Saturday, 11 March 2017

Jeranto and the first wild orchids

Taking advantage of a free Saturday morning, the bright sunshine and crystal-clear sky, I left my house to clean itself and took myself off to the Bay of Jeranto on a mission. I hoped to find the first wild orchids of the season.
The hike down to the bay was a delight. The
strong wind had cleared the skies and the views were spectacular.  Spring was definitely in the air with flowers galore to distract me along the way and the lizards were out in force.
I walked down through the grounds of the FAI, past the few buildings and onto the open scrubland of the erstwhile quarry. Rather than following the official path overlooking the sea, I cut in towards the rocks, vaguely remembering where I had found the orchids in previous years. 
It looked very much that I was too early. I could see the first signs of the plants pushing up through the ground, but they were still very, very small and nowhere near to flowering. However there were  a couple of surprises along the way:
a rather long black snake (biscia) that crossed in front of me and slithered into the rocks (sadly I wasn't quick enough to get a photograph) and several bushes of bright blue lithodora that I had never realised were there. I began to think that I would have to be content with these and come back in a few weeks' time.
Never one to give up, I continued searching and all of a sudden found what I was looking for: a bee orchid in full flower. A dozen photos later I carried on my quest and found some more. More photos.
Pretty satisfied, I reached the end of the clearing, admired the views of Capri and Punta Campanella, before zig-zagging my way back through the bright yellow bushes of euphorbia in the vain hope of finding a few more.

Monday, 2 January 2017


Oh dear! Is it just me, or are there others of you out there who have reservations about the recently released video "Made in Heaven - il paradiso รจ qui" produced for the local Council to promote the delights of Massa Lubrense and entice visitors to this area.

Whilst fully appreciating  the  photography (no one can deny that we live in a stunning area) and whilst not entirely disliking the music (apart from the first piece), I really cannot understand the need for "a story" or at least not this story, which involves a retro couple of vapid character and 3 extremely irritating damsels who spend their time draped over balconies, flitting down lanes and swimming in improbably azure water. 
And what is all that about the fresh cheeses? Their sudden appearance  hard on the footage of our heroine in her bath is all very odd, almost disconcerting!
Maybe I am missing something, but the overall impression is that they have tried too hard. It is too constructed, too artificial, too pseudo-symbolic. This is a pity, since if you removed or even replaced, the famous five , it would be great.
I have linked the shorter version (8 minutes) for any one who hasn't seen it. There is also a longer version if you can bear it!

Friday, 30 December 2016


Giro to Santa Croce - view of Capri
So 2016 is rapidly drawing to an end and if I manage  to take to the hills tomorrow , I will have hiked the trails and lanes  of Massa Lubrense and the Amalfi Coast an impressive 63 times over the course of the year. If you also consider two holidays, (one in Corfu and the other in Gran Canaria), where walking played an important role, I can only conclude that at least for me this has been an excellent year!
On the way to Jeranto
Several itineraries have figured more often than others,   mainly due to the fact that they are practically on my doorstep, but they are also all particularly spectacular and rewarding.  I am very lucky to live where I do.
The Giro di Santa Croce from Termini is perhaps my favourite, with its splendid views of  the island of Capri and the entire Bay of Naples as you emerge from the woods. Fairly new to the local trail circuit, it has become popular not only with the locals but also with several foreign walking holiday companies. Everyone I have spoken to or accompanied has been enthusiastic about it.
View from Sirenuse Trail
Jeranto comes next - here in the warmer months you can combine the hike with a swim, and if you go really early, the bay will be yours. 
Third on my list of local hikes  has to be the Sirenuse Trail, starting off in Sant'Agata, passing through  the village of Torca and then winding its way above the coast. The small grassy plateau of Pizzitiello is perfect for a picnic lunch  giving you marvelous views both towards Capri and  down the Amalfi Coast.
There are many more possible routes, including the new country village walk between Sant'Agata sui Due Golfi and Massa Lubrense which is delightful, giving you a taste of  authentic Italy, away from the mass tourism of nearby Sorrento. 
We were blighted by some really bad fires over the summer, the most destructive devastating the entire ridge from Monte San Costanzo to Punta Campanella. However nature has bounced back with a vengeance, and whilst  the charred remains of shrubs and trees still scar  the landscape, the lower vegetation has grown back greener and lusher than ever. I can't wait for springtime to see what it brings!

