Sunday, 18 September 2016

CAPO DI SORRENTO - I BAGNI DI REGINA GIOVANNA (Queen Joanna's Baths)


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

MONTE SAN COSTANZO IN FLAMES


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

PUNTA CAMPANELLA REVISITED - GOOD AND BAD

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

A COUNTRY WALK - SANT'AGATA to MASSA LUBRENSE

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.
video




Thursday, 7 July 2016

THE NEW CAI HIKING MAP OF THE SORRENTO PENINSULA, AMALFI COAST AND CAPRI

Last week the new and long awaited hiking map of the "Sentieri CAI dei Monti Lattari:Penisola Sorrentina, Costiera Amalfitana e Isola di Capri",  (the CAI trails of the Monti Lattari: Sorrento Peninsula, Amalfi Coast and island of Capri”) was presented. It has been produced by three branches of the Italian Alpine Club (CAI), Castellammare di Stabia, Cava dei Tirreni and Naples, in collaboration with the  Consorzio Turistico Amalfi di Qualità and has already generated considerable feedback.

Probably the most comprehensive and detailed has come from Giovanni Visetti who, as anyone interested in hiking in this area will know, is an expert cartographer and particularly clued up about our local trails. I will now do my best to give a succinct résumé of his blog on this subject.
He is complimentary about the overall graphics, the print, the quality of the paper and above all the impagination. The map extends front and back, but with a wide range of overlap, so that it will only be necessary to consult both sides if the walk is particularly long. If the old map on a 1:30.000 scale was enormous and unpractical, precisely because of its dimensions, the new map with its even larger scale (1:25.000) would have been virtually unusable during a hike if printed on just one page.
Due to the physical characteristics of the Monti Lattari it might have been even more useful to increase the scale yet further to 1:20.000 so that the morphology of the territory could be better described with the inclusion of more of its infinite trails, passages and steps, so characteristic of the coast.
For Giovanni (and not just him, since this has been highlighted by others too) this is the map’s weakness and there are various reasons why. Some are absolute limits, since with such a scale it is impossible to represent everything. If the lines were made narrower and the dimensions of the symbols reduced in order to include everything, the map would become illegible submerged in details. Another  problem is the classification of the many extra-urban paths (those that are of greatest interest to the hiker) in such a way that their difficulty and ease of identification is clear to the map-reader.  Anyone who has walked the CAI trails of the Monti Lattari knows that many of these paths are rough but easy to identify (no other options being plausible), whilst others are easy to walk but difficult to follow, passing through woods or open fields with little gradient and very few points of reference and where, in spring and summer, the vegetation invades those lesser frequented, hiding their eventual way-marks at ground level.
This map has been produced by the CAI and therefore, and quite rightly from their point of view, the highest possible profile has been given to their own identified and marked trails. However Giovanni thinks that for future editions, (and even earlier online), it would be appropriate to integrate these with at least the other main paths used by local hikers and tourists, since as being very evident, they are important both as a point of reference and as potential escape or access routes. To give an example, the path  Praiano - San Domenico -Cannati (Path of the Gods) is missing from the CAI map. This is a path regularly used by hikers and above all by foreigners staying around Positano, Vettica and Praiano, who can, by taking this route, avoid having to take the bus first to Amalfi and then to Bomerano to reach the Path of the Gods and not only.
The work on this map has been in course for several years and therefore it is understandable that the authors wanted to start producing something tangible, even if, at the same time, they have publicly declared that, although satisfied with the result so far, the map still needs numerous adjustments and that therefore work is ongoing. This is true of any map or tourist guide, since months if not years pass between the surveying and the printing , plus it is impossible to control hundreds of kilometres of trails and thousands of roads, streets and lanes constantly. It therefore goes without saying that no one can ever claim that a map is completely up to date. In view of this it is essential that this map is  updated whenever possible, without waiting for a general revision some time in the future. Cartography is always work in process, as Giovanni points out, citing as example his own newly updated map of Massa Lubrense and Sorrento (first published over 25 years ago) in order to mark various interruptions and insert Vuallariello and Acquacarbone, historical trails closed for years but now cleared and  open for hikers.

