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2012 Southern Italy

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My 2012 vacation would mark the tenth anniversary since the inception of team orson. One would think that a grand tour would be called for to celebrate the occassion however, as I left Saudi Arabia for team orson’s palatial world headquarters, I didn’t have a clue where I wuz going. Befuddled and confused, I packed maps for both France (north) or Italy (south).

A late start meant that it was 4 P.M. before I left Parma and headed over the Appenines via the Passo della Cisa towards the coast, still without a clue which direction I wuz headed. I stopped for the night in Portovenere, exhausted after a little over 100 km. Portovenere isn’t as famous as its Cinque Terre neighbors or as posh as Portofino, but has a pleasant enough waterfront.

Portovenere

I usually sleep 6 hours a night, but that first night I slept 10 hours! Holy kwap! Wuz I becoming a lightweight in my old age? Watching the TV news, the decision on which direction to go was made by the weather report. Rain in France while southern Italy basked under sunny skies.

As I had ridden thru the Apuan Alps in northern Tuscany on previous trips, I headed south along the coast towards the Marrema region of southern Tuscany, off the beaten tourist trail, but gradually becoming discovered. After only 6 hours, I was already toast, and decided to stop at a very chi-chi resort on the Monte Argentario peninsula. This place was so quiet and relaxing that team orson made an uncharacteristic decision to stay another night.

The next day, we sallied forth and rode around the peninsula on a blazingly hot spring day. The road was scenic, but a bit too congested for serious shredding.

Monte Argentario

I circumnavigated the peninsula in about two hours and was back at my hotel just after lunch. The high temperatures and the lure of a refreshing swim was too hard to resist, and I parked the bike for the day. The leg that had I injured in South Africa was giving me a lot of pain that I didn’t have when I rode last year. Swinging my leg on and off the bike was accompanied by excruciating pain. Once I was under way, there was no pain, but stopping for photos now was an ordeal. I developed a system where I grabbed my stitch by the ankle, and slowly lifted my leg on & off the bike. I’m sure people watching this thought I wuz nuts.

A view of the cement pond that lured team orson off the roads. Wheeee dawgie! team orson’s gonna hafta buy something other than t-shirts to blend in with this crowd.

Pool

Sunrise over the Monte Argentario peninsula.

Sunrise

After three days of whiling away the hours with the glitterati under crystal blue skies, team orson felt refreshed enough to finally hit the road. I continued south along the coast until turning inland at Civitavecchia.

A rugged looking hill town somewhere north of Rome.

Rugged

After skirting around Rome and its heavy traffic, I continued making my way south along the spine of the Appenine mountains through the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo.

Abruzzo

Even this far south, there was still a dusting of snow covering the peaks.

Snow

The following day, I reached the scenic Amalfi Coast, and found another, all too comfortable hotel. Team orson was rapidly becoming spoiled.

A view of the town of Amalfi from the hotel balcony.

Amalfi

The Amalfi Coast road has acquired a fearsome reputation as one of the scariest roads in Europe, although it’s not too bad on a motorbike. I think most of the reputation comes from tourists being driven by locals. It’s always scarier when someone else is driving. A good definition of Hell might be having to drive a bus on that road on a daily basis.

Heading west on the Amalfi Road

Road

Looking back east

East

A secluded grotto viewed from the road

Grotto

Heading back towards the hotel

Back

Southern Italy is known for limoncello, and this time of year, lemons are bursting off the trees. Two glasses of this stuff will put you down for the count. That might explain the crooked horizon in the picture

Limoncello

Another view of Amalfi from the hotel.

Amalfi Hotel

After leaving the Amalfi coast, I continued south into the region of Campania. I stopped briefly to view the impressive Greek ruins in Paestum.

Paestum

Venturing deeper into Campania, the terrain began to resemble the California coast. I had no idea of what lie ahead of me.

Campania

Campania Road

At Praia a Mare, the mountains rise straight from the sea, as the road clings to the cliffs in a perfect mirror image of California’s Big Sur.

Sur1

Sur2

Sur3

In all my travels and all my reading, I had never heard of this stretch of road. Discovering a hidden gem of a road is worth massive bonus points.

Sur4

Sur5

The spectacular stretch of road ended all too quickly after only 30 kilometers, much the same as the Pacific Coast Highway does as it approaches L.A. It marked a fine ending to my longest day in the saddle, a good eight hours.

The next day, I travel inland across a small mountain pass. I had the road blissfully to myself, seeing only a couple of other cars before lunch time.

Calabria1

The farther south you get, the fewer the hordes of German & Dutch bikers who plague the Alps like locusts.

