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Monday, 13 August 2018

THE REOPENING OF THE PATH OF THE GODS


Today the Path of the Gods was officially re-opened following its "closure" by the local authorities last November when part of it collapsed after heavy rain. 
I say "closure" for two reasons:

- firstly, it was never ever really closed. There was never a proper barrier to prevent people passing and even the official notices were affixed as discreetly as possible, almost as an apology.There was no control. The distinct impression was that "yes, it is risky, however we have done our bit by putting up a little notice and a bit of red tape, so if you do have an accident, you only have yourself to blame, and you won't get a cent from us".
- secondly, although tour companies and truly professional guides  respected the ban, adapting other itineraries which enabled their customers to enjoy the beauties of the path without taking unnecessary risks, there were still thousands (yes, thousands) of walkers who ventured along the forbidden stretch, some probably out of ignorance, others accompanied by unscrupulous, money-driven "guides", or alone, probably convinced that everyone was making a big fuss about nothing and proud of making it to the other side unscathed.
So all is back to normal now, although I do find it rather odd that there is no mention at all of the second landslip, near to Cisternuolo, which I  considered equally as dangerous if not more so than the first, but which, if I am not mistaken, never had an official ban slapped on it. At the time, a little by-pass had been created round it. Maybe that has developed into a secure stretch of path and I am worrying about nothing, but..
What I would like to reiterate, and here I go back to one of my early blogs  "The Path of the Gods - suitable for everyone?", is that this path is definitely NOT for everyone. It is not flat, it is not well surfaced and there is very little shade.

It is rocky, there is a lot of loose stone that makes it easy to lose your footing, the bigger flatter rocks have become so worn and shiny that they are equally as slippery dry as wet, there are rough, broken, unstable and crumbling steps, steep ones too; some parts of the path are very narrow (so single file only which can be frustrating when it is crowded and you have snail-pacers in front of you), other parts have sheer drops to one side, so beware  sufferers of vertigo. It is hot in summer, very hot. 
Please do not think that it is a piece of cake. It isn't. Make sure you have proper footwear - trekking boots or trainers with an excellent grip. Leave your sandals and flip-flops for the beach. Take a walking pole if your balance is not spot on. It will be a great help along the rougher parts. Wear a hat. Put on your sunscreen. And take water, lots of water, since there are pretty long stretches where you will find none at all. Best of all, hire a guide. There are some excellent ones out there and not only will you have the security of a professional looking after you, but you will also learn so much more. 

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

UPDATED HIKING MAP OF THE SORRENTO PENINSULA TRAILS - PART 2 - THE MAIN CHANGES

Giovanni Visetti's updated hiking map of the tip of the Sorrento Peninsula, (the territories of Massa Lubrense and Sorrento), is now also available online, as always for free. You can download it in HD (5300x5000 pixels) in both .jpg and .gif format (the latter is lighter and better quality, but not all smartphones handle it well).
As already mentioned in my previous post this map has various innovations,  not only compared to the 2013 edition (until a few weeks ago still in distribution  and probably still available here and there) but also compared to the 2016 version you can see on the boards in the villages and along the roads.
The main updates are as follows:
Variants
Giro di Santa Croce (map on the right) - the nearby Selve and Vuallariello (already present on the 2016 boards, but not on the 2013 map) have been included  and together with the previous Termini to San Costanzo route form the aforementioned circuit. This is one of the suggested itineraries although signage is still lacking. The original route was Via del Monte - Belvedere Mitigliano - Vetavole - CAI300, with the ascent and descent via San Costanzo. Now the route goes to Cercito - Selve - Vuallariello and, once you get to Vetavole,  back via Belvedere Mitigliano, thus forming a loop and avoiding having to go there and back. Obviously, you can  still go to San Costanzo via the CAI
300 trail (directly towards the pinewood) or via the CAI 00, going up the ridge and then down past the VOR fence (mistakenly called "radar").
Casa Perella - Olivella - Acquacarbone - Lamia replaces Li Schisani. In effect the itinerary between Sant'Agata and Sorrento varies only between Pagliaio di Santolo (the upper entrance of the Hotel Iaccarino where the new and hopefully provisional sign  has been placed), and via Crocevia, (crossing Li Schisani, a few tens of meters from the church of Santa Maria del Toro); the remaining parts remain the same.
Spina - this dangerous and very rough stretch of the CAI 300 - Alta Via dei Monti Lattari trail between the pinewood of Monte di Monticchio and Recommone has been marked  on the map with a series of red "xxx"s, meaning "path in poor condition" - " trail in very poor condition ". The alternative proposed (and created by the CAI) is the vic. Monti, which connects the  pine grove to  Via Spina. The path represents the initial part of the new CAI 355 route - Variante Spina, and is therefore highlighted as a CAI path.
Landslides
The main ones are evidenced with a red diagonal grid.
Among these we have:
Li Schisani (itinerary S. Agata - Sorrento) - consider that there is little hope that this will ever be repaired and that  the Acquarbone path has now been cleared.
Fontanella (itinerary Massa Lubrense - Sorrento) - the biggest and one that  despite multiple promises of a quick resolution, is unlikely to be sorted in the near future.  However, take note that in practice you can actually pass over the landslide quite safely, at least when the terrain is dry.
Sant'Anna - a couple of years ago the project was planned and approved, but then, finding  the situation more complicated than expected, further geological investigations were considered necessary and so here too it is going to take a long time.This is an extremely interesting route, running parallel to the only perennial water course of Massa Lubrense, and thanks also to  the presence of an ancient mill (theoretically open to visitors).
The map does not include  the landslide at via Fontana di Nerano (which you can get round with a slight deviation) nor the one at via Pantano. It seems that work on  the latter will be imminent because, being  small  and close to the main road, it is easily accessible.
There are many more historical paths  that have been abandoned and that have fallen into oblivion although still technically classified as municipal thoroughfares. These deserve more attention and better care, representing as they do a potential added value to  rural tourism and hiking in this area.
   
