Information for anyone planning a similar trip.

How we got to the start.

 

Our tandem has S&S couplings. We dismantled it and placed it in the back of our car, protected by bubble wrap, and then drove (over 2 1/2 days), through France to an apartment we own in Cervinia. Obviously you could use an hotel instead! We rented a garage for 3 months using a local immobiliare (estate agent) – this is not difficult to negotiate. Once we’d rebuilt the tandem we put the car in the garage and set off.

How we got home!

 

Once at our end point in Marsala we rented a Jeep from the nearest airport (Trapani). This was pretty expensive as it’s a one way hire, back to the nearest airport to Cervinia (Aosta airport). We visited a local branch of Mailboxes Etc to acquire 4 metres of bubble wrap (“Pluriball” in Italian), so that we could wrap the tandem before placing it in the car. We then set off back up Italy, travelling slowly so that we could enjoy the trip. Once in Cervinia we picked up our own vehicle and returned the hire car before setting off home.

How we planned the route

 

When we set off we had only booked the first night’s stay. We had a long list of places we wanted to visit, and plenty of time available, so for the first time ever we didn’t plan any routes in advance. Central to our thinking was that we didn’t want to travel so far each day that we wouldn’t have the time or energy to explore our destination when we arrived. Most days we travelled between 40 and 50 kilometres, with a few longer days in the south where there were fewer places we planned to see. This usually meant that we arrived in time to freshen up and explore the town before dinner.

When planning your daily mileage it’s wise to take the temperature into account. We cycled between the end of May and mid-August, where the temperatures regularly strayed into the low to mid thirties. Planning long days is unwise in these temperatures – the heat can be debilitating, especially in hilly areas. Some people prefer to get up early and finish their cycling before midday. We didn’t do that, as we hate getting up early! The hills were non-existent in the Po Valley, steep in Chianti (but, oh, the views), and elsewhere generally steady inclines.

We have two Garmin GPS devices – the Stoker has the main one (a Garmin Edge 1000) and the Captain a much simpler Garmin Edge 25. Each night we would plot the following day’s route using the Garmin Connect Web app (yes, we each carried an IPad too!) and then upload it to the Garmin using Bluetooth and the Garmin Connect app. A word of warning – when using the Web App, if you use “Terrain” view you will not see any tunnels. The ordinary “Map” view does show tunnels. It is also advisable to check in Google Maps with “Traffic” switched on, to see if any of your chosen roads are closed.

There are several categories of Italian roads:

  • Autostrade (motorways) – bicycles are forbidden.
  • Strada Statale (SS) – In the north of Italy these are best avoided where possible, though you will have to use them occasionally. They tend to be very busy, especially in the Po Valley. In the south, particularly after passing south of Naples, they are less busy and thus more usable.
  • Strade Regionale (SR) – the next step down from SS roads, usually somewhat quieter.
  • Strade Provinciale (SP) – usually pretty good for cycling purposes. Busier in the north, often tiny and quiet in the south. Occasional rough surfaces (strada dissestata or strada deformata).
  • Uncategorised – these are usually quiet and excellent for cycling purposes. Sometimes, though, they may be unmetalled. Using Google Streetview or Satellite view sometimes helps to determine if you have incorporated a rough gravel track into your route. Of course, you may enjoy those roads…!

All of our tracks are shown at the bottom of each day’s blog. If you would like a zip file containing then all, please ask, bearing in mind that these tracks include wrong turns, mistakes and the occasional long detour to circumvent a closed road.

Italian drivers

It took us a while to get used to Italian driving habits, but once we had done so we were able to cycle with confidence. You are expected to cycle close to or on the white line at the side of the road, not in the primary position as you would in the UK. Drivers will overtake you quite closely even if there is a car coming in the opposite direction. At first this can be unnerving. However, they tend to do so by hanging out into the opposing lane, putting themselves at risk rather than you. Despite their habit of passing quite closely, we had very few occasions when we felt it was a risky pass – they tend to be skilful drivers. On bigger (SS) roads there is sometimes a bicycle-sized hard shoulder in which you can cycle out of the way of all traffic. Lorry and coach drivers were almost without exception (just one Moldovan lorry) incredibly patient and professional, waiting until they could pass us very wide.

Sometimes the road surface seems to be particularly worn in the “primary position” area. In this case you have two choices – cycle close to the white line where the surface is usually much better, or cycle in the middle of the lane. Sometimes we did this if we felt the surface was too rough, but we had to get used to passing drivers waving at us to get to the side of the road. They can safely be ignored.

When an Italian driver sounds the horn with a short ‘pip’ it is intended as a friendly warning that they are about to overtake. Or an indication that they want to smile and wave at you as they go past!

One way systems can be tortuously difficult to navigate in Italian towns and cities. All Italian cyclists seem to ignore them, and cycle in whichever direction they desire. We ended up doing the same! There is an exception – don’t do this in Florence, where it is expressly forbidden and punishable by a hefty fine.

Where we stayed

We tried to book two nights ahead, on a cancellable basis if possible. For about two thirds of our nights we stayed in AirBnB apartments. On other nights we used hotels, usually booked via Booking.com. We tried to stay in an AirBnB with a washing machine at least every other night, so we could wash our cycling kit. This worked very well. Most of the AirBnB apartments were very good, we only had a couple that were substandard. When searching we used the criteria “Entire House”, “Washing Machine” and “Wireless Internet” to find suitable apartments. In the south we had eventually to add “Air Conditioning” to that list, as it was so hot that sleep was difficult otherwise.

When we stayed in hotels we always ate out. In AirBnB apartments we usually cooked, sourcing the food from a local small supermarket or alimentari. The supermarkets are tiny but have amazing deli counters and vegetables. Don’t be afraid of Spar or Lidl, they are well stocked, and will often even have a butcher on-site. On a couple of occasions our lodgings had a barbecue, which we enjoyed using.

Speaking the language

It helped that we both speak Italian to a reasonable standard. While most Italians will at least try to speak English if they can, they are intensely grateful if you can communicate at least to some extent in Italian, particularly outside tourist areas.

If you speak no Italian, maybe consider using Duolingo for a while before travelling – this will reap rewards. Unlike some other countries, the Italians love to hear visitors trying to speak their language. A little spoken Italian can go a long way.

Luggage

We carried two large rear panniers, two smaller front panniers, a back bag and a tool container. In addition we had three 750ml water bottles on the bike, plus a supply of electrolytes (absolutely essential in the hot climate). In the south we drank about six bottles a day while cycling, plus at least 2 litres most lunchtimes, and plenty more in the evening.

In terms of clothing we each had two complete cycling outfits. The Captain also had one pair of shorts and two t-shirts, two pairs of “going out” trousers and two shirts. The Stoker had two “going out” frocks and one casual “day frock”, plus one pair of shorts and one T-shirt. We wore Shimano SPD sandals throughout – these were great in the hot weather.

We carried a strong but light Tigr titanium bike lock. Usually we were able to store our tandem securely in a garage or courtyard, but we usually used the lock as well. We had no issues.

A supply of Avon “Skin so Soft” helps to deal with mosquitoes. We didn’t find them too problematic. Apartments and hotels in mosquito areas tend to have nets over the windows.

A full packing list is available on request!

Other random thoughts

 

We visited quite a view wine regions on this trip. In Barolo and Chianti we bought some fine wines and had them shipped home. On our way back in the Jeep we intend to buy some Marsala, Nero d’Avola and Aglianico, plus extra-virgin olive oil and Parmesan. Oh, and some Grappa!

Some highlights for us (abridged!)

