Friday, 30 December 2016


Giro to Santa Croce - view of Capri
So 2016 is rapidly drawing to an end and if I manage  to take to the hills tomorrow , I will have hiked the trails and lanes  of Massa Lubrense and the Amalfi Coast an impressive 63 times over the course of the year. If you also consider two holidays, (one in Corfu and the other in Gran Canaria), where walking played an important role, I can only conclude that at least for me this has been an excellent year!
On the way to Jeranto
Several itineraries have figured more often than others,   mainly due to the fact that they are practically on my doorstep, but they are also all particularly spectacular and rewarding.  I am very lucky to live where I do.
The Giro di Santa Croce from Termini is perhaps my favourite, with its splendid views of  the island of Capri and the entire Bay of Naples as you emerge from the woods. Fairly new to the local trail circuit, it has become popular not only with the locals but also with several foreign walking holiday companies. Everyone I have spoken to or accompanied has been enthusiastic about it.
View from Sirenuse Trail
Jeranto comes next - here in the warmer months you can combine the hike with a swim, and if you go really early, the bay will be yours. 
Third on my list of local hikes  has to be the Sirenuse Trail, starting off in Sant'Agata, passing through  the village of Torca and then winding its way above the coast. The small grassy plateau of Pizzitiello is perfect for a picnic lunch  giving you marvelous views both towards Capri and  down the Amalfi Coast.
There are many more possible routes, including the new country village walk between Sant'Agata sui Due Golfi and Massa Lubrense which is delightful, giving you a taste of  authentic Italy, away from the mass tourism of nearby Sorrento. 
We were blighted by some really bad fires over the summer, the most destructive devastating the entire ridge from Monte San Costanzo to Punta Campanella. However nature has bounced back with a vengeance, and whilst  the charred remains of shrubs and trees still scar  the landscape, the lower vegetation has grown back greener and lusher than ever. I can't wait for springtime to see what it brings!

Sunday, 4 December 2016

A SHORT WALK TOWARDS JERANTO - a few observations and questions.

This morning, only having a short amount of time available and being unable to resist a walk on a such beautifully warm and sunny morning, I decided to go towards Jeranto.

It was the first time I had ventured there since the fire at the end of August. Here are just a few very brief observations:
- in some places the fire had actually passed right over the path and down the other side of the hillside. Whilst the lower vegetation is now green, the burnt shrubs and trees still cast a shadow on the landscape.

- there is no evidence of rock fall, or at least no more than usual, and this despite some heavy rain over the past few months. 

- how long is it going to take the local Council to re-open the path officially? I am very aware that it doesn't necessarily depend on them, however we are now in December and will soon be half way  through the winter. Moreover, if they do want people to be dissuaded, then they need to do something about the barriers and the signs (basically there are none anymore). I met several people along the trail.

- the infamous solar panels and cabinet perched on the rock at one of the view points are of course still there (there were requests that they should be moved to a more discreet location being an eyesore). However one of the panels is now all cracked and the cabinet, which before emitted a buzzing sound, is silent. Does this mean that there is no monitoring over the winter and it is switched off, or is it in fact broken and therefore destined to be left there to posterity until it rusts?

- whilst I was walking back up the hill,  a motor boat sailed happily into the protected Marine Reserve of the Bay of Jeranto and anchored. From what I could see, I do not think that they were there to analyse the water....more like preparing to fish, so doubly in defect. It is a pity that some people have a complete disregard for the environment.

Monday, 28 November 2016


Following the fire at the end of August, the path from Nerano to the Bay of Jeranto was declared off limits by the local authorities due to the risk of falling rocks. It is now December and, as far as we know, the path is still officially closed, although anyone presently wanting to go to Jeranto would be blissfully unaware of this, since the  barriers have been pushed to one side and the official notice is fast disintegrating.
There is however another path commencing just a few metres from the start of via Ieranto, just outside the village of Nerano, which takes you up through the woods to Monte San Costanzo. This  is part of the famous Alta Via dei Monti Lattari (CAI 300) running the length of the peninsula from the Abbey of Cava dei Tirreni to Punta Campanella.
Many hiking groups,   both foreign and Italian, walk this route, usually accompanied by professional guides... and here lies the problem.
Is this particular path officially accessible or not?
From the initial positioning of the barriers, the turning from via Ieranto onto this track is decidedly on the forbidden side. However it remains to be seen if this was actually intentional or not. 
Guides are already contacting our local expert in all things hiking,Giovanni Visetti, asking for clarification, since now is the time of year that the coming season's routes are being planned. Giovanni has contacted the local authorities, but so far nobody has replied.
The problem is that if a guide takes people along a path which is officially closed, the responsibility lies entirely on his shoulders should anything untoward  happen, independently from whether the event is relevant to the restriction or not.
Since this trail is just a few metres from the road, is not directly beneath the rock-face and therefore no more dangerous than kilometres and kilometres of paths and roads generally open to pedestrians and traffic, is it really worth discouraging or even banning its transit to hikers following the Alta Via dei Monti Lattari? Couldn't the barriers be moved a few metres further on?
Last year, be it for other reasons, the path to Punta Campanella was closed for months. Now it is via Ieranto's turn. Why deprive hikers of yet another path in this area if it is not even necessary? 

