We were somewhat disappointed about Amalfi coast, and left in a sombre, deflated mood. But, we knew there was plenty to see over the next few days – plus, we aren’t on any time schedule, and could have easily stayed another day if we’d truly wanted.
At first, when we left Sorrento, we were taking the regular roads, as we thought we’d save money on tolls, and see more of the ‘real Italy’. But, after nearly an hour making next to no progress, driving through industrial areas and sad towns, we realised that it was a lie, and the price of the toll was worthwhile. I wish there was an easy way to estimate the cost, as it turned out to only be €2.10. We’re a little cautious after our bypass of Genoa cost us €20.
But, the celebration didn’t last long. As we were leaving the motorway, the road narrowed to 2.3m – we’re 2.1m wide. On the exit, the road tightened, and I accidentally clipped something with the back wheel, tearing a big hole in the side wall and deforming the rim. It was fortunate that there was a small space right next to the exit that I was able to pull over and safely change the wheel. It was a fun game, using a combination of two jacks, but I worked it out eventually.
I had wanted to change some of these tyres anyway, as the sidewall looked a little shabby, so it was a blessing in disguise – at least that’s the way I sold it to Risa so she didn’t get too mad at me.
I saw this town’s name on the map, and my first thought was of tyres, due to Bridgestone naming one of the models Potenza. I was actually thinking to buy tyres from here anyway, this just forced my hand. I was a little worried about the language barrier, but it’s a simple thing to explain, really. They had a look at the van, checked their stock, and then started making phone calls. They didn’t have any, but another place just down the road did. We arrived at the second shop, and they were there ready and waiting. We had coffee with the store manager in his office while the workers did the work.
In the end we bought two new tyres at €90/each, replacing one damaged, and refreshing one that was a little worn. I also moved one of the more worn tyres to be the spare, and made use of the new-looking spare. We now had four good looking tyres, and I felt much happier.
One of the two towns situated right inside the Southern Dolomites. We could see the mountains from the highway below, but the town was almost completely hidden until we’d driven right up to it – and were blown away when we got our first view.
But, as gorgeous as the town and the setting was, what really caught our attention was a zip-line that crossed between these two towns. It was a 3km return trip, with hundreds of meters of cavity below. I read that it was one of the worlds longest, and fastest zip lines, with speeds of up to 120kph. You are strapped in in such a way that you ‘fly’, with your head facing forwards, like a bird/Superman. It was possible to do it tandem, too.
Buuuuuut… it only runs on weekends. And it was Tuesday. We were doing the math, trying to find a way to be back here on a Saturday, but we couldn’t find a way to kill three days without serious back-tracking. It was bitterly disappointing, but it was out of our control. Something to come back for if we return to Amalfi region.
We soon got over it, and set out to explore the tiny town. It was a bit of a higgledy-piggledy town, with a maze of ups and downs and no clear sense of cohesion in the streets/houses. They were all clumped together around the base of this granite spur.
We climbed up and above the town, hoping to get a better vantage point. I could see that some of the cliffs above us had what looked like steps carved into them, and wondered how we could climb them. We found out from the top of the trail there is a via ferrata route to the top, and there wasn’t a way for us without a harness – and probably a guide.
But, we could see right across to Pietrapertosa, which is where the zip-line goes to/from. And we were sad again. From up here, staring across this enormous valley between these fingers of rock, it looked absolutely epic.
While it was less than 2km between these two towns as the crow/angel flies, it was nearly 14km for a car. Or, it would have been if the main road was open. Instead, we had to tackle 33km of back roads that had seen better days. On the bright side, it took us past lush farmlands, giving us our first look at the buffalo that make the famous mozzarella – apart from the horns, it was far more cow-like than I was expecting.
By the time we’d driven all the way around between these two towns (nearly 1hr), the weather had closed in. We’d had a few spots of rain, but nothing too heavy. The scale of this town was well hidden, too. It wasn’t until our final approach did we realise just how large it was – far larger than Castelmezzano.
It was still an epic town, and if viewed on it’s own, or before Castelmezzano, we’d be in awe. But, in our eyes, it was the less photogenic of the two.
Still, we went for a walk to the castle on the top of the mountain here. It happened to be closed, but the views back to Castelmezzano, and the mountain range it is situated on were worth the heavy breathing. It also gave us a chance to see the road we should have driven on – as well as getting a really good view of the two zip-lines back/forth between these two towns. If anyone is reading this, time your visit here for the weekend so you don’t miss out!
We parked in a mostly empty communal car park. It was a steep slope, and a narrow cobbled road. I thought I was going to have space to do a three-point turn so I wouldn’t have to reverse the 200m back to the main intersection out of town. But, when the time came to leave, we’d been parked in. It was steep, narrow, and by the time we’d gotten to the top, the poor clutch was billowing smoke, scaring Risa and the onlookers equally – I’ll admit that I was mildly concerned… Once the smoke (and the smell) went away, we were on our way out of town, following countless switchbacks back to the motorway on the valley floor. Thankfully not taking the same road we’d come in on.
