Monday, May 29, 2017


      Disclaimer:  probably the least authoritative voice in the world on hard-core trekking in Italy is a sixty-seven-year-old chubbers.  But perhaps there’s some value even in that.  To most of the world, a trek is a long, difficult voyage, and it can certainly connote that in Italy as well.  But here it can also mean a nice amble out in nature.  And as I hope you have gleaned from Sandy’s photos, if not my little blogs, there is a wealth of spectacular nature to amble amid, here in the Cilento.

Here, and I suspect in all parts of Italy, there are hundreds of sentieri (trails) of only moderate difficulty that can be accessed by anyone in reasonably good health.  And there are trekking clubs for almost all of them, many with excellent web sites and offering guided hikes at regular intervals.  Probably the most popular is  The one problem we have found with Italian trekking is that trail markers, especially at trail heads, are poor or non-existent.

Right here in Agropoli, from the Bay of Trentova, there are several sentieri which traverse various parts of Monte Tresino, the local hill which forms the southern terminus of the Bay of Salerno.  

The Bay of Trentova from the coastal trail
The city wall of abandoned San Giovanni

The church and monastery in the little village

A view from Monte Tresino

Monte Tresino is only a bit over a thousand feet high, so even the trek to the top is not just for the hard-core.  We’ve enjoyed hikes here several times, most notably one along the coast past Il Vallone, an old Roman port from which spectacular Roman archaeology was extracted, primarily by our scuba-diving buddy, Franco Castelnuovo:  lead anchors from Roman ships, dozens of amphorae, gobs of ceramics.  All now in the Agropoli and Paestum museums.  Also on the mountain is the evocative little abandoned village of San Giovanni di Tresino, established in 957 around a church and monastery but abandoned in 1962.  We’ve also hiked out to the Torre dei Saraceni, the 'Tower of the Pirates', at one point designed to spot and warn the locals of the approach of Moorish pirates, but also perhaps used by those same pirates, who captured Agropoli in 882 and used it as a citadel for their local raids until they were forced out in 915.

Monte Soprano above, Monte Sottano below, and the Canyon of the Three Mountains

More recently we hiked part of the Sentiero di Tremonti, the Trail of the Three Mountains, a trail which leads through a strange and spectacular feature of three local mountains near the beautiful little towns of Giungano and Trentinara.  A look at the map shows two parallel mountains, the northerly Monte Soprano, aptly named ‘Mount Higher', and below it Monte Sottano.  You guessed it, ‘Mount Lower’.  The Romans would be proud of such literalness.  Both are gorgeous in their own right, but the feature that is really intriguing is that cleft that you see right through the middle of Monte Sottano.  My friend and font of information on all things seismic and geological, Andrea Tesoniero, tells me this was caused when the European tectonic plate, overthrusting the Adriatic plate to form the central Apennines, got in such a hurry that it ripped a tear in its britches.  Andrea has a Ph.D. and is doing a post-doc at Yale, so his explanation was a bit more technical, but you get the picture.  That small cleft, a fairly common feature in such peripheral zones, provided a channel for a mountain stream, which eventually carved its way down the limestone and dolomites of the mountain to create the canyon.
The parcheggio with the canyon in the background

Trailhead markers can be a bit iffy.  This one is in the middle of a quarry.

Acess to the trail through an old quarry.

We were introduced to the canyon by our friends Fernando and Fabio during our first summer here back in 2010.  The guys, very much tongue-in-cheek, referred to it as ‘The Grand Canyon of the Cilento’.  A bit of an exaggeration, but it’s still beautiful.  There’s a local myth, unsubstantiated by any historical evidence, that Spartacus and his followers holed up here during the Third Servile War of 71 BCE.  It’s a wild and woolly place, so if they didn’t, they missed a good chance.

What is undoubtedly true is that the trail is absolutely gorgeous.  The little parking lot is right off the main highway to Giungano.  From there you hike up a local road and access the trail from the grounds of a former quarry.  You wander along the western flank of the torrente (seasonal stream) that carved the canyon, a stream that forms the headwaters of the Solofrone River which empties into the Tyrrhenian Sea near Agropoli.  
The view southward from the trail.

Looking north toward Monte Soprano.

Walking through the beautiful macchia.

To the left are the towering cliffs of Monte Cantenna, the western extension of Monte Sottano, to the right the valley of the torrente, and behind you to the south, sweeping panoramas over the agricultural plain and the hills and mountains of the Cilento.  You climb up through myrtle, broom, lentisk and other elements of our Cilentan macchia, ‘scrub’, most in flower and adding their ravishing scents to the oregano, thyme, rosemary, catmint and a half dozen other herbs that grow wild here in such profusion.  Our cute little local green lizards, which have the strange compulsion to run across a path or road any time they sense movement coming,  are the standard fauna.  The trail trends steadily upwards and is fairly steep in places, a challenge for the old geezers, but a good one. Soon, ahead of you appear the towering cliffs of Monte Sottano, karstic formations carved into the soft limestone of the mountain, some towering up to 1300’ and more.
Karstic cliffs of Monte Sottano

A bridge leading to the eastern side of the torrente.

There are several picnic areas along the trail.

Eventually the trail turns eastward and you cross a beautiful wooden bridge over the torrente, already dry after the winter rainy season but still beautiful in the verdant setting created by those same winter rains.  The trail traces the eastern flank of the stream for a stretch until you reach La Cascata, the cascade created by the steep northern slope of the canyon. No cascade this time of the year, but the huge boulders tumbled down by heavy floods gave some idea of the potential power of winter spates. 

The Cascata in March 2014.  Photo courtesy of Amatori Running Sele.

      We stopped and enjoyed some refreshment and a breather at a tranquil little picnic area, then made our way about a quarter mile up the eastern slope of the canyon before old knees began protesting.  For younger legs, the trail reaches the shoulder of of the mountain, immediately beneath some of those sheer cliffs, then ambles along eastward till it reaches a local highway.

The return hike was a bit difficult for the first bit; the soil and gravel of the trail is loose and the slope steep, making footing treacherous.  But soon the descent became a gentle downward slope and we enjoyed vista after vista down to the south and eastward to the towering cliff upon which lies the little town of Trentinara.
On the right, the plateau on which lies Trentinara.

And here's the view looking down from Trentinara's 'Terrazza del Cilento'.

Speaking of which, we have now examined the Vallone di Tremonti up and down.  Literally.  That first year we were here, Fabio and Fernando took us to the little town of Trentinara and introduced us to the Terrazza del Cilento, a huge, spectacular terrace at the western end of the town.  Since then we have been back repeatedly to gawk at the views. The name is apt:  from the terrace you can see all our three mountains, as well as a huge swath of the Paestum Plain, the ruins of Paestum, the cerulean sea beyond, and down toward the south our beloved Agropoli, Monte Tresino, and the mountains of the Cilentan highlands.  A good reminder that some things, no matter how right they may seem from one perspective, can be just as riveting from the opposite one as well.