The local council has professed its interest in developing hiking tourism in this area. It should therefore be the first to move promptly and at least provide answers when questions are asked.
View from CAI300 Nerano -San Costanzo 

Wednesday, 26 October 2016


Il Cerriglio some years ago
Many years ago I remember walking around Massa Lubrense and  by pure chance going into what looked liked the entrance to an ancient mansion, attracted by the pillars in tuff and marble busts lining the short avenue leading to something green. This turned out to be a nymphaeum fountain  covered in moss and maidenhair. Two marble masks inscribed with the date 1681 spewed out water at either side of the main spring and it was all rather special.
I did my homework and discovered that the house used to be the home of the De Martino family and that the ancient villa was probably built in the 14th century by a certain Giovan Giacomo De Martino, secretary to Queen Joan II. Towards the end of the 16th century Ferrante De Martino lived there. His nickname was Il Rachione, and even now this particular area of Massa and one of its streets still bear this name. To the right of the entrance is the chapel of St. John the Baptist (seventeenth century), once accessible directly from the main avenue. 
More recently I went back to Il Cerriglio and found it in total abandon. The water had dried up, the maidenhair had died and the fountain's basin had become a rubbish dump. It was frankly quite awful. I never went back and had little hope that things would change.
For once I have been proved wrong, and last week the fountain was cleaned and the water is now flowing again.
However there have been some surprises along the way. 
As they were cleaning the basin, removing the layers of limescale that had formed over the years, little columns emerged composed mainly of tuff and once covered in plaster that had evidently supported something. Next  came a piece of terracotta which turned out to be part of a hollow tile that covered another and was topped by a spout, all completely clogged and positioned relatively recently on the limescale deposits. It was clear from the start that these elements did not belong to the original structure from the fact that  they 
received water from a  furrow dug into the central mass covered in moss. This theory was confirmed a little later by the presence of a white PVC tube emerging from beneath the furrow.  The removal of the tube and the cement around it created a hole revealing a cavity which, once big enough to put a hand in, disclosed a smooth and wavy surface almost free of limescale. From then on it was simple to remove the rest, uncovering the shell and straight afterwards the little niche above it.
There is still a lot  of limescale to remove, especially on the sides, and who knows what else could emerge. 
Whilst we may regret no longer seeing the green, moss and maidenhair clad Cerriglio of before, the discovery of the bowl-shaped shell certainly compensates, and we can now begin to imagine its original splendour. Numerous  shells (real ones) decorate both the lateral columns and the vault of the niche and no doubt this is how it was before the limescale took over.
Now it is up to the experts to decide if and how to proceed. It would be interesting to discover where the water originally flowed through, (the hole in the upper part of the apse is off-centre and was definitely an after-thought), what there was between the shell-shaped basin and the apse, how this was decorated, and  if it is in fact older than was thought.
Meantime, Massa Lubrense has re-acquired part of its history and an added attraction for its many visitors. 
Photos courtesy of Giovanni Visetti (Blog)  and Comune di Massa Lubrense.

Thursday, 6 October 2016


The summer is officially over, it has started raining and the state of the newly restored path to Punta Campanella is degenerating fast.
The latest photos published by Giovanni Visetti show the final stretch full of loose stones, earth and gravel and quite frankly worse than it ever was before.
The barrier which was at last installed  at the beginning of the path is left permanently open and the second barrier, which was meant to be located further down beyond the houses, has never actually materialized. Mopeds and motorbikes continue to transit  freely up and down the path wreaking havoc with the surface and leaving deep furrows behind them.
However not all is bad. Following the fire at the end of August the new vegetation is fast emerging and tingeing the hillside with green. Some kind soul has added  new waymarks along the CAI300 trail from Punta Campanella up to the ridge to San Costanzo since the lack of vegetation was making it difficult for anyone not familiar with the area to find the path. And at the belvedere of Rezzale, where many a person has followed what looks like a civilised path, but which in fact can lead you straight into trouble, there is now a big red cross saying "No" and a newly refreshed sign indicating the correct way to go.