The above is a loose translation of Giovanni Visetti's recent blog

Thursday, 19 July 2018

UPDATED MAP OF THE HIKING TRAILS IN THE SORRENTO PENINSULA


Good news! A new edition of Giovanni Visetti's map of hiking trails in the Sorrento Peninsula has just been published and distributed, not only updated by him to include the two more recent "new entries", Acquacarbone (S.Agata to Sorrento via Olivella and Acquacarbone instead of Li Schisani)  and Giro di Santa Croce (instead of Termini - San Costanzo via Belvedere Mitigiliano), but also highlighting pre-existing paths that are no longer viable (most of
them which have been closed for years and are unlikely to be re-opened any time in the near future). They are available in the local tourist offices and they are free.
This map is definitely a must for anyone intending to hike in this area. It is by far the most accurate and, whilst unfortunately the state of the trails does not necessarily match the quality of the map, you will at least stand a good chance of not getting lost and be able to enjoy our spectacular countryside.
Which brings me onto another point, and a sore one at that: the woeful condition of many of our paths. Just the other week  the Deputy Mayor of Massa Lubrense was talking enthusiastically about how they were spending the money from the Tourist Tax: on a better bus service for the summer months, on the paths, on new playgrounds (including one with a swing for the disabled), on road maintenance and special summer events, and all this without asking for a cent from the local residents!
Whilst not wanting to discuss the state of our roads or enter into the merits (and cost) of the numerous concerts, book presentations, culinary events and festivals which are hopefully  delighting visitors and locals alike, maybe it would have been better had she kept the paths out of it.  If it wasn't for groups of volunteers and a few local associations, most of the more popular itineraries would be completely off limits, overgrown by vegetation and thick with brambles or blocked by fallen trees, and this notwithstanding the fact that there is a position within the local government specifically dedicated to the local trails and their maintenance. 
Take the Santa Croce loop... the sign at the start of Via Cercito has slipped right down the pole and is virtually out of sight, the ceramic tile marking the start of the track has completely disappeared, and until a couple of weeks ago when volunteers stepped in, it was getting increasingly difficult to pass at all. 
Let us also talk about signage. New routes require new signs. Where are they? Take Acquacarbone.. the local Proloco tourist office took matters into its own hands the other day and put up a rudimentary sign indicating the way. Not professional looking admittedly, but highly effective and better than nothing.
What the powers that be don't seem to realise is that although this area is richly endowed with splendid scenery and a myriad of trails, it all needs maintaining. You cannot just rest on your laurels, confident that people will keep on coming just because it is beautiful, has good food and is on the TV weekend after weekend. Word will get around that the traffic to get here is appalling, parking tricky and expensive, public bathrooms generally nowhere to be found, trail maintenance  non-existent or minimal, signage poor or out of date, and so I could go on. There are numerous areas elsewhere, both in Italy (go to the Dolomites and you will see what I mean) and abroad, that are much better organised and equipped and which make the effort to keep it that way, probably realising that this kind of investment is more valid  and durable than a thousand one night stands. Probably cheaper too.
That said, please do not be put off from coming here to hike. It is a truly wonderful place, and  we will do our best to keep it that way. It is just that so much more could  and should be done by the local authorities. As Giovanni says in his latest blog, " there is a lot of talk and very little action" and that is what needs to change.