Descent from the Alps, towns in the Alpine foothills (Saluzzo, Mondovì), wine tasting in Barolo, truffles in Alba, Stradivarius museum in Cremona, relaxing near Catullus’ villa in Sirmione, riding along the Sinistra Po and Destra Po cycleways, historic and culinary delights of Modena, a great agriturismo in Popolano, views from Fiesole, lovely Lucca, a certain leaning tower, steep climbs and gorgeous towns in Chianti, the squares of Arezzo, hill-top finishes in Assisi, Todi, Orvieto, entering Rome along the Tiber, more hill-top finishes in Frascati and Pofi, reminders of wartime sacrifice in Cassino, arriving at the Tyrrhenian sea at Salerno, Greek temples of Paestum, the glorious Palinuro peninsula, a return visit to Tropea, crossing to Sicily, rest day in Taormina, stunning Ortigia, a family welcome in Marzamemi, reaching Sicily’s southernmost point, more stunning Greek temples at Agrigento, elegant Marsala.

…not forgetting fabulous food and wine and a warm welcome everywhere!

Day 64: Sciacca – Marsala

Distance: 83.79 km

Time: 4 hours 21 minutes

Average speed: 19.2 kph

Total distance: 3449.6 km (2144 miles)

Total time: 175 hours 16 minutes

Total amount climbed: 23,476 metres (77,021 feet)

Overall average speed: 19.7 km/h (12.3 mph)

Word of the day: ‘finito’ (fee-nee-toh) – finished!

We didn’t sleep hugely well last night – partly because we knew we were approaching the end of our journey (and wanted to get it right!) and partly because there was a large thunderstorm raging outside, which seemed to last for about an hour. Before the alarm went off we were already awake and raring to go.

We ate a good-sized breakfast near our lodgings, as we knew today was going to be quite long. We’d planned and refined today’s route – it went through several iterations before we were happy with it, so it was inevitable really that within the first kilometre we encountered a strada chiusa and had to change everything. It meant that the only practical route available to us was our old friend the SS115. Fortunately, today being ferragosto, the roads were fairly quiet, and we tucked into the hard shoulder and got on with it. We did cross some spectacular viaducts, and the cycling was fairly fast, so perhaps it was for the best.

We continued on the main road until the town of Menfi. There we rejoined the SIBIT cycle track, which runs along the path of an old railway for several kilometres. It was quiet, but fairly overgrown, and we had to duck occasionally to avoid low-hanging branches. The lack of traffic made it a pleasant section, though.

The surrounding countryside continued to become greener, with increasing numbers of vineyards and olive plantations, and occasional almond trees.

We embarked upon the final climbs of our journey – nothing too steep, just long and steady. Approaching Campobello di Mazara we encountered another strada chiusa sign at the bottom of a long climb. In characteristic fashion the barriers had been pushed slightly to one side by motorists, and we spotted a motorcyclist coming through the closed section, so we decided to risk it. We’re becoming more Italian daily! After a couple of hairpins we found the damaged section of road, which was slipping gradually down the hillside. Fortunately we could haul the tandem over the landslips and continue on our way.

As we approached Campobello we were planning to stop for water, but with today being a public holiday we were in for a shock – we cycled slowly through the town but could not find a single open bar or café. As we had one full bottle left we decided to continue. Soon, though, we were back onto the strada statale. We looked in vain for a water fountain as we cycled along a long straight road into a block headwind for what seemed like ages. Eventually we agreed to drink half of our remaining bottle, as we were becoming very thirsty.

After a few more kilometres we dropped into the town of Mazara del Vallo, and recommenced our search. Again we cycled through empty streets, gradually giving up hope of finding an open café. We were just contemplating knocking on someone’s door and asking for water when we spotted a couple of people sitting outside a tavola calda. It was open – fantastic! The waitress was a bit bewildered by our demands for multiple large bottles of mineral water and several cans of Coke Zero! The food was excellent, and we finished with a gelato each to fortify ourselves for the remaining kilometres.

Back to the SS115, then, and for another long section into the headwind, on a long straight road. It was quite frustrating, as the road was fairly flat, and we would have expected to make good headway, but the wind held us back. We were tiring, somewhat, but when we turned left towards the coast, away from the SS115 for the last time, we were heartened by reaching the lungomare. Before long we had a distant view of Marsala, and of the neighbouring Egadi islands in the distance.

We cycled past Marsala’s ancient town walls, keeping to the coastal side, until we reached the most westerly point. There we stopped and declared our journey finished, with the traditional embrace and a tear or two.

It has been an amazing journey, through a country with so much to offer – an abundance of cultural treasures, gorgeous landscapes, delicious food and wine and some of the friendliest and most helpful people one could wish to meet. Up until the last week or so we hadn’t really dared to hope that we would complete the entire journey, and now that it is done it will take a while to sink in. We’re incredibly happy that we chose to do this, and have had a truly wonderful time.

Tomorrow afternoon we will pick up a hire car at Trapani airport, and begin our journey home. We plan to have three days on the beach in Cefalù before working our way slowly up Italy towards Cervinia, where our own car awaits. After two or three days there we will return home through Switzerland and France.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 63: Agrigento – Sciacca

Distance: 64.03 km

Time: 3 hours 47 minutes

Average speed: 16.9 kph

Cumulative distance: 3365.81 km

Cumulative time: 170 hours 55 minutes

Word of the day: ‘penultimo’ (pen-ool-tee-moe) – penultimate

The hotel ‘Kaos’ turned out to be just what we needed, even if it was mainly orange..! It had a fabulous pool, really lovely staff, and great food in the restaurant, served out on the terrace with wonderful sunsets each night we were there. They organised a taxi for us on our first rest day to the Valle dei Templi, where we really enjoyed wandering amongst the Greek temples and ancient walls. Unusually, they’d been left largely untouched by later religions. Here are some pictures.

The rest of our time in Kaos we just spent, well, resting, ready for our last big push to the end. We did actually ask the reception staff this morning why it was called Kaos. It’s the name of the area, made famous by Pirandello, who was born there and named himself ‘a son of chaos’.

We left in good time, having chosen to flout our own rule not to go through any tunnels whose end couldn’t be seen from the beginning by immediately plunging ourselves into one exactly like that. It was only 350m long, and we knew it was both downhill and well-lit, because our taxi driver went through it on the way back from the temples, so we thought it was worth doing. It saved us quite a detour.

We rode quickly through Porto Empedocle, a proper working port just below Agrigento, and then started the climb up to the viewing point for the Scala dei Turchi, the “Turkish Steps”, a beautiful natural rock feature. The wind has sculpted the soft marl into steps, and they were named ‘Turkish’ by mistake, when the Saracens used them in their successful invasion attempt. They look incredible in the bright sunlight, so white against the sea and the sky.

A friendly local policeman engaged us in conversation when we stopped to take pictures. He told us we should be getting up very early indeed and getting all our cycling done by 11am whilst it was still cool. We had talked in advance about whether we might need to do that in the hottest parts of our tour, but to be honest neither of us is really a ‘lark’, and we’ve coped fine with the heat. It didn’t seem to be an official directive! Some other cyclists also joined us, and we all wished each other ‘Buon Ferragosto’ – it’s tomorrow, in fact, but lots of towns celebrate it on the 14th, it was originally a festival created by Augustus to celebrate the end of the hard summer’s graft in the fields.

We enjoyed the road on from the Scala dei Turchi, it was very quiet, good views, and a definite sense that we were leaving the truly arid, bleached landscape of the very south coast behind us and re-entering a greener, more cultivated area.

We breezed along, all going well, and then…. Damn, strada chiusa. There were the usual plastic road blocks to close the road, which Italians usually drive round, so we rode round those, and then there was a bridge with a proper, impenetrable Armco-type barrier right across the road. We decided to go for it, took the bags off the tandem and the Captain heroically lifted it over the barrier.