Calabria2

After crossing the mountains, I reach the southern coast of Italy, the sole on the boot if you will. It’s too early in the season for most of the coastal hotels to open and I have to ride all the way to the port city of Taranto before I find a hotel room.

From Taranto, I turn around and start heading north. The terrain of the Basilicata region is a pleasant vista of rolling hills which provide mostly straight, but throwing in enough high speed sweepers to keep things entertaining. Stopping for lunch in Italy is a bit of a conundrum. Most Italians eat lunch at about 1:30 before going home for a mid-afternoon break. If you don’t find a restaurant by 2:30, you’re out of luck as all the restaurants close and won’t open until 7 or 8 that night. This is the way they’ve done it for centuries and they’re not about to change Coming from the land of 24 hour breakfasts, this is hard to adjust to. It’s a bit maddening at times, but when it comes down to it, I’m glad Italians preserve their way of doing things. I still haven’t been bold enough to order wine at lunch, as nearly all the locals do.

By late afternoon I enter Puglia and reconnect with the coastline at the Manfredonia. The Parco Nazionale del Gargano takes up the bump protruding from the back of the Italian boot.

La costa Pugliense

Puglia1

Puglia2

The towns in this region are whitewashed giving you the impression that you might be in Andalusia or Morocco.

Town

From Puglia, I blast north along the autostrada before heading inland in Abruzzo, just south of Pescara. I was mighty impressed by the size of the mountains in Abruzzo. Not quite the Alps, but beautiful nevertheless.

Near the Umbrian town of Norcia, in the Parco Nazionale dei Monte Sibilini, lies the vast open plain known as Piano Grande.

Piano1

In the springtime, the plain is covered with yellow rapeseed and red poppies. Unfortunately, there were no poppies when I rode thru, but lots of rapeseed. The village of Castelluccio in the distance is the highest settlement in the Appenines at 1,452 meters.

Piano2

The mighty, mighty Goose waits impatiently as the team orson photographer dawdles

Piano3

A small castle stands sentry over a mountain pass

Castle

From Norcia, I travel the breadth of Umbria in one day to reach the Autodromo dell’Umbria near Perugia, where the following day, I get to attend a classic bike race.

Gianfranco Guareschi, champion to Guzzisti faithful everywhere for his slaying of the NCR Ducati at the 2007 Daytona was in attendance on a V7 Cafe Sport. A loyal fan base keeps applying to have him anointed a saint, but the Vatican insists on raising the technicality of people being dead before attaining sainthood.

Here, team Guareschi fends off rabid fans. Gianfranco in the grey shirt with Papa Guareschi in red.

Guaro1

There were a lotta neat bikes at the meet. These Kawasaki KR250s, ruled the world championships in the 1980s. This was the first time I’d seen one up close, and couldn’t believe how small they are.

KR250

FOR SALE- Franco Uncini’s 1982 world championship winning RG500 Suzuki

RG500

Not for sale, a Benelli 500-4

Benelli

The riders take the grid, with Gianfranco having qualified fourth in a field comprised of about 80% Guzzis and 20% Ducatis. A Ducati 996 was on pole.

Guaro2

The flag dropped and Guareschi entered the first turn in fourth place. By the exit of the first turn, he was in front with about a 50 foot lead. The Ducati’s horsepower closed the gap on the back straight, but once they reached the twisties, Guareschi wuz gone, leading every lap.

After the races, I headed back into Tuscany on the final leg of my journey. This was the first time I had been to Tuscany during the springtime, and I must say I wuz impressed. everything was green with a vast carpet of red poppies. The roads don’t fail to impress either.

Tuscan hill towns

Town2

picture post card roads

Road2

Road3

Monte Amiata, the highest peak in southern Tuscany watches over the Val d’Orcia

Monte Amiata

There haven’t been many pictures of the Goose in this report due to the pain in my leg while mounting and dismounting, so I thought I better take one last shot in front of a carpet of poppies.

Poppies

I stopped for the final night at the same little hotel I stayed in two years ago with a lovely view of the town of Bagni di Lucca. This time I came prepared with a bottle of Tuscany’s finest

Wine

The last day, I crossed the Appenines one last time via the Passo Abetone. There’s a small church up in the hills, but it’s hard to see in the picture.

Abetone

I arrived in Parma at around 3 P.M. then unpacked the bike and bade my farewells. After 10 years, the mighty, mighty Guzzi had performed flawlessly, devouring every road put before it. Che macchina!

Route maps:

Central loop

Map1

Southern loop

Map2

Trip stats:

Distance- 4,100 kilometers
Travel days- 21
Rest days-5 😮
Carabinieri encounters- 0
Deer sightings- 1
Bee stings- 0
National Parks ridden- 7

Written by orsonstravels

June 21, 2012 at 7:16 am