It is a shame about the path. So much money spent to make it accessible for the less mobile. If drastic measures are not taken, and taken fast, by next spring it will not even be accessible for the less fit. 

For more photos, see Giovanni's blog

Sunday, 18 September 2016


I Bagni di Regina Giovanna (Queen Joanna's Baths) are  a short walk down a narrow lane  from Capo di Sorrento, just outside town. During the 14th century this is apparently the place where the queen  came to bathe with her young lovers in the tiny natural cove with its picturesque natural arch.  It is also one of the most important historical sites in the area, housing the remains of a  Roman patrician's villa. This was divided into two zones: the villa right on the seafront , and the domus a little further up the hill, at the time connected  by steps, stairs and cultivated terraces, and extending over an area of around thirty thousand square metres. Unfortunately at present it is in a state of total abandon.
In the summer, thanks to the limestone rocks stretching out to sea and to the construction of a wooden ramp leading to popular bathing platforms to one side of the promontory, the place is taken by assault. Despite the ban on motorized vehicles, the lane is a fast track for mopeds and motorbikes who impatiently hoot and swerve round unsuspecting pedestrians and fill the air with fumes. When they can go no further, they park with gay abandon and very few seem to take their rubbish home with them. Although there have been many complaints to the local authorities, nothing has ever been done about it.
Once the summer ends, peace returns and, if you care to go, you will discover a place which, although neglected and in dire need of some tender love and care, is unique and rather special.
Its grassy plateau offers spectacular views of the town of Sorrento perched on its cliffs with the hills behind. If you explore below, you can still see the original Roman constructions, even though at present the walls are covered in graffiti and you need to watch where you put your feet.
Now, at long last,  it seems that  the situation may change. The local council of Sorrento (who owns most of this land) intends transforming the area into a "Parco Agricolo Archeologico" extending over roughly 56,600 square metres. The total cost of the work involved is quoted as exceeding 3.000.000 euro. The authorities have applied for funding from the regional government.
Being fully aware of the snail-like pace of Italian bureaucracy and the probability of procedures being further slowed down by the intervention and possible protests of environmentalists and others who often find something to object to, I am sceptical that the necessary work will be imminent. It will probably take years and years, should it ever happen at all, but at least there is talk about it.
Meantime,  surely it wouldn't cost too much to clean the place up on a regular basis and maybe install some information boards (as they have along the path to Punta Campanella)? And what about finally doing something about the summer invasion of people who have no respect for regulations and can't be bothered to use their legs? Wishful thinking? I hope not.

Monday, 29 August 2016

The fire on Monte San Costanzo - considerations

On Sunday I decided to go and see for myself the state of the trails above Punta Campanella following the fire a few days ago. 
I set off from Termini, taking the path towards Punta Campanella, but branching up left before the tip to the belvedere of Rezzale. From there I followed the track (very evident now that there is little vegetation left to hide it) up the ridge as far as Campo Vetavole, veering left along the Vuallariello (part of the Giro di Santa Croce) before cutting up to the belvedere di Mitigliano and returning to Termini.