You could see why the bridge was closed, it was very degraded. Another hoist of the tandem at the other end, and a reloading of the bags and we were through, though. The road on the other side was eerily quiet for a while, with weeds growing up through the tarmac, but it wasn’t long before we were back to shadowing the main road again on our little quiet alternative, and looking gratefully at the tunnels we wouldn’t have to go through.

There were some lovely patchwork views, fields of vines, olives and lime trees.

We climbed steadily in the heat up to Ribera, the highest hill we had left on our route to Marsala. It was very energy-sapping, but we refuelled with absolutely enormous arancini in a bar at the top, before a lovely long descent back down to the valley floor. We’d been inland for quite some kilometres, but eventually we began to see the sea occasionally.

We’re still following the SIBIT route, and it took us pretty much all the way into Sciacca, our penultimate destination.

It’s a handsome town, we’re up in the top part, but we’ve been down to have a peek at the duomo and look down to the harbour from the viewpoint.

So here we are, one cycling day from Marsala. It’s going to be a long day to get there tomorrow. Fingers, toes, eyes, we have everything crossed!

Here’s today’s track.

Day 62: Licata – Agrigento

Distance: 48.41 km

Time: 2 hours 53 minutes

Average speed: 16.8 kph

Cumulative distance: 3301.78 km

Cumulative time: 167 hours 8 minutes

Word of the day: ‘disseccato’ (dees-ay-cah-toh) – parched

We didn’t make much of an effort to see Licata last night, to be honest. After nipping out to the shops for ingredients for dinner we went straight back to our lodgings to drink more water and aranciata and recover from the rigours of a hot, hard day. The Captain prepared a risotto, and we shared a bottle of local red wine, but before long our eyes were drooping!

Still, today was our last day before two full days off, and we’d only planned forty-eight kilometres and two or three significant hills into our effort for the day. We drank some extra water before leaving, “pre-loading” for another parched day.

The first few kilometres were straightforward enough, as we left Licata on a strada provinciale. It being Saturday the roads were reasonably quiet, and we kept up a good pace heading inland to before turning towards the sea and the town of Torre di Gaffe.

Once we reached it we knew we had to join the busier strada statale and start the first of today’s climbs. Luckily the busy road had a bicycle-sized hard shoulder and we settled into it and began our ascent, well out of the way of lorries and coaches.

The first climb achieved, we enjoyed a long pedal-free descent before a second ascent much like the first. At the top was a petrol station, clearly a popular halt, and most certainly popular with us as we could buy cold delicious water, half of which we consumed immediately. The other half was used to replenish an empty bidon.

Again we descended. Again it was a short-lived experience before we set off up the highest climb of the day. As we were approaching the top we spotted a wind farm, with all the blades completely static. It occurred to us that we’d seen virtually no wind farms in Italy, and we speculated that this was because solar would be a more cost-efficient source of energy, particularly in the south.

When preparing today’s route we’d spotted two tunnels on the main road, both several hundred metres long. This wasn’t a viable option for us, and fortunately there was a closed strada dissestata running more-or-less parallel to the tunnel section. A useful cycling blog had alerted us to the fact that while the road was officially closed to traffic, and was indeed quite ruined, it was navigable with care by cyclists.

So for seven kilometres we cycled carefully along a meandering road with numerous large potholes. Here is a picture of the Stoker cycling carefully 😊:

Of course there was no traffic, so we could use the full width of the road to avoid the more serious holes in the road. It wasn’t fast though, and demanded a lot of concentration. We noticed an enormous solar array to the north, so perhaps our speculation about solar power was correct.

We also spotted some huge white grapes growing under cover by the side of the road.

Eventually we were able to turn back onto the main road for a kilometre, before turning onto a smaller road which was heading inexorably seawards. While the predominant trend was downhill we still had a few short climbs to negotiate before we reached the outskirts of the seaside town of San Leone. It still being far too early to check in to our hotel, some five kilometres distant, we called lunch.

After that we wove through traffic on the lungomare for a while before cutting across a small river to the promontory on which our hotel sits. Wait, though, what’s this? A road made entirely of sand, heading sharply uphill! Oh joy, just what we needed! It did, though, lead to our hotel. From the road we could see the town of Agrigento above us.

Here we shall remain for two days, the first of which we intend to use for exploring Agrigento’s famous “Valley of the Temples”. The second we shall spend by the pool, building up energy for what should be the last two days of our journey, via Sciacca to Marsala.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 61: Marina di Ragusa – Licata

Distance: 87.7 km

Time: 4 hours 22 minutes

Average speed: 20.1 kph

Cumulative distance: 3253.37 km

Cumulative time: 164 hours 35 minutes

Phrase of the day: ‘vento contrario’ (ven-toe con-trah-ree-oh) – headwind

We really enjoyed our time at the house in Marina di Ragusa. It was located just above the main part of town, in a very tranquil area, and the house was lovely. Its most unusual feature was a kitchen entirely outdoors! The whole kitchen was on the patio, there was even a television out there.

We sat outside all evening, and the temperature abated a little, but it was still incredibly warm even at 10pm. This morning the jasmine perfumed the air, almost eclipsing the aroma of our cycling shoes. Almost.

We dropped down into the Piazza Duca degli Abruzzi for breakfast. It was a place very popular with the older male residents of Marina di Ragusa who had congregated for a chinwag.

They were a great bunch, several of them engaged us in conversation as we were leaving after breakfast, “if one of you pedals, can the other one not pedal?”, “where are you going?”, and most sweetly “I’m 94, I really like bicycling, can I come with you?”.

We headed out, knowing that today would be a long one, mostly flat but a lot of kilometres to put behind us. It started really well, past the modern harbour on a very good cycle path, part of the SIBIT route we’re still mostly following.

We cycled for a while in ‘polytunnel land’ – acres of them, although they are mostly empty, seemingly cropped and done, and all squared away for the season. It seems odd, you’d think there would be more growing they could do. Perhaps it’s just too hot, or maybe there’s not enough water to irrigate.

There was a brief pause to let a flock of sheep cross the road. It was just like being at home!

You can see polytunnels in the picture too, and the back of a three-wheeled ‘Ape’ truck, pronounced ‘ah-pay’, which means ‘bee’. It’s the sound they make, in the same way as there is a scooter brand named ‘Vespa’, which means ‘wasp’. Ape trucks are hugely popular in many parts of Italy, particularly in farming or agricultural areas, they are a great way to transport the spoils of a smallholding to market, for example. On the tandem we can hear them coming up behind us (bzzzzzzzzz), and they take ages to pass, because they don’t have much power!

After the sheep were safely across we continued, marvelling at the sheer aridity of the landscape. The walls are sort of dry-stone, but in the palest of colours, and although there are patches of cultivation, there are a lot of dusty dry areas.

Seeing the sea, as here in Scoglitti, the blue is something of a shock after the green and yellow palette.

There were some wind surfers out in the bay. A warning, of sorts…

We joined the SS115, and suddenly we were cycling into the teeth of a strong headwind, which was very tiring. We had planned to push on to Gela for lunch, but it was very hard work. We stopped frequently to drink water, and watched the SIBIT signs for Gela count down the kilometres. We passed a huge oil refinery, and some industrial grot, and then finally hit the lungomare and found a café for lunch. Panini, loads of water, coke, juice, and a peach granita did the trick.

With still over 30km to Licata, we climbed wearily back on and rejoined the SS115. The wind was terrible, at one point the road curved around and we practically ground to a halt. It was so dry and dusty, we stopped every 10km or so for water, but it wasn’t enjoyable really, just very hard work. We were keeping up a reasonable speed somehow, imagine how fast we’d have been without the headwind!

The landscape was almost completely washed of colour. Yellow. Only yellow.

Eventually our turnoff appeared, and we left the main road with some relief. A final wiggly five kilometres and we were ringing the bell of tonight’s apartment. Our host, seeing our rather pink and dessicated look, quickly poured glasses of cold water and waited patiently while we guzzled them!

