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Chapter Eighteen

Day 48


Awakening to a lovely view across the Bay of Naples from the service area, we have breakfast and head off towards the city. The closer we get the heavier the traffic becomes until we come to a standstill, and then crawl along slowly. The roads alongside the motorway are also filled with traffic jams and so we decide that it would not be a good idea to go into the city, a shame but when you don’t know your way around and the traffic is this bad it would not be the sensible thing to do. So all we see of Naples is the many huge blocks of flats that seem to fill this vast city, not the romantic notion that one has of Naples. We continue towards Pompei and find ourselves a parking place inside a camp site opposite a busy square. There were cars and buses everywhere and we are lucky to have parked so close. Walking across the road and past the market stalls, all of which try to get us to buy the souveniers that they have on display, you just have to keep on saying No! we come to the ticket entrance. There are several entrances onto the Pompei Site unfortunatly the one we were entering on had no information leaflets and when I later asked at the Porta Marina entrance, the tour guide there told me that this was in fact the official entrance and here you can obtain all the information leaflets and booklets on Pompei and the four other sites.

The five sites are Pompei, Ercolano, Oplontis, Stabia and Boscoreale. Tickets can be bought for Pompei alone, lasting one day, or for the five sites which last three days. There is also an option to buy a three site ticket (one Day) for Oplontis, Stabia and Bosconreale. Ticket prices (2012) are €11 (€5.50 under 18 or over 65) for Pompei, three site ticket €11 (€5.50) and €22 (€10) for the five site tickets. Pompei was the site of a huge volcanic erruption on the 24th August 79AD which buried all its people and buildings under rock and ash. There had been an earthquake 17 years before and rebuilding had taken a long time then this happened. Excavation is still ongoing. It had been discovered in the 16th century but exploration did not begin until 1748. The cleaning of the site and the recontruction of many of the buildings is wonderful to see. The site at Pompei, which is the only one we are visiting, is a huge site and there are large cobbles many of which are uneven which makes for difficulty in walking if you are unsteady on foot. It is nonetheless very interesting to see and it is hard to believe just how well laid out this town was. You can see the streets and walkways lined with houses and shops, large stones act as stepping stones across the streets at various intervals and one can imagine the streets filled with people going about their business in much the same way as we do today. The architecture is amazing and you can see that they were great craftsmen to have built here what they did. The pillars were constructed of bricks and then rendered to give them their particular shapes and designs and there are huge marble slabs and marble decorative panels which show that they must have had some kind of machinery to cut them, as each piece is perfectly evenly cut. We tend to think that we are advanced but I wonder how many of our modern buildings will survive two thousand years, not many I think! I think that there is a lesson for many of our town planners to learn from the architecture and building standards that I have seen here. Inside some of the houses, sections of plastered walls remain with some of the paintings that once adorned the walls. Pieces of kitchens are on show with terracotta urns set into the ‘worktops’ which I presume to have held food or maybe water brought in from the many large ‘sinks’ in the streets from which water could be collected. The water came from springs further up the hillside and the pressure brought it into the water collection points, all very clever. There are ordinary houses, houses from rich people, a central baths with an effective heating system installed at the time of the disaster, rows of buildings that were once shops, theatres and Temples, there is just so much to see that if you visit make sure that you have comfortable shoes and plently of time to see it all. From the Temple of Venus you can get a good view across the Bay of Naples and see the sprawling city and the Volcano of Mount Versuvius. Together with Porta Ercolano, Porta Marina is one of the most imposing of the city gates of Pompei and it takes its name from the fact that it leads towards the sea, and it is here that one can see the city walls and take a walk along them. There is just so much to see that you can not decribe it all unless you wrote a book just on Pompei and it is certainly a trip that I would recommend.

After having a bite to eat and resting our weary legs for a while, we head off once again and followed the coastal road towards Sorrento. We stopped at a parking spot obviously placed here for its scenic value, and soaked in the beauty of the view. From the parking spot we could see all of Naples in front of us and we felt a little sad that we had been unable to get in and see the city at close hand, from here it was beautiful anyway, and the view along the coast was lovely. The only blot on the horizon was the amount of rubbish that is thrown around, looking down instead of across we could see rubbish had just been thrown over the sides and we had also witnessed the rubbish inside the tunnels, just why would anyone want to spoil this beautiful landscape in this way? Oh well, that off my chest and I shall carry on! A little further along the coast road and another parking spot gave views over the sea with the sun starting to set, and over Sorrento, it was just beautiful we will just have to find a place to stay the night, we can not miss this out. As we enter the town of Meta just above Sorrento, we spot a campsite, I Pini, and ask about a place for the night the lady speaks perfect English and we later learn that her mother is English and lived quite close to our part of the country. We are shown our spot to park, next to a tree full of oranges, and the facilities, and then given a map and directions to Sorrento. The bus (A line) takes you down into Sorrento and back again from across the road, tickets from any Tabbachieria. We are warned that it is better to take the bus or walk than to take a taxi as they are very expensive (I mean VERY expensive around €30 for 4 kilometres!). We decide to buy our bus tickets to take the bus back but we want to walk down and see the place at close hand. We don’t get very far before we are drawn into a gelateria/cafe for an ice cream and other members just have to try one of the special Easter cakes typical to Naples along with a coffee, delicious. Along the road there are lots of shops, and window shopping is lovely, we just have to pick up a few of the little easter novelty bits as we go along. It is a good walk but there are a few parts where there is no pavement and it is a little worrying as we walk towards the oncoming traffic.

