"The beach today was fabulous," I thanked our AirBNB host Gioia when she popped by one afternoon to visit us in Sant'Anna Sui Due Golfi. "Thank you so much for recommending it!"
"Oh, I have another really interesting place for you to visit tomorrow, if you don't mind climbing a lot of steps."
"Yes," she smiled, and handed me a small white wicker basket. "Steps! Before I tell you about this beach here are some fresh cherries grown in our garden. They are for you and your children."
"Wow!" I gasped, pulling back the cloth on top of the basket to reveal a small mountain of plump, fragrant cherries clustered together. Instantly I could feel my mouth begin to water. The deep scarlet stone fruits rested gently against the edges of the white basket; each supple cherry beckoning almost sensually.
"Grazie mille! We love cherries! They will make a perfect summer dessert tonight."
"Si," she nodded happily. "We grow very nice cherries here. We are very happy to share them with your family!"
Gioia sat down at our circular table for a moment. "The place I recommend to you now requires some effort. You must hike along a trail and then down many steps to find. It is called Marina Di Crapolla. Look, I will show you on the map. You can walk to Crapolla from here, or you can drive your car to Torca and park it near to the start of the trail."
"How long is the walk?"
"From the parking area in Torca the walk to the beach is between forty minutes and an hour... including the steps."
"You said we can walk there from here? From this apartment?"
"Yes, it is possible. It will take longer though. You may find that your children are too tired to attempt the steps, if you walk from here."
"What about these steps?" I pressed her eagerly. "Please tell me about them. They sound interesting and challenging!"
"Yes!" Gioia smiled widely. "They are very old. There are nearly 700 of them!"
"Seven hundred? Wow!"
"It's not so bad when you are going down the steps," she nodded. "But make sure you save some energy for when you would like to come back up! It may take a long time for your children. It is worthwhile though, the views are very beautiful and there will not be many tourists around. Crapolla is a little beach that Italian people go to, with their families."
"It sounds very special," I beamed at Gioia. "What a fun challenge! I will tell my husband all about it. I'm sure he will want to go there too!"
Sure enough, Señor Aventura was immediately intrigued by the news of Crapolla Beach and definitely eager to tackle this new opportunity. "I really like heading to these smaller, secluded beaches that are away from the bigger cities," he grinned. "Should we bring the kayak?"
"I think we should probably save the kayak for another day," I shook my head. "There are apparently something like 700 steps to climb down to get there, and we'll have to climb them again to get back to the car. That might be tough to do with an inflatable kayak and oars."
The next morning Señor Aventura rounded up the children while I packed us a good picnic lunch full of sandwiches, chips, fruit and a lot of water. A LOT of water! The weather forecast had called for another very hot, sunny day along the Amalfi Coast.
"Remember, there is nothing there," Gioia had confided. "No shops, no food, no fresh water. No bathrooms. You will need to bring everything with you that you will need while you are there." Heeding her advice I packed water and even toilet paper, plus any small thing the kids might need.
"Let's drive," my husband decided, having just returned from a morning bike ride in the already-hot weather. "That way the children will still be reasonably fresh at the beach when we arrive and ready to have fun exploring."
Equipped with backpacks, nets to collect rocks and beach glass, towels and ample sunscreen, we happily hopped into the car, drove to Torca, found a parking space (not an easy feat in such a small town on such a beautiful day!) and began our long descent to Marina de Crapolla.
At first, the path toward the beach led through part of a neighborhood of Torca.
We passed by the back yards of many single family homes and peeked at their beautiful vegetable and fruit gardens.
After a while we found we were hiking on a trail right next to the edge of a vast ravine. It was thickly wooded but you could tell from the sharp edge of the slope that it must go down a very long way.
"Why don't we walk closer to the other side of the path?" I smiled and took Little Angel's hand. She skipped merrily along.
We continued walking for fifteen minutes or so. Then, just as I wondered how far the thickly forested part of the trail might last, we caught a glimpse of something new. A deep blue, stretching endlessly toward the horizon!
Encouraged, we began to move more quickly. Surely the steps to the beach could not be far away now! The boys raced ahead, eager to discover new things.
Abruptly we found ourselves turning down the trail toward the actual stairs. They were wide, made of stone, and seemed in very good condition... especially when compared with other ancient trails we'd taken recently.
"Look, Mommy!" Little Angel squeezed my arm. "I see islands!"
We began to descend the stairs. At first it seemed quite easy, and we laughed and chatted along the path. Really, the only catch was that there was no railing to hold onto and nothing to prevent us from falling down the side of the very steep mountain if we accidentally tripped. The walking itself was very peaceful.
"Dad?" Out of nowhere we heard a small voice coming from below, beyond where we could see. "Mom?"
It was The Scientist calling, our eldest child.
"Yes? We're up here!" we called back to him. "You guys okay?"
"I'm waiting for you," his voice came back faintly. "But I don't know where Soccer Dude has gone! I can't see him anywhere!"
My heart skipped a beat, as I pictured my 10 year old (who had chosen to hike in flip flops) racing down the stone steps and perhaps tripping somehow. Could he have fallen over the edge?
"I'll go check it out," Señor Aventura told us, and swiftly he too was out of sight.
"I'm sure Soccer Dude will be fine, Mommy," Little Angel assured me. "Isn't it just a beautiful day?" She stopped hiking steps long enough to wrap her arms around my waist.
"Thanks." I hugged her back. "Your brother is quite an adventurous boy, isn't he? Let's keep going! I'd like to find our guys so we can all hike together."
We continued to descend, a bit more quickly now. The views were beyond spectacular!
