Cruising the Amalfi coast

I must have been tired, because I slept well into the morning. By the time I surfaced from my tent Anton has all packed and ready to leave. He had decided to catch the train to Napoli today and spend a few days there before taking his flight back to Munich. This first thing I wanted to do was check out Sorrento, so I left my things in the tent, grabbed my camera and rode off on my bike to explore. Sorrento is a busy tourist town, with lots of narrow alleys and one way streets full of souvenir shops, restaurants, hotels and cafés. I tried to make my way down to the waterfront, but quickly realised most of the fancy hotels occupy that precious real estate. Eventually I found a road down the the port, where the ferries operate. This was a narrow winding, cobbled road. Once there I saw a number piers for the larger ferries, and plenty of smaller private boats that you could take out for diving or whatever. The place was busy with tourists, mostly foreign, but I found a spot at a little café to enjoy some breakfast while I watched the boats come in.

After breakfast I climbed back up the hill, and took a right turn following the road. A little way along, I came to what appeared to be a private courtyard, but was actually a (comparatively) quiet little piazza. I ordered my first granita for the day (melone) and sat down to take in the view. I stayed for a while after finishing my granita, then weaved my way through the village streets again and back up the hill to the campsite. I packed my things to go, but before heading off I took a quick dip in the pool. It was very refreshing. After the swim, I bungee’d my shorts to the back of the bike (so they would dry out) and set off down the coast.

The journey took me around the coast of the Sorrento peninsula, through some lovely views of the water with a backdrop of hills. The traffic was pretty steady with a narrow windy road, but everyone gave me space which made me feel very safe. The only thing that startled me was a bus honking his horn to warn us all as he came around a blind corner. They do this a lot, since the road in places is too narrow for cars to pass in either direction, they give a little toot of the horn to let you know they are coming. Despite the cars, the buses and the scooters buzzing past, it was still a nice ride and the best way to take it in.

The first real climb of the day took me to a restaurant called Mira Capri, with outdoor tables position perfectly to survey the beautiful view of the Capri island just over the water. I stopped here for a light lunch, and found myself dozing off in the chair sitting under the shade of umbrellas with a gentle breeze. I could quite easily have dozed there lazily all day, but thought I should really keep going. I ordered an espresso, to give me a bit of an energy kick before setting off. While I sat there another couple, clad in lycra, riding road bikes arrived, something that unexpectedly had not been a common sight thus far. I said a quick “Ciao” before moving on.

The road undulated through the hills following the coast, looking down from rugged cliffs to the water crashing on the rocks below. Every now and then I would pass a hotel or villa clutching to the edge of the cliff face for unparalleled views over the water. Some had lifts and stairs down to their own private section of the beach front, adorned with an array of brightly coloured chairs and umbrellas. On other side, orchards of lemon trees and grape vines were etched into the hill side. Suddenly as I was descending a hill I felt a snap and my rear brake lever went dead. The cable had snapped. Luckily I still had my front brake, but not having a spare I would have to take it easy and nurse the bike now until I could find a bike shop. Something told me in this part of the world, that would be rare. Not long after, the cyclists I had seen at Mira Capri came past. I showed him my brake lever and asked him if there was a bike shop in Positano. I have no idea if he understood what I meant but directed me to the village turn off.