We’re absolutely shattered. It was the longest day on the trip so far, and something of an endurance test in the last thirty kilometres. But we passed the test, and what’s more, we’ve gone over the two thousand mile mark today. Two thousand miles! How did that happen?

Here’s today’s track.

Day 60: Marzamemi – Marina di Ragusa

Distance: 82.2km

Time: 3 hours 53 minutes

Average speed: 21.2 kph

Cumulative distance: 3165.71 km

Cumulative time: 160 hours 13 minutes

Word of the day: ‘conversazione’ (con-ver-satz-ee-owe-nay) – conversation

We had a wonderfully relaxing evening last night with Nicola and his parents, hours of conversation, while we ate pizza, followed by melon, peaches and gelato. We spoke entirely in Italian for about three hours, and must have committed multiple solecisms, but they didn’t bat an eyelid. There was one particularly amusing incident, towards the end of the evening, when they were trying to compliment us on our Italian but we didn’t understand what they were saying – cue much laughter all round! What a lovely family.

We set off this morning in the wrong direction (deliberately!) as we hadn’t had the chance to look around Marzamemi yesterday. It has a fine small piazza, and many buildings which look more Arabic than Italian. They are rightly proud of their restored tonnara, a restored ancient tuna warehouse, which is indicative of the town’s origins in tuna fishing, in the days when tuna were more plentiful in the area.

After looking around we took breakfast in the usual manner, before setting off in the right direction, towards the south, past the modern harbour.

We wanted, out of a sense of completion, to visit Sicily’s most southern point, and enjoyed a scenic ten miles or so on the way there. Eventually we turned left on a minor road to the bay which looks over the Isola dei Correnti. We stopped, dismounted and dipped our toes in the sea to celebrate yet another milestone on this journey. Incidentally, the sea here is now the Mediterranean, so that’s our fourth sea (Adriatic, Tyrrhenian, Ionian, Mediterranean). Across the sea from where we were standing is Malta, and then Libya.

There’s no more pedalling available to the south!

We couldn’t linger too long, though, as we still had plenty of kilometres remaining in our day. We climbed out of the bay and set off along the coast. We were following the “Sibit” cycle path (Sustainable Inter-regional Bike Tourism, a bit of a mouthful!), which follows the entire southern coast of Sicily, and provides us with quiet roads and the odd cycle path. It crosses a beach at one point, but we decided not to follow that part – sand and bicycles don’t mix very well.

To our left we spotted some vines – presumably Nero d’Avola. At the start of our journey, near Barolo, all the vines sported tiny green grapes. Now most of the grapes are deep red and plump.

Shortly afterwards we turned a corner to find two shallow lagoons, one on each side of the road, full of (mainly white) flamingoes. The only pink parts were under the wings, visible when they took off.

For most of the remaining distance we were adjacent to the sea, which was indescribably blue in a manner we can never seem to capture in pictures. Today it was a paler blue at the sea edge, darkening to a deep navy at the horizon. We passed beach after beach, all occupied with sunbathing holidaymakers, enjoying the sparkling sea.

We made two stops, one for litres of delicious cold water at Bove Marino, and the second for a late lunch of panini at Cava d’Aliga. Finally we turned right off the lungomare and climbed through the quiet streets of Marina di Ragusa to find our lodgings for the evening. Here we have a very unusual but very pleasant outside kitchen – we intend to make good use of it later on.

Tomorrow is another longer day, to the town of Licata. We’ve changed our final destination to Marsala for two reasons. Firstly we were having trouble finding accommodation in the centre of the island between Agrigento and Cefalù (our original end point), and secondly Marsala seems to be a more logical place to end our journey, as it is Sicily’s most westerly point. So we have only four more days of cycling left, plus two rest days in Agrigento, to allow us to visit the Greek temples and then cool off in the pool!

Here’s today’s track.

Day 59: Siracusa – Marzamemi

Distance: 57.4 km

Time: 2 hours 45 minutes

Average speed: 20.9 kph

Cumulative distance: 3083.51 km

Cumulative time: 156 hours 20 minutes

Phrase of the day: ‘cambio di programma’ (cam-bee-oh dee pro-gram-mah) – change of plan

Ortigia was extraordinarily lovely. We had a pre-dinner walk about, taking in the very tip of Ortigia island and its sea front…

… the atmospheric streets…

… the main piazza and the duomo, in the Baroque style…

… and finally the lungomare at sunset.

It was all beautiful, and a visual contrast to Catania’s dark volcanic stone. We had dinner very near our apartment, and that was good, with a bottle of red wine blending Frappato and Nero d’Avola grapes. We first had Nero d’Avola on our visit to Sicily fifteen years ago.

The courtyard outside our apartment was full of very cheerful ‘nonnas’ playing cards in the cooler evening air, it was obviously a very serious contest!

We had an excellent breakfast in Piazza Minerva this morning…

… and realised that the flag we’d seen yesterday as we crossed onto Ortigia is the Sicilian flag. It was also flying near the café, and on looking it up, we discovered that it is composed of Medusa the gorgon, three wheat ears, and three legs representing the three ‘corners’ of Sicily.

We left Ortigia, pausing only to have a quick look at the Temple of Apollo on our way out.

It was a tricky navigation out of Siracusa itself, but we managed it without error somehow, and trundled off down the strada statale. We’d read that this area of the south Sicilian coast is full of polytunnels in which various crops are grown, including tomatoes and melons. It seems odd that the polytunnels are used, given the incredibly warm climate, but there are indeed lots of them.

We turned off the main road onto a quieter one and found ourselves near the coast again. We took advantage of a little bar at Lido di Avola for some water – it felt very hot, and quite close under the thin cloud cover. That’s Avola as in Nero d’Avola, the grape. Apparently it was first grown in this region, although it’s very common in Sicily generally now. No grapes to be seen, but there was a nice-looking beach.

We stopped again for lunch not long after, at Lido di Noto. Not a great experience, we waited for ages for our order to come, only to find it had been lost. There were lots of other grumpy-looking people waiting for theirs, too – not the most organised place! Eventually our food arrived, and we ate up fairly quickly and left.

We made short work of our only hill of the day, which at least gave a view over the countryside from the top.

Finally, we saw grapes! Not quite visible in this shot, but our first view of ripe red grapes. There is a different shape to the vines, too, no cordons, just individual, quite vertical bushes.

We’d had something of a change of plan – our apartment host in Pachino had messaged to say that there was a problem with the apartment there, and offering us alternative accomodation near Marzamemi, the little village we’d already been planning to visit en route to Pachino.

So we piled along, and on arriving in Marzamemi discovered that the problem in Pachino was a complete lack of water supply, not only in the apartment, but more widely in the town. The alternative accomodation turned out to be our host’s family home, where we are now settled. It’s extraordinarily generous of them to put us up, they could have just cancelled and returned our payment, but they have welcomed us and given us a lovely room, loads of water, use of the washing machine, and our host’s father is bringing pizza in for us later! They are lovely people, and this far into our Italian trip their lack of English holds no fears! It’s a much more immersive experience than we’ve had so far, but it’s a good time to embrace it, so we’re going with the flow.

So it will be a longer day tomorrow now to Marina di Ragusa, but little in the way of climbing, so we should be fine.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 58: Catania – Siracusa

Distance: 65.3 km

Time: 3 hours 6 minutes

Average speed: 21 kph

Cumulative distance: 3026.11 km

Cumulative time: 153 hours 35 minutes

Word of the day: ‘colazione’ (col-atz-ee-owe-nay) – breakfast

We’ve enjoyed eating breakfast at local cafés very much on this trip. Today was no exception – once we’d checked out of our very pleasant apartment we cycled into the piazza next to the Cathedral and found a very good spot on an outside table. The coffee on our journey has been excellent – we still talk about the first double espresso on our first day in Saint-Vincent, which instantly reminded us just how good this country is at coffee! Of course it’s also important to load up on some fuel for the day, and some cornetti were duly consumed. We can do this in a guilt-free fashion – our weight loss on this trip has been very noticeable.

