Sant'Agata Sui Due Golfi is a jewel set amid the Sorrento peninsula... just a tiny little town with a main street, a few markets, some nice restaurants and a pleasant summery vibe. Less touristed than other larger towns like nearby Massa Lubrense, its best feature is perhaps its location... right in the middle of the towering peninsula and close to all of the best attractions of both the Sorrento and Amalfi coasts.
We got really lucky! The lovely owner of our AirBNB in Sant'Agata ('Gioia') turned out to be incredibly friendly and a fount of information about local spots... places that tourists don't usually frequent.
Gioia, a young woman in her twenties, actually sat down with me for over an hour and traced out the paths on a map to several special hidden beaches that we could only hike to... explaining which of them had pebbles, and which had sand; which had steps, and even which could be kayaked at, since we'd brought an inflatable kayak.
We were glad to be free of our car after driving after the 6 hour journey from Florence down to Sant'Agata... so for our first real excursion in Campania we decided to do a family hike and swim. Despite the warm weather, there was a nice breeze and it felt like a great day for exploring.
"We're due a storm tonight," Señor Aventura explained, "but this will be a good time to hike as long as we get back before the weather starts."
We later realized that Gioia had confided in us some of the most lovely, 'off the beaten path' locations in the area... places tourists rarely see. The most sacred of them all though, was this very first one we trekked to... the Baia di Ieranto (also known as Baia di Jeranto).
Baia di Ieranto is a place of legend... really famous legend, in fact! It was here, according to Homer's epic poem "The Odyssey" that Odysseus (Ulysses) and his crew were tempted by the infamous Sirens who called out to them with a sultry song and lured them toward the treacherous rocks jutting from its crystal blue waters.
According to legend no sailor could resist the Siren's song... which led inevitably to shipwreck and death. Crafty Odysseus had himself tied to the mast of his boat and instructed his crew to fill their own ears with wax. When he begged them to release him, they simply tied him tighter. Soon they were free of the Sirens and Odysseus was the first human ever to hear their song and survive!
Now, so would we!
Sirens or not, the lure of the bay is obvious. This famous, gorgeous Baia de Ieranto extends from the Sorrento coast all the way to the island of Capri and I Farglioni. Its shoreline is peppered with caves, beaches, coves and glorious cliffs.
Until 1952 the bay was used as limestone quarry. Its stone was sent to Naples for use in the steel factories. At last, the operating company (ILVA) gave all of this territory to the FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano) which is a local environmental organization.
Gioia explained to me that the Baia di Ieranto is now part of a marine protected area called Punta Campanella, run by the FAI. Unfortunately last August there was a fire in this area started by arson that greatly affected the slopes of Mount San Costanzo... so the mountain path leading to the bay was officially closed off to visitors.
It is just now re-opening to foot traffic though, so she encouraged us to try it.
"I've been there myself, recently, and it is fine now," she explained. "You will love it."
"Why not?" we agreed. Really, what Humanities teacher in her right mind could pass by the opportunity to view the bay of the Sirens?
To get to the Baia di Ieranto from the town of Sant'Agata you must first drive to nearby Nerano where you can park and then walk for an hour along a trail from the top of Mount San Costanzo to the bottom of the shore.
Nerano was once a village of fisherman and farmers... now it's mainly full of small hotels and takes most of its income from the tourist trade. It still has the authenticity of older Italian men sitting at tables along the street drinking a coffee, though, and Italian women run the tiny markets and stores. Its special dish... Pasta Alla Nerano combines zucchini, pasta and cheese (and was reportedly cooked first in 1951 for Prince Pupetto Sirignano at the local restaurant "Maria Grazia"!).
We parked at a small hotel and began to walk along the path leading away from the tiny town of Nerano toward the Baia di Geranto.
"Look, Mom!" announced Soccer Dude, pointing from our perch at the better-known, more popular beach of Maria Del Cantone far away in the distance. The sound of loud music wafted up to us from that busy shore and we could tell even from hundreds of meters above that it was a big tourist destination. Its sand was full to the brim with orange umbrellas and blue chairs. The people looked like ants from where we were standing.
We breathed easy though, far away from chaos and delighted by one breathtaking view after the next of the tip of the Sorrento peninsula and the bright blue Mediterranean waters surrounding us.
Soon we arrived at an impressive entrance gate (seemingly a bit out of place on the remote dirt walking path). It turned out to belong to a cliffside home once owned by the British author Norman Douglas who wrote about this region of Italy in his 1911 classic non-fiction travel book, "Siren Land".
