ITALIA! What a place! Pizza, scenery, pasta, wonderful people, gelato (for Jane), stunning scenery, espresso, incredible history….so much, a country filled with endless passion for life and bellies filled with wonderful culinary creations. Here we have just a few of our holiday snaps from June’s trip to Southern Italy.
We started off in Napoli, hiring a car and camping for most of the time. We rarely spent two nights in one place as the allure of the open road and the fascinating sights just kept us rolling deeper and deeper into Campania. Napoli reminds me alot of Latin America, a real vibrancy and chaos, it can be scruffy and awe inspiring in the same alleyway, it is a hive of creativity, is crammed full of ancient historical sights and offers all the opportunity to feast like a greedy baron.
Pizza is the mainstay of things and the Marinara (just tomato sauce, a little garlic and a drizzle of olive oil, so called because the fishermen used to eat it) took dough discs to a whole new level in my eyes. The wine was local, with a vast array of indigenous grape varieties and generally, delicious. Apart from eating and sipping coffee with jumpers tied around our necks, we walked the cities old town, took in as many museums, cathedrals, underground grotto’s, gelaterias (Jane) and Greek sculptures as our mortal legs could manage. Napoli is my new favourite city at a canter.
After Napoli, and the utterly mental driving conditions (most of the cars bear the scars of the outrageously tight roads and kamikaze scooters), we drove south past Mount Versuvius (the once mighty eruptor) and headed to the Amalfi coast, a place constantly banged on about as being rather pleasant. Well it was in a fashion, if you are of the manicured tourist variety. We are not. So camped in forests when we could and only ventured into the pretty towns for dinner, which was almost always, fresh, local, seasonal, made my mama and utterly delicious. We generally found things quite cheap, making our breakfast and lunch on roadsides and picnic benches along the way with some of the best fruit and veg I have ever encountered. Believe the hype! Italian lemons, plums, tomatoes, olives……the list goes on, are touched with something intangible and utterly magnificent. Food here is a way of life, a cornerstone of culture…..I have heard this all before, but to witness it first hand and even better, to taste the fruits of this fascination and tradition, made me feel like the luckiest muncher on the Med.
We found some beautiful camp spots and used disused churchyards regularly. Almost painfully romantic and with the added bonus of clean water springs to do the washing up and for the occasional bathe. The weather was sweltering, so we rose early with the sun and generally bedded down under clear night skies, sparkling with stars and fireflies.
The national park, Cilento was a real highlight. The second largest in all of Italy, with little villages on crags, waterfalls, endless forests and some stunning mountainous peaks, far too much to explore in the little time we had. There seemed to be no one there and the towns were always sleepy and friendly, generally the opposite of the Amalfi coast towns which were packed full of tourists and establishments fixed to empty their pockets of silver. We discovered a few gems on what is a dramatically beautiful, steep slope, but generally the Amalfi is a little overrated. Its a big world, many coastlines, why should we all gather in one place? I have to admire the marketing job done by the tourism folk, Sorrento for example is heaving with Americans who have flown all this way to the Med to see a sanitised version of what is surely, one of the worlds most stunning areas. And, it was 45 euros for a dorm bed! 45 euros for a wonky bunk!!!!!!
We spent a week in Cilento National Park, driving the crumbling roads and marvelling at the sheer natural beauty of the place. It seemed impossible to escape the ancient past as we randomly came across site after site filled with magnificent ruins of towns and temples, the most impressive of which were (of course) Pompei and Paestum. Some of the details that have survived are stunning, it feels like you’re looking directly into the lives of the people who lived more than 2000 years ago. We know their names, how much they earned and where they worked, the Gods they worshiped, what they did for giggles and even their favourite snack bars! These incredibly preserved relics give colour and texture to the ancient world and open fascinating windows into how our forefathers and mothers would have passed their lives. It wasn’t all good, being a gladiator fighting lions seemed like a raw deal but I have to say, in the most part, they seemed to live well and in a highly advanced, organised and cosmopolitan way.
Italian beaches are strange and normally filled with sun loungers, costing an exorbitant amount of euros to perch on. It is the only place in the world I have visited where beaches are private and fenced off! You need to buy a Cappucino to take a dip in the ocean! What a strange approach. Due to this, we only spent 20 minutes on the beach, it all seemed a little hectic and the opposite of relaxing.
There are a few famous and touristy pizza restaurants in Napoli, but we were assured by locals that Di Mateos was the best. Located on Via Tribuani, one of the main streets in the old town, it is always packed full and has a real buzz about it. It was, without any peer, the best pizza I ever met. Add to that the band of gypsy’s (not the Jimi Hendrix lot) playing as we went in and you have the full package. You cannot beat the sound of a well strummed mandolin and some toothless yelping. It stirs the appetite and soul.
After all that driving, we landed in Pompeii, not a bad little town considering the daily influx of tourist coaches. We camped there in a little family ran site and walked the 20 metres to the main gates. Italy really impressed me in the fact that corporations don’t seem to have taken hold. Family ran joints, hotels, cafes, restaurants etc seem to be very much the done thing and it adds so much variety and authenticity to towns. You get to meet the real locals, eat their food, hear their gossip and understand a little about what is actually going on. Places ran by people who genuinely care about what they’re doing which makes all the difference. I hear this does not extend to Italian politics, but that’s a whole different blog……
So Italy is nice, very highly reccomended by the B.H.K. There seems so much to rave about but its the warmth and intensity of the locals which will stay with me. Prego!!!! I think Jane and I would go back now, if we weren’t tending to tomatoes and reveling in the unpredictable beauty of a Welsh summer in full swing.