Hiking Southern Italy's Maratea Coast
The most difficult of the hikes near the Maratea coast is marked on signs and trail maps as the Percorso Monte Crivo. It leads from the canyon-hugging town of Maratea up into the granite and limestone formations of the Serra Cappallera. It begins at the trailhead near the town's famed seventy-foot-tall statue of Christ the Redeemer, with its arms fully extended to form the shape of a cross. My friend Renato Formisani, who bases his ocean-going sailboat Flora in Maratea's larger harbor, is fond of grumbling about the statue, which, even a die-hard believer might admit, doesn't quite fit into an otherwise stunning view of tall mountains tumbling into a crystalline sea. Renato is more bothered, though, by the fact that the statue faces inland. "Jesus ought to be looking out for us sailors," he says. "We need the protection more than the landlubbers."
That may be true today, but the Maratea coast's tall mountains are famed for their wildness, and the the people who once lived among them, who needed watching. In the Aeneid, Virgil tells us that it was here that Aeneas's helmsman Palinurus washed ashore after falling asleep on watchand here that the local inhabitants promptly butchered the unfortunate stranger. In more recent years, the cave-riddled hills served as hiding places for bandits, Mafiosi, and antifascist guerrillas. The odds of being robbed or injured here were solid enough that for many years few outsiders came to the regionwhich was just fine by the locals, who kept to their vineyards and gardens and worked the fertile sea pretty much unnoticed.
The Percorso Monte Crivo winds along a cart road until it reaches a broad limestone shelf called the Piedi la Scala, where you'll find a small rest area sporting a fountain of delicious spring water. The path climbs from there to the top of 3,858-foot (1,176 m) Monte Crivo, following streams cut into forested canyons. The trail is steep, but the views it affords are well worth the effort. At its higher elevations, too, the path is overgrown with fennel, thyme, and sage, stalks of which brush up against your pant legs to give you the scent of a good marinara sauce, an improvement over the odor of the usual sweating mountaineer. The Monte Crivo trail is only 2.5 miles (4.1 km) long from start to finish, but it's difficult. Plan on two hours to make the top, and another two or three to descend.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication