Wednesday 25 April 2007

Cycling around the Amalfi Coast

Thankfully I left Gragnano quite quickly, and then was on a country road that began the steady climb up to Agerola.
As it was a Friday, people were still at work so the roads were relatively quiet once I was away from the coast. There were just a few villagers around here and there. They generally said "Ciao" to me and looked at me with a mixture of curiosity and awe at the fact that I was about embark on the 12km climb.

As I progressed further and further up, signs of human life became more sparse and the vegetation changed from something almost tropical to something akin to the hills, though not alpine. The citrussy smells from the coast gave way to the smell of pine, as I neared the summit.

This was a long climb but it wasn't of alpine proportions. The gradient was farely manageable. I could have done it faster, but I wanted to take the time to look
behind me and admire the view below. The coast was a long way down, and I was able to get a full appreciation of the profile of the countryside and the sea below. It looked really spectacular - the jagged rocks of the coastline against the smooth cool blue of the sea. It looked beautiful.

Suddenly I was sucked into a cold, dark damp tunnel which seemed to be never-ending. It was actually 1km long and was still going uphill. That was probably the most unpleasant section of the whole ride.
Immediately out of the tunnel the road plunged down-hill, and I was flying through quaint hillside villages as I made the rapid descent towards Agerola.
I managed to stop and take a few pictures of the different villages. They were literally jutting out, clinging onto the edge of the mountains and hanging over the sea.

I also took a photo of a plaque that was dedicated to the memory of Fausto Coppi, one of Italy's most famous professional cyclists.
Pushing onwards, the road just continued a steady descent with lots of switchbacks, some of which were quite tight. I could see a number of inlets ahead of me, underlining the irregularity of the Amalfi coastline.

Finally at the bottom of the hill, just outside Amalfi I turned left to head towards Praiano. I may have been at the bottom of the hill, and on the coast road, but this road was by no means flat. There were constant rises and dips - thankfully nothing too steep. The rises provided good points from where I could take photos - which I took advantage of.

I soon arrived in Positano - this was a very pretty village. Even prettier than is shown in the guide books. However there were 2 snags for me about this place. Firstly, the fact that it was so attractive, made it a massive tourist magnet. Therefore there were loads of cars and buses. And given the small size of Positano, it made the roads just heave with traffic - often gridlocked, as tourist buses, local buses, school buses, delivery vans and cars tried to pass each other on the narrow streets. That was a shame. the second snag for me, was that the main area of town meant that I had to plunge down 150m to go there and have a look - meaning that I would have to ride back up the steep narrow streets to re-join the main road to Sorrento. All good training I suppose.

The road back to Sorrento was pretty staightforward, more ups and downs, with a couple of steep sections at Colli San Pietro and Picco San Angelo. Both were around 10% - not really what I wanted at the end of day's cycling. However the run in to Sorrento was a dream. It was a fast 5 mile descent all the way from Sant'Agata sui due Golfi back to the hotel.

I was pleased with the day I had, and rewarded myself with a good glass of the local wine.

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