It wasn’t a complicated or difficult exit from Catania, we headed for the strada statale and joined it, knowing we had thirty or so kilometres to complete on there before turning off onto more minor roads. The busy traffic didn’t last for very long, though, and we could enjoy looking around. As we approached the airport we speculated whether Ryanair would call it “Rome South”.

The Stoker spotted that we had a fine view of Etna behind us, with a small cap of clouds at the summit which make it appear as though it is erupting.

After about thirty kilometres we began the only serious climb of the day, a relatively gentle ascent of about a hundred and fifty metres, which didn’t take very long. Soon afterwards we turned onto a quieter strada provinciale. We knew from last night’s research that the next dozen kilometres would be heavily industrial, and so it proved – the scenery would only really be of interest to someone with an enthusiasm for heavy industry.

“Darling, look at that fabulous petro-chemical plant.”

“Yes darling, what a divine example of a fractionation tower!”

At least the road was quiet, if heavily potholed in places. What vegetation still existed was limited to olives and prickly pears..

Having completed about two-thirds of our planned distance we thought we should eat, so we stopped in a café in Priolo Gargallo for spaghetti con pomodori. The Stoker requested a small portion and finished hers. The Captain should have requested a small portion too, as he was unable to finish his – as we’ve said before, the heat and exercise really curtail our appetites.

Only one more petrochemical plant to go (yay!), then a short final climb brought us into the outskirts of Siracusa. Almost immediately the surroundings improved dramatically. To our right we caught sight of the archeological park – we’ve visited this before and it was well worth the effort, with a fine amphitheatre.

Siracusa’s streets are elegant, a feast for the eyes after all the heavy industry.

We were heading for the city’s most famous area: Ortigia. This is a small island connected by two bridges to the rest of the city.

On our last visit we had lunch in Ortigia, but failed to make the most of our visit, as the weather was dreadful. There was no such problem today, thankfully, and from what we’ve seen so far it’s rather impressive. We cycled past the Tempio di Apollo and the Fontana di Diana – we aim to take a closer look later this evening.

As we passed through the island we diverted onto a narrow vicolo with beautiful houses built of the local sandy limestone. The street was lined with restaurants, and most picturesque. I suspect we shall eat there this evening.

Today we achieved three thousand kilometres on our journey. Tomorrow we’re heading to the town of Pachino, and passing through Marzamemi, apparently one of Italy’s prettiest seaside towns, founded by Arabs in the tenth century.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 57: Mazzarò – Catania

Distance: 52.6 km

Time: 2 hours 48 minutes

Average speed: 18.8 kph

Cumulative distance: 2960.81 km

Cumulative time: 150 hours 29 minutes

Word of the day: ‘fame’ (fah-meh) – hunger

We enjoyed revisiting Mazzarò and Taormina, going up in the little gondola to Taormina for a look at the view and some dinner…

… and spending the rest day on the beach at Mazzarò.

The water was beautiful, warm and crystal clear, and we realised that we had now completed the trilogy of Adriatic, Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas. At least our toes had – we didn’t swim in the sea at Chioggia.

Last night the famous amphitheatre at Taormina was having an illuminated night opening, so after dinner we wandered along for a look. It was free for some reason, even better! It’s a stunning place, by day you see the blue waters behind, but at night it’s the modern lights of the bay – not something the original builders of the amphitheatre could possibly have imagined.

I’m afraid we were unable to resist spouting the usual “Life of Brian” references. I wonder if Michael Palin does that when he visits an ancient site?

This morning we had breakfast on the little terrace of the hotel, and then set about packing and checking the bike over. The back tyre was flat, argghh. It finally became clear why – the rim tape had shifted, allowing the inner tube to bulge into the spoke hole until it failed. We patched the rim tape temporarily with some insulating tape, fixed the inner tube, and put it all back together.

It was an uphill start out of Mazzarò, and a last look back at Isola Bella and the bay.

Round the next corner, though, Giardini Naxos, and behind it, look! Etna!

It’s very often clouded over at the top. On our last visit a local told us of a spot to drive to in the early morning, before 8am at the latest, when you could get a great view before the clouds gathered, and he’d been right. We’d also seen it last night up in Taormina, a great view just before sunset.

It wasn’t going to be a complicated day of navigation, at least not until we reached Catania itself, the largest city we’d have navigated into for quite some time. It was just a question of following the strada statale all the way. Once we left the sea behind us, there wasn’t much to see. Etna was always there, of course, with its woolly hat of cloud, but other than that it was just a fairly straight road, with occasional villages along the way.

We stopped in one, at a pre-researched bike shop, for a new tyre to replace the one we abandoned on Saturday. They were very efficient, so we now have the emergency folding tyre safely restowed, two new inner tubes and a funky new Michelin tyre on the back with an orange side-wall (ugh). Oh, and some new rim tape, of course.

A quick rehydration at the café opposite, and we were off again. There was a long shallow hill to get over, a short descent, and then another, steeper and more winding hill. After all the climbing, the Stoker reported her fuel gauge reading rather low (!), so we began keeping an eye out for lunch stops.

On we went, for kilometre after kilometre, and no cafés, not a one! Fortunately it was pretty much all downhill, so no emergency, but it was very unusual – we’ve not struggled at all really on this trip to find somewhere to eat along the road.

As we sped down towards Catania, we were overtaken by a solo cyclist! That never happens on a tandem going downhill, but he wasn’t half going some! He was an ancient road warrior, comprised of Lycra and gristle, and baked to a nutty brown by the Sicilian sun. He raised a gnarled hand to us as he flashed past.

At last we found a little bar, and had a quick snack and a huge bottle of water, with just 8km remaining in the day. Hunger assuaged, we were feeling ready to tackle the city navigation, but it was actually fine – a very good cycleway to start with, and then a short section of road, roundabout, road, roundabout, repeat until dizzy.

We found our accommodation and checked in – it has a lovely roof terrace where we’ll eat later if it’s cooled down a bit.

We’ve been out to have a mooch around, it seems like ages since we last did any exploring, it’s been so long since we’ve been anywhere but a little seaside town.

We’ve had a look at the duomo, very impressive:

… accompanied in the square by an elephant made of lava.

Catania has been buried by lava seventeen times in recorded history, apparently. You can see Etna from Piazza Duomo, it must be quite something when it’s erupting, which it does quite often.

Syracusa tomorrow, a longer day.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 56: Villa San Giovanni – Mazzarò

Distance: 50 km

Time: 2 hours 35 minutes

Average speed: 19.35 kph

Cumulative distance: 2908.21 km

Cumulative time: 147 hours 41 minutes

Word of the day: ‘traghetto’ (trag-ett-oh) – ferry

We didn’t get a great night’s sleep in Villa San Giovanni, because of the heat and the incessant barking of dogs. So it was something of a relief when the alarm went off, and we had a quick coffee and set off.

We intended originalły to buy a ticket then have breakfast somewhere near the ferry terminal, but as we arrived at the ticket office the ferry was loading, so we bought our ticket and wheeled the tandem straight on, happy to have breakfast in Messina instead.

The crossing was serene – we wandered up to the upper deck and found a spot where we could keep an eye on the tandem and enjoy the view.