As we drove out of town, towards our next stop, we saw an abandoned hotel. It looked like a good place to spend the night, so we turned around and went for a closer look. We both love haikyo (abandoned buildings), so it was great to be able to walk around and have a look. It was utterly creepy walking through these empty hallways, and rooms with their overturned mattresses and ragged curtains. It was clean inside, with no signs of people squatting/using the place, which was our biggest worry.
It eventually got too creepy, so we got out. This was a modern hotel in a prominent location. I can only imagine how creepy it would have been for a friend who visited an abandoned town. By himself. In Siberia.
They do say to do one thing every day that scares you… well, since we couldn’t do the angel flight, this did the trick. I had to stop looking out at the dark and empty windows of the hotel. My imagination was coming up with all these ideas from movies that weren’t great for a relaxing night’s sleep. I kept imagining seeing lights glowing inside – and that we’d have visitors in the night. As a precaution, I let some friends know where we were – just in case.
The night passed without incident. I slept right through, with no nightmares or panic stricken dreams. However, we did have visitors. As we were packing up, getting ready to leave, two policemen, with their impeccably well groomed beards and fashionable sunglasses told us to move along. They couldn’t have timed it better.
Matera was heavily recommended in our guidebook, and is set to be the European Culture Capital of 2019, but to us it was unknown. The more I read, the more I had to see it – it was used as the filming location for Passion of the Christ, which I don’t remember being a great movie, but I do remember it looking good.
The people of Matera built their houses into caves in the side of these canyons, and have been living here for some 7,000 years – making it the oldest continually inhabited town in the world.
We started from a viewpoint across the canyon from town, as I thought it would be nice to see it as a whole first. It was hard to really make out the cave houses from where we stood, but we did get a good feeling of the homogenous nature of the town, with easily blending in to the rock it was dug from.
While walking around looking for vantage points, we found some of many caves that had been converted into churches. This particular one had some amazing frescoes, which were said to be 14th century – and still looking fresh. Well, apart from where 19th century historians had tried to remove them for safe keeping in museums.
Exploring the sassi, as the caves are known, wasn’t so simple in our motorhome. But, we got lucky with a park a short distance away. I thought we were going to be told to move on by some locals, but they were helping us park – and the people we were parked next to us to leave.
The view from this side of the canyon was completely different. From afar, it looked small, flat, and almost vertical. From here, it was a sprawling town that undulated over hills.
It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, if I’m honest. At first glance, it looked like any other traditional town, with regular stone houses.
It wasn’t until we visited an old dwelling that we really understood what the fuss was about. From the outside, it looked like a stone house, stepping through the curtains on the front door, we were standing in a large single room, which we could now see was carved into the rock in organic ways. It looked spacious, until we learnt that there were generally six children. And a horse/donkey, pigs, goats, chickens etc all living in that same room with them. Supposedly they had a 50% infant mortality rate, which is unthinkable. I can now understand why the Italian government stepped in and relocated these residents.
It was fun to walk through the streets of the old town. While many of the old dwellings have been converted into souvenir/café/restaurants, there are many more that are still uninhabited (the Italian government bought them all and moved the residents in the 1950s).
There was lots advertising Matera’s special bread – which looked like an enormous rock. We bought one (not this one) and had a mini-picnic. I don’t know if we bought last years product, but it was the driest, most tasteless bread I’d ever eaten. It was so dry and hard that the olive oil wouldn’t even penetrate into it. I can’t understand any tourists enjoying this bread – unless we actually got a terrible example.
Several of the churches were closed today for funeral services. I stuck my head inside one, and I could see that there was an open casket at the altar. We were happy enough to look from the outside.
There was plenty that we didn’t see in Matera, but it quickly felt the same. The heat had gotten the better of us, so we kept driving.
Strange name, equally strange houses. Alberobello is famous for the hundreds of these conical trulli houses. We started spotting them nearly 50km from town, with the occasional one in the fields. Many looked like they had been integrated into newer buildings, which looked really amazing.
Just like Matera, the trulli area is situated surrounded by a modern town, and are now mostly occupied by souvenir/café/restaurants. That said, it was still fun to walk through the streets in that small, and very dense, area.
They were amazing to see, I’ll be honest. The town felt like something from a fairy tale, as though magical gnomes should be living inside. I felt even stronger about this when we started spotting them with what looked like runes and signs of the zodiac painted onto the roof.
We stepped inside one of the larger trulli (it was a jewellery shop), which was actually five that were joined together, with a larger one in the centre, surrounded by four smaller rooms. Of course, it had been rather drastically converted, but it was still cool to see inside – surprisingly spacious.
