Monday, 18 April 2016


The path to Punta Campanella has been undergoing a major facelift for some months now in order to make it "accessible" to all. I have always had my concerns about this particular intervention, knowing full well that whilst the intentions, at least on paper, were no doubt admirable, there was every possibility that the finished product could well end up ruining something that not only was of important historical value, but also rather special.
Having heard that despite the path being officially closed and off limits, people were happily accessing it, I decided to go and take a look.
From all accounts, during the week the gate is left wide open, but it was a Sunday and from a distance, it looked firmly shut. Once there however, the chain used to close it was conveniently loose, so that anyone on foot could easily get around it and  so we did.
The initial impression of the newly crazy-paved "trail" and its sturdy fake dry-stone walls (clearly cemented together) was of partial dismay. It was just too new, too perfect, too  urban. The original path had been totally transformed. 

 However as we proceeded further on down, we realised that the views were still there and that we could actually enjoy them more, without the stress of having to watch where we were putting our feet all the time. Better still, the vegetation to the left of the path was intact and not confined by a wall, growing right down to the edge of the path. There was no lack of flowers, and even the orchids were still there.
The work is by no means complete. It seems a bit haphazard, the surface changing from the initial new crazy-paving back to a dirt track. Next comes a strip of cement followed by what looks as if it might still be the original Roman paving. Then we have another  strip of cement, before the final crazy paving taking us to the steps down to the tower and the lighthouse at the end of the path. The wall to the right is virtually complete, with just a couple of dodgy gaps which could do with being fenced off (but then officially the path is still closed..). And they really should raise the height of the rails at the view point along the way, since now that the level of the path is slightly higher, they offer very little protection against the drop below.
As we approached the tip, the first thing we noticed was a bright blue tent with a couple sun-bathing in what they had presumably thought was splendid isolation. Then we saw that everything seemed more spacious. I had already read somewhere that the old decrepit buildings to the side of the tower had been demolished, and in fact they have, and this is no loss at all. For the rest, everything is virtually as it was.
In all sincerity I was expecting to hate the whole walk. In the end I didn't. Maybe the use of so much cement is not ideal, but I cannot honestly say that the path is ruined or that the vegetation has been destroyed. I just hope that they complete the surfacing and leave it at that. It really doesn't need anything more.
My remaining concern is what happens once the work is finished. Towards the start of the path is a road sign. It clearly states in 3 languages  "No Entry. (Footpath) - Nur Zu Fuss - Seul a Pied". Unfortunately it is not in Italian, and even before the transformation of the path, cars, Ape trucks and mopeds would venture down as far as they could.  Once it is a clear run straight down to the tip, I shudder to think what might happen, especially since the vast majority of Italians believe more in wheels than using their legs.
The path was due re-open at the end of April, already several months behind schedule. I very much doubt that it will be ready by then, but when it is, it will make for a very pleasant stroll. And anyone craving a more energetic and more natural hike can do what we did: not turn back along the same way we came, but take the rough trail all the way up the ridge and on to Monte San Costanzo.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Springtime Hikes 2 - Capri

