Tuesday, 6 April 2021

TOLOMEO 2021 - Itineraries between Sorrento and Massa Lubrense

In my previous post, I wrote about a new project underway in the Sorrento area thanks to the three-way collaboration of Giovanni Visetti, the Sorrento Town Council and Penisola Verde. In this post and in the ones that will follow, I will describe some of the itineraries, liberally translated  from Visetti's blog Discettazioni Erranti.

Itinerary 13 - from Sorrento to Massa centre via Pantano and Vigliano

Itinerary 23 - from Sorrento to Massa centre via Montecorbo

Both these routes start from Piazza Veniero, in the immediate vicinity of where, many centuries ago, the Porta di Massa (gate to Massa) stood. The first part is in common, since as anyone familiar with the area will know, there is just one way westwards out of Sorrento, whether you are driving or on foot. They diverge at the 3rd bend of Via Capodimonte, once you have left the main road, with route 13 proceeding straight along the so called via 'e miezo, whilst 23 continues following the bends. There are also several short flights of steps, which may shorten the distance a little, but will limit the fantastic views over Sorrento and beyond that you will enjoy if you stick to the lane. 
The initial sections of itineraries 14 for Monticchio and 15 for Sant'Agata (both villages of Massa Lubrense) also coincide with route 13 before diverging shortly after Priora. There is a difference in length and elevation between today's two routes which could make you opt for one rather than the other. In fact 23 via Montecorbo is 400m shorter than 13, but it has a greater elevation of around 50m. If you wish to complete a loop, Giovanni suggests going to Massa via 13 and returning along 23. This is because you will be going downhill for the steepest parts of Via Priora and Via Capodimonte. 
The two routes had already been marked in the 2003 edition of Tolomeo, being part of the much longer Sant'Agnello to Termini walk. The signage in the Sorrento area is pretty well complete, with the tiles replaced where necessary and the markings refreshed. As you pass into the territory of Massa Lubrense, for the time being you can follow the original signs: red stripes for Montecorbo (ex 1a) and red dots for Vigliano (ex 1), until the new signage is complete also in this area. 
It is also important to point out that in the locality of Pantano, 1.9km from Sorrento, there is a secondary path going towards the valley which in 400m will bring you to Capo di Sorrento where it forks. The usual signs and tiles will guide you either to Punta del Capo (13a) with the Bagni di Regina Giovanna and the ruins of a Roman maritime villa (1st century AD) or to the fishing village and beach of Puolo (13b).

Details of the itineraries

13 Sorrento – Massa centre (13a Punta del Capo13b Puolo) (4,5 km approx)

Porta di Massa (Piazza Veniero), via Fuoro, trav. Capo, via Capo, via Capodimonte, trav. Capodimonte, via Pantano, Nastro Verde, via Pantano, (start of 13a), via Fontanella, via Vigliano, via del Generale, via Partenope, via San Montano, via Mulini-Sponda, via Mulini, rot. Massa-Turro, viale Filangieri, largo Vescovado (Massa centre)

13a via Pantano, via Capo (x 13b for Puolo), calata Punta del Capo (400+800m)

13b via Capo, calata di Puolo, via Marina di Puolo, Puolo (1.100m dal Capo)

Many thanks to Giovanni for use of his blog, maps and photos.

Friday, 19 March 2021


In 1990, 22 footpaths (covering a total 110 km)  were located by Giovanni Visetti between Sorrento and Massa Lubrense . These became the Nuovo Progetto Tolomeo, providing walkers with a network of itineraries set back from the main roads, the noise and large urban centres. Clearly marked with a system of coloured stripes and ceramic tiles, the routes were simple to follow and you could walk as far or as little as you wished, without the fear of getting lost, enjoying the countryside and villages a world  away from the crowded tourist traps. 
Maps were  produced and available at all the tourist offices and I am pleased to say that I  too had a small part in this, translating  the mini-guide on the back of the maps into English and that is when I first met Visetti. We spent many a happy hour bickering over the exact translation of a word or two and this is also when I began to hike again, something I hadn't  done since I was a child in the UK.

