Punta Secca: Journey’s End

Having breakfasted well outside on the hotel terrace, the ride to the coast from Ragusa was far from onerous ,being downhill and once again rural. The land looked very dry in places, and must take some cultivating.


The day was perfect, and the sea dazzling off to my left. You could see Punta Secca from 10 kilometers away with its distinctive lighthouse and small boat harbour. This was it then.I could feel the bike slowing down.


Those of you who know the TV series Inspector Montalbano will be familiar with the location. Having watched many hours of the programme I fell in love with this part of Sicily where many of the scenes are filmed. It just happens to be on the south coast, which seemed perfect for journey’s end.




I owe some acknowledgements. I travelled alone for the most part, but many made this trip possible, and of course no man is an island.
To my brother, sister and nephew for their unfailing support. My brother-in-law who handcrafted a bike box that passed all scrutiny.Friends, ex colleagues, aquaintances and those who shared the road with me no matter how briefly. Chance brief encounters would lift the spirits.
To Rico for his efforts with the bike in Germany-he said it would get me here and he was right. To the bike itself. On occasions I kicked it, called it nasty names and threw it down. It wasn’t the bikes fault obviously, and man’s greatest invention carried me and all my luggage the length of Europe.
Last but no means least, Sussex County Hospital cardiac team and recovery ward staff. They gave me the heart back capable of making this trip. I am eternally in your debt.
After this I am off to Malta for the meanest months. I will probably start back on April 1st next year because it seemed appropriate! The blog will be northagain.wordpress.com
I would be delighted to have you all as companions.



Rural roads and Baroque splendour.

It had rained during the night, and I woke to a chilly wind. A weather system was drawing cooler air in from the East. This wasn’t in the small print. However, the TV promised a large high working up from North Africa to restore things back to normal. Thank goodness.
My route out of Sortino was one long climb, in fact it took me until an early lunch to finish it. A great way to warm up though. The roads were rural, very quiet and beautiful. At one point I surprised a herd of dozing cattle all wearing bells, and when they careered off down the hill it made the most entertaining sound.


Rural Sicily is beautiful but quite barren in places. Just scrub oak and small pines form the tree cover. Life must have been dreadfully hard on the land which is obviously why so many people emigrated to America in search of a better future. Even today it seems like a hand to mouth existence, but at least they have the benefit of modern machinery.
I rounded a bend this morning and I could feel my jaw drop. I was faced with the most incredible view: hundreds of square miles of landscape and far off towns and villages. It felt like flying.


There are some very impressive towns in this part of Sicily, but I wanted to visit one in particular. Ragusa sits astride a hilltop with a saddle in between the two centres. It is Baroque by nature, and whether you like the style or not, it keeps you looking.


It always amazes me how soft stonework survives for so long and in many cases it just doesn’t, but that’s the attraction of it. Faded glory.


The ecclesiastical buildings seem to be doing the best. The Duomo dominates the lower town and I would imagine many couples apply to be married there because the wedding album would be quite memorable.


Tomorrow I head to the coast again and a small harbour called Punta Secca.
This technically represents the end of my journey, but I will devote an entire post to the place, if I don’t sample too much of the wonderful Sicillian wine. They really do keep a sensational cellar.

A fish tale

Riding down the east coast of Sicily is interesting in many ways. It feels very different to the mainland for some indefinable reason and I’m sure its native population would regard themselves as Sicillians first and Italians second.
I am rapidly falling in love with the place. People regard me with interest/disinterest, but never once with any form of threat. I am just a man on a bike.
I was stood by the roadside today taking pictures of Etna when an Italian cyclist stopped and offered to take one of me with the view. His enthusiasm was most infectious. Picture taken, he ran across the road shouting “I love my bike”, jumped on it and disappeared over the next hilltop. The whole incident took maybe 30 seconds. The least I can do is show you his efforts.


The Greek theatre at Teormina has to have the most impressive backdrop of any thespian venue. Etna just sits there, impressive, ready to upstage any playwright’s efforts.


I stayed in a real working harbour the other night. No expensive yachts, designer clothes or tiresome conversations. What it did have was some very impressive basalt rock formations.