His ornate gate, sort of a beacon into the past, left us feeling intrigued and even more eager to continue our trek!
As you will see from the photos, the long path ahead was steep and winding... the stone steps that descended to the water were ancient and degraded... and the cliffs themselves steep and threatening. It was also about 90 degrees F!
We saw a little bit of charring along the path where we walked... along with what appeared to be brand new metal piping to bring water in for the many levels of terraced olive trees growing along the steep cliffs.
Despite the challenges though, the hiking experience was magnificent! Magical vistas sprang up everywhere... from the tiny shrine on our right to jawdropping terraced cliffs.
Above all we were dazzled by the intense, blinding blue extending toward the horizon. With a hot sun overhead and sweat pouring down our backs, we longed to dive into that azure Mediterranean water.
"Wow!" I breathed again and again to Little Angel, my walking companion. "Did you see that? Can you believe how beautiful it is? This place is AMAZING."
Her brothers had long since raced ahead, scampering down the mountain to the shore with the speed and accuracy of little mountain goats. They had zero fear, just huge exuberance about making a new discovery.
The hike lasted to the beach took about an hour for the two of us. I think the boys and Señor Aventura could have made it in half that time. As we went, I grew more and more thirsty and a little shaky in the heat... stopping consistently so that she and I could rehydrate. Here are photos taken along the way!
"You can do it, Mama!" she sang to me as we made our way slowly down the massive cliff face.
Little Angel and Señor Aventura coached me down the hill, and then down the hundreds of ancient ruined stone steps leading to the little pebble beach at its base. I was definitely not wearing great hiking shoes.
When we finally made it to the bottom of the steps, The Scientist and Soccer Dude jumped up from where they'd been sitting.
"What took you so long?" they asked. "We've been waiting here forever!"
"Mom isn't twelve anymore," I smiled. "Thanks for waiting!"
They scampered ahead, beyond eager to go swimming.
Señor Aventura stopped to inspect some old mining installations, and Little Angel and I continued down to the shore.
The rest of the walk was very gentle and before we knew it, we'd made our way down to lovely Campanella Beach!
The five of us wasted no time, jumping right into the warm Mediterranean water. It felt so refreshing after the hot, dusty hike.
Laying on the pebble beach watching my children swim, I soon realized that all of the people around us were speaking in Italian. We appeared to be the only foreigners on the small beach! It must have been obvious to everyone that we did not belong... as we called out to each other in Spanish and English... but they kindly left us alone to swim and splash.
After a refreshing swim I made a place for myself atop the pebbles and relaxed with a good JoJo Moyes book. Little Angel scouted for fish and rocks with her goggles and pink net, bringing me little treasures she'd found.
The boys embarked on a big swim adventure with their father and ended it by jumping off a huge ledge with him into the sea! (I held my breath and took photos from afar when I realized what they were about to do. Yikes! Good thing I didn't know that was going to happen in advance. Proud of their courage though!) They emerged from the sea beaming and thrilled by their own bravery.
We spent a few blissed out hours at Campanella Beach, eating a picnic lunch of sandwiches and fruit we'd brought from home, playing frisbee in the water and collecting interesting stones and beach glass. Food tastes better on a hot day at the beach somehow, especially after a long hike and swim.
Señor Aventura went out to explore the rock formations and neighboring cove, which he reported was completely isolated and extremely beautiful.
After a while though, the sky began to change. The bright, hot sun faded into a pale color against a rapidly graying sky.
"Hon, I think it may be time to pack up," my husband said. "Looks like that weather is finally coming in."
As we folded our towels and refilled our backpacks a stray dog befriended us. She was an old dog (and a mother at some point) but now sadly seemed alone and hungry. She trotted by our side until it became clear that we had no food left to give... and then she went to find other travelers with more bountiful picnic baskets.
"Poor puppy," Little Angel said mournfully. "I hope someone will feed her."
On the ascent we said our final goodbye to the Torre di Montalto, one of many ancient coastal towers along the Bay of Naples first built to help protect and defend the area.
The climb back up the mountain was much easier and swifter than the descent had been since the temperature by then had dropped several degrees.
Before we knew it we'd made it back to the trail head. The first raindrop hit our car as we were driving home.
"Amazing timing!" we cheered. We drove home in sleep late-afternoon silence, reflecting on the big day we'd had.
Later that evening we celebrated our hike to the Baia di Ieranto over dinner at a new favorite restaurant in Sant'Agata Sui Due Golfi, "Lo Stuzzichino". We highly recommend it!
"Salute!" Señor Aventura toasted us. "To a great first adventure in Campania!"
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