Over the years the itineraries and maps were updated with new additions (such as the Giro di Santa Croce) and notice boards with large maps collocated at strategic points around the area, complete with QR codes for the technically minded. Digital versions of the maps were also made available by Giovanni on his web site, free to download: 

Now for the news: Giovanni is in the process of revising and updating the Progetto Tolomeo in collaboration with the Municipalities of Sorrento and Massa Lubrense and with the coordination of Penisolaverde. New itineraries are being included and those falling within the territory of the Municipality of Sorrento have already been identified and traced. 

In addition to the two classic links to Massa Lubrense centre, there are half a dozen others going towards the villages up in the hills, including Zatri and Li Schisani for Sant'Agata sui due Golfi, both of which had fallen into disuse. There is also a completely new route through the chestnut groves of Lamia towards Acquara and Monticchio. Each itinerary is identified with different coloured number, painted trail markers, stickers on lamp poles and of course  the ceramic tiles characteristic of the original project. 

Two new circuits in the centre of Sorrento, are already accessible, identified by numbers 11 "The walls and gates of Sorrento" and  22 "The Villages of the Sorrento valley" going from Sorrento (Porta del Piano) to Cesarano, Cala, San Biagio, Baranica, Casarlano and Casola (locality "Sciuscelle"), returning to the centre of Sorrento. Clearly, each itinerary and each circuit can be walked in either direction. 
A website is also under construction where it will be possible to obtain  information about the itineraries.

Now all we need is to be free to try them out!

(Photos courtesy of  Camminate) 

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

The Pinewood of Monte San Costanzo

The pinewood of Monte San Costanzo (Termini, Massa Lubrense) is a place frequented by many, locals and tourists alike, but which is practically unexplored by the majority who limit themselves to using it as a starting point for walking up to the chapel or as a way to or from  Vetavole and Punta Campanella along the CAI300 trail.
In fact most people are probably  totally unaware that the central section of the forest, descending from the saddle towards Jeranto,  actually has a series of practically horizontal paths for every 25 to 30 metres of altitude, connected by short zigzagging paths to reduce the steepness. A little further west, other shorter trails reach the edge of the gully of the Rivolo San Costanzo (Rivo ‘a Falanga), offering unusual and fascinating views.
Unfortunately, over the past few years, gale force winds and forest fires had seriously damaged the forest, with many of its trees reduced to charred trunks, the paths blocked and hidden by fallen branches. The partial collapse of some of the dry-stone walls had also contributed to the problem, rendering the whole area a veritable obstacle course.
Confined by Covid regulations to his local council area, Giovanni Visetti decided that he would combine getting some much needed and welcome exercise with something useful and so, together with a few  volunteers from the local walking group Camminante, he began a new project, retracing and mapping the trails  and making a start at clearing them wherever possible. Now, after just a few sessions, nearly 3 kms are already accessible (the trails marked in red on the map) descending roughly 120 metres from the ridge and the CAI300 path. Any trees still blocking these paths can  easily be by-passed or climbed over.
The idea is to restore the area as much as possible to how it was, thus recreating a perfect, natural "gym" for anyone who wants some exercise out in the fresh air without going too far. That said, you can make it as long and as steep as you wish, go as fast or as slow as you fancy and  all this without the slightest possibility of getting lost, since all you need to do is follow one of the paths uphill and you will come back to the ridge and therefore to the road.  

photos courtesy of Giovanni Visetti's Discettazzioni Erranti

Monday, 16 November 2020

Here we go again - lockdown 2

So yesterday was Day 1 of our second lockdown following Campania's sudden but unsurprising leap from the fairly lenient yellow tier to the much more severe red one. Now we can no longer go out of our local council area unless we have a valid and documented reason and are unable to go for a pizza  or eat  at a restaurant (unless take away), sip an espresso at the local bar, visit our family and friends or go walking in groups. Curfew is at 10 p.m. so we have also had to stop wandering the streets at night....