track to Rezzale
Some observations:
  • the fire only reached the newly restored path to Punta Campanella for a short stretch, well before the tip, and didn't cross it.
  • the track up to the viewpoint at Rezzale functioned well as a fire barrier. This is probably what saved the tip itself with the tower and lighthouse. On the side of the hill everything was burnt, on the side towards the sea the vegetation was untouched.
  • here and there were inexplicable, isolated and random patches of vegetation that had been spared, with even a solitary clump of grass in the middle of the cinders. 
  • the overall impression was dark and lunar; every now and then there was a splash of yellow from the wild fennel flowers.
  • the only victim I found along the way was a dead snake looking bemused. However crows were circling above, as was a solitary falcon.The lizards
    were out and about, the insects buzzing around and swallows swooping.
  • the ancient terracing and dry-stone walls are the new protagonists of the landscape, especially once you reach Campo Vetavole. 
  • the trails are all perfectly viable, although I personally would not like to go along the path above the bay of Jeranto now that there is no vegetation to act as a barrier and presumably a lot of loose stone. I had to move a few small charred branches obstructing the Vuallariello, but nothing major. Wet wipes are essential before you return to civilization. My legs were nearly as black as the hillside.
Considerations of a more serious nature.
I totally agree with Giovanni Visetti (see his latest blog "Pyromaniacs? No excuses, these are arsonists"). This fire was deliberate. It was not the work of irresponsible barbecue addicts, maniacs or self-combustion. And not only that, it was well-planned down to the finest detail. The local fire-fighters were already busy fighting a fire that had been started earlier over near the village of Torca. It was a windy day, the fires were started in several points (so if one didn't "take", another would..), it was late evening and already dark. This meant that the helicopters couldn't intervene until daylight, and then in any case their first priority was Torca where houses were at risk. The helicopter arrived here at lunchtime.
This meant that the fire had ample time to spread, and spread it certainly did. The first attempts to put it out were not particularly successful, so overnight the fire took hold again, but worse, moving off the mountainside and racing down the ridge. Day 2 saw  the helicopter return, but this time with the more effective Canadair plane, and in the end the fire abated.
Many people will remember that a few weeks ago there were two large, virtually contemporary fires in the Bay of Naples: one on Capri, the other on Vesuvius. Obviously firefighting resources are limited and if they are needed in two places at once, it becomes complicated..they have to choose. 
All this makes one think that the fires are not only 100% deliberate, but directed from "above" by someone who plans and organizes, sending the arsonists to do their dirty work and then reaping the advantages (presumably economical) of the consequences of the fires. Over the years there have been  a thousand fingers pointed in various directions: shepherds, foresters, hunters, building speculators, rock climbers, helicopter pilots, pilots, the companies managing the Canadair and helicopter services, officials of provincial and regional governments, the Civil Protection Agency, each probably infiltrated at some level by a criminal organisation. In other words, anyone but a pyromaniac. If this is the case, then it can only get worse since the rot evidently comes from the top. All we can hope for is that sooner or later a miracle will happen and the perpetrators  identified and duly punished.
However in the meantime, through our photos and our blogs, we can at least try to make everyone more aware of the dangers of lighting a fire in the open at the height of the summer, something which in any case is illegal. Last year the fire was the result of a group of irresponsibles  . This year is quite a different story.

Thursday, 25 August 2016


Just over a year ago I published a series of blogs about our annual nightmare: fire.

Whilst this summer there had already been several bad fires further down the Amalfi Coast, our area so far had been relatively unaffected. Until last night.
I had just gone to bed when I heard a familiar crackling sound. I looked through the shutters and could see a ring of flames high up on the slopes of Monte San Costanzo. 

Although the wind was not particularly strong, it was enough to fuel the flames which soon spread up, down and along the hillside. 
We phoned the emergency services, but they said they were busy fighting another fire and had no resources. In fact we found out this morning that it was near the village of Torca towards Crapolla. Perfect timing by whoever organised all of this...two separate fires, in different points and at night.

In any case at that point there was absolutely nothing that could be done. It was dark, it was inaccessible and not threatening any houses. 

It was spectacularly awful to watch, moments of virtual calm  followed by moments when the flames suddenly leaped high towards the sky or rushed crazily across the mountainside. 

In the end I went back to bed, but was soon wide awake again since the crackling noise had intensified, accompanied by an eerie whooshing sound. Back onto the terrace and the fire had spread, still high enough not to worry the village of Nerano down below, but racing right and left, wherever it could find anything to burn. 

This morning I woke early. There were still isolated flames here and there, but  smoke could be seen rising behind the chapel on top of the mount. The fire had evidently spread to the other side of the mountain and was now attacking the area above Jeranto and towards Punta Campanella. When I left this morning I could see that it had burned a perfect ring around the chapel.

The helicopter apparently arrived towards midday, swooping down to the sea to fill its bucket before attempting to douse the blaze. As I was driving back home mid afternoon, the fire-engine,  police and emergency services were racing up the road towards the village of Termini, their sirens blaring. The acrid smell of charred wood fills the air.The fire is still burning.

photo above courtesy of Luigi Esposito (Capri).