View from belvedere on the path to Anginola
The island of Capri, world famous for its Natural Arch (at the moment encased in scaffolding), the Blue Grotto, the Faraglioni Rocks, its Piazzetta and the jet set that frequent it, also has a lesser known side - its hiking trails. 
Climbing up Anginola
Two Sundays ago, having caught the ferry from Sorrento,  we arrived to find the port heaving with tourists of every nationality (no surprises there...). Instead of joining the queue for the funicular railway or trying to squeeze ourselves sardine-like into the tiny buses that go up to the centre, we left them to it and headed for the lanes and tranquillity. 
Once up in Capri town, we by-passed the main square and went straight towards the hospital which is where the path leading to the trail to Anginola begins.We were aiming for Monte Solaro, which, at 587m, is the highest point of the island. Most people take the bus to Anacapri and then the chairlift, but we, as hikers do, were walking there.
The paved path turned into a track, and once past the belvedere with its splendid views of Marina Grande and the mainland beyond, we went into the woods and the going got steeper and steeper. Eventually we came to the rock face of Anginola and with the aid of strategically placed chains, inched ourselves up and along the ledges until we came out at the top. This is definitely not something for anyone with vertigo, but if I can do it, just about anyone can. That said, it is always a relief and a celebration to come out onto the grassy plateau above.
Once there, we had some difficulty in finding the trail which was to take us to Cetrella (476m) since the vegetation was thick and thorny, but once  on it, the going was smooth and made even more enjoyable by the numerous wild orchids in flower (bright pink anacamptis sp. and the more discreet ophrys sp.). The ancient hermitage of S.Maria a Cetrella was closed, but even so, the views over to the Faraglioni rocks were superb. 
We started the final ascent to Monte Solaro looking back every now and then to enjoy the sight of the Sorrento peninsula stretching out far beyond. Yet more orchids, lots of them, but now orchis italica (or naked men).
We arrived at the top  to find the gate padlocked, so climbed over the railings. There were a lot of tourists milling around, many armed with those abominable selfie-sticks, but again we left them to it, and having admired and photographed the 360° views, once again abandoned "civilisation" taking the narrow trail along the side of the ridge to Monte Cocozzo. 
We stopped for lunch surrounded by orchids, with the sea far, far below and seagulls circling overhead. There was no one else, and in fact during the entire hike, we met just 2 other walkers. Sandwiches consumed, we set off again, starting to descend quite steeply and soon having the first views of the lighthouse at Punta Carena.
Next came the "Parco Filosofico", which is by no means a park in the true sense of the word, and at its best never particularly attractive. It was  now looking yet more neglected,  but from its belvedere the view of the lighthouse was even better. On through the pine wood and all too soon we were back on the asphalt and heading towards Anacapri where again the tourists were out in force.
A quick visit of the church of San Michele with its amazing majolica floor (2 euros entry fee) and we made for the Scala Fenicia and its 921 steps which took us back down to the port.
Climbing Monte Solaro
More photos of the hike

Monday, 4 April 2016

Springtime hikes 1 - Monte Vico Alvano, Monte Comune and more

Last week, taking advantage of the warm, sunny weather and a day's holiday, I took myself off for a solitary hike along one of my favourite trails.
Setting off from Colli San Pietro, I zig-zagged my way leisurely up the slopes of Monte Vico Alvano, a major victim of last year's fires. Now, although the charred skeletons of the bushes and trees are still evident, the new vegetation has taken the upperhand and it is all fresh and green. It was good to see.
Once at the top of the hill, I then headed down the other side to the Sella di Arola, passing a guy on a mule going in the opposite direction.
I love this place with its fine views of the Amalfi coast to one side and the Bay of Naples to the other. I had hoped to find an orchid or two in flower up here, but I found much more than that - there were literally dozens of bright pink butterfly orchids colouring the way.
I walked slowly along the grassy plateau enjoying the scenery. Once at the old toll gate posts, I had to make a decision: take the path leading down to the left which would take me straight to the village of Arola, or continue straight ahead and tackle the imposing Monte Comune over 300 metres higher up. 
It would probably have been more sensible to go straight to Arola, but it was such a lovely day that I decided to be bold and bad and take the longer and trickier route. 
As I  made my way up the stony trail I found more orchids,  this time the pale yellow orchis provincialis and then finally a couple of dark purple orchis morio. Half way up the mountain side I met a couple of German hikers coming down. They were walking the length of the Monti Lattari in stages and well happy with their experience so far.
Once at the top of Monte Comune, I paused for my lunch
by the wooden cross. As bad luck would have it, a tractor arrived pulling a trailer dispensing some foul smelling liquid onto the tilled land just below. The air was no longer fresh, nor pleasant, so I headed off again, cutting down across the fields to join the path leading to the village of Preazzano and on to Arola, rather than following the more usual route to Santa Maria del Castello and Positano. 
The path to Preazzano is easy to follow and pleasant, with excellent views of  Vesuvius, the Bay of Naples, Vico Equense and the surrounding villages. From there I walked down the main road to Arola, where I took the lane to the left of the water fountain. This  lead me back up to the Sella di Arola and with that, the loop was complete.
Back up Monte Vico Alvano, down the other side, and  a good day's hiking was over.