October 2018: Carra, the Devil's violinist and a hidden bay on the Amalfi Coast

Monday, 15 October 2018

Welcome to Hidden Italy’s October newsletter:  Carlo Carra; the Devil’s violinist; Chagall and a weekend with the Sirens in a hidden bay on the Sorrento Peninsula.

Hidden Italy in October:

Hidden Italy in October:

I’m pleased to say that Puglia 1 self-guided walk got off to a good start last month, with very positive feedback from our first two groups:

“We are back in Australia after our fabulous walk in Puglia.  We really enjoyed it - so many wonderful memories.  We just loved walking through peoples’ farms, the livestock & the coastline is just majestic.”  CB + RLB

The tour includes long, contemplative rambles through beautiful countryside and forests and finishes with a morning exploring one of Italy’s most beautiful stretches of coastline in a private boat.

Events in October:

Events in October:

The Secrets of Palermo, Palermo (Sicily), www.leviedeitesori.it, until 5 Nov.  As part of its role as European Capital of Culture, each weekend until 5 November, Palermo will open the doors of one hundred and thirty secret places, normally closed to the public (with eighteen booking is required):  aristocratic palaces, Art Nouveau villas, gardens, theatres, archives as well as other secret places such as the Arabic aqueducts, Jewish bath houses.  The program includes over one hundred guided walks, concerts and culinary experiences.

Paganini Superstar, Genoa, www.visitgenoa.it/evento/paganini-genova-festival, 27 to 29 October.  Sometimes called the Devil's Violinist, Niccolò Paganini's virtuoso talent, accompanied by his extraordinary dexterity, flexibility and the ferocity of his playing, gave him a mysterious, almost mythic reputation: he is considered by many to be the greatest violinist of all time.  This inaugural festival has a very rich program of music, film, art and food, includes concerts by Mariusz Patyra, Laura Marzadori and Mo Yang as well as a performance by the Cremona Quartet who will play four Stradivarius’ violins once owned by Paganini.

Casone di Valgrande, Via Baselenghe 4, Bibione (Venice).  5 kilometres behind Bibione (a long sandy beach 100 kms north of Venice) is a 350 hectare nature reserve, Valgrande, flooded centuries ago to create vaste fishing grounds.  At is centre surrounded by a lake and a network of canals, is a 17th century hunting lodge, the Casone di Valgrande.  Ownede by the same family for generations, the Casone has five apartments, with original wooden furnishings and fittings, as excellent base for walks in the forest, kayaking, birdwatching and bike riding along the canals.

Exhibitions in October:

Exhibitions in October:

Carlo Carra, Palazzo Reale, Milan, www.palazzorealemilano.it, until 3 February.  A founder of Futurism, Carlo Carra (1881 to 1966) was one of the greatest masters of the twentieth century, fundamental protagonist of Italian art and modern European painting, who left an indelible mark with a style that remained vital throughout his artistic production.  This is the largest and most important anthological review ever made on Carrà, an unrepeatable occasion that brings together around 130 works, granted on loan by the most important Italian and international collections, both public and private.

Chagall: Poetry Painted, Palazzo della Ragione, Mantova, www.chagallmantova.it, until 3 February.  The exhibition will showcase over 130 works, including the complete cycle of the seven monumental murals that Chagall created in 1920 for the Jewish Chamber Theater in Moscow. These remarkable works represent the most revolutionary and least nostalgic output of the artist's entire career: a selection of emblematic masterpieces, including paintings and watercolors from 1911-1918, will accompany the immersive installation of the Jewish Theater, along with a series of etchings made between 1923 and 1939, including the illustrations for Gogol's Dead Souls, La Fontaines's Fables, and the Bible.

Marina Abramovic.  The Cleaner; Palazzo Strozzi, Florence; www.palazzostrozzi.org, until 20 Jan.  Marina Abramovic is one of the most controversial personalities of contemporary art, who, by putting her body on the line, revolutionised the idea of performance art.  This is her first retrospective in Italy.

Hidden Italy weekend: the home of the Sirens, a hidden bay on the Sorrento Peninsula

Hidden Italy weekend:  the home of the Sirens, a hidden bay on the Sorrento Peninsula

The southern arm of the Bay of Naples, the Sorrentino Peninsula stretches south across the deep blue waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea, straining towards the sheer cliffs of the island of Capri, three kilometres away.  At the tip of the peninsula is a small slice of paradise: Ieranto Bay, a small, round, kilometre-deep bay which is surrounded by steep crags and over fifty hectares of national park.  An official marine reserve, the bay is only accessible via a winding three kilometres walking trail that starts in the main piazza of the pretty little town of Nerano.

