278 nights: 9,465 miles travelled : Countries visited: 15
Our house is a very, very, very fine house… Graham Nash
Our first couple of days in Italy were damp and grey but on the bright side we were in a land that serves good old fashioned British fayre….pizza, pasta, panini and pinot grigio. So we ate through the pain of leaving Greece and waited for the carb high!
We bought some chill pills to help Kipper cope with the 16 hour crossing from Patras to Bari. I gave them to him while we still parking in the bowels of the ferry and unfortunately they took effect within minutes. It was a bit of a performance climbing up through six decks with a very drunk pup! We almost felt guilty laughing at his confused reaction seeing his own reflection on the mirrored staircase.
We immediately knew we were driving in a different country. Many more and newer cars crowd the (terrible) roads. There is more street furniture and buildings are better maintained. For the first time in months we couldn’t see mountains. Instead we were in rolling countryside with green fields bordered by dry stone walls which felt strangely similar to the Peak District in the UK.
It is usually a safe bet to visit an area designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and as we approached Alberobello we saw clues as to what made this town unusual. Trulli are limestone dwellings found throughout Puglia and Alberobello was once a town completely made up of these strange cone-roofed buildings.
According to legend, Lords in the area originally insisted that peasants inhabit these buildings. Because they were built without mortar, so easy to demolish and classified as temporary, they escaped liability for tax to the Kingdom of Naples.
Our second World Heritage Site of the week was once a source of great shame. Dr Carlo Levi’s book ‘Christ stopped at Eboli’ drew attention to the extreme poverty in this part of Southern Italy and especially in the malaria ridden cave houses built within a gorge in the Sassi di Matera (the stones of Matera). The Italian government relocated the inhabitants in the 1950’s and in more recent years the town has become a major draw for visitors and will be European Capital of Culture in 2019.
The first human settlements date from 7000 years BC, created in caverns on the other side of the ravine known as la Gravina.
We warmed to the trail once again as we traversed the foot of the boot of Italy. A wonderful coast road and moving into the mountains in the Pollini National Park certainly helped.
Italy has a huge variety of Aree di Sosta, motorhome stopovers in towns or on agricultural premises. We found a delightful spot in Morano Calabro, a small town clinging to a hillside looking out towards Mt Pollino.
Morano Calabro is a lattice work of steps, paths and alleyways through houses stacked on top of each other. We traced a path up to the fortress and church at the top and an entirely different one back down! It is very much a living community and we could hear children playing behind closed doors and small groups of older gentlemen chatting together round every bend.
We only ever plot where we’re going a couple of days in advance and it’s often led by where there is an available camper stop. Without planning it, the theme of the week became unusual Italian houses which proves that our plan of having no plan really does work!
Treat of the week: Nobody does coffee like the Italians. We didn’t realise my first cappuccino was on St. Valentine’s day until after my first slurp!