There now follows a brief diversion into Greek mythology. Scilla, where we took lunch yesterday, is the traditional site of the sea monster Scylla. On the other side of the strait lived the sea monster Charybdis. Odysseus had to choose between the rock shoals of Scylla and the whirlpool of Charybdis. He was advised by Circe to stay closer to Scylla, and managed successfully to navigate the strait, but was distracted by Charybdis, allowing Scylla to pounce, capturing six sailors from the deck and devouring them alive! From this we get the expressions “between Scylla and Charybdis” and “between a rock and a hard place”, both representing the concept of a dilemma.

Spotting an area of rough water, we decided it must be Charybdis. As far as we could tell nobody was grabbed from the deck and devoured! In this picture Villa San Giovanni, on the mainland, is to the right, and the peninsula north of Messina is to the left.

Soon we left the Italian mainland behind and grew ever closer to Messina on the Italian side. It’s a real milestone for us, and the minimum we wanted realistically to achieve on this trip.

We cycled out into the busy streets of Messina, encountering traffic light after traffic light for what seemed like an eternity. Then the Stoker reported strange behaviour from the back tyre, so we stopped to take a look. Sure enough it was gradually deflating. The tyre valve has been threatening to fail for a few days, so it wasn’t a great surprise. We found some shade and changed the inner tube fairly quickly.

Eventually we spotted a café for breakfast – by now we were certainly too late for milky coffee, according to the Italian “rules”, but we ordered latti macchiati anyway, accompanied by several croissants. It was a good thing we restored our energy levels, as shortly afterwards we had a second puncture. This time it was a split in the side wall of the tyre – I don’t think the two incidents were related, surprisingly. So we went through the whole procedure again, but this time we discarded the tyre and replaced it with our spare folding tyre.

It hadn’t been a great start to our time in Sicily, but we were determined to enjoy the rest of our day. We pedalled along the lungomare for much of the time, with the sea to our left for a change, and increasingly hazy views of Calabria across the straits. The beaches were shingle, and quite busy. To our right were steep hills, and above us the E45 autostrada, sweeping in and out of tunnels. On the beach was a statue representing one of the mythical sirens.

All of the hot work changing tyres and tubes had left us thirsty, so we stopped at a café and ordered three litres of water, half of which we drank immediately. The other half we used to refill our bidons. Suitably restored we rejoined the route, and negotiated a set of hairpin bends climbing up to Castello Saraceno which occupies a headland.

There were also good views to the north towards Ali Terme.

An hour or so later we spotted Taormina, sitting in a notch on the hillside. We’re staying not in Taormina itself but in Mazzarò. Fifteen years ago we stayed here in an hotel called Villa Caterina. Today it is the Taormina Garden Hotel. Strangely we’ve been allocated exactly the same room! Mazzarò is the beach part of Taormina, and from here a gondola rises to the town and its famous amphitheatre. With luck and good weather we should catch our first sight of Etna, too.

For nostalgic reasons we’ve awarded ourselves a gratuitous day of leisure here, so there will be no blog post tomorrow. Our planned route from here takes us on through Catania and Syracusa to the southernmost tip of Sicily, where we’ll turn to the west and head for Agrigento. Thereafter we plan to cross the centre of the island to Cefalù, our final destination.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 55: Gioia Tauro – Villa San Giovanni

Distance: 46.5 km

Time: 2 hours 51 minutes

Average speed: 16.3 kph

Cumulative distance: 2858.21 km

Cumulative time: 145 hours 6 minutes

Word of the day: ‘stretti’ (str-ett-ee) – straits (e.g. of Messina)

We saw a bit more of Gioia Tauro than we’d expected, after we got a bit lost on the way to the supermarket. When we realised we were off-course we asked a gentleman walking the opposite way where it was. He answered in what sounded like pure dialect, and the only words either of us caught were ‘subito’ (immediately) and ‘Crai’ (the name of the supermarket)! Fortunately he was also pointing, so we went that way, and there it was. Phew. We bought some provisions, and had a little chat with the friendly butcher about whether a Calabrese’s definition of ‘not very spicy’ is different to an Inglese’s, and whether it snows in Yorkshire!

After dinner back at the apartment we turned in quite early, slept well and woke up quite cold – the air conditioning was wonderfully effective!

Once on the bike, a scant kilometre and three quarters of warm up had us at the bottom of today’s big climb, all five hundred and some metres of it. It started gently, and we ground up it quite efficiently. There wasn’t much to see, as we’d turned inland, but it was pleasant enough. We stopped about two thirds of the way up on a ‘shelf’ in the climbing to drink some water, and then pushed on, negotiating a little diversion at Palmi where they were repairing a roundabout (or something). The latter part of the climb was steeper, and then finally, the crest appeared, and then gradually our rear wheel became higher than the front and we were free-wheeling down.

We stopped to refill bidons and drink more water at a public water fountain where a visiting American of Italian origin was filling water bottles for his parents, who lived locally. “I thought you must be American!”, he said. We confirmed that we were not!

On we glided down the hill, then round a corner and…

Wow. Just wow. There it all was in front of us, the very tip of Calabria, the straits of Messina and Sicily! It was incredible to see it after all this time – we’ve been saying since the start “We’re going to Sicily”, and finally, we could actually see it!

We could also just make out Scilla at the tip of the furthest headland, which a few people in the last couple of days had told us was worth a visit. Our route was taking us right through it, so we’d identified it as a good place to stop for lunch.

First, we had to get down the remaining part of the descent. It was one of those ‘clinging to the hillside’ roads, perfectly safe but a little disconcerting near the edge!

There were fantastic views, Scilla and Sicily getting ever clearer and ever closer.

We stopped at a little restaurant just before the town proper, where there was a great view back to the headlands we’d surmounted to get to Scilla, and had a small but delicious lunch.

It was a pretty place, one side a harbour…

… and the other a long beach.

After lunch we tackled the last few kilometres, arriving in good time at Villa San Giovanni, where we’ll spend our last night on the Italian mainland.

The ferry port is just two kilometres from here, and tomorrow we will cross to Sicily and cycle along the coast to Mazzarò, just below Taormina, where we spent a lovely week in 2003.

We still can’t quite believe it! Sicily!

Here’s today’s track.

Day 54: Tropea to Gioia Tauro

Distance: 48.75 km

Time: 3 hours 10 minutes

Average speed: 15.4 kph

Cumulative distance: 2811.71 km

Cumulative time: 142 hours 15 minutes

Phrase of the day: ‘che bellissima bici!’ (kay bell-ee-see-mah bee-chee) – what a beautiful bicycle!

Returning to Tropea was a good decision! It is much busier than before, but previously we came much later in the season. Our B&B, newly opened this year by Enrico and Emilia, was superb – they had clearly put a lot of work into the design. We had somehow been lucky enough to be given the sole room with a view over the Santuaria, and we enjoyed sitting out on the balcony, drinking prosecco and people-watching! Here are some Tropea pictures.

For our two days off we spent most of our time on the beach, with regular dips in the sea to cool off. When we’re at leisure it is difficult to imagine being on a bicycle in these temperatures, but somehow it works. We enjoyed some excellent meals, many featuring sweet Tropea onions, and of course we had a tartufo gelato each, and very tasty they were too!

Sadly we didn’t see Stromboli. Apparently the pre-requisite for seeing it is a Tramontana northerly wind, which clears the low-level clouds and reveals the volcano. We did see it on our previous visit, perhaps we were just lucky.

So with well-rested legs we set off this morning through Tropea’s busy streets. It was slow going, particularly when we had to wait for quite a while at a level crossing. It was chaotic – drivers were turning round and heading off to find a different route, one or two pedestrians risked crossing when the barriers were down, and it was noticeable when the train arrived that it crept through the crossing very slowly and carefully, the driver was clearly used to some risky pedestrian behaviour.