Saturday, 12 May 2018

PUNTA CAMPANELLA - THINGS I DIDN'T KNOW!

Over the past few weeks, Giovanni Visetti has published a series of blogs regarding Punta Campanella and although I have been living in this area for decades and have walked  there on many an occasion, I can sincerely say that I had never heard  of either of the events described.
Let's start in 1998 when during one of his walks  Giovanni found workmen erecting a 2 metre high metal fence, topped with barbed wire, as well as a heavy metal gate ready to bar all access to the final part of the promontory. The person seemingly in charge said that it was private property and that from now on nobody would be allowed to pass. Giovanni ignored him and marched on.
Thanks to his research into the local pathways for the project Tolomeo (where he marked and mapped over 100km of footpaths in the Sorrento peninsula), Giovanni knew for a fact that apart from  two areas to the side of the path which belonged to the Maritime authorities, the actual path was  municipal, and therefore public. 
On return from his walk, Giovanni immediately snapped into action, spreading the word about what he had seen, but even more importantly delivering  a letter to the local authorities the very next day denouncing the situation. Luckily it was taken seriously and the work was stopped.
This marked the beginning of a lengthy and very public legal battle  between the local authorities of Massa Lubrense and the Ministry of Defence and the Naval authorities who had intended auctioning off an area of 11,000 square metres with related buildings including the tower of Minerva. The scandal hit the press, not only local but also national and as the days passed, new associations joined the plethora of opponents as did personalities from the political and artistic world. Even when the Regional Administrative Court (TAR) ruled in favour of the local authorities at the end of 1998, it took another 5 years  for them to be able to assert their right of first refusal on the sale and buy the entire disputed area. Three more years passed  until  finally, in 2006, the contested area at long last became  part of the municipal heritage of Massa Lubrense and the spectre of a private cement ridden resort receded.

The second interesting fact dates further back and regards the lighthouse. Anyone who has walked as far as the tip of Punta Campanella will have seen that nowadays there is a metal pylon by the side of the tower with a light on top.
It was not always like this. As you can see from the photos, there was once a two storey building in front of the tower with the light on its roof. According to information supplied by the splendidly named "Command Zone of Lighthouses and Maritime Signalling of Naples", this light was first installed on the roof of an existing building during the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1848. Even more interesting is the fact that the whole structure was destroyed by an explosion probably on the morning of Wednesday 6th August 1969. I say "probably" because this is the date given by the Maritime authorities. However when Giovanni spoke to some of the older villagers there was some confusion as to the exact date and even year.    Likewise, nobody seems to know exactly how it happened. The official and probably more reliable version says that there was a fire which then caused the explosion,  others say  that it was hit by lightning or even that it was caused deliberately by the lighthouse keeper. 
For the years immediately following the destruction of the original structure, a temporary light was attached to  the tower. This was then replaced in 1972 by the pylon that we see today.
All interesting facts, some well documented and certain, others less so..

Links to Giovanni's Blogs "Mercoled√¨ 6 agosto" and "Spesso accade che la memoria inganna"
Black and white photos of the lighthouse from http://www.massalubrense.it/fotodepoca.htm or Ludovico Mosca's Ludo Blog 

Thursday, 19 April 2018

The Path of the Gods - Open or Closed?

