Day 54: Tropea to Gioia Tauro

Distance: 48.75 km

Time: 3 hours 10 minutes

Average speed: 15.4 kph

Cumulative distance: 2811.71 km

Cumulative time: 142 hours 15 minutes

Phrase of the day: ‘che bellissima bici!’ (kay bell-ee-see-mah bee-chee) – what a beautiful bicycle!

Returning to Tropea was a good decision! It is much busier than before, but previously we came much later in the season. Our B&B, newly opened this year by Enrico and Emilia, was superb – they had clearly put a lot of work into the design. We had somehow been lucky enough to be given the sole room with a view over the Santuaria, and we enjoyed sitting out on the balcony, drinking prosecco and people-watching! Here are some Tropea pictures.

For our two days off we spent most of our time on the beach, with regular dips in the sea to cool off. When we’re at leisure it is difficult to imagine being on a bicycle in these temperatures, but somehow it works. We enjoyed some excellent meals, many featuring sweet Tropea onions, and of course we had a tartufo gelato each, and very tasty they were too!

Sadly we didn’t see Stromboli. Apparently the pre-requisite for seeing it is a Tramontana northerly wind, which clears the low-level clouds and reveals the volcano. We did see it on our previous visit, perhaps we were just lucky.

So with well-rested legs we set off this morning through Tropea’s busy streets. It was slow going, particularly when we had to wait for quite a while at a level crossing. It was chaotic – drivers were turning round and heading off to find a different route, one or two pedestrians risked crossing when the barriers were down, and it was noticeable when the train arrived that it crept through the crossing very slowly and carefully, the driver was clearly used to some risky pedestrian behaviour.

For the first seven kilometres we rode parallel to the sea, then we turned our back to it and set off up a long climb, steep to start with. In no time at all we were drenched and short of breath, but we kept up a good rhythm. After a couple of hundred metres of ascent we took a break in the only shady patch we could find by the side of the road, and gulped our first bottle of water. Soon afterwards the gradient eased, and we reached the first summit. Riding down the other side we generated a nice breeze which helped to cool us off.

Spotting a short steep rise ahead we accelerated, keen to preserve as much momentum as possible. When we reached the top of the rise, though, the road ahead – our intended route – was completely blocked off, and diversion signs pointed left and steeply uphill.

We dismounted and took stock of the situation. Using the diversion would add at least another two hundred and fifty metres of climbing. Reluctantly, we decided we should get on with it. Just as we were about to set off, though, a motorcyclist, noticing our dilemma, stopped and told us to continue through the roadblock, saying that it was perfectly fine for cyclists. What a star! We squeezed through a small gap at the right edge of the roadblock and carried on.

It became clear that this road has been closed for a while. Grass was growing on parts of the road, and there were some large rocks which had tumbled onto the road from the slopes above. These were easy enough to avoid, and as there was no other traffic it turned out to be a relaxing interlude.

As we squeezed through another roadblock at the far end we could see down to the plain below, with a very long stretch of sandy beaches. To get there, though, we had to negotiate our second climb. This one was easier, if quite long, and at the top there was a petrol station where we stocked up on delicious cold water.

After descending to sea level we had a few hundred metres of the Stoker’s least favourite surface, gravelly tracks. As these weren’t much fun we diverted onto a larger road, which brought us into Rosarno. This seemed like a sensible place to take lunch. It wasn’t though – most of the cafés looked fairly grim, and the one we did choose could only furnish us with crisps, water and fruit juice. With only ten kilometres remaining we decided that this constituted an acceptable lunch, and what’s more, our cheapest yet! Just as we were about to set off an elderly Italian gentleman arrived at the café, captivated by our beautiful bicycle, giving us today’s phrase of the day.

Here we are then in Gioia Tauro. We chose it for its location, rather than for reasons of tourism. It’s a fairly down-at-heel place with a massive container port next door, built to assuage criticism that the south never received investment funding. Soon after it opened it was effectively being run by the Ndrangheta, Calabria’s equivalent of the Mafia, and according to a 2006 report, Italian investigators estimated that 80% of Europe’s cocaine arrived from Colombia via Gioia Tauro’s docks.

So we won’t be exploring too much! We’ll nip to the supermarket and buy some food for tea, then rest up for tomorrow’s ride, which starts with a five hundred metre climb and ends, we hope, with our arrival at Villa San Giovanni, the ferry port for Sicily.

Here’s today’s track.