For the first seven kilometres we rode parallel to the sea, then we turned our back to it and set off up a long climb, steep to start with. In no time at all we were drenched and short of breath, but we kept up a good rhythm. After a couple of hundred metres of ascent we took a break in the only shady patch we could find by the side of the road, and gulped our first bottle of water. Soon afterwards the gradient eased, and we reached the first summit. Riding down the other side we generated a nice breeze which helped to cool us off.

Spotting a short steep rise ahead we accelerated, keen to preserve as much momentum as possible. When we reached the top of the rise, though, the road ahead – our intended route – was completely blocked off, and diversion signs pointed left and steeply uphill.

We dismounted and took stock of the situation. Using the diversion would add at least another two hundred and fifty metres of climbing. Reluctantly, we decided we should get on with it. Just as we were about to set off, though, a motorcyclist, noticing our dilemma, stopped and told us to continue through the roadblock, saying that it was perfectly fine for cyclists. What a star! We squeezed through a small gap at the right edge of the roadblock and carried on.

It became clear that this road has been closed for a while. Grass was growing on parts of the road, and there were some large rocks which had tumbled onto the road from the slopes above. These were easy enough to avoid, and as there was no other traffic it turned out to be a relaxing interlude.

As we squeezed through another roadblock at the far end we could see down to the plain below, with a very long stretch of sandy beaches. To get there, though, we had to negotiate our second climb. This one was easier, if quite long, and at the top there was a petrol station where we stocked up on delicious cold water.

After descending to sea level we had a few hundred metres of the Stoker’s least favourite surface, gravelly tracks. As these weren’t much fun we diverted onto a larger road, which brought us into Rosarno. This seemed like a sensible place to take lunch. It wasn’t though – most of the cafés looked fairly grim, and the one we did choose could only furnish us with crisps, water and fruit juice. With only ten kilometres remaining we decided that this constituted an acceptable lunch, and what’s more, our cheapest yet! Just as we were about to set off an elderly Italian gentleman arrived at the café, captivated by our beautiful bicycle, giving us today’s phrase of the day.

Here we are then in Gioia Tauro. We chose it for its location, rather than for reasons of tourism. It’s a fairly down-at-heel place with a massive container port next door, built to assuage criticism that the south never received investment funding. Soon after it opened it was effectively being run by the Ndrangheta, Calabria’s equivalent of the Mafia, and according to a 2006 report, Italian investigators estimated that 80% of Europe’s cocaine arrived from Colombia via Gioia Tauro’s docks.

So we won’t be exploring too much! We’ll nip to the supermarket and buy some food for tea, then rest up for tomorrow’s ride, which starts with a five hundred metre climb and ends, we hope, with our arrival at Villa San Giovanni, the ferry port for Sicily.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 53: Falerna Marina – Tropea

Distance: 68.56 km

Time: 3 hours 12 minutes

Average speed: 21.4 kph

Cumulative distance: 2762.95 km

Cumulative time: 139 hours 5 minutes

Word of the day: ‘cipolla’ (chee-pol-lah) – onion

We’d planned to cater for ourselves at Falerna Marina and eat in the little peaceful garden of our lovely annexe, but it being Sunday, we’d unfortunately missed the supermarket. Our hosts recommended a restaurant on the lungomare, so we headed down in the early evening and had a good dinner, sitting on a terrace overlooking the sea.

This morning we set off, a little creaky perhaps, our ‘seventh day in a row’ legs ready for the upcoming rest period. Down to the lungomare, under the autostrada, and back onto the SS18, we were soon up to full speed and cruising along the straight, flat road.

There wasn’t a great deal to look at to begin with, but we were making good progress, and enjoying the knowledge that we’d be revisiting some old haunts today, Pizzò for lunch, and then Tropea for a couple of days rest. We passed a few fields of lime trees, absolutely loaded with fruit.

We even managed to trigger a speed gun, which was quite satisfying!

Mostly, though, we just pedalled along, in a good rhythm, clocking up the kilometres. Pizzò appeared up ahead, and it was up, a short climb but a good place to break for lunch.

Pizzò is famous for its ‘tartufo’ ice cream, a wicked spherical concoction of ice cream around a liquid chocolate centre, dusted in cocoa powder. If ever there was a good day to eat one, surely a near seventy kilometre bike ride would qualify?! We needed carbs first, though, and found a café serving various savoury items, more difficult than you might think to locate, actually, practically every café in the main square served only tartufo in various forms.

Unfortunately, despite our best intentions, we were just too full after a panino for the Captain and an arancino for the Stoker to contemplate a tartufo. This heat plus all the exercise doesn’t half deplete the appetite for some reason… Never fear, though, we will knuckle down and make sure to have one in Tropea.

As we headed down out of Pizzò we could see Tropea in the distance, a rather hazy headland, the third of three. In fact we’d seen it last night from the restaurant in Falerna Marina, when it looked even further away and even more hazy. The afternoon was much more strenuous than our fast, flat morning, up and down we rode, and each time we crested a rise, the headland of Tropea was just that little bit closer.

The sea is an extraordinary colour here, a bright azure blue that the pictures just don’t quite capture. It’s so blue that someone familiar with Spinal Tap might ask “how much more blue could it be”, and conclude that the answer could only be “none more blue”.

Along the side of the road we saw lots of fruit and vegetable stalls. That’s been a constant feature of the trip so far, but the produce has changed enormously as we’ve come south. Initially there would be apples, plums, courgettes, tomatoes, then there was a period of enormous watermelons. We knew we were properly in the south when we started to see strings of chillis, and then nearing Tropea clusters of the sweet red onions it’s known for.

Also on the side of the road, sometimes wild, sometimes cultivated, are prickly pears.

They are very odd-looking things. The little fruits on the edges of the lobes are edible, apparently, and in fact one of the apartments we’ve found for our onward journey from here has a host who often supplies them for her guests’ breakfasts. I hope she explains what to do with them!

We rode into town, and were stunned anew by the view from the little square in Tropea, over to the Santuario di Santa Maria dell’Isola.

Imagine our surprise when our hotel room turned out to have exactly that view! It’s very new, this hotel, and run by an enthusiastic young couple who visibly relaxed on learning that they could talk to us in Italian! We’ll stay for three nights, setting off again on Tuesday with just two days’ riding to the ferry for Sicily. It’s starting to feel really close now!

Here’s today’s track.

Day 52: Paola – Falerna Marina

Distance: 46.97 km

Time: 1 hour 48 minutes

Average speed: 26 kph

Cumulative distance: 2694.39 km

Cumulative time: 135 hours 53 minutes

Word of the day: ‘piccante’ (pee-cahn-tay) – spicy

Paola clings to a steep declivity on the western flank of Calabria’s Catena Costiera (coastal chain). Walking through the streets, therefore, often involves navigating long flights of steps and steep inclines. It’s picturesque, though, with narrow streets and a distant view of the sea. The evening sun added some lovely colour to the buildings.

We picked our way through to the restaurant “Vecchia Paola”, feeling duty bound, now that we’re in Calabria, to eat Pizza Calabrese. This features melanzane (aubergines) and the fiercely spicy sausage called nduja. A good job, then, that we had ordered plenty of water to accompany our meal. It was delicious, naturally!

Our host, Mario, scored extra points this morning for leaving lovely fresh cornetti on our doorstep at seven-thirty. Not that we were awake until an hour later, but they were extremely welcome. Before leaving we checked every corner of the apartment several times over, not wishing to repeat yesterday’s mistake. When we were satisfied that we had left nothing behind we pedalled off in a southerly direction, heading towards the SS18. It being Sunday, the roads were quiet, and we enjoyed a twenty minute descent towards sea level.

The scenery, whilst not nearly as spectacular as that of the Cilento, was still to be admired. To the east were the high mountains of the coastal chain, sometimes terraced, sometimes with “relic” terraces, overgrown and abandoned. To the west was the azure sea, and the ever-present railway line, occupying the narrow space between mountains and sea.

