Walking the Sorrento PeninsulaA tour of Marina del Cantone, Bay of Ieranto, and Punta Campanella, Italy
Because of the spread of the new coronavirus, since the end of February we have been in lockdown at our home in Italy’s Campania region. Recently, Italy has slowly begun to open up restrictions on personal movement. We took advantage of this new freedom, and complete lack of crowds, to get outside and do some walking and hiking on the nearby Amalfi Coast. Usually, April through June we are traveling throughout Europe leading our small-group tours. Instead, Suzy and I spent a weekend walking the Sorrento Peninsula. This is the second half of our weekend. If you missed the first part, please check out our day walking The Path of the Gods on the Amalfi Coast.
Marina del Cantone
We couldn’t have picked a better place to relax by the sea and stage our hikes on the Sorrento Peninsula than Marina del Cantone. A small, seasonal enclave nestled on the south western tip of the Sorrento Peninsula. There, steep limestone cliffs rise up from the cobalt sea and leave just enough room for a small, grey-stoned, beach. The area supports a handful each of hotels, restaurants, and tourist shops.
We chose the family-owned and operated Hotel Lo Scoglio. Of course the fact that it was one of the few hotels open in the area certainly narrowed the choices. Our south-facing room was roomy and comfortable. We had a large terrace with a view of the sea and overlooking the colorful lido umbrellas. We couldn’t have been more pleased. Located on the beach with a restaurant reaching over the sea, the Lo Scoglio was quiet and picturesque. Normally, at this time of year the location would have been a bustling hub of holiday fun-makers. However, during our stay – as Italy is only beginning to come out of COVID-19 restrictions – we were one of only two occupied rooms.
The day began beautifully and by mid-morning locals were beginning to trickle onto the beach and claim lido chairs for their day on the beach. Certainly it seemed like a worthy endeavor, but we were still eager to explore the nearby walking trails. After so many weeks of being restricted to the house, I was ready to be out in the sunshine. From the hotel it was an easy few steps to the sea. It was so inviting we had to at least get our feet in the water.
Walking the Sorrento Peninsula to the Bay of Ieranto
After breakfast we walked to the nearby Ieranto Bay, a secluded walk-in only beach sheltered by high cliffs and a view to Capri. The walk is a 5km out-and-back from the village of Nerano. Nerano and the trailhead is about a 20 minute walk up a steep, winding road from Marina del Cantone. On the path, we found it was marked fairly well and in good condition. We thought it would be a nice easy start after the previous day’s adventures. There is a short, steep section at the beginning and then the walking levels off, offering beautiful views of the coast and our little village of Marina del Cantone in particular.
Continuing on, the cerulean blues of the Bay of Ieranto come into view and the island of Capri just beyond. As the trail begins to descend toward the bay, the path splits. First, to the left the trail is well maintained and meanders left toward the ruins of Torre di Montalto. From there, it loops down to the Bay of Ieranto.
Alternatively, to the right a steep path descends directly down to Capitiello Beach and the bay. We did this as a loop and took the steep descent first. A word to the wise – unless one is ready for very steep, uneven, and narrow steps – this way is not recommended. It would be less harrowing and more satisfying to simply take the other way as an out and back.
Eitherway, when walking the Sorrento Peninsula, the views were spectacular and the beach charming. A few sunbathers had packed towels down with them and were already enjoying the late morning warmth with a swim in the clear blue water.
Around the Bay of Ieranto
We explored the area a bit. There, a small center managed by the Italian Hiking Club held a commanding view of the area. The rustic building was surrounded by a small garden and a terraced lemon grove. An older gentleman came onto the terrace and gave us a friendly wave. We stopped and chatted for a bit. We could see another man not far from us trimming lemon trees. An ancient cistern reflecting the sky held water and tadpoles. Young sprouts were merrily pushing their way toward the sun in the neat furrows of dark earth. We surveyed the scene appreciatively. It almost seemed too perfect.
From Nerano to Marina del Cantone
After the walk, we stopped into a little market in Nerano. There, we picked up things for lunch – fresh baked ciabatta, buffalo mozzarella just delivered from the cheesemaker and local tomatoes. Then we walked back down the hill to Marina del Cantone. As we walked, we could see the number of cars parked on the side of the road had greatly increased.
By the time we arrived at the beach, traffic backed up to get into a small parking lot. There were several beach-side restaurants open for lunch and the area was beginning to buzz with day-trippers arriving from Naples and beyond. While we were away the lido chairs filled. Most of the sunbathers were wearing masks as the coronavirus recommendations suggested. Others did not. We grabbed a couple of spritz from the hotel bar and set up a sea view picnic on our terrace. Finally, summer seemed to have arrived in this little corner of Italy.
Walking the Sorrento Peninsula to Punta Campanella
After a leisurely lunch, sunbathing and nap it was time for more exploration. About a 15 minute drive from Marina del Cantone is the town of Termini, the westernmost town on the Sorrento Peninsula. Santa Croce Square in Termini is the beginning of a walk to the very tip: Punta Campanella. It is about 3 km from Termini to the point. We parked in the square and stopped into a bar for a caffè and to confirm our directions with the barista.
