Sunday, May 27, 2018

Southern Italy: Like Christmas Every Day

"It was like Christmas every day."

The group of us were sitting around the dinner table on our last night of our cycling tour across southern Italy, talking about how much we had enjoyed the last 11 days. As we had climbed the last big ascent of the tour earlier that day, I had mentally reviewed how much I had enjoyed the trip and how, each day, there had been incredible vistas, memorable moments, lots of laughter, choice cultural experiences and lots and lots of excellent cycling. That's when the thought had come to me: It feels like it's been Christmas every day.

I have rarely enjoyed a trip as much as I did this one. I started out trying to blog every day, but that quickly went by the boards because of internet access issues and time constraints, so the purpose of this post is to provide a photographic overview of why the trip seemed like "Christmas every day."

In my last post, we had arrived in Matera, the site of one the longest continually inhabited towns in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Matera is unusual for the dwellings that were carved into the sides of limestone cliffs. We had a rest day there and our guides took all of us across the canyon from Matera for a hike.

We needed the rest day so that we could tackle the next day of cycling, which would see us ride 61 miles and climb 6500 feet through gorgeous scenery to the fairytale-like town of Castelmezzano nestled on the slopes of the "Little Dolomites."

Getting ready to head out from Matera

Mid-morning support stop

I loved the cloudscapes in Puglia and Basilicata

Picnic lunch spread in a small park in Grassano. Best picnic I've ever attended.


Albano di Lucania


The next day's riding took us further into the mountains. We rode through oak and pine forests, past fields of wildflowers, hillsides drenched in Scotch broom, and vistas of valleys below. Our destination for the day: Padula, just inside Campania.


After arriving in Padula and getting settled in our hotel and showered, my friend Bob and I found a bar for some Aperol Spritzes, then our group later headed out for an evening tour of the monastery of San Lorenzo (Certosa di Padula), the subject of a separate post

Looking down on the Monastery of San Lorenzo as we descended into town.

Walking back to the hotel after Aperol Spritzes at a small bar on the town square.

The next morning, we set out for the seaside town of Palinuro. One of the things we enjoyed about our daily rides were the morning and afternoon "regroups" which often involved stopping in a central piazza in a village with easy access to a coffee bar (and its bathroom). There were always groups of older men sitting and standing around at these places, and the following photograph, taken by tour-mate Kevin, so typifies scenes we saw many times.

Palinuro would provide our next rest day, and we took advantage of the opportunity to take a boat ride along the coast to look at sea caves, followed by a leisurely lunch in town.

A view from our hotel

Our weather luck ran out the next day we set out for Maratea. After stopping for our mid-morning break, the rain started, and by the time we arrived at our lunch stop, we were all drenched. We were all too proud to get in the support van. Fortunately, the afternoon--though cloudy--was dry, and we had a spectacular ride along what our guides referred to as the "unpopulated" (and undiscovered) "Amalfi Coast." 

Small marina across from our lunch restaurant in Sapri.

Our destination that day was the mountain town of Maratea. Our hotel was a 18th-century former convent. My room featured the coolest window ever as well as a telephone straight out of "The Sound of Music."

The late afternoon sun lit up the village through my window in this (unfiltered) photograph.

We suspect the pool was added after the nuns left. It was too cold for us to try.

Heading out of Maratea with our guide, Frank.

That day saw us climb up out of Maratea and into the mountains of northwestern Calabria. Our destination that day was Morano Calabro, where we would stay in a family-run hotel and be treated to Calabrian folk music that evening.

Looking down on Lauria, our morning break stop.

Above Lauria

A church in the first Calabrian town we passed through.

Stunning views at the top of our descent into Morano Calabro. Again, the wildflowers framed and enhanced the views.

An added bonus that evening was getting to meet my sister-in-law's cousin. The parents of the wife of Mark's brother Tim, Marie, were both born in the village of San Basile, which is only six kilometers from Morano Calabro. During the course of the tour, I had messaged Marie, asking her to remind me where in Calabria her parents were from. I had no idea whether we would pass anywhere near the place, and it wasn't until a day or two before we arrived in Morano that I learned from our guides how close we'd be. I let Marie know, and she got in contact with her second cousin, Marcello, and through a series of events, he ended up joining our party that night in Morano Calabro.

Marcello, seated, the owner of the hotel and me.

Our last day of the tour would see us ride from Morano to the coast, at Cittadella del Capo. It was another beautiful day of varied scenery, capped with a spectacular sunset over the Tyrrhenian Sea that night. It was the perfect ending to a perfect tour. 455 miles, 42,000 feet and countless moments of wonder, delight and laughter. Like Christmas every day.

Leaving Morano Calabro.

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