In Sicily fishmongers are everywhere as you can imagine. It’s a readily available food source, and I can’t help stopping and viewing the proceedings, listening to the banter,and avoiding the wasps ( there is no ice or covering of any kind ). Behind these three tasty looking locals are my old friends the Stockfish from way up north. They have travelled as far as me.
Amazing how sentimental some dried fish can make you feel.


The Straights of Messina have strong currents carrying nutrients which attract many species. They also serve as a useful passage for marine life travelling between the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas, including sharks, of which there are 16 different varieties in the Mediterranean. Not many people know this, but the Great White is one of them. I read about this subject recently and found it fascinating. The DNA of Great Whites here is identical to those found off Australia, and scientists believe that thousands of years ago some sharks travelling up the West African coast took a turn through the Straights of Gibraltar and never left. Watch your feet.


Tonight I am staying in Sortino, up in the hills for a change. The place comes alive at six, and I was seduced by the Sicillian night life. I could get used to this island.

Across the straights

The ride down from Tropea is a convoluted business, entailing many twists and turns and false starts. Some of it is less than attractive to be honest,but suddenly you are rewarded with huge seascapes and views out to the Islands North of Sicily. On my last evening in Tropea, sat high up on a terrace in the town this was my view out towards Stromboli, an entirely volcanic creation which was actually beginning to smoke. It didn’t seem to deter people from their pre dinner drinks though.


The olive harvest is in full swing and many of the plantations have these nets covering the ground to help gather the crop. Sticks are used to whack the branches and dislodge the fruit. There’s nothing very scientific about it but some of the slopes are precipitous requiring agile workers.


As I laboured up a hill today, two olive gatherers decided I was of more interest for that moment than the main event. We had a chat about the crop, and I shook hands with the man nearest me. He had a grip like a Grizzly: they breed them tough down here. He probably thought riding bicycles was for lightweights.
Today was hard work and I felt distinctly below par both physically and mentally. It goes with the territory I believe, but cycling in this condition is never a good idea really; it’s too easy to make a bad decision on these roads.Consequently I decided that I would stay in the first available hotel/albergo/room and recuperate. Where I actually found myself was the luxury of the Casperone Resort Hotel in Palmi, overlooking the coast. Having indulged in this I went for dinner in the restaurant as options were few.
Imagine if you will a large terrace with the Mediterranean as a backdrop, thousands of cicadas calling as dusk fell, and only the odd boat engine to intrude. I was the sole diner. My waiter, resplendent in white jacket , was a real character. As he came out with the ice bucket and a succession of wonderful food, he informed me that he was a Sicillian man from the mountains and looked wistfully across to the island as if it were the Atlantic between us. They wear their hearts on their sleeves here.


I always think The Straights of Messina would make a good thriller title. The ferry carries you across to a bustling city where the driving is even more erratic than the mainland, which sharpens the wits on a bike. The water is incredibly clear considering how much shipping passes through every day.


I promised you a story with an edge when I reached Sicily, but so far this is the best I can manage. Hardly headline stuff. The older men seem to congregate in fours for some reason. Perhaps they are all in card playing syndicates!


Red onion ice cream

Calabria is undeniably a poor part of Italy. I had a conversation with the owner of the hotel where I stayed in Amatea and he explained the disproportionate distribution of wealth. Seemingly the powers that be are reluctant to spend any money on infrastructure in the south, so the potential tourist euro stays away. There I was, the soul occupant of a 40 bedroom hotel, in glorious weather and overlooking a sea of beaten bronze. He told me that only because it was a family run business could they afford to carry on. Many young people have to move north for work. With a tourist industry they would have almost year round employment, paying taxes back to the government. It took me the best part of an hour to ride around Lamezia Terme international airport, and not one plane of any size took off or landed. That’s my rant finished.
Back in the Winter months when I was planning this venture, I became slightly obsessed with a place called Tropea on the north coast of the foot of Italy. It looked beautiful, and having finally made it I can confirm that it is. Strange to actually be here at last.


This town is seemingly the exception to the rule. It has embraced visitors and appears to be doing well. Most tourists must either drive ( or cycle ) here.