It is not quite as bad as the first time round. A few more shops and businesses have been allowed to remain open and we can even go to the hairdresser's should we want to.  Physical exercise is permitted at any time of the day, provided you stay near  your home. "Near"  however hasn't actually been quantified, so it is pretty unclear, (and I hope it stays that way), whether this means 200 metres, a kilometre or several. I prefer to think the latter. Back in March we couldn't exercise outside at all for weeks on end. 
So yesterday afternoon, when the morning's heavy cloud and grey skies had given way to sunshine , I chose my itinerary and set off down the road to the village of Nerano, and then on  to Marina del Cantone and round the headland to Recommone. 

I chose to walk along the road rather than cut down through  the lanes, partially to avoid slipping, but mainly to make the walk a little longer!
Marina del Cantone was a far cry from the previous week when the place was heaving, the restaurants full to bursting and the bay dotted with motor boats of various size and importance. This time there were no more than a handful of evidently local cars in the car park and a solitary couple sitting on the pebbled beach gazing out to sea.  The restaurants and bars were all closed and nobody and nothing was at sea. The path to Recommone was equally deserted and the only sounds were the lapping of the waves and the seagulls' cries. It was incredibly peaceful and it  struck me how fortunate I am to live in a place like this. The dark cloud of Covid  lifted momentarily leaving me more optimistic that sooner or later all will be well.
I just wonder when.

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

The Path of the Gods

This weekend, with the forecast of strong scirocco winds and very high temperatures, arsonists hit the Amalfi Coast once again, timing their attack with the onset of dusk to  prevent any possibility of a rapid intervention by air. 

The effect was devastating, the flames quickly climbing the hillside between Positano and Praiano, going perilously near to the hamlet of Nocelle, the Convent of San Domenico and the houses at Colle Serra before racing over the Path of the Gods towards Paipo. It was only thanks to the usual group of volunteers, working throughout the night and beyond, that the damage wasn't even worse. At long last during Sunday morning two helicopters and a Canadair plane arrived to quench the flames.

The terrain has been stripped bare and so of course rocks and burnt vegetation are coming down. The road between Positano and Praiano has been closed since Sunday late afternoon to all but emergency traffic, causing havoc to people trying to go home at the end of the weekend or their summer holidays.  

The Path of the Gods is also off limits whilst the damage is assessed and it is made secure. Fabio Fusco's amazing photographs tell it all (many thanks Fabio!).

2020 was already going down in history as a year to be forgotten. We really didn't need this as well. 