Once in Sorrento we wander around the old part of this lovely town and there are still many of the shops still open even though it is now getting quite late. We decide to leave the port until tomorrow. We think it now best to head off towards the bus stop and see when the next bus leaves, it is now ten past ten and we are dismayed to see that it went at ten o’clock, oh dear, the walk back is uphill and we are already all walked out! Oh well the walk will do us good!! so off we head and reach the campsite about half past eleven. We shall certainly sleep well tonight.

Camping International “I Pini”, Corso Italia, 242 – Piano di Sorrento – Naples – Italy Tel. (081) 8786891 – 8086047 The campsite is a vast park of some 10,000sq m. set amidst olive trees, orange and lemon trees and pines which all give shelter from the sun in the summers heat. The site offers all the facilities and also a large swimming pool, bar, restaurant and pizzeria. Close to the station, port, Sorrento and the famous Alimuri beach. It is also a good spot to visit Capri, Ischia, Vesuvius, Pompei, Mount Faito, Amalfi, Positano and Ravello.

Day 49

The day started off really well, blue skies with fluffy white clouds and the sun was warm even early in the day. Our long walk last night had not left us too stiff and we were looking forward to visiting the port and waterfront of Sorrento this morning. Deciding not to chance the bus, we set off on the scooter. The traffic was quite heavy as we made our way back down the same streets we had walked along last night. Police were on traffic control and we could see that there was a football match being held at the small stadium and the crowds were making their way along towards this. At Piazza Tasso the road heads very steeply down towards the port through the rocks and we were very glad that we had not attempted this walk last night. At the bottom the road opened out onto the port area, with cafes, shops, a small park and the booking offices for the ferries taking visitors across to Capri. The journey to Capri takes around 30minutes and costs (2012) €26 return. Several people were hurrying across the walkway towards the jet ferry which was just about to leave. We stood and watched as it shot across the water leaving a white splash of water in its wake. Looking down into the turquoise clear waters we could see fish darting about and over the far side there were fishermen casting their rods trying to catch them. We thought it would be lovely to have our lunch here before leaving Sorrento and just spend a while soaking in the atmosphere of the port. We sat at a table overlooking the sea and enjoyed our selection of fish whislt we watched people coming and going, but time was getting on and all too soon we had to leave. Making our way back up the steep road and through the town. Along the road side grew wisteria in profusion and as we sped along the sweet smell wafted by.

We decided that we would drive along towards Amalfi and Positano along the famous Amalfi coast before heading across Italy to San Giovanni Rotundo at the far side, this would surely make for an enjoyable drive. Everywhere here there are lemon and orange groves, I have never seen so many lemons they are just everywhere and they just seem to taste and smell so much better too. The most amazing lemons I have seen are the ones that are big as melons and you find them for sale in all the shops and road side stands. The other thing that you find for sale everywhere is Limoncello and with this amount of lemons I can see why they make so much of it. There was only the one road from Sorrento, one way took you back towards Naples and the other towards Amalfi and Positano so no trouble there so we headed off, the road seemed quite quiet enough and the scenery became more beautiful as we drove along.The sea was a stunning colour and the road runs high above the sea along the cliffs giving a fantastic view of all that there is to see. We wondered how did the people living in the houses dotted about the mountainside actually reach their homes or go for their shopping? There are only one or two small spots for stopping to admire the scenery at the begining of our drive and luckily we made good use of them to look at the view and take some photos. Further along, the road started to narrow and it would be impossible to stop. There was not much in the way of traffic and we thought to ourselves what a pleasant drive this would be. As we started to near Positano the road got even narrower and the traffic was coming from nowhere. The road also had parked cars along one side which made passing oncoming traffic even more difficult. We could see the odd bus in the distance and thought surely if they go along these roads then so could we! Driving through Positano can only be described as hell! Motorbikes and scooters honked their horns and sped in betwen the cars at death defying speeds and we scraped through gaps that looked far from big enough. The worst was when we were face to face with a coach whose driver beckoned us forward whilst people ‘helfully’ watched and called us on as we breathed in, pulled our mirrors in and just prayed. Through Positano, and we breathed a sigh of relief little knowing that this was only the start of it. We passed through a couple more tiny towns clinging to the mountainside with our mouths totally dry with fear, and people stareing at us, they knew the road obviously!

