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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!

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