Friday, 8 May 2020


I don't think that anyone could have imagined the events of the past few months and the impact that it has had on all our lives.
Living in Italy, we have had to respect one of the longest and strictest lockdowns in the world and for someone who is happiest outside and walking the trails, this for me was extremely hard.
Considered a person at risk I started isolating at home at the very beginning of March and for weeks  my nighttime 50 metre walk to the rubbish bins was my only excursion and the high point of my day. My family  even banned me from  going to do my shopping.
Fortunately I have a large terrace overlooking the sea, so it could have been much worse. I cannot imagine what it must be like for anyone with no outside space. 
I was lucky in that I was still working, so the days passed fairly quickly, and then when my hours were reduced, I started doing things that I had been putting off for years: sorting out drawers and paperwork (25 years of salary slips for example), cleaning the tops of cupboards, spending a lot of time tending the plants on my terrace and doing quite a lot of chilling out. I resuscitated a book of enigmatic crossword puzzles and read novels that had lain dormant on shelves for decades.
Only too aware that I could quickly become seriously unfit, I started skipping (don't laugh!), doing short bouts of stepping and making sure that I hit my daily target of 5,000 steps even if it meant walking up and down the apartment corridor. I found that by staying at home I actually moved more than when I went into work (in spite of the walk from the car park to the office) and even lost a little weight.
My car's battery went flat. So a few weeks ago, I had it recharged and started taking it out for a weekly drive, strictly on my own and armed with my mask and documents, taking a circular route of roughly 6 kilometres. The first time I did this I couldn't believe my eyes. I had left the countryside in its relatively drab winter attire and now found it clad in a riot of colours.The trees were in blossom, the roadsides were a botanist's dream and it was all so, so green. It was overwhelmingly beautiful.
On 27th April we were at last allowed out for physical exercise, for limited hours (6.30 to 8.30 and 19.00 to 22.00), strictly alone and with our masks. It was like being let out of jail. That morning I was out of the house at 6.35 and over the following days created various circuits more or less within the allowed distance from my home. I missed just one morning (it was raining) and would go both morning and evening whenever I could.  I counted myself very lucky to live in such a lovely part of the world where even a walk along a road  could provide such an abundance of flowers and so many amazing views.
4th May marked another step (literally) towards some form of normality. We were now allowed out for physical exercise at any time of the day and could go further afield. This is when the advantage of working reduced hours hit home: I could take myself off for lengthy afternoon walks on a weekday, something that would have been impossible normally. So since then this is what I have been doing. 
I was keen to check out the wild orchids, so my first walk was the Giro di Santa Croce, up behind Termini, where I knew I would be sure to find them. I was pretty gutted to see that the butterfly orchids had already disappeared  and that the orchis italica (naked men orchids) were over their best. They must have been spectacular a week earlier because there were vast colonies of them fading along the hillside. I was however compensated by myriads of tongue orchids,  less "showy" than the others, but incredibly delicate. I also found some bee orchids.
Since then I have also walked up the CAI300 trail from Nerano to Monte San Costanzo, yesterday along the Sirenuse Trail and today to Recommone. Apart from some pretty high grass in places, the trails are remarkably clear in spite of their lack of use over the past few months. The flowers continue to amaze. 
In conclusion, a few observations of this period:
- bird song. I have never heard so many birds singing away. Is this because there is less traffic noise, or are there actually more around than before?
-  traffic noise (including marine traffic and those awful power boats that roar up and down the sea in the summer) - none for weeks, road traffic is unfortunately now on the increase .
-  it is perfectly feasible to shop  once a week. It just takes organisation and a weekly menu planned before the shop. I still don't go.
-  a return to the land. Terraces that had been abandoned for years have been tilled and sown and are already bearing the fruits of labour: peas, fennel, lettuces, broad beans, artichokes and all manner of greens, all ready for consumption, rows of tomato plants, peppers and  zucchini just planted in preparation for the summer. Is this because a lot of people now have more time on their hands and it gets them out of the house (we were allowed to work the land before we were let out for physical exercise) or is it an underlying concern of what the future holds? Probably a combination of both. It is however good to see.
- masks: they are nasty but necessary. They are hot, they are smelly (keep away from the garlic) and they make your glasses steam up. However they have become the new norm and it is actually pretty disconcerting to see anyone without one.
We are now waiting in trepidation for the next 10 days to pass, praying that the situation continues to improve and that we won't be locked away again. That would be pretty hard to digest.

