Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Agosto--Blue Nights--Hazy Days

For a small village, Santa Domenica Talao does better than most keeping things lively during August. Almost every night there is something to see or and/or do. We now know more about how things are organized and how things get done. Lots of community involvement and donation.

It's a good thing and of course nobody is better than Southern Italians at staying up and enjoying it! We have heard that there haven't been as many tourists this year coming through town stopping at the bars but there are enough friends and family coming for Ferragosto to keep things interesting. 

We’ve seen, and heard, an increase in the local quad tours coming thru the village. We see them approach from the valley below. One day while using the WiFi at the bar up the stairs, a group came into town. I approached the tour leader and asked the cost of a tour and if he had room Saturday….. just on a whim. I thought I would try-out this local tourism business and see where they went on the tours.In the USA we called these machines Off-Highway Vehicles. Here, they are allowed on secondary highways and elsewhere.  At this point I have to tell you that Di says there are some key things in the world she never wants to experience: rock climbing, a cockfight and/or dogfight, and a ride in the woods on a quad!! Suffice to say, she did not ride with me.

I arrived for a 1500 ride and went with six couples – six 20-somethings from Sicilia and six 30-somethings from (I think) Roma. Two guides plus me made for 9 machines. I was the only single rider. The fee of €65 for 2 hours is for 1 or 2 people on a machine. Once again, I am the oldest guy. Oh, the Sicilian kids were speaking a dialect different from Calabrese, but I could not follow it too much better than Calabrese.

The tour runs on many roads we have driven in the car or hiked, but it allows you to reach places faster and without damage to your car. I saw an interesting old picnic site high above the village that we definitely will need to walk to if we return since it’s too steep without 4x4 or a quad. 

Heading back down, we stopped at a local water spring for refreshment. It was here that the guide behind me complimented me. (The lead guide was always worried about the old guy!) I told him I used quads, motorcycles and horses on my job as a forest ranger, so it was not too difficult for me. This fellow also spoke nice slow Italian and surprised me with a little English. There is a woman in the office who speaks English too for those that need it. Their hand signals and your common sense can guide you to ride safely. It’s a professional business.

We rode downhill on a variety of farmer roads and tracks only for quads. We dropped down to the Lao River (Fiume Lao) that comes out of the mountains and empties in the sea nearby. 

I would never condone riding like we did in a side channel of the river back in the States, and in fact I issued violation notices to people there for this type of behavior! Here though, the channel is cris-crossed by farmer roads and other roads indicating a lot more in-water traffic than just the quads. 

The river and channel is hit by huge amounts of sediment each winter from poor erosion control measures by farmers and others. And for my biologist friends, the river has dozens of concrete flood control dams and developments. No anadromous fish can swim upstream to spawn. I don’t even know if there are such species in the Med. I saw more seagulls on the river than I ever have in the nearby sea, so there are fish for

The downside of my trip was the dust. I recommend anyone wanting to try it to do it in the spring or fall after some rain. I also think with smaller groups in the shoulder seasons, there would be more time for photos! They do introduce you to a great variety of scenery in our area that would otherwise take you much more time driving around and/or hiking. I don’t know where the full day trips go, but further in to the mountains possibly. I saw motorcycles in snow on the website. This is a local business that does tours all around the area including  van tours, horseback rides, motorcycles and the quads. 
I don’t recommend either of the two horseback services around here unless you are pure city slicker. They ride on dirt roads and asphalt just like the quads. Nothing in the high mountains.

Back to the sea at Il Mirto sometime this week...

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Oasis among the Oaks

Castle on the hill nearby

Back in May, when I was waiting for the Giro d’Italia cyclist boys to ride into my photo ambush, I noticed the sea shore below me was very rocky with no beach. I told Di that we should check it out someday as it could be good snorkeling. Of course I forgot about it until Di suggested we go look. This past Monday we took a drive there and oh boy howdy (mamma mia), are we glad that we did because
we discovered the two small resorts of La Secca and Il Mirto.  “Secca” means a shoal or shallows. “Mirto” is the shrub myrtle that grows there.

Both have a lido/bar, and La Secca has rooms and B&B rentals. We returned Wednesday to experience the place ourselves and we truly found an oasis – an area of shading vegetation that creates a beautiful setting for both lidi. This location is just 18 km north of Scalea on SS18 headed to Maratea. It is just barely into the Region of Basilicata. The old castle is visible as you climb the hill from Tortora. You can see the surrounding hillsides are quite arid and barren, but when you turn into the driveway of the resort, you are instantly in a cool forest all the way to the sea. Flowers line the path to the resorts.

If you ever consider staying at the La Secca facilities, be aware you’ll have to drive a little ways north to the restaurant “White Horse”. Otherwise it is Praia a Mare south, or Maratea north for places to eat. I didn’t spot air con boxes anywhere on their seaside building, so best to ask about that as the sun is intense there and air con would be a must for most people. The B&B has air con. Both places are open June-September.

This view to the south shows Dino Island near where we normally go, and also Monte di Caccia – the double peak in the clouds that we see most mornings from our kitchen. 

Di took this with her Ipad--from her lounge chair at Il Mirto

Both of these places are delightful. Pure tranquility and beauty. If you follow our posts, you may have noticed that we like to snorkel and we don’t prefer crowds. Scalea does not offer help in either summer category. The two lidi that we have relied on for years are Gabbiano and Paradiso, in San Nicola Arcella. We swim back and forth between them. But come August when Italy moves to the beach, both places have crowds, loud music, etc. 

Steps down to the sea
This discovery may become our new “place”. It certainly has potential for the best snorkeling in the area (although the water was choppy Wednesday). We saw lots of fish among the rocks and sea grass, but on a calm day it has to be even better.

Snorkeling area
A quiet game of electronic chess
The relaxed beauty of Il Mirto immediately takes you in. It is well landscaped with native trees and plants as well as geraniums. You the have the choice of sun beds in full sun with un ombrellone, or you can find a spot among the live oaks and olive trees. It was beautiful and peaceful. I think about 50% of the people there were just relaxing in the shade of the trees with the lovely views and others did both – a little swimming followed by reading and napping. You must take my word for that because it is not good manners to point cameras at people in swimming gear! 

La Secca management says their buildings have been there since 18th century, so it may have been a “resort” since then. Their olive trees certainly are that age. The two businesses share the same parking lot which is €8 per day. A bit expensive, but shaded and just a 100 metre walk to the resorts. Lido prices were €15 rising to €18 next week for peak season. Oh – there are no free public beaches in this short stretch of coast. 

If you like peace and quiet, if you like to snorkel, these gems are right for you! When I asked about availability in August, the lido guy said if we come early again like we did (about 9,00) we will find a place. They don’t seem to book themselves-out like others in August. When we go the beach in August, this is where we will be! 

La Secca seaside rooms beyond our spot at Il Mirto


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