From where we stood sipping our coffee we surveyed the square. The parking lot was mostly full and several small groups of people were in the piazza. Swapping gossip and laughing, they enjoyed the panoramic view which overlooked the steep rural valley backed by the aquamarine sea. The market was bustling with locals stopping in for necessities and visitors like ourselves stocking up on snacks and water.
In front of the market an older man wearing long shorts and bright yellow rubber work boots stood at the back of his car. His trunk was open with a cooler inside. We watched as he did a brisk business selling fresh fish from this cooler. His customers walked past us, their night’s meal in a plastic bag clutched under their arm like the french hold a baguette. A day in the life.
On the Path to Punta Campanella
The first part of the walk was on a paved road that meandered through a residential area. It soon changed to terraced lemon and olive groves.The way became very narrow and changed from pavement to cobblestone with low walls on both sides. As we walked it felt as though we were stepping back through time.
Still, Italians being the amazing drivers they are, some made their way down this narrow road in their FIAT Puntos or similar, searching for a hoped for parking space along the way. Most found it was already too late. No spaces were available and they would make their way back up the narrow road. In this case, it was fascinating to watch the animated, drawn out negotiation of who would backup, and how, when two cars going in different directions met along the way. We were glad we had parked up in the piazza.
Walking Through History
The cobbled path we walked had a history thousands of years old. Over 3000 years ago, the peninsula was a Greek territory and the Temple of Athena commanded the point. In the Odyssey, the great poem written by Homer, it is said that Ulysses met the Sirens here. In Roman times, the path and destination were the same, but the Roman goddess Minerva was worshipped here. Throughout history, sailors would pour wine into the sea to honor the goddess, whichever one she may be, as they rounded this point to assure protection and safe passage.
The cobblestones became more rugged and the path more travel-worn, but we still made good time, enjoying the expansive view and greeting the occasional passerby. To our left, steep cliffs rose toward Mount San Costanzo. On our right lie the Bay of Naples with Mount Vesuvius rising proudly above. We passed the beautiful Cala Mitigliano, a sheltered cove where only last season we stopped for a swim with a group on the way back from Capri.
As we walked on, the island of Capri came into view. The day was clear and bright. A “nook and cranny day” we like to say because so much detail could be seen even at a distance.
At Punta Campanella
The point itself is an exposed promontory with wonderful views all around. There, we found the remains of an old watchtower. Built in the 1300’s it was from here that soldiers would sound a bell if pirates were sighted. The alarm, the first of a series of bells stationed throughout the region, would warn the entire coast of impending invaders. Thus the area became known as Punta Campanella (Bell Point). The tower as well as the ruins of the temple of Minerva and a small beach are accessible from the path.
From the point we could look east toward the beautiful Bay of Ieranto, where we had walked that morning.
The return to Termini took a bit longer than the way out, as it was all uphill. Fortunately, the sun was beginning to sink low, and a cool afternoon breeze kept the path from getting too hot. As we approached Termini we happened upon a small bar that had tables, chairs, and umbrellas set out along the road. We were ready for a snack, and the small hospitality was welcome. We ordered lemon granitas. A cross between sorbet and shaved ice, and made completely by hand, granita sounded like the perfect refreshing treat. Lemons and amazing views are what this region is known for. We enjoyed both as we savored spoonfuls of the icy, tart dessert and gazed over the hillside we had just walked to the sea beyond. The shadows grew long against the hillside and the sun began to grow low on the horizon.
After Walking the Sorrento Peninsula
On a previous road trip to this area, we happened through the village of Termini just as the sun was setting. Truly a breathtaking sight, we both exclaimed, “Whoa!” when we turned into the piazza to see the red, glowing orb of the sun, massive as it sank behind Capri. At that time, we were unable to stop and enjoy the spectacle. However, today would be different.This was the main reason we returned to this area for an overnight stay. Basically, we wanted to catch that incredible sunset.
On our previous trip here, it was February and the sun set in the southwest. Now, in early June, the sunset was more directly west. It would not set behind Capri and could not be seen from the piazza as we had planned. We had not anticipated this. Although a little disappointed to not catch the drama of that particular view, we were undaunted. At the market where we had seen the man selling fish from his car earlier in the day, we stopped in to ask the best place to watch the sunset. The produce vendor was happy to suggest a nearby restaurant with a terrace that also served aperitivo. Perfetto!
Sunset in Termini
Following the directions given, we drove about a kilometer out of town to find this place. The sky was turning bronze and golden as the sun approached the horizon. We passed a couple of parked cars and people on the side of the road. They too were there for sundown. We found the recommended restaurant, but it was closed. Rats, but no time to complain. We turned the car around and parked. Nearby, a wide stone wall offered a place to sit and a clear view over the terraced lemon groves. The hillsides glowed a rosy pink, reflecting the sun’s warming hue. We admired the oranges and reds that colored the evening sky, framing the sun as it took its bow. Slowly the sun disappeared, bringing the day to a close, and welcoming a new one in some far off place across the world.
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