Sunday, 4 December 2016

A SHORT WALK TOWARDS JERANTO - a few observations and questions.

This morning, only having a short amount of time available and being unable to resist a walk on a such beautifully warm and sunny morning, I decided to go towards Jeranto.

It was the first time I had ventured there since the fire at the end of August. Here are just a few very brief observations:
- in some places the fire had actually passed right over the path and down the other side of the hillside. Whilst the lower vegetation is now green, the burnt shrubs and trees still cast a shadow on the landscape.

- there is no evidence of rock fall, or at least no more than usual, and this despite some heavy rain over the past few months. 

- how long is it going to take the local Council to re-open the path officially? I am very aware that it doesn't necessarily depend on them, however we are now in December and will soon be half way  through the winter. Moreover, if they do want people to be dissuaded, then they need to do something about the barriers and the signs (basically there are none anymore). I met several people along the trail.

- the infamous solar panels and cabinet perched on the rock at one of the view points are of course still there (there were requests that they should be moved to a more discreet location being an eyesore). However one of the panels is now all cracked and the cabinet, which before emitted a buzzing sound, is silent. Does this mean that there is no monitoring over the winter and it is switched off, or is it in fact broken and therefore destined to be left there to posterity until it rusts?

- whilst I was walking back up the hill,  a motor boat sailed happily into the protected Marine Reserve of the Bay of Jeranto and anchored. From what I could see, I do not think that they were there to analyse the water....more like preparing to fish, so doubly in defect. It is a pity that some people have a complete disregard for the environment.

Monday, 28 November 2016


Following the fire at the end of August, the path from Nerano to the Bay of Jeranto was declared off limits by the local authorities due to the risk of falling rocks. It is now December and, as far as we know, the path is still officially closed, although anyone presently wanting to go to Jeranto would be blissfully unaware of this, since the  barriers have been pushed to one side and the official notice is fast disintegrating.
There is however another path commencing just a few metres from the start of via Ieranto, just outside the village of Nerano, which takes you up through the woods to Monte San Costanzo. This  is part of the famous Alta Via dei Monti Lattari (CAI 300) running the length of the peninsula from the Abbey of Cava dei Tirreni to Punta Campanella.
Many hiking groups,   both foreign and Italian, walk this route, usually accompanied by professional guides... and here lies the problem.
Is this particular path officially accessible or not?
From the initial positioning of the barriers, the turning from via Ieranto onto this track is decidedly on the forbidden side. However it remains to be seen if this was actually intentional or not. 
Guides are already contacting our local expert in all things hiking,Giovanni Visetti, asking for clarification, since now is the time of year that the coming season's routes are being planned. Giovanni has contacted the local authorities, but so far nobody has replied.
The problem is that if a guide takes people along a path which is officially closed, the responsibility lies entirely on his shoulders should anything untoward  happen, independently from whether the event is relevant to the restriction or not.
Since this trail is just a few metres from the road, is not directly beneath the rock-face and therefore no more dangerous than kilometres and kilometres of paths and roads generally open to pedestrians and traffic, is it really worth discouraging or even banning its transit to hikers following the Alta Via dei Monti Lattari? Couldn't the barriers be moved a few metres further on?
Last year, be it for other reasons, the path to Punta Campanella was closed for months. Now it is via Ieranto's turn. Why deprive hikers of yet another path in this area if it is not even necessary? 