The goal for the day was Positano, a mere 35km from where I started in Sorrento. I planned to arrive in the mid afternoon, relax by the beach for a while, and then make my way to the campsite La Tranquilità, 5km east. Positano is a lovely picturesque village, with it’s narrow windy streets and buildings covered in flowers, but it seems that every tourist also knows this, so they make it their holiday destination. With hardly a square metre not covered by people (I could hear lots of American, Australian and Asian accents) it wasn’t really a place to relax. I decided to find the tourist information centre and ask for directions for the campsite. I started following the signs to the beach, which led me further and further downhill. Soon the road disappeared and I found myself negotiating steps through the souvenir shops, with my loaded bike, still surrounded by people on either side. I heard a few comments as I passed, with many who just stopped and stared. A man and his son from Korea stopped to ask me about my cycling journey, and were amazed to hear about it. Struggling, I finally made it down the steps to the beach that was buzzing with people moving around the cafes, on the beach, in the water, and at the pier for the ferries. I wandered around for a little while taking it in, then ordered a gelato to enjoy for moment to defer the inevitable march back up the stairs. After studying the map for sometime, I wandered off in the general direction of the tourist information. When I found it, I told the girl I had two questions please: First, where is the nearest camping ground? Second, is there a way to get back to the top of town without taking the stairs? She told me the nearest camping was Sorrento (where I had just spent the night) and there was no camping on the Amalfi coast. Then told me the only way to get back up, even with a bicycle, was back up the stairs. I was a little forlorn. Lonely Planet had let me down again it seems, I now had to lug my 40kg bike back up all those stairs and there was clearly no bikes (let alone bike shops in Positano!). Coming out of the office, I remember seeing little porter buggies on the beach that would take people’s luggage as they arrived at the port. Surely, they had a way to get back up to town, so I went investigating. I found this little tunnel, that went under the road, the popped out the other side and climbed, quite sharply through a series of switchbacks to the top. Haha! No stairs 🙂

Porter's tunnel in Positano

Porter’s tunnel in Positano

Once I had escaped Positano, I continued along the coastal road, looking for any sign of the illusive La Tranquilità or any other indication of camping. A few kilometres up the road I came to a sign for an info point. I stopped, but only to find out that it didn’t exist anymore, and the girl at the drinks stand agreed there was no camping that she was aware of. Bummer. I thought I would keep going until I found a nice little village, then find a hotel for the night. I continued along the road, the breathtaking scenery washing over me, and occasionally pausing to snap a picture. Just before the town of Amalfi, I came across a little stall on the side of the road selling granita limone. I pulled over to see an old man and woman who called out to me. As I came over the woman called out “Granita?” to which I replied enthusiastically “Granita!” It was truly the best I have ever tasted. I sat there for a while under the shade of their makeshift awning, and tried to make small talk with the old man. I wonder if you can call it “small talk” when it is a series of key words, gestures and smiles? At any rate, we muddled through happily. After finishing the granita with a couple of their fresh apricots I said “Ciao!” and went on my way.

Amalfi itself is also a lovely place, but like Positano it was hideously overcrowded. It was like disneyland without the cartoon characters. I stopped long enough to get a sense of the place, let it soak in and then pushed on. With all these undulating hills I was riding the front brake pretty hard. If it gave way too, it could have serious consequences. Then, out of nowhere this little shop appeared on the side of the road. I spotted the word “Bici” and thought it is worth a try. I showed the guy the broken cable, and he went through his box of spares pulling out something that might be suitable. I tried threading it through a section of outer cable, and it worked so it was worth a shot for 1 Euro. There was no place on the side of the road, or inside the little shop to make the repair, so I carried on until I found a place to stop.

The bike shop!

The bike shop!

Eventually I came to the charming little village of Minori. Much quieter, I had a good feeling about the place so decided to stop. I went past a restaurant with a big screen in the courtyard playing the Italy/Uruguay match. It was packed with people wearing the national kit, kids with faces painted. It was a real event. It was early in the game, and while I had no chance of getting a seat, I ordered a drink and watched on for a while. Rolling down to the water front in search of a tourist information office, I spotted a sign La Campanile – a camp site and picnic ground. Excellent. The signed pointed me away from the beach and through the town. I followed the series of signs all the way out of the town, up a long and winding hill. Finally I came to a sign that seemed to be pointing me up some stairs. I thought that is weird. Then a bus came along, and stopped so I asked about the campsite. Yep. It was up those stairs. OK. I could see about 20 stairs so started pushing the bike one at a time. I rounded the corner and the stairs went on further. I thought there must be another way. Then I saw a sign with a phone number so I gave them a call. There were 200 steps to the campsite and no other way in. Hm. Ain’t nobody got time for that! I tried to explain I had a bicycle, and they said they would come and meet me. After a quick chat, it was clear I had no choice but to roll back down the hill into town and find a hotel. However, I wasn’t keen to do that with only a front brake, so I got the tools out replaced the brake cable before setting off back into town to find a place for the night.