Saturday, 11 January 2020


Just before Christmas, 29th December to be precise, I decided to walk down to Jeranto from Nerano since it was some time since I had been there.
All was well until I tried to access the area of the ex quarry. Here I found the gate locked  by a large padlock and with the notice you can see in the photo: "closed for safety reasons".
I peered through the bars of the gate and all looked pretty normal to me. Admittedly we had had a spate of dreadful weather with gale-force winds and torrential rain, but I couldn't see any evidence of damage from where I was. Rather annoyed that access was being denied, I squeezed through the railings to the side of the gate and proceeded along the path. Although there were indeed a couple of fallen branches further in, there was nothing else that I could see to warrant the closure.
Maybe I am a little suspicious by nature, but it all seemed rather strange, so in the end I posted the photo with the simple question WHY on my SorrentoAmalfiWalkWithUs Facebook page, little imagining the reaction it would get:
2652 views (which might not seem many, but on average I get around 150 to 200 for a "normal" post), 8 shares (from other hiking groups and hikers) and 12 comments. The shares generated yet more shares and more comments.
This was 3rd January. The following morning the FAI (who are responsible for the maintenance and management of this area) put their own post up on their Facebook page, evidently in reply to the general indignation caused by mine, stating that the TEMPORARY closure was necessary due to the complexity of the damage both to the trees and to the buildings caused by the bad weather in mid December. Evidently other people were just as sceptical as myself and also went down to take a look, confirming that apart from a couple of branches that could (and should) already have been removed, there was nothing untoward.
Requests to the FAI to produce photos of the damage were consistently ignored which of course just fuelled more and more disquiet about the possible reasons behind the closure.
For anyone who is unfamiliar with the FAI, its Wikipedia  definiton is as follows: the Fondo Ambiente Italian is an Italian non-profit foundation, founded in 1975 with the aim of acting for the protection, safeguard and enhancement of the Italian artistic and natural heritage through the restoration and opening to the public of historical, artistic or naturalistic assets received by donation, inheritance or loan. 
The FAI received this area in donation in 1987 and in 2002 an official agreement was signed between the FAI and the Comune of Massa Lubrense. This agreement states as follows:
- article 1:  FAI undertakes not to prevent the free public use of the paths and areas identified
- article 2:  the routes and areas will be frequented by the public at their own risk... with the FAI having the only task of reporting any dangers to the users with specific reference to the type of danger... and with the exclusion of  signs limiting the free use of the routes and areas covered by this agreement.
- article 3: the parties agree that the access and free use of the routes and areas must not be prevented or reduced. The FAI is required to eliminate the closures and check that no impediment to access and free use is put in place by personnel of the organization or by third parties. In the presence of such impediments the Municipality is required to remove them without notice, providing for the recovery of the expenses incurred to the detriment of the FAI.
In other words, the closure of the gate was in complete violation of the above agreement, whatever the motives, and the fact that the local authorities had not been informed of the situation in the 2 weeks following the storms, certainly still makes one wonder if there was actually more to it than meets the eye. 
It took a lot of pressure on the local authorities before they finally sent someone down to verify the situation. As a result the FAI has been given 10 days to take the necessary actions and re-open the gate. Reading between the lines, the damage was not nearly as complex as they were making out, so hopefully the deadline will be respected and everything back to normal before we know it.
We shall see.

Friday, 3 January 2020


Following the unprecedented period of bad weather we had in December with its high winds and days on end of torrential rain, which caused numerous rockfalls and landslides along the Amalfi Coast roads, we were expecting damage to our trails and now the first reports are coming in.
So far one of the worst affected seems to be the Valley delle Ferriere and the Valley of the Mills.
Luigi Esposito, well known professional hiking guide, has sent a series of photos which show the affected areas and which have been published by Giovanni Visetti in a recent blog.
The first two photos show a landslide along the path leading from Pogerola to the Valle delle Ferriere shortly before the first stream.  As you can see, this has, significantly narrowed the path making passage tricky and potentially impossible should more earth come down.
Further along, at Fic' 'A Noce, there has been another bigger landslide bringing down large trees and earth mixed with pumice stone. Here  it is still possible to pass without great difficulty.
The large landslide that has hit Pontone prevents the connection between Punta d'Aglio and Pontone, so to reach the Upper Ferriera it is necessary to deviate through the wood of San Marciano. Luigi refers to a landslide that has made impractical the CAI 323 path which leads from the center of Pontone  to the upper path of the Valle delle Ferriere CAI 357, intercepting it near Punta d'Aglio.
The interruption is right at the entrance to the village therefore those who come for example from Fic' 'A Noce and want to reach Pontone can only walk the first part of CAI 323 but then have to deviate through the  San Marciano wood - black dotted path on map below - going to the 323a at altitude 308m, the highest point of the Ferriera.)
To continue.. the wooden bridge between the Ferriera and the hydroelectric power station has collapsed and there is another large landslide near the second paper mill (going down) plus sporadic rock falls here and there as you descend towards Amalfi.
These are just the first reports coming in. There will doubtless be more as hikers gradually return to the trails. Hopefully, by the time spring arrives, the situation will improve and enable you and ourselves to continue hiking without unpleasant surprises along the way.