The Path of the Gods has been appearing in the local press rather frequently over the past few weeks, which is hardly surprising when you consider that the hiking season has now started in earnest and that  the most famous and popular route of this area is still  officially off limits. 
Yes, for anyone who has still no realised this,  the trail has been "closed" to the public since 17th November 2017, when the local authorities of Positano issued an  ordinance banning access to a part of the Path which had collapsed following  heavy rain. Since then, another small stretch disappeared over the edge elsewhere, but as far as I am aware, this one was never the object of any prohibition, although in my opinion just as risky, if not more so, than the first.
In spite of the "closure",  to start with there was very little clamor  and certainly not much publicity. People continued and continue to walk the trail, sometimes in considerable numbers and often accompanied by guides -  there is no control and little to warn people of the situation. 
It was only recently, as the start to the hiking season approached, that the first murmurings of discontent were heard. Various  foreign Tour Operators, warned by their conscientious local guides,  became aware of the situation and  began  cancelling or re-organising their walking tours. In fact, as any true professional guide knows, if there is an official ban on a path, then you  do not take groups along it. No discussion. Since should an accident happen, not only will the Insurance people laugh in your face, but you yourself and your Company will be  liable and likely to end up in a lot of very expensive legal trouble.
Unfortunately not everyone seems to realise this, or prefers to ignore it,  and the walk is still being promoted and guided by unscrupulous people with very little respect for the law or the safety of their customers. Moreover, the Path of the Gods is often still being  mis-sold which is something I have complained about before. I read a tragi-comic post today on Facebook where a lady who had been inquiring about this hike was astounded to hear that it wasn't the simple stroll she had been  led to believe: 
"But what do you mean...? They told me that the Path is for everyone, that it is open to everyone and anyone can do it, that I can even bring  children, that you do not need specific equipment and that I can do it with gym shoes or running shoes and that - if I want to - I can also bring the dog, and now you are telling me that precautions are needed ...?". 
It has to be said that the authorities have a lot of to answer for with regard to the present situation. In 6 months not only have they failed to make the necessary repairs, but they have also done absolutely nothing to make sure that the ordinance is respected. About a week ago, there was at long last an inspection carried out by  various members of the local authorities, civil engineers and Regional Parks people to start evaluating and planning the work needed. It is said that the Regional Government has promised the funding, so technically the money is there. The problem is that this is 6 months too late. As anyone who lives in Italy knows, bureaucracy is incredibly slow and there are multiple hoops to jump through before anything tangible gets done. Hopefully I will be proved wrong but I doubt it.
However all is not lost. Although the "cowboy" guides continue to take their blissfully unaware customers along the traditional and more usual Bomerano to Nocelle linear route,(probably because they know no other), there are other options which will still allow you to get more than a taste of the spectacular nature of this walk. You can set off from Bomerano and walk a circuit following the upper path from Colle Serra and returning via the lower one, or you can walk from Bomerano to Praiano (or vice versa) either via San Domenico or via the 327B, preferably using the services of one of our excellent and reliable local guides!
And here is the link to the recent Blog published by Giovanni Visetti on the same subject






Wednesday, 11 April 2018

PUNTA CAMPANELLA - TIME TO ACT

The footpath to Punta Campanella has been the subject of several of my blogs since it was restored 2 years ago, officially in order to make it accessible to all. 
From the very start I and others raised our concerns that the initial lack of any form of barrier was an open invitation to all forms of motorized traffic and it was not long before mopeds, motorbikes and small cars started making their appearance along the path, in spite of a sign forbidding this at its start.
In time, and after considerable pressure on the local authorities, a barrier appeared. The padlock lasted a few days and since then I have never, ever found it closed. 
More recently, during the winter, a new road sign appeared, slightly more visible than the previous one and in three languages. Such a pity that it is full of mistakes! When I pointed this out to the local authorities (the Comune), I was told that it was the remit of the local police and nothing to do with them. I find it extremely difficult to accept that nobody thought to check it first but once again it is not for us to wonder why!
Whatever, the total lack of respect and the total lack of any form of control, sporadic or not, has now turned the path into a freeway, especially at weekends. 
Giovanni Visetti in his latest blog: "Motocross along the Punta Campanella path, so much for the disabled!" paints a pretty dismal picture of the present situation, having himself found a group of motorcyclists right down at the tip of the trail last weekend. Not one to stay silent, he asks how come the many people who criticized, denounced and opposed the project at the time now remain silent in front of the havoc that is being wrought along the final stretch of the trail.
As you can see from the photos, it is in a pitiful state and, in just 2 years, virtually back to what it was before its restoration. Even worse, what was once a peaceful and relaxing stroll in the fresh air  is fast becoming polluted by the noise and smell of motorbikes ridden by their uncivilized owners who also expect the walker to get out of their way (and fast) to let them pass. 
The local Council has been talking a lot recently about the importance of our paths, having woken up to the fact that they are an excellent incentive for tourism in our area. There are even projects for Associations to adopt and maintain a path. All very laudable, but what about this one which is probably the most important due to its historic value alone?
Now that the tourist tax has been doubled for the coming season I can only hope that some of the money is used to take the necessary measures here: and that means instigating an efficient and effective way of ensuring that access is limited to those on foot. Start with finding a way to keep that barrier down. Put some cameras in. And if that is all too difficult, maybe send the traffic wardens down for a walk at key times to raise a few fines (extra money for the Council after all!). 

