Italy - Part 2: Million Dollar Views & Motorcycle Heaven
Million Dollar Views
In the morning sun, the landscape is even more splendid, as I’m still on the eastern slope of the mountains. This is supposed to change. Today I want to cross over to the other side of Abruzzo, as the highest part of the mountains are called. I start in bright sunshine, riding toward this wall-like range. The peaks are still covered in clouds from the night. An hour later, I arrive at the pass sign covered in snow.
Don’t get me wrong. Riding across that high plain while the light slowly creeps through the clouds can’t be more striking. I take a million photos before heading down the other side, but the splendor continues. The first town I encounter in this barren landscape has a perfect medieval appeal. In 2006, Castel del Monte was named the most beautiful village in Italy. It has appeared in movies like The American.
In the valley, the city of L’Aquila comes as a sad surprise. It was in April 2009 that an earthquake in this area cost more then 300 lives. Still, I didn’t expect the presence of the disaster today. The old part of the once-lively town seems to be deserted. Almost every house has a corset of heavy wood and steel.
Around the Maiella Range, the situation of L’Aquila valley is forgotten. I have a break in the lovely mountain community of Pacentro. Apart from some bread and cheese, I get a good story related to the place. It was almost 100 years ago, in 1920, when a farmer’s son, Gaetano Ciccone, decided he could not live on the area’s charm alone. He and his wife, Michelina, immigrated to the States and he got a job in a steel plant in Pittsburgh. Thirty-eight years later, their granddaughter Madonna Louise Ciccone was born. Under her first name, she became famous.
A different hot Italian landmark is waiting toward the west. Mount Vesuvius towers above Naples, meaning three million people live 20 miles or less to that stunning and threatening mountain along the Bay of Naples. To others, it might sound extremely dangerous to live near such a natural threat (the last eruption happened in 1944 and a couple of villages were destroyed), but for people born here the volcano is just a part of life. Together with Pompeii, the Roman city that was buried by Vesuvius in 79 A.D. under 80 feet of ash and excavated 1,500 years later, the volcano is a big draw for tourists. Many people make a living off of this industry.
Few of the two million visitors each year reach some of the most impressive views of the whole bay and the volcano. Because you have to tackle a twisty mountain road, getting there is only fun on a motorcycle. By accident, I find the start of it in Gragnano. I wanted a nice perspective of Vesuvius; what I get is a breathtaking panorama from 3,500 feet at the top of Monte Faito that looks down onto Naples, the huge bay, and several islands. A modest bar is located in one of the switchbacks leading up. They serve a perfect cappuccino with a perfect view. The longer I sit, the less I want to give up my current spot. Dusk is slowly setting in and I still have no camping spot for the night, but my luck continues. Asking the 75-year-old owner if he knows of somewhere nice to pitch my tent, he suggests his lawn behind the house. While down in the city the first lights are switched on, I erect my temporary real estate with a million dollar view. Later on, I get some illumination by a full moon. It can’t get more romantic than that.
So far, I tried to avoid the seaboard, because on the Adriatic side the endless collection of towns is no fun on a bike, but the Amalfi Coast can’t be missed. It is the most remarkable bit of shoreline all of Italy has to offer, and the best part is the Italians have carved a road there that can only be described as breathtaking. I don’t know where to look first—down into scenic towns like Positano, over the water at the island of Capri, or at the lush vegetation and famous lemon trees.
The only downside: Others know about this beauty, too. If you come, like me, at the wrong time (after 8 a.m.), you have to share the narrow road with busses and hundreds of cars. I try to keep up with the local scooter pilots, but I never manage to conquer the traffic as smoothly as they do. Farther south, the banks of the Cilento region are eye-catching and not crowded at all. This is motorcycle heaven. I’m far enough away from the big cities, Rome and Naples. Lonely roads lead up into the mountains and down to empty beaches. They are empty for a reason. The sun has decent power now and all layers are taken out of my riding gear. The snow from days ago seems very far away. Still, the water of the Mediterranean is much colder than it looks. That doesn’t matter right now. Euphoric about this beautiful piece of coast, I take a dip. It is a short one. I didn’t bring the swimming gear for nothing.
Want to take this tour yourself? Visit www.bluerimtours.com for dates and details.