"Do you think anyone lives on that island out there, Mommy?" Little Angel asked me. "I see lots of boats and it looks like there is even a house there!"
"That's a good question," I answered, wondering what kind of Italian billionaire might own an island off the Amalfi Coast. "That would be a fun place to live, wouldn't it? Pretty hard to get your groceries though... you'd have to take a boat to the market!"
Little Angel giggled at the thought of us crossing the sea to buy milk or eggs.
Continuing down the steps and heading around the corner we came across a view so perfect, I had to stop for a moment just to take it in.
"Look! It's another tower like the one we saw in the Baia di Ieranto!" Little Angel declared.
"It's amazing!" I agreed. "I see more islands out there, too!"
"Mommy, I think we are getting closer to the beach. I can see the boats in the water more clearly now. I think that's it, just around the corner!"
Excitedly we pushed forward.
"Do you see your dad or your brothers down there?" I asked, stopping to fix my shoe.
"Not yet, but I think I can hear them!" Little Angel began to hop on one foot, waiting for me.
"Look at those old stone buildings down there," I pointed and began to walk again. "I wonder what they are. Do people live down there? I thought Gioia said there was nothing there."
"Let's investigate!" Little Angel cheered and began to skip down the final steps.
Happily the first thing we discovered when we arrived at the tiny beach was the rest of our family. Both of my sons were already in the water splashing and playing, and my husband was just putting on his swimming goggles.
"Hey there!" he smiled. "Good to see you ladies! The boys are both fine."
Spreading out a thin purple towel I began to look around. In addition to the handful of ancient, ruined stone buildings behind us I also admired the steep mountain we'd just climbed down. That ravine I'd noticed at the top, by the side of the forested path, was even deeper and narrower than I'd imagined!
"I wonder what this place was," Señor Aventura remarked. "Whatever it was has been abandoned now."
We later learned that the Marina di Crapolla was once a Roman port that was used actively by fisherman and also to bring supplies to the luxurious Roman villas on the nearby islands of Isca and Le Galli. The sea level 2,000 years ago was a few meters lower, and the beach at that time was much larger than it is today. It made a good stopping off point on the Amalfi Coast, so that sailors didn't have to go all the way to Surrentum (Sorrento) for supplies.
The pebble beach is now actually quite small... and perhaps due to the shadows of the high cliffs, the marina itself felt quite narrow, even for swimming. Here is what our view to the Mediterranean Sea looked like from the shore of Crapolla beach:
We'd been sweating profusely in the hot sun just minutes earlier, desperate for a dip in the sea. Ironically, the tall cliffs provided so much shade to the beach that we soon felt a chilly breeze and I actually covered myself up with another towel while watching the kids swim!
Sadly, the water around the pebble beach on the day when we visited was not super clean. Perhaps because it is an isolated area, plastic trash and other refuse washes up and is not attended to. I thought wistfully about the simple, useful garbage bins decorating the isolated yet pristine beach of El Golfet at home on the Costa Brava.
"Don't swim near all of the floating trash near the sides of the cliffs," we instructed the children.
"Okay!" They moved over closer to the sunnier, cleaner side of the marina and continued to play.
My husband went for a swim to explore the craggy cliffs up close, and perhaps catch a closer glimpse of the island of Isca.
I waded and contemplated going for a swim, but the water was icy cold and the floating trash nearby was honestly a turn-off. Finally I settled down to enjoy people-watching and dreaming about the intriguing, abandoned stone buildings sleeping around us.
After a while the entire family came in from the water to eat our picnic.
"This beach is pretty cool," The Scientist said, "But I think I liked the one yesterday at Baia di Ieranto better."
"Yeah, me too," agreed Soccer Dude.
"I'm interested in this place," added Señor Aventura. "I'd like to learn more about it!"
"I'm cold," said Little Angel, snuggling up to my side in her wet bathing suit. "Can we go home soon?"
My husband and I exchanged a glance. We knew it would be a long walk back up those 700 steps, and our eight year old daughter seemed tired already.
"Sure. Let's enjoy this just a bit longer and then we can head back up."
Despite the relative darkness of the beach, out in the water the sun was shining brightly. Elegant motor boats full of laughing women in bikinis and Italian men wearing speedos and gold chains came into the marina briefly and then departed again, pop music from their radios wafting to shore on the breeze.
"Those smaller boats look like they must be coming from some of the larger yachts anchored out there," I pointed toward white dots in the sea near the islands.
"I wonder what those islands are like up close? It would be fun to check out an island!" exclaimed The Scientist.
"Well, we'll be heading to the island of Capri in a few days. So that will give us a taste!"
After about an hour spent playing frisbee and searching for water creatures with the nets, we packed up all of our towels and drank more water before beginning the long climb back to the car. Our load felt significantly lighter, since we'd eaten up our lunch and finished off at least half of our fresh water.
Slowly but surely, Little Angel and I made the ascent... again falling far behind the rest of our menfolk who had scampered right up the steps like agile mountain goats.
She and I found ourselves once again hiking in the full heat of the Sun, and paused every so often for another sip of water or simply to catch our breath.
We marked our progress with the tiles placed every 100 steps, letting us know how much further we had to go to make it back to step number one.
Little Angel had caught a second wind. "Even though that beach was a little small and cold, Mommy," she chattered away, "I am really glad we went there. It's so pretty out today, don't you think? These steps are really big and I'm proud that I am climbing them all by myself! This is hard work!"
Wiping sweat from my forehead I smiled at my lovely, determined daughter and turned to take one last look at the island of Isca, just to the right of Marina di Crapolla. Its lush vegetation adorned the Amalfi Coast like an emerald jewel.
Little Angel was right. What a magnificent view, well worth the effort!
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