We made it through Amalfi and we were on the home stretch but at another of these beautiful little towns we again encountered a coach filled with tourists on a narrow bend. The motorscooters hurried to get past with a lot of horn blowing and we very slowly inched our way along scraping the walls as we did so, how we managed to get through is still a mystery to me. There was still a way to go until we reach a selection of roads at Salerno and the remaining drive was stil narrow, steep and very twisting. Cars and bikes driving as though they have a death wish. This is one drive, although very beautiful if you are on foot or in a small car (with a driver with nerves of steel or Italian), that I would not recommend you do, especially in a motorhome! We did later learn that we were not supposed to acctually drive along there but we did not know that at the time and there was only the one road. That over, it took about three and a half hours to do around 35 miles, we needed a coffee and a strong one at that.

Once at Vietri Sul Mare near to Salerno we see the sign for the motorway and thankfully make our way onto the busy road and away from the coast, but on checking the map we see that we have to come back off and turn around and go back on, €3.60 to come off and €2.40 to go back on, we have had to come this way to go in the direction we want to travel, great way to make a little extra money on the motorways but all very confusing for us. We checked the map again (Sat Nav is in disgrace even she went into hiding along the way and was ordering us to turn right all the time, that would have involved jumping off the cliffs, was she frightened too?) Back to the map, we loked for the road towards Foggia at the far side of Italy, Bari would have been too far down and that is where the motorway goes, surely it is better to go along the A road and cut down on the mileage. We set off and the scenery changes almost immediately we head inland. The lemon groves vanish and the landscape is green and lush, the style of architecture is totally different too and we pass some lovely looking houses and farms, many of which have wonderful views across this mountainous region. As we had lost so much time today the night is quickly drawing in and it is very dark. We pass through a couple of towns which are quite busy and bright but then once through we are back in the dark with little traffic to keep us company. Nearing Foggia we entrust Sat Nav to take us on to San Giovanni Rotundo. Coming off the main road we pass wild fennel growing in masses along the side of the roads and then suddenly we are climbing up a steep and twisting mountain road again. As it is so dark we are unable to see very much, which has been the case most of this drive tonight, but once on the top of the mountain the landscape opens out and in the distance there is a mass of bright lights surely this must be it, yes it is. We know that there are two large camperstops (Area di Sosta) here and we quickly find the signs for the one we have chosen at Coppa Cicuta. We turn off the main road and follow the signs. In the dark it all looks a little sinister as we travel along a narrow country track but there it is and also a young man to welcome us in, pay tomorrow and have a good sleep he tells us. We park up and somehow feel the need for a little drink! Can not begin to think why?

Day 50

San Giovanni Rotundo is a small town made famous by Padre Pio, a Capuchin Friar, who died 23rd September 1968. Many pilgrims have been coming to pray here and to see the work done by this wonderful man. Padre Pio was cannonised in 2002 by Pope John Paul II.

The landscape around this region of Puglia is quite harsh, large stones lie around and the olive trees are bent with the wind, this morning it looks even more harsh as the skies are grey and threatening. The two little dogs belonging to the owner of the Area di Sosta (camperstop) have been guarding our motorhome all night and wag their tails in delight as we get up, it must have something to do with the scraps we fed them last night. This Sosta has nice clean toilets and showers, electric, the main house has a restaurant and there are buses to ferry people back and forth from the main town which is about 2.5 km away. We take the scooter into the town passing grazing sheep, olive and almond trees and passing under the main road via a tunnel, we climb up towards the top of the town before coming into the centre. Parking is a little bit easier with a scooter instead of a car. We have a little wander to get our bearings and see what is here and buy a book on the main things that are in the town to do with Padre Pio. Last night we saw the town all illuminated and could see the huge hospital built in white stone lit up against the dark hillside behind with a large picture of Padre Pio hanging at the front. Today we park near to the front of the hospital and on the other side is the church of Santa Maria della Grazie. This church contains the old church first built by the Capuchin friars in 1676 and is where Padre Pio said mass from 1916 to 1959, it also contains his confessional box. When the old church became too small to house the many people who were coming to see Padre Pio, he started to say mass outdoors, so a new church was needed and so work began in 1956 on the present church which is a beautiful church with three naves and nine side altars.