Ironically, the Ieranto Bay and the park that surrounds it, was saved from the resort development that has blighted much of the nearby Amalfi Coast by the indifference of Italsider, Italy’s largest steelmaker.  Italsider operated lime quarries here until 1954, when operations were closed and the site abandoned.  In 1987, they donated the land to the Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FAI), the Italian National Trust.  Over the years, patient work by FAI volunteers has seen the restoration of this marvellous area, respecting not only its natural qualities but also its historical heritage:  native plants have been reintroduced, drystone walls rebuilt, walking trails repaired, olive groves culled and revived and the 16th century watchtower Montalto restored to its former pirate-spotting glory.

Nerano, a twisting eighteen-kilometre drive south of Sorrento, has a population of four hundred people.  It sits on a ridge in the shadow of Mt San Costanza with wide views south over to Positano and the Amalfi Coast.  The locals say the name derives from Emperor Nero who, bewitched by the coast’s beauty, built a villa here in the first century AD, although there is no archaeological evidence to support this.  Be this as it may, there is no denying the exceptional natural beauty of the area.  A one-kilometre walk down the hill from Nerano is the gorgeous Marina del Cantone, a small pebbly beach with crystal clear water, a couple of hotels, a string of bars and a handful of excellent restaurants.  Never overrun even in August, Nerano and Marina del Cantone is the perfect place for a few days relaxing after the rigours of walking the Amalfi Coast and as a base for exploring this fascinating area.

How to get there:

By car:  Take the A3 between Naples and Salerno, then the Castellamare di Stabia exit and follow the signs to Nerano.  By train:  Take the Circumvesuviana train from Naples Centrale station to Sorrento then, from the front of the station, catch the SITA bus to Nerano.  By air:  The closest airport is Naples Capodichino (50 kms away), from where you can catch the Curreri bus to Sorrento.

Where to stay:

Conca del Sogno (Via Amerigo Vespucci 25).  A beautiful structure overlooking the Bay of Recommone, next to Marina del Cantone, with elegant rooms and an excellent restaurant on a terrace over the water.  Double rooms from 180 euro.

Hotel Bellavista Francischiello (Via Partenope 26).  All the rooms of this 3-star hotel look out to the island of Capri.  It has a spa centre with a heated pool, sauna and gym, with a very good restaurant.  Double from 165 euro.

Casale Villarena Relais (Via Amerigo Vespucci 13).  Set in the country in an 18th century palazzo above Nerano, this agriturismo has five suites and two double rooms.  They produce lemons, olive oil and vegetables that feature in their restaurant’s dishes.  Doubles from 110 euro.

Fattoria Terranova (Sant’Agat sui Due Golfi, Via Nastro Azzurro, 23).  Another lovely agriturismo, rustic-chic, with views across to the lighthouse on Punta Campanella, the tip of the Sorrento Peninsula.  All the spacious rooms have sea views.  It also has an excellent restaurant.  Doubles from 110 euro.

Where to eat:

Quattro Passi (Via Aerigo Vespucci 13).  This two-Michelin starred restaurant is one of the stars of the Coast, renowned for chef Tonino Mellino’s creativity:  for example smoked tubetti pasta served with green capsicum and almonds; cubes of scampi and buffalo mozzarella with a sauce of parmesan and eggplant.  Around 80 euro per person.

Taverna del Capitano (Marina del Cantone, Piazza del Sirene 10).  Another Michelin starred establishment (only one this time) this beautiful restaurant overlooking the Marina is also a very elegant 4-star hotel.  It has been run by the Caputo family since 1967.  Around 70 per person.

Il Cantuccio (Nerano, Via Marina del Cantone).  A lovely relaxed restaurant on the beach which is celebrated for its fresh fish as well as their version of the classic ‘pasta alla Nerano’ – a spaghetti served with zucchini and local provolone sauce.  Around 40 euro per person.

What to do:


Check in and then go for an evening walk along the waterfront of Marina del Cantone before dinner and an early night.


Go for a walk. 

