This week I chose a closer destination to Belvedere Marittimo (where the farm is). Half an hour away by train is the town of Praia a Mare, a popular beach resort.
Walking a short distance from the train station, through the main street downtown took me up to the Madonna della Grotta ( The Lady of the Cave). Set into a natural cave divided into three openings, this church is worth visiting for its uniqueness, as well as for the view of the city from above. From 12000 BC until the Roman period the cave was inhabited, and its name came later from an interesting legend.
The legend said that a Turkish boat with a Christian captain reached Dino Island nearby and it stopped there as if by magic. The sailors became scared and, believing that it was a spell, blamed the wooden statue of the Virgin Mary in the captain’s cabin. They asked him to get rid of it. In an effort to save the statue from being thrown into the sea he sat it on a stone at the cave’s entrance. Since then the cave took it’s name.
When I reached the entrance, there were a few pigeons flying around and I only saw one white dove with them. They sat on a rock in the cave and did not move anymore. I stopped and mentally asked for the single dove to fly for my picture but it did not seem to want to move. I asked for it to be a sign and I clicked the camera button on the I-Phone. It takes a little time from the actual click until the camera takes the picture, so I was amazed when the white dove flew by just then. In that moment I thought I may have had an angel or angels watching over me. What a pleasant and comforting feeling!
With a spring in my step and a light soul I walked inside the cave, through its three beautiful openings set as church. I am glad I did not miss walking up here and happy for the great experience and feeling!
Walking down the steps later I eventually reached the long beach of Praia a Mare and walked to Dino Island. The water was clear and the island has two caves that can be entered from the sea level.
There are a few options for reaching the island: to rent a kayak or a pedalo by hour or for 5 Euro to take a 45 min. boat ride around the island in boat with a captain, or even to swim to it. The ride on the boat for 5 Euro might be nice for the view and for taking pictures but it will not take you into the caves or let you swim there, and it will not give you the time you want for enjoying it. Also, swimming to the island will probably not take you all the way to the caves, especially the second (the furthest but the best one) but might work if you have someone with you to watch your stuff while away. Yet, if your want pictures and chose to swim you need a water proof camera. Not a good option for me. The kayak and pedalo seemed to be the best options for me but as I wanted to get out and