

GPS: 40.7830 N, 17.2339 E

 Nel Verde parcheggio: a quiet and sunny haven near the town centre

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Europe Trip 2012/13 - Bagno di Romangna to Marina di Ascea

18th February.
We awoke to a grey and dismal day, pretty soon it was sleeting heavily. As much as we enjoy driving mountain passes, this was certainly not the moment to do the 1170 metre high Paso dei Mandriolli to Arezzo, the sleet would surely be falling as big snowflakes as we climbed. As we had “done” Arezzo on our 2008 trip, the obvious move was to take the E45 motorway down to Perugia.

Just outside Perugia we got the maps and guide books out again and decided to carry on until Todi, an ancient little town perched on a very steep hill, with superb views in every direction over the Umbrian plain.

Todi looks out over the Umbrian plain

Todi can trace its history back to the 7th century BC and has lots of charm, with an impressive central Piazza and cathedral – the duomo has some wonderful and unusual stained glass and a spectacular fresco on the rear wall. 

The central piazza and Duomo

Steep and interesting side streets beckon...

Steep and narrow side streets and a good sprinkling of cafés and restaurants add to the interest, and to complete the package there is even a fully serviced sosta for motorhomes with a cable railway to lift you from the car park to the lower town.
€6 for a two hour stay, €8.80 for any longer – including overnight.

A cable railway lifts you from the car park to town 

GPS: 42.7811 N, 12.4013 E 

19th February 
The air temperature still dropped to -2ºC during the night, but the early morning mist lying below us on the plain was quickly despatched as the sun rose above the dark terracotta rooftops. The man in the cassa had already opened the barrier for us and gave me a cheery “arriverdechi” as I paid up.

Having missed Monte Cassino on our last Italian trip we decided to work that in to our route down to Paestum. After a quick stock up in the nearby Euro Spin supermarket (wonderful meat, fish and deli counters) we re-joined the E45 down to Terni, then the R79 to Rieti, R578  and E80 to Avezzano and down to Cassino; a nice mountain drive on mostly “A” class road.

Pleasant scenery on our route down to Monte Cassino 

Monte Cassino, of course was the setting for one of the most hard fought battles of WWll: the allies first bombing the abbey – mistakenly believing that it was a German observation post, and then having provided perfect cover for that very purpose, eventually displacing the Germans on 18th May 1944, but leaving the great Benedictine monastery a total ruin. Nearby is a Polish cemetery with over a thousand soldier's graves.

The abbey lights up above the town 

Just on the outskirts of the scruffy town on the plain below the abbey is Parking Europa, a Camper Sosta that thinks it’s a campsite; cornered by the Autostrada and a railway line and literally in the owner’s back garden, it encloses touring pitches, caravan and motorhome storage, a picnic and games area, a floodlit five-a-side football pitch and a large dog. The tariff is as long as your arm and includes extra charges for camper services (€2.50) even if you are staying on site! ACSI and ADAC recommended, it does however have wi-fi (€4), electric hookup (€3) and a great view of the monastery above. We bartered for an ACSI discount and paid €15 for one night including camper service.

GPS: 41.4830 N, 13.8374 E 

20th February 
I shoved a cup of coffee into Sue’s hand a little earlier than usual as we planned to be up to the abbey when it opened at 0900. The sun was just a simple white disc behind the thick, freezing mist; sporadically the shroud shifted to reveal a tantalising glimpse of the abbey above.

The road up was not as steep as we expected, a relatively easy drive. We slotted ourselves into an area set aside for buses and campers just below the main entrance, the parcheggio sign telling us there was a charge of €8 for campers. The only other vehicle was a Polish coach, the drivers having a bit of clean up awaiting the return of their cargo of students. There were no ticket machines or any attendants to pay, so we entered the abbey – now in clear bright sunshine, looking down on the smog smothering the town.

Plenty of room to park at this time of year 

It is barely possible to believe, when looking at pictures of the destruction of the abbey in 1944, that it was not just rebuilt, but re-created, in a little over a decade. It is utterly pristine now, and the basilica itself is just stunning: you cannot comprehend the skills, the labour – never mind the cost, to re-create in stone, alabaster, mosaic and marble the intricate magnificence of the interior.

The magnificent nave of the basilica

Stunning recreation of the original

Artwork as well, to marvel at

Down in the crypt....

Wall sculpture and mosiac, to rival any.

Outside, in the courtyards, the statuary is just as remarkable considering that most of them must have been virtually re-sculpted from scratch. So often, when we look at modern attempts to re-create artwork such as stained glass, the results seem barely worth the effort when compared to the originals, but here there is no indication that this is not the work of dedicated master craftsmen from centuries before – it is that good.


Down in the town there is a historale or museum of the epic battle, which we were unable to visit; but knowing some of the history, it was sobering and disturbing to think of the men making an assault on such a precipitous mount – to do it even as a free climb, would be daunting and deadly dangerous, to do it under fire would have taken courage beyond our imagination.