The local council has professed its interest in developing hiking tourism in this area. It should therefore be the first to move promptly and at least provide answers when questions are asked.
View from CAI300 Nerano -San Costanzo 

Wednesday, 26 October 2016


Il Cerriglio some years ago
Many years ago I remember walking around Massa Lubrense and  by pure chance going into what looked liked the entrance to an ancient mansion, attracted by the pillars in tuff and marble busts lining the short avenue leading to something green. This turned out to be a nymphaeum fountain  covered in moss and maidenhair. Two marble masks inscribed with the date 1681 spewed out water at either side of the main spring and it was all rather special.
I did my homework and discovered that the house used to be the home of the De Martino family and that the ancient villa was probably built in the 14th century by a certain Giovan Giacomo De Martino, secretary to Queen Joan II. Towards the end of the 16th century Ferrante De Martino lived there. His nickname was Il Rachione, and even now this particular area of Massa and one of its streets still bear this name. To the right of the entrance is the chapel of St. John the Baptist (seventeenth century), once accessible directly from the main avenue. 
More recently I went back to Il Cerriglio and found it in total abandon. The water had dried up, the maidenhair had died and the fountain's basin had become a rubbish dump. It was frankly quite awful. I never went back and had little hope that things would change.
For once I have been proved wrong, and last week the fountain was cleaned and the water is now flowing again.
However there have been some surprises along the way. 
As they were cleaning the basin, removing the layers of limescale that had formed over the years, little columns emerged composed mainly of tuff and once covered in plaster that had evidently supported something. Next  came a piece of terracotta which turned out to be part of a hollow tile that covered another and was topped by a spout, all completely clogged and positioned relatively recently on the limescale deposits. It was clear from the start that these elements did not belong to the original structure from the fact that  they 
received water from a  furrow dug into the central mass covered in moss. This theory was confirmed a little later by the presence of a white PVC tube emerging from beneath the furrow.  The removal of the tube and the cement around it created a hole revealing a cavity which, once big enough to put a hand in, disclosed a smooth and wavy surface almost free of limescale. From then on it was simple to remove the rest, uncovering the shell and straight afterwards the little niche above it.
There is still a lot  of limescale to remove, especially on the sides, and who knows what else could emerge. 
Whilst we may regret no longer seeing the green, moss and maidenhair clad Cerriglio of before, the discovery of the bowl-shaped shell certainly compensates, and we can now begin to imagine its original splendour. Numerous  shells (real ones) decorate both the lateral columns and the vault of the niche and no doubt this is how it was before the limescale took over.
Now it is up to the experts to decide if and how to proceed. It would be interesting to discover where the water originally flowed through, (the hole in the upper part of the apse is off-centre and was definitely an after-thought), what there was between the shell-shaped basin and the apse, how this was decorated, and  if it is in fact older than was thought.
Meantime, Massa Lubrense has re-acquired part of its history and an added attraction for its many visitors. 
Photos courtesy of Giovanni Visetti (Blog)  and Comune di Massa Lubrense.

Thursday, 6 October 2016


The summer is officially over, it has started raining and the state of the newly restored path to Punta Campanella is degenerating fast.
The latest photos published by Giovanni Visetti show the final stretch full of loose stones, earth and gravel and quite frankly worse than it ever was before.
The barrier which was at last installed  at the beginning of the path is left permanently open and the second barrier, which was meant to be located further down beyond the houses, has never actually materialized. Mopeds and motorbikes continue to transit  freely up and down the path wreaking havoc with the surface and leaving deep furrows behind them.
However not all is bad. Following the fire at the end of August the new vegetation is fast emerging and tingeing the hillside with green. Some kind soul has added  new waymarks along the CAI300 trail from Punta Campanella up to the ridge to San Costanzo since the lack of vegetation was making it difficult for anyone not familiar with the area to find the path. And at the belvedere of Rezzale, where many a person has followed what looks like a civilised path, but which in fact can lead you straight into trouble, there is now a big red cross saying "No" and a newly refreshed sign indicating the correct way to go.

It is a shame about the path. So much money spent to make it accessible for the less mobile. If drastic measures are not taken, and taken fast, by next spring it will not even be accessible for the less fit. 

For more photos, see Giovanni's blog

Sunday, 18 September 2016


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.