Monday, 12 February 2018

HIKES IN MASSA LUBRENSE - SANT'ELIA FROM TORCA


The last time I walked the trail to Sant'Elia was back in 2010! Although very panoramic, it was never one of my favourites, mainly due to the fact that it was there and back, since the one and only gateway making a loop possible was    always  locked and completely impossible to climb around, over or under. In addition the path had on all accounts become very overgrown and difficult to negotiate, probably through lack of use.
So when I saw that it was reappearing on the programmes of  other weekend hiking groups, I asked around and discovered that not only had volunteers from the Italian Alpine Club (CAI) cleared  it, but that it was now possible (be it with the maximum caution) to get around the side of the gate and therefore walk it as a circuit.
We set off from the village of Torca, walking down from the square along Via Botteghe di Sotto, turning into Via Monticello and then going steeply down Via Rivolo before passing through some olive groves and down an even steeper cement road which led us to the start of the actual trail to the left of some metal fencing.
We were already enjoying the stunning views of the coastline, the 3 peaks of Marina del Cantone peeping out to our right from behind the hillside, the Vetara and I Galli Islands straight ahead. 
Having negotiated the first uneven, rocky steps and subsequent fairly sheer descent along a narrow dirt path, we started enjoying the sight of the typical Mediterranean vegetation showing the first signs of spring: bright yellow gorse, pink asphodels, delicate purple anemones, scented rosemary, a clump of fragrant flowering stock and a pink cistus or two. We continued along our way hugging the coastline high above the sea. It is definitely not a path for anyone with vertigo, but it was completely clear and pretty easy to navigate, sometimes uphill, sometimes down and at times even nice and flat. 
We passed the pinnacle, worn by the rain and the wind, but still standing. The views got better and better as we proceeded along the hillside, the Amalfi coast now in sight,  Vettica di Praiano sparkling in the sun which had at last decided to grace us with its presence. 
After about an hour's walking, we came to the ancient farmhouse, no longer inhabited and falling to bits, but now with  padlocks on its doors (in 2010 the doors were hanging off their hinges and you could go inside).   The millstone in the little forecourt was still there, as was the water tank and a few fruit trees (the oranges, alas, small and unripe). Taking the path downhill to the right we soon reached the watchtower just above the sea. This has been restored but is locked, as is the ancient chapel, dedicated to Sant'Elia, hidden in the vegetation along the track to the right. It is a good place to stop and take a break.
Having walked back up to the house, we went to the right, eventually coming to the infamous gate. You have to be really careful getting around it since  not only is there a bit of a drop but also some rather nasty barbed wire. It is not an ideal passing point, (and who knows how long it will be before it gets blocked off), but until the owners of the land and the house are convinced to grant right of passage, it is the only way to proceed without turning back.
From there it is about another 2 kilometres  to the Colli Fontanelle, the path meandering round the hillside  in an extremely pleasant fashion (be it very steeply uphill at times, something I had conveniently forgotten..), dipping in and out of woods and along sunny and open terraces, at one point taking you under a picturesque stone archway. We came to a quaint wooden bench, one of its legs  a rock, in front of what seemed to be another pinnacle concealed behind the trees. This was in fact the western pillar of the Arch of Sant'Elia, or the "Queen's Arch", which spanned the gorge a couple of centuries ago before it collapsed. 
Once we reached the village of Colli Fontanelle, we decided to walk back to Torca via the pinewood of Le Tore rather than take the more panoramic Sirenuse Trail. Either route is perfect for completing this highly satisfying loop.It is a hike well worth the effort, however if you decide to go, please be aware that you may find the gap by the gate blocked and have to return the way you came. Even then, I am sure you will enjoy it.

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