The 3.5 kilometre walk to Ieranto Bay starts from the main piazza of Nerano, which sits 166 metres above sea level.  The walk takes around one hour and fifteen minutes, depending on which route you take at the end.  The climb back to Nerano takes a little longer.  It follows a marked CAI trail, number 373.

The well-signed trail leaves to the right of the village and wraps around the side of Mt San Costanzo.  It first passes a small house that previously belonged to the last goatherds of the area but is now being restored as a FAI information office.  It then passes the impressive entrance of the ‘Casa Rossa’ a private home that once hosted British writer Norman Douglas; and then a small chapel dedicated to the Madonna.

After this, the trail winds down to the bay, with views over numerous terraced olive groves, recently recuperated by the FAI volunteers.  After passing through a small stand of carob trees, Punta Campanella and the ‘faraglioni’ of Capri come into view.  With the bay still a way off, you arrive at Sprito, where the trail forks.  Here, you can either head straight down three hundred stairs directly to the bay or go left and follow the path through another stretch of forest and more olive groves before coming out at the bay.

The ancient Roman historian Pliny the Elder wrote that Ieranto was the home of the Sirens, creatures who were half woman and half bird who lured sailors to destruction by the sweetness of their song (Ulysses famously resisted by having his sailors lash him to the mast as their ship past).  This gorgeous body of water still has a sacred silence, which is unusual in this neck of the woods, but as a marine reserve, motor boats are not allowed in or near the entrance to the bay, a regulation that is enforced when necessary by kayak rowing FAI volunteers.

Here you can chill out, have a swim and a picnic and/or continue on along to the end of the trail to Punta Penna, where there is a collection of restored buildings that once serviced the lime quarries:  a power cabin, reservoirs for water and fuel, the admin offices and a small wharf for shipping the lime to Naples.  Today these building are used by FAI and Marea Outdoors, an association of young local ecologists that organises kayaking and educational tours of the park.

When your visit is finished and it is time to head back to Nerano, follow your steps back to the stairs and climb these up to Sprito and then follow trail 373 back to Nerano.

Go for a paddle:

If you prefer to explore the coast from the water, the ‘ragazzi’ of Marea Outdoors, who have their headquarters in Marina del Cantone (Via Amerigo Vespucci 334, www.mareaoutdoors.it) offer a range of activities including kayaking and snorkelling tours to Ieranto Bay and other parts of the coast.  The tours are run every day except Mondays, with outings of 1.5 hours (20 euro) and 2.5 hours (30 euro).  They also offer courses of marine biology conducted at Ieranto Bay.


Explore the other side (north side) of the Sorrento Peninsula:

Visit Sorrento, a bustling, resort town with a grand history: supposedly founded by the ancient Greeks, it was in fact founded by the Etruscans and then fell under Roman rule.  After the fall of Rome, it was a Duchy under the Byzantines, fought the Saracens and the Lombards before it was conquered by the Normans in 1137.  It was ruled briefly by the French before coming part of the Spanish Empire and staying there for nearly five hundred years.  (You can get to Sorrento and back to Nerano using the regular local SITA bus service).

L’Antica Trattoria (Via Padre Giuliani 33).  An elegant restaurant with a large pergola for the for summer eating.

Il Buco (2nd Rampa, Marina Piccola 5).  A lovely small restaurant with ancient vaulted ceilings that specialises in traditional cuisine with a modern twist.

Apart from the boutiques, the artisans, restaurants and bars in and around the waterfront, there is much else to see here: 

Correale Museum (Via Correale 50) which has a prized collection of furniture from the 15th to the 19th centuries and its rich collection of paintings featuring still lives from the Neapolitan school, landscapes from the Posillipo school and Flemish works.

Museo della Tarsia (Palazzo Pomarici Santomaso, Via Via San Nicola 28) has a precious collection of wooden inlaid furniture and objects made by local masters in 18th and 19th century.

Museo George Vallet (Piano di Sorrento, Via Ripa di Cassano).  A comprehensive collection of archaeological pieces from local excavations dating from pre-history to the Roman.


Visit Massa Lubrenese and Marina della Lobra.  Massa was once a rival of Sorrento but is now a small picturesque town looking out across the Bay of Naples.  It is renown these days for its cathedral, a large church built in the 16th century to celebrate a miraculous image of the Madonna.  From here a steep flight of stairs leads down to Marina della Lobra, a tiny village of multicoloured houses squeezed around a small bay near Massa Lubrenese.  It is still predominantly a fishing community and has some excellent small restaurants.

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