We walked up to the belvedere and had a view out over the main trulli area. I know I’m repeating myself, but it was incredible to see actually hundreds of these pointy houses below us.
We were content, and ready to leave, then I spotted some just to the side of the lookout. There was still plenty of light, so we went for a walk. This area was what we were looking for. It was still residential, and lacking any signs of commercial activity – no cafes, no restaurants, and no souvenirs hanging on the outside walls.
The gas decided to finally run out this morning. Luckily we were prepared, and had portable gas bottles for hot water. In France and Spain, they were in every petrol station, as well as larger supermarkets and hardware stores. We looked at all these places, but weren’t able to find any for sale. I knew that each country has different gas bottle adapters, so I had to buy a new regulator to fit the Italian bottles – once we found one. I started searching for butane gas companies, and it seemed that most towns had somewhere that sold them.
Sure enough, the next town we entered, I found a small shop (also selling repaired iPhones and beds), swapped the regulator, and we had working gas once again. The 11kg bottle was a grand total of €18! Our half empty bottle had lasted us over two months.
We’d noticed a bit of a wobble/vibration driving into town, which got a little worse as we were leaving. We kept pulling over to have a look, but couldn’t see anything wrong with the tyres, so kept driving, deciding to keep speeds down – not that we have a choice.
Sure enough, a few km later, the rear tyre exploded. While we certainly heard (and felt) it explode, the car was still quite controllable, and we were able to safely drive it to a location that I could change the tyre. Again. The tyre that exploded was the old spare tyre, which has probably been sitting in the engine bay since the 90s. The tread and sidewall all looked good, and free of any signs of cracking/damage, but I guess there was an internal weakness, judging by the size of the hole when the tyre gave up on life.
With the spare swapped again, we drove back into Manfredonia, stopped at the first tyre shop we found, and were lucky that they had one in stock. To be honest, I’m surprised that the first place we visited in Potenza didn’t have them in stock – it’s an r14/185c, if you’re interested. It was cheaper, too – €75 cf €90 in Potenza.
The night was approaching, so we called it an early night, stopping by the water here in Manfredonia, treated by yet another beautiful sunset – even if it was looking out onto a large industrial jetty. Since we finished early, we decided to watch a movie – the original Alien, since we’d recently watched Prometheus.
Locals started arriving from 8AM to go to the small beach we’d parked next to. I didn’t see the attraction at first, but we went and had a look. There was a small underground spring that was flowing with fresh water into a small pool. This water was incredible, fresh and clean. The rest… well, we liked the spring water.
This area had been described as a ‘mini Amalfi’. Since we weren’t allowed to enter the Amalfi coastline in our motorhome, we thought this could be a decent substitute – I know it’s not, but it eases my FOMO.
Straight away, we were treated to some amazing coastline, with tiny beaches hidden in coves, and plenty of small caves. The water here looked exceptionally blue.
We even spotted one cave whose roof had collapsed, and there was now a (not so) hidden beach inside. The recommended way in is via a boat, though in reality we could have swum. As much as I want a bit of adventure, I passed on swimming over and in.
The road took a swerve inland for what felt like an hour, before finally popping back out near the main town of Vieste. There were yet more beautiful caves, turquoise waters, and rocky capes. There were also long stretches of sandy beaches. The sand was a lovely soft powdery sand, slightly orange. The water was exceptionally shallow, seemingly stretching to the horizon before deepening. And while it was beautiful, it was windy. Very windy. So windy that it wouldn’t have been enjoyable to relax here.
As we got a little closer to town, we realised that it looked a little like Bonifacio, with buildings jutting out over the cliffs, with a small castle right at the tip of the peninsular. We considered finding a park and going for a walk (most public parks were forbidden for motorhomes), but we had lunch plans and were rapidly approaching the end of the lunch period.
We had read about the unique wooden fishing structures that are used on this peninsular, called Trabucchi. We also read about a small restaurant, Al Trabucco da Mimi, that is built around one of these structures, and serves some of the best seafood in the area. So, Risa got a treat, and we went there for lunch. The place had incredible charm, looking like a fisherman’s backyard, filled with fishing ornaments, and seemingly built out of driftwood, and spare timber.
We ordered an octopus ragu, as well as getting a grilled monk fish. The ragu was decent (the octopus was tender, but the sauce reminded us both of the tomato sauce you get in a tin of Heinz spaghetti). The monkfish looked just like a nightmare, but tasted sweet and succulent. It was a bit of a gamble how much the fish was going to cost, as you pay per kg – and it was a large looking fish. We weren’t wowed by the food, but we loved the atmosphere and location.
We continued following the coastline where possible, but it started to peter out, turning into an eternal stretch of private beach resorts, and small, sad looking towns.
It was time to head inland towards the mountains of Abruzzo and Molise.