Stage 48: Tropea to Sant’Elia

Distance: 50.69 km

Time: 3 hours 30 minutes

Speed: 14.5 km/h

Ascent: 727 metres

Total distance: 2460.5 km

Total time: 132 hours 53 minutes

Wordle scores: Captain 4, 3, 4, Stoker 4, 4, 3 (a fine choice of word today as we leave Tropea!)

Word of the day: “eruzione” (air-utz-ee-oh-nay) – eruption

The Stoker writes:

We’ve stayed in Tropea before, both on the last Italy cycling trip and prior to that in 2003. The old central town is lovely, sitting atop the cliffs above the beach, with the former monastery picturesquely placed on a little rocky outcrop between the two sections of beach. Well, I’m sure they didn’t put it there in order for people to take great photos, but there it is!

We went down to the viewpoint from which you can see the monastery on the way to dinner on our first night – it was mobbed! We were amazed to see Stromboli visible. It’s often shrouded in clouds, and it’s commonly thought that a ‘tramontana’ wind, that is one from the Alps in the north, is required to blow the clouds off and reveal the island from the mainland. After our day on the bike we knew the wind had been very much from the west, as it had been in our faces all day, but it seemed to have done the big reveal anyway, and there it was. It’s a little obscured by the setting sun in this picture, but if you look closely you can just see its outline.

After dinner we sat in our little garden drinking a small limoncello digestivo, courtesy of our hosts, and also very much enjoying the cooler evening. The temperature is a good few degrees lower here on the west coast than we had been experiencing in the east. Which is nice!

Day one of our two day break involved much vegetating, a bit of food shopping, and lunch in a small café in the old town. We even managed a selfie at the viewpoint (accompanied by a fellow tourist 😉)

Then it was back to base for more relaxing and a barbecue in the garden in the evening, the starting smoke from which initially seemed to alarm the neighbours rather. The vigili del fuoco didn’t put in an appearance, so we must have passed the test. Whilst things cooked, we were visited by a tiny lizard.

The Calabrian sausages were delicious, and we’d also bought a few Tropea red onions which the Captain expertly roasted, a gentle, sweet flavour. Grown, bought, cooked and eaten in Tropea, the ultimate in local food. Even though we have bought them in Waitrose before now, I think 😁. We enjoyed sitting out finishing our wine until the last cicada had gone to bed, and then so did we.

Day two – time to swim in our third sea of the trip, the Tyrrhenian. We packed up everything we needed for the beach and headed down the many, many steps zig-zagging down the cliff. We were installed under an ombrellone, and had a lovely day lolling about in the shade, swimming in the sea, and eating focaccia with more Tropea onions and ‘nduja, the spicy red Calabrian condiment we’d not yet had on this trip. Well we did need some fuel for climbing all the way back up the cliff steps!

We also spent some time preparing for our journey home. The bike shop we had hoped would pack up our tandem for the flight home can’t do it for us, which is disappointing. They have given us details of some other bike shops which might be able to supply us with the boxes so we can do it ourselves. We’re both feeling quite relaxed about it – we’ve watched the boxing process, and we’re confident we can make a good fist of it if we have to. We’re not really under any particular time pressure, we have a few of the ninety Schengen days in hand before we have to be out of Europe (sigh….), but it does mean we can’t really book a flight until we know we’ve got it sorted.

Our last night in Tropea was really good, an aperitivo in a bar, a quick peak at the sunset, we thought, and then wow, just look at that…

Stromboli apparently erupts every single day, and you can see the plume in this picture.

Periodically it makes more effort, and occasionally it performs a paroxysm, when it ejects much higher volumes of material, even reaching the closest towns. Stunned by its clarity, we pottered off to our chosen restaurant, had an excellent dinner, and then wended our way back to our house, took a digestivo in the lovely evening temperatures, and so to bed.