Once down at sea level we alternated between long fast stretches on the SS18 and short slower diversions into nearby villages, in order to avoid the long tunnels on the main road. Our rule of thumb when planning the route is that we must be able to see the far end of the tunnel if we’re going to cycle through it. Google StreetView proves invaluable in this regard, as we can look at the tunnel and assess its viability.

We enjoyed the diversions, of course – it being Sunday the streets were bustling. Unlike the north, though, there doesn’t seem to be the tradition of drinking an Aperol spritz after church. The people do seem to be very friendly in Calabria – we’ve received many cheery waves and toots of the horn in the last couple of days. In fact yesterday we were overtaken by two policemen on motorbikes, the first of whom tooted the horn. I feared briefly that we were about to be pulled over for some unknown offence, but after a cheery wave they vanished into the distance.

We stopped in Amantea to drink some water and admire the Norman castle in the hills to the east.

By this time we’d already completed more than half of today’s planned distance, and in very good time. We set off again, pondering on a lunchtime stop, but soon realised we only had ten kilometres remaining, so we carried on until arriving at the beachfront of Falerna Marina. After a leisurely lunch we cycled the short distance to our lodgings.

Here we were met by Laura, our host, her mother and the family dog, Simba. In the fridge are some fresh figs and they insisted on giving us lemon cake and some very good homemade limoncello. It’s a tough life…

Tomorrow we are cycling to Tropea, which we visited some years ago. There we shall take a couple of days at rest and enjoy the views towards Stromboli.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 51: Scalea to Paola

Distance: 75.3 km

Time: 3 hours 39 minutes

Average speed: 20.7 kph

Cumulative distance: 2647.42 km

Cumulative time: 134 hours 5 minutes

Word of the day: ‘dimenticati’ (dee-men-tee-kah-tee) – forgotten (adjective, plural)

We walked down into Scalea last night and bought some goodies for tea – burrata from a ‘mozzarelleria’, and some tomatoes, sausages, salad, and bread from the Spar, a proper big supermarket chain in Italy, although even the small ‘convenience’-size ones always have really good stuff. We ate outside in the little garden of our AirBnB, marvelling at the range of plants in the garden which are strictly indoors only in our colder climate in the U.K.

This morning we were up and about promptly, with around sixty kilometres to ride to Paola, mostly on the flat. We packed up, waved goodbye to our cheerful host and set off, pausing only to pick up some new brake pads at the bike shop in town. We didn’t spot a breakfast cafe until we were a little way along the road, at Santa Maria del Cedro.

At this point the Captain picked up the message from our AirBnB host to say that we’d left all our bidons in the fridge! Damn – only one thing for it, to retrace our steps and collect them. It was annoying, but there was no point gnashing teeth or wailing, so we got on with it, and nearly an hour later we re-passed our breakfast stop with all bidons in place, and an extra 14km on the clock.

Our route took us along the coast, partly on the famously dull SS18, and partly on smaller roads nearer to the sea, where there were a string of seaside towns, each with their collection of beaches sporting coordinated umbrellas, little cafes and restaurants, shops selling lilos and so on. Popular this year are lilos in the shape of a slice of pizza!

We also passed some little marinas, some boats still moored, but lots of spaces presumably indicating that their owners were out on the water enjoying the sunshine.

At one point we reached a scheduled rejoining of the SS18, only to find that bicycles were not permitted on the stretch we’d planned to ride. It’s the tunnels – we’re quite happy with the small ones where you can already see the end as you enter, but some of the longer tunnels would not be a good idea, and they can be kilometres long. We thought we’d planned a route to avoid the worst ones, but maybe we’d missed one. We diverted along the parallel road, which was perfectly fine, although it did involve some hairpin bend climbing to get back up to the SS18 after the tunnelled section.

Still, good views from up there, as ever, and then a fabulous long, fast descent to enjoy as a reward.

It was starting to get a little late for lunch, and we were running rapidly out of water, so we rode down into Acquappesa and found a little restaurant right by the beach for a quick lunch, a concerted rehydration and a refill of the bidons. The beach looked lovely, very uncommercial, probably a ‘spiaggia publica’ but very clean, the water sparkling and little tiny waves breaking on the rocks.

After lunch it was back up to the SS18, and the last few kilometres towards Paola. It hadn’t been as dull as people had said it was, although we have a few more days on it yet as we make our way down towards the ferry crossing to Sicily – maybe we’ll become very bored by it like everyone else.

At Paola we had a short climb up to tonight’s apartment – a lovely newly renovated place in what was once the town’s bakery. Our friendly host showed us in, and then left us to drink lots more water and watch Geraint Thomas pull off a great time trial to cement his place as Tour de France winner (provided he doesn’t fall off tomorrow….). That’s the second time we’ve seen a Brit win a Grand Tour this year, the first time was in Cervinia the day before we set off on our epic adventure.

Finally, now that we’re safely done with our hilly but beautiful days in the Cilento, it has been calculated that we’ve climbed 2963 metres over the last five days. That’s a Ben Nevis, plus a Snowdon and a Simon’s Seat.

Here’s today’s track.

Day 50: Sapri – Scalea

Distance: 51.37 km

Time: 3 hours 5 minutes

Average speed: 16.7 kph

Cumulative distance: 2572.12 km

Cumulative time: 130 hours 26 minutes

Word of the day: ‘isola’ (ease-oh-la) – island

Last night we dined on the balcony of La Quercia (The Oak), and watched the sun go down over the mountains we climbed during the day. One of the coastal towns, Scario, was celebrating its saints day, and we watched their firework display while finishing off a very nice bottle of Aglianico from Agropoli, through which we passed three days ago.

Today we were to pass through three provinces. We left Campania, entered Basilicata for a short but incredibly beautiful transit, then arrived in Calabria, the last ‘mainland’ province, which forms Italy’s toe.

Before all this, though, we enjoyed breakfast on Sapri’s lungomare. The croissants were particularly good this morning, almost to French standards. We’ve also learned that when ordering our latti macchiati in the morning we have to add caldi (hot), otherwise the coffee is served slightly lukewarm. Perhaps that makes more sense in these temperatures.

Our exit from Sapri was gentle enough, but we knew we had a few tough ascents today, and soon after leaving town we hit the first of them. What a spectacular coastline, though. For the last three days we’ve enjoyed memorable views while cycling around the Palinuro peninsula, but nature saved the best for last. The road was carved into a vertiginous hillside, and we didn’t stray too close to the barrier on the right, as there were sheer drops on the other side. Twice we went through short tunnels, enjoying the new vistas that opened on the far side.

After completing the initial steep climbs we dropped down towards Maratea, “The Pearl of the Tyrrhenian”, which is famous for its beautiful scenery and coastline, and for the enormous statue of Christ the Redeemer, built of pure Carrara marble, and located on the top of Monte San Biagio. We stopped to take pictures, but didn’t linger – too many hills left to climb!

On we rode, clinging to the hillside but enjoying every moment, until finally we caught sight of the beaches of Praia di Mare below us. A long descent brought us into town, where we crossed from Basilicata into Calabria, and cycled along the lungomare for a while before ducking into town for a simple lunch.

Three hills remained, to be climbed in the heat of the early afternoon. The first was long and arduous, mainly because there was no breeze whatsoever, so we felt exposed to the full heat of the sun. At the top, though, there were magnificent views over Isola di Dino, where some enterprising soul had built eco-pods for visitors.

The two remaining climbs took a while, partly because we kept deciding to stop and take pictures.

The climbs achieved, we descended into Scalea and located our lodgings on the edge of town.

We’ve read that the coastal route from here as far as Pizzò is something of an anticlimax after the amazing Cilento coast. No doubt we’ll still find something to write about! Tomorrow’s destination is the town of Paola.

Here’s today’s track.