Monday, 8 August 2016


Yesterday I returned to Punta Campanella, curious to see how the newly restored path was holding up and what novelties there might be along the way.
I had only just started walking down  when I heard a moped approaching from behind. When it drew level, I told the riders  very politely that non-resident vehicles were not allowed. They were a young, foreign couple and seemed rather surprised. On hearing that it was a good 30 minute walk, they decided to turn round and give it a miss. Maybe a bigger, more obvious "in your face" notice well before the present small, decrepit one could be an idea?
I continued on my way. The path is now beginning to look  less new, merging better into its surroundings.  This is positive and quite honestly I don't consider it the urban (or rather extra-urban) disaster that it was initially made out to be. 
I could  now hear another, much noisier vehicle approaching, this time from the opposite direction. It soon came into sight - an ancient dilapidated "vespa" transporting an elderly fisherman and his catch of the day. He cheerily waved and went on his way. He has probably been doing this for years, even before the work on the path. Hence the state of his scooter!
Walking further down I came to the first of a series of placards, placed on  rocks like wall-top lecterns. These illustrate various aspects of the path: historical, mythical, geological, flora and fauna and lastly a plan of the tip with key structures (past and present) evidenced. They are in Italian and English, but not too long, not too complicated and simply written. For once even the English translation is virtually spot on and anyone who has seen some of the existing local public notices, magazine articles, hotel and excursion websites  will know exactly what I mean. If I want to be really picky, it is a pity that they weren't properly proofread to avoid the occasional typo, but all in all a  job well done.
What is not so good is the state of the path along  the unpaved stretches. The stones are fast coming loose and I shudder to think what will happen once we get the heavy winter rainfalls. On a positive note, it will soon become extremely difficult for mopeds to continue going right to the tip... even in its present state, you are risking. 
Maybe that will resolve the problem for the local authorities before they get their act together and devise a way of making the path really pedestrian only.
And as for the less mobile.. well, despite the funding having been obtained to make it accessible to all, this has never actually ever been the case. It is just not realistic in its present state. Up to a point, fine, better than before; as far as the tip and the tower, no way!

Monday, 25 July 2016


Now that the ancient footpath Acquacarbone has been cleared, several new  routes for walking from Sant'Agata to Massa Lubrense (or to Sorrento) have become possible.
In one of his recent blogs Giovanni Visetti has put together the following itinerary which  in under 5 kms and with a minimum elevation change (280m of which just 30m up) will take you through woods, past vegetable gardens, olive groves and vineyards between the two centres. On Sunday I tried it out  and it was a delightful and relaxing walk with a very local and Italian feel to it.
With your back to the church in Sant’Agata walk down the Corso  and take the first turning to the left along via Termine. Turn left  after the restaurant Mimì, just before the arch, and then left again in front of  Hotel Iaccarino. After a couple of hundred metres in the shade of the walnut trees, turn right up a slight slope and you will soon come out into open countryside walking along the panoramic dirt-track of via Olivella. Follow this, first on the level and then slightly downhill, until you come back onto asphalt.  Continue for a couple of dozen metres in the same direction and immediately after the first bend, (where there is a steep descent leading to the main road Nastro Verde), go left onto  the narrow dirt track, via Acquacarbone and through a chestnut coppice.
Once out of the wood there is a short, partially paved stretch downhill , before you turn left onto another dirt track with a wire mesh fence to your right, through which you can see a small vineyard.
About 200 metres after crossing a tiny rivulet, you come back onto a paved surface. Keep straight on until you come to the main Nastro Verde road (ss 145 Sorrentina, between Sant’Agata and Sorrento) which at that point you can easily cross.
Walk down the road for roughly a hundred metres before descending  the cement steps straight after Hotel Il Nido. At the bottom you will find a pleasant, gently sloping  path taking you through  olive and lemon groves and down a lane to the church of S. Atanasio in Priora. From here if you want to go to Sorrento proceed down the path to the left of the church and under the arch or follow the road to the right; for Massa, go left and walk for about 300m along  the road via Crocevia.  Just a few metres before the junction with Nastro Verde, go straight on across the little clearing which will bring you to the top of  the bend.
Here you need to be very careful crossing the road which can be busy. At this point there are three lanes in front of you. You need the one furthest to the left and going uphill,  via San Giuseppe. If you miss the name, just follow the signs to Villa Eliana and once you come to its entrance, follow the lane to the right. A few metres later you will pass the chapel of San Giuseppe.  Continue along this lane to its end walking along paved stretches alternating with a rough track. You will now come to a narrow road (via Bagnulo); go to the left and   once again you will be walking past gardens, trees and vegetable plots. You will go   under an arch and after a few metres turn right and follow the narrow, bending road which will soon bring you to the main Massa - Turro road (the road to Sant’Agata) marked by an impressive pine tree. Cross the road and walk along Via Vecchia before taking the turning to the left (via Maldacea) which will bring you into the heart of the old hamlet of Mortora, 200 m from the square of  Massa Lubrense. Go down to the right along via Mortella to Rachione, and on into the centre of Massa Lubrense.
Giovanni has also produced an excellent video of over a hundred photos tracing this route, including indications of where to turn and the names of points of interest that you will see along the way. This could be downloaded onto your phones/tablets and used as a point of reference as you walk.