This morning came around all too quickly, but we roused ourselves, got everything packed and the house in shape to leave, and we were off by just after 9am. We popped into the bike hire place for a quick tyre pump, it was one of those compressed air jobs which I don’t like very much, but the chap seemed satisfied he’d got some air in. We proceeded to breakfast, with tea and everything, which has been rare the last few cycling days. “Hot? You want the tea hot, yes?” 😊

Our route today would take us up two big hills along the Costa degli Dei, the coast of the gods, the name for this stretch of coastline. We set off at a gentle pace, knowing we had only seven kilometres to warm up before the big one. Stromboli was still visible on the horizon, it looked so close, you could make out features on the walls of the volcano.

The first part of the climb was the steepest, and we took it very steadily, but it went well, and before long we were out of the steep and into a much more gentle gradient, with just a hundred of the 350 vertical metres remaining to conquer. We stopped for a drink and a fluffle of a very friendly little puppy.

As we sat we realised we could see Stromboli erupting. It was puffing out little white clouds of smoke!

We were quickly up the remainder of the first hill, and enjoyed some gentle descents on the other side. We stopped at a water fountain to recharge, and a chap on a moped stopped for a chat (and some water!), offering to take our picture. He was a cyclist too, and told us our chosen destination for the day, Sant’Elia, was lovely, which was good to hear. He showed us a picture of the beach there he’d taken a week ago, it looked great.

We were looking out for the road which, last time we came this way in 2018, was closed off because they were unable to stabilise the hillside. A passing motorcyclist had told us it was passable for us, and apart from having to wheel the tandem around the debris they’d left across the road to stop cars having a go, and keeping an eye out for falling rocks, it was fine. We’d checked it out and learned that it had been all sorted out in 2019, and sure enough, it was fixed and clear of car-sized rocks!

As we started down it, my eye was drawn to the sea at our right, where I could see the headland at the other end of the bay we were riding around, and then to the right of it, more landmass which didn’t seem to be connected to it. Could it, might it actually be Sicily? I asked the Captain, and he said that he’d been having exactly the same thought. We pulled over, checked the map, and…

Yes! It was Sicily!

You could see the straits of Messina quite clearly between the mainland and the island, and the hills of Sicily rising up behind. I hadn’t expected to be excited by our first sight of Sicily this time, but we were both fantastically happy to see it. Last time it seemed like this incredible thing that we’d achieved, to get within sight of it, and I’d thought that it wouldn’t feel the same this time because we’d done it before, but it really did.

The other thing I can’t understand is why we didn’t notice it last time, we didn’t spot it in 2018 until we were coming into Scilla further along the coast, but maybe we were concentrating on the closed road, or maybe it was just too hazy for it to be visible then. Stromboli was not visible on that day, certainly, so maybe Sicily wasn’t either, until we were much closer to it.

Anyway, it was a great moment, and we couldn’t take our eyes off it, or from Stromboli, still puffing away behind us, as we rode down the rest of the descent.

The second hill loomed, and we twiddled up it gently, it wasn’t steep, and we made good time up it. It was getting towards lunch time, as we recalled that this stage in 2018 was the day of the ‘crisps for lunch in Rosarno’ stage, which we were not keen to repeat. Especially as we’ve done that once already on this trip! Much more successful this time, fortunately, a bar which had only crisps recommended a panificio serving focaccia, which was much more palatable.

After lunch it was onto the SS18, straight and flat towards Gioia Tauro.

In 2018 we stayed there for a night before riding to Villa San Giovanni to be best positioned to pick up the ferry to Messina. We weren’t keen to stay in either of those places again – Gioia Tauro was a fairly grim port town next to the huge container ship port, into which arrive most of the drugs which come into Italy, apparently, and Villa San Giovanni was very noisy and there wasn’t much decent accommodation to be had. We’d learned from this, and it sounded like our choice of Sant’Elia, just beyond Gioia Tauro, was going to work out well. And so it proved, we’re installed in a lovely little bungalow with a small garden, not far from the sea. Our hosts have a campsite just nearby with a pool which they have invited us to use. So we have!

We’ll rest up here tomorrow, as the next cycling day starts with a stonking five hundred metre climb on the way to Scilla, where we will stay the night before riding to Villa San Giovanni and getting straight onto the ferry for Sicily.

Sicily! Still can’t quite believe it!

Here’s today’s route and a short video.

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