There are, I believe, two types of recreational cyclist. First, there are the ones with whippet-like bodies clad in Lycra, who take on near-vertical mountain roads without breaking a sweat. And then there are cyclists like me, who pick their bike according to colour, and whether the basket has enough room for focaccia and fresh cherry tomatoes.
I am on the Amalfi Coast intending to cycle between the medieval town of Ravello, which perches up in the clouds at almost 1,200 feet above sea level, and the stunning seaside town of Amalfi. When I told this plan to my taxi driver last night he snorted, “Don’t get killed, it’s bad for tourism!”. I was offended: did he think I was completely clueless? Because, of course, I have no intention of cycling up insanely steep roads. I am only going to cycle down, from Ravello’s fairytale cobbled streets and narrow alleys, to the glittering Tyrrhenian Sea, where I will leave my bike to be picked up by the hire company, while I take the bus back to Ravello. A mere 6.6km in real distance terms. A 17-minute drive as the crow flies. Surely I can manage that?
I wheel my bicycle to the tip of the road that winds down through what locals call the “Valley of the Devil”. The sheer cliffs rising from the sea and ancient terraced ravines are so beautiful that I can’t help but gape. Villas cling to ravine edges, terraces of wisteria are in full flower. Various medieval churches ring out attractive peals. Every scrap of land, from roadside verges to the narrowest ledges, are used for growing vegetables in attractive plots. There is an astonishing sense of fertility, and amid the pea-canes and spring onions are wild flowers, sweet peas running riot and nodding red poppies. As if this weren’t enough, across the valley I can see an ancient monastery and several ruined water mills.
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