Our stop for the night was Il Golosone (The Fat one), a family restaurant on the SS7, near Avellino. I spotted the pollo allo spiedo (spit roasted chicken) sign, and the nice flat car park, and pulled in. After a slightly confused conversation due to my poor Italian, the owner indicated that he was quite happy for us to stay the night in exchange for a meal.

We had half a chicken and chips and a large bowl of salad each, plus a very good bottle of local wine, and a bottle of water. The chicken was straight off the spit roast and beat KFC into a cocked hat; the bill came to €32. The gate was slid shut overnight, but was open again by the time we had surfaced in the morning.

GPS: 40.9340 N, 14.8509 E

More great scenery on the SS7 

21st February 
We carried on the SS7, climbing steeply, and soon found ourselves surrounded by snow covered hills again, then a steep descent before picking up the S164, through Montella to Battipaglia. This was a pretty, forested mountain road and an enjoyable drive. At one point we suddenly noticed the valley was full of white smoke, and then exiting a bend we were pulled up sharply by the obstacle of workmen cutting up a fallen tree. Foliage was all across the road and they were burning it off right by the barrier; they looked at us as if we had landed from another planet, but we gave them a cheery wave and bounced on our way over the twigs and pine fronds.

Road clearance, Avellino style 

Descending to Montecorvino we saw our first feral dog, scruffy and mangy, padding up the hill; I wondered why it chose to survive in the mountains rather than in the town; it gave us an appraising glance, but looked happy enough with its lot. Feral dogs and cats were to become a very common sight from now on.

Montecorvino was a tight little village to get through and so, as it turned out, was Battipaglia. Almost to the main road, we found our route virtually blocked to anything larger than a small car by scaffolding on the side of a building – another hairy few moments as Sue guided me through with inches to spare. The queue of cars behind us were surprisingly patient – perhaps they couldn’t believe what they were seeing!

Paestum lights up... 

Paestum is one of Italy’s most venerated archaeological sites on the coast below Salerno – and a place Sue had decided she wanted to see a long time ago. Like Pompei, it is a major tourist attraction, with its own-named main line railway station, a holiday village, and numerous campsites surrounding it.

The main street through the remains of Paestum 

A minor road runs right through the site, but is blocked off to all public traffic by a swinging concrete flowerbed just before the museum entrance. All three of the camper sostas that Sue had identified from our guidebooks were still closed, so we settled on a large gravel-surfaced car park attached to a restaurant – still closed until March.

GPS: 40.4258 N, 15.0067 E

Deciding it was too late to do a worthwhile tour of the site that day, we thought this car park would do for the night, then Sue spotted two cars drive in and park behind a corrugated iron shed, making a little square corral out of their cars. Soon we could see smoke rising – what on earth were they doing? Just as abruptly, the two men got into their cars and drove off, leaving a pile of burning documents on the ground!

Thinking this highly suspicious, we had second thoughts about our pitch for the night, but in the end decided that our options were now pretty limited; we took all our usual security precautions and prepared the van ready to drive off before going to bed. 

22nd February 
We awoke in one piece and apparently free of any unwanted nocturnal attention, but soon after breakfast Sue spotted the two cars back again, so we decided to move to the next park along. When asked if we could stay, the guy in the bar attached to the parking area said “no problem” and we wouldn’t have to pay; it seemed like a sound move.

We went first to the tourist office and picked up a free guide to Paestum; the girl spoke fluent American, but seemed so hyper and spoke so fast we could hardly take it in – had she been at the cocaine or something?

The staff at the museum ticket desk however, were inexplicably cold and grumpy, snapping at Sue when she asked how much the guide was. The museum has been much extended and added to over the years, but to us was notable for the quality of the Roman vases and the sarcophagi, the latter numerous and complete with fresco decoration, and some of these, remarkably, within reach of the visitors hand.

The museum has a superb collection of Roman vases

No trouble with the storyline on this one! 

Feeling like a mid-morning snack, I nipped into one of the cafés for a pannini; the glassy-eyed waiters were weird, not the beginnings of a welcome or a smile from either of them – like weary vultures waiting for their lunch to die. The small pannini turned out to be the worst we have ever had: only luke-warm and tasting… uck. €3.50 into the bin.

The temples can only be admired from outside the fence 

The exterior site was a disappointment as well: the three main temples are fenced off and cannot be entered; the rest is poorly presented compared to some ancient sites we have seen. The onset of light rain finished our tour, and glad to be back in the van we contemplated lunch, but somehow Paestum was giving us the creeps… we decided to move on. 

Later, in Matera, we talked to a young German couple who, without prompting, said exactly the same thing: the people in Paestum were weird. One thing is sure, in the season, you are talking “Tourist Trap” – sew up your pockets and leave your electronic goodies well hidden; and tune up your scam-sensing wits to full alert! 

Our next decision, not unanimous, was to hit the S267 coast road at Agripoli, and follow its tortuous route down to Marina di Camerota.  We made it as far as Marina di Ascea, and found a sea front car park allocated to motorhomes.

GPS: 40.1454 N, 15.1630 E