I will make no excuses, this post is really just an excuse to indulge in yet more pretty pictures. If you’re bored with them, I’ll find some gritty, hard reality subjects in Sicily to redress the balance. Mafia drive- by shootings maybe.
I’m writing this in a traffic-free street of ancient buildings. People perambulate to the end which finishes with railings and a precipitous drop to the beach far below, then they come back again. It’s a very Italian thing to do. I have to say that most have far better clothing than I.They must be wondering which cat dragged me in.


The soil in these parts looks very rich and fertile, with a variety of salad crops planted out ( in October! ), but the vegetable most famous in Tropea is the small red onion. Captain Antonio holds some up for inspection.


I had some in a salad last night and they are very sweet and juicy. Being Italy of course, they decided to put them into gelato, which sounds awful, but is in fact delicious. I wouldn’t try this at home with a large white Spanish onion though!


A quiet coast

As soon as I had passed Salerno it was as if a switch had been thrown. People just evaporated into thin air : the fleets of white camper vans which had been a feature all through Europe disappeared, and I was seemingly the only long distance cyclist in the country. For me it was still mid summer, with temperatures in the high twenties, but the days are noticeably shortening.
I am riding the SS18 which winds it’s way down the coast, in and out of small towns, around empty bays and craggy headlands. It is wonderfully empty and at one point I was riding for twenty minutes totally alone. Out to sea on my right several large water spouts whipped along in formation, a first for me.


The vegetation is looking distinctly more southern and many of the coastal towns have some impressive palm trees. This combined with the heat has you thinking of North Africa rather than Italy, but I suppose in relative terms it’s quite close anyway.


The Greeks colonised this coast, and nowhere is it more evident than at Paestum where three temples remain in remarkable shape, along with most of the city walls. Very few people at this time of year as well.


Across the road in the museum are finds from the site, including this impressive ceramic figure. The decoration is easily associated with more recent history, but the swastika was a device in use centuries earlier.


Another sculpture caught my eye yesterday. Twice life-size, this wire mesh figure had no other visible means of support, and sat staring out to sea, it’s head nodding gently in the wind, as if pointing me in the direction of my final destination.


Finding myself with nowhere to stay last night, I rode into one of the beach resorts which proliferate in these parts. There were maybe six people there and the young manager was happy for me to pitch my tent at no cost for the night. Very soon I had the place to myself, with only Jesus and two lions to watch over me. They did their job because no ills befell me overnight!


Ciao Atrani

I leave the Amalfi coast with a heavy heart. This is my longest stop of the entire ride so far. People have started to acknowledge me in the street, and in a small town like Atrani you rapidly become part of the community. Even the dogs recognise me!
I have watched dolphins hunting for young tuna, blue rock thrushes flying out of impossibly steep cliff faces with their unusual call, observed praying mantis at close quarters ( what strange beasts! ) and spent whole days watching my fellow human beings ( even stranger beasts ). Lizards are my favourite creatures; they are very inquisitive animals and enjoy staring you out.


Capri was a surprise. Once away from the port area and its mass tourism, you realise why it was so popular with the film stars and wealthy few. A short climb and descent brings you to the other side of the island, and the crowds dissolve to leave you having lunch beside the clear waters of the Mediterranean. Your legs can rapidly take you somewhere very special.


My favourite haunt in Atrani was right on the beach, a cave formally used by fishermen. Bar Nettuno is run by Andrea and his wife, and their hospitality was remarkable even by Italian standards. Town Hall permitting he hopes to convert the upstairs area into a small restaurant, but bureaucracy works slowly here. I wish him every success. Should you ever find yourself in this town, wander the few yards from the square and take a seat. You will have no regrets.


On my last evening in Atrani a male choir was singing in the church just two doors down from my room. The unaccompanied voices rose beautifully through the stone stairs and passageways, a most uplifting sound; there could not have been a more fitting finale to my stay here.
Tomorrow I am reunited with the bike, and hopefully the muscles will deliver the necessary power once more after an extended break. Sicilly is in my sights and a certain beach is calling for my attention.