The project coordinators have had the foresight not to use a cartographic base such as I.G.M. which, although of excellent quality, would always have remained the property of that entity, preferring to take the long, complicated and onerous way of drawing the map from scratch so that it remains their exclusive property.
Even if the results are far from perfect (a map can never be perfect by definition) in future they will be able to update it digitally, practically in real time and at no cost.
However, the real innovation has been the genial idea to create a new website www.caimontilattari.it where the map is freely available. Here you can consult the individual routes complete with their itineraries, altitude profiles and GPS tracks. The search for the paths is very simple. You just need to type a single word in the appropriate window, (eg the number or name of the path or even  the departure or arrival point).

The new map is excellent for planning a hike since it gives a general vision of the territory, with all the CAI trails evident. It will therefore be easy to plan itineraries which include more than one path, choose and evaluate the time and distance, all simple operations if you use the information on the site including the altitude profiles.
That said,  the detail is still very lacking and more work needs to be carried out as soon as possible to make the GPS tracks congruent with the contour lines and the actual paths or roads. As Giovanni wrote in one of his previous blogs, it is practically impossible for a gps track, no matter how accurate, to coincide precisely with the altitude profile due to the contour lines. The designer (with the help of the surveyor or at least someone who knows the route well) will have to adapt the contour lines to the gps tracks or vice versa, otherwise the details will be inaccurate. 
Here Giovanni uses as an example the route to the Molare which seems to have shifted north. In the image you can clearly see that, although the route of the path is substantially correct, the way in which it has been superimposed onto the map induces the hiker to look for a slope on the northern side (impossible for a non climber), taking him away from the existing path on the southern side.
Although, as someone pointed out, hardly anyone actually uses a map, sometimes because they don’t know how to, but mainly due to the bad habit of keeping it neatly folded in its cover inside the backpack,  bad habits and limitations  are not a valid reason for sacrificing accuracy for approximation. Giovanni has always suggested taking a photocopy of your specific itinerary with you, rather than the whole map, and now that this can be printed or even saved onto your smartphone or tablet, there is no reason not to.
To sum up
·     the overall work which covers the entire network of about 500km of the trails marked by the Stabia and Cava CAI on the Lattari Mountains is to be appreciated;
·      it is a clear basic map, particularly with regard to the morphology of the area which has been highlighted not only with contour lines (no small job) but also by a good use of shading;
·  the minor roads and non CAI paths have been a little overlooked, both in quantity and representation, but this can easily be remedied, though of course, it will take time;
·   there are too many points inserted in the middle of nowhere, not linked to clear  elements, and therefore vague and of no use, whilst other significant elements such as  peaks, saddles, intersections and easily identifiable points such as the ends of the paths are insufficient;
·    the various symbols are too big, such as the invasive and ever-present little flags numbering the paths and the symbols of the snow holes (luckily very few), the caves and the climbing sites. With regard to the latter two, the paths linking them to the CAI trails should be added, but the most serious consequence is that because of the size and quantity of these symbols, they often cover other more significant details of the map (why waste time marking important details and then cover them with an icon?);
·    to have the updated trail numbers and a representation of the routes existing today is a great step forward. Many have been added whilst some of the old ones have been abandoned;
·   without a shadow of doubt it is the only valid general map of the Monti Lattari, much more legible than the previous CAI map, which although it had a more detailed base (IGM tables) had become obsolete and many of the superimposed red lines (representing the paths) differed by several hundred metres and over 100 meters of quota difference to reality. Even if the GPS tracks do not entirely match the trails in the new map, the discrepancies are restricted to a few tens of metres;
·   there is no point in comparing it to the map produced by the Parco dei Lattari which is absolutely impracticable.
·  other maps (such as Kompass) are on too small scale, insufficient, totally inaccurate and inadequate for hiking in such a varied and rugged  landscape packed with trails, as the Sorrento-Amalfi peninsula
·    the new website www.caimontilattari.it, in Italian and English, is excellent, and not only has no equal in this area, but is truly innovative and easy to navigate. The CAI map superimposes the Google map and you can select which levels to consult. On each path tab at the bottom of the map you have the elevation profile and you can download the GPS track, which can be used in combination with the map! This too can be downloaded with the full itinerary, quotas, gradients, length, times and difficulties.
Giovanni concludes his lengthy dissertation with the following words:
All in all an onerous and meritorious achievement if it is to be considered a starting point. Hopefully  work will continue. Whatever, the promoters, surveyors and collaborators deserve a round of applause and a big thank you.
   