We walk along and past the church towards the new church of Saint Pio with its unique shape, crossing the vast church square, which can hold up to 30,000 people, we find the Information Office just inside the gate. The lady is pleasant and helpful, she explains what there is and where it all is, gives us a map and some leaflets and now we might acctually know what we are doing. We walk across the square into the new church and the construction inside is rather shell-like and very modern, but lovely and peaceful. Next we walk along a sloping corridor with wonderful mosaics depicting the life of St.Francis on one side and St.Pio on the other, this leads to the lower church which now houses the tomb of Padre Pio and has been totally decorated in beautiful mosiacs which are all illuminted and glistens with the gold that is all around. it is a wonderfully peaceful place and there are peole praying and filing past to touch the tomb of the Saint. We spend a little time here in prayer and contemplation before heading back upstairs and outside. In a small garden there is a statue of Padre Pio and votive lights are placed around the statue, it is around this time that we feel the first drops of rain and notice the very black cloud that is heading our way, we hurry back to the safety of the building and watch as the clouds burst and the heavy rain washes down the sloping pathways, thunder and lightening now fills the air and we stay in the shelter until it passes overhead. Luckily it does not last very long and we make our way back up towards the centre. Inside the church of Santa Maria della Grazie we notice that the television cameras are setting up their equipment for the six o’clock mass this evening and that the altar is adorned with flowers ready for the celebrations of Easter.

From this church you can walk along towards the living quarters of Padre Pio and the museum that houses his vestments, pictures of his life hang along the corridors and the crucifix in front of which he recieved the stigmata. It is nearing five O’Clock and it about ime to have something to eat so we make our way back to the motorhome for a quick bite before hurrying back for the mass of Maunday Thursday.After mass we notice that peole are hurrying out and waiting outside the doors of the old church, after a few minutes the doors are opened and the peole rush in, we follow and see that the altar is festooned with white and yellow flowers and the scent of inscence fills the air we sit in silence along with many others praying to Padre Pio, as this was his special place, before coming back out into the cool night air. It is dark when we come back out of the church and again the town is lit up. Opposite the church are the steps of the way of the cross with a large statue of Padre Pio at the entrance. People stand around in groups chatting in the square as we make our way back to the scooter and head off back to the motorhome and bed.

Day 51

Rising and looking outside we see our two little guard dogs lying near the door, they jump up and start wagging their tails in greeting as soon as they see us. The day promises to be lovely and the few clouds are starting to disappear into the distance. We have decided to start on our way back towards Rome today for Easter Sunday and we want to go back into the town and spend a little time there before we leave. Going back towards the town on the scooter we pass the rugged, rocky landscape and the small outlying farmhouses, sheep are grazing in the fields under the olive trees which are short and bent as though boughed by the winds. The older part of the town lies to the east and here are flats, houses and shops from which we buy a bit of bread, cheese and milk before making for the church. At the west side of the town there are lots of building work being carried out, new roads are being laid and new houses and hotels built. Some of these new house are realy splendid with winding outdoor staircases and balconies to take in the views from this mountain top position. The whole area is very stoney and one can imagine that, in times gone by, life here must have been very hard for the farmers who worked the land. We parked near to the church and went back in for a while, in the new church the crucifix was draped in a cloth as respect for Good Friday. This afternoon there is to be a procession at three O’Clock but alas we are unable to stay.

Back at the Sosta (Camperstop) we secure the scooter back onto the van and bid our hosts farewell, they are busy preparing the restaurant for a festival and 250 guests on Easter Sunday. The road out of San Giovanni Rotundo leads down through the rocky landscape into San Marco in Lamis where the market stalls are just packing up for the day. The centre of the town has been cordened off for this afternoons Good Friday procession through the streets with the Cross, it makes it a little confusing which way to go but we soon work it out and make a detour before leaving the town and going on the main road once more. The road drops sharply down the mountainside and at the bottom the landscape is really quite flat for. At San Severo we join the motorway towards Pescara. The motorway runs along the east coast for quite a long way and the waters are a vibrant dark blue. There are several towns along the coast many of them are obviously holiday towns but it all looks quiet at the moment. The road heads inland after leaving Pescara and the landscape becomes more hilly and then mountainous. Many of the surrounding mountain tops are still white with snow. A lovely drive through very picturesque scenery. With the amount of mountains in this area we thought it would be more sensible to stick to the motorways rather than the side roads. The motorway runs all the way to Rome east, and we then join the ring road which takes us back to the Via Aurelia on which is the Campsite we left only a few days ago ‘Camping Village Roma’. It is amazing just how busy the campsite has become this last week and the lower part of the camping ground is full, only a few days before it had been totally empty on this part. We are lucky to find a pitch on the top close to the facilities and settle ourselves in.

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