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

SOMETHING NEW - VIA ACQUACARBONE

Following  last year's  creation of a new hiking trail, the Giro di Santa Croce, up behind Termini (Massa Lubrense), Giovanni Visetti and volunteers are now ready to inaugurate another.
This latest is  a short and simple loop of just over 5 kms and with little  elevation gain (just over 100 metres), which will take you from Sant'Agata sui Due Golfi, circumventing the Deserto at between 300 and 400masl, round to Acquara and Pastena, before bringing you back to your starting point. It has been  made possible by the clearing of another ancient path, Acquacarbone, which had long since sunk into virtual oblivion and been submerged in vegetation. 
Up until the middle of last century, before the construction of the road between Sorrento and Sant'Agata, this route will have been the main thoroughfare between Sant'Agata and the village of Priora. Starting from Via Olivella, it runs parallel and above the present road and at just 2km long is much shorter than the 5kms of the road.
The re-opening of this path also creates many other options for walking from Sant'Agata to Massa Lubrense or to Sorrento using minor roads and paths. Not only can you avoid the noise, danger and fumes of the traffic  whilst enjoying the shade of the chestnut woods, but you will also be able to enjoy magnificent views over the Bay of Naples, from Capri to  Vesuvius and Faito; and all this past gardens and olive groves, along quiet dirt paths and paved lanes.
The inauguration of the trail will take place on Friday 24th June, departing at 18.00hrs from the square in Sant'Agata.

Photos and map courtesy of Giovanni Visetti.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

THE BAY OF JERANTO - PROTECTED MARINE RESERVE?

Protected Marine Reserve?
Unwelcome intruder
This morning I took myself off to Jeranto which is conveniently near to where I live and a place I am very fond of.The first time I went there was in my late teens with my extended Italian family - we used to have our Easter picnics down there and very merry occasions they were too! In the summers to come I also sometimes went there for a swim , but in those days, before the Marine Reserve was created, it was mayhem, with boats of all shapes and sizes coming in and out of the bay from dawn til dusk. It was more like a busy highway, be it at sea, and you ran a real risk of having your legs chopped off by a propeller if you didn't watch your back. The beach was cram jam full and noisy and as the boats came in from Cantone to offload yet more people, it quickly became standing room only. The quality of the water suffered massively and there was a constant smell of fumes. 
David(s) and Goliath 
Luckily  all that stopped with the creation of the Punta Campanella Marine Reserve in 1997. Soon no motorized boats were allowed to enter, which meant that the only way to get there was on foot and that along a path with a steep descent on the way there, so of course a steep ascent on the way back. If you add to that a surface that is fairly rough and can be slippery, a beach that has no conveniences such as toilets, snack bars or even water , a lot of people  go there the first time but never come back. Good. Even so, it is surprising how many people do go (at weekends it is very crowded) and hats off to them for actually taking the trouble to walk. At least now there is a very good chance that they will be rewarded with crystal clear water and excellent snorkelling.
On to the next two
Last but not least
Well, back to the point of this blog. Not content with just strolling to Jeranto and back, I continued  my hike, taking the CAI300 path from Nerano up to Monte San Costanzo, and then  along the other side of the Bay of Jeranto. Looking down to admire the view, I saw a large boat enter the bay and very noisily drop anchor. From its flag I could see that it definitely wasn't the one  Marine Reserve boat which is allowed access. This was quickly followed by a couple of dinghies. A smaller boat had already been there for some time. I have to confess that all this annoyed me greatly and I was just wondering what to do when from behind the headland 3 kayaks appeared, quickly making their way towards the larger boat. They paddled up alongside, evidently got their message across, and then moved swiftly on to the dinghies before approaching the last boat. The dinghies upped anchor and left as quickly as they had come. I didn't stay to watch the departure of the others, but continued happily on my way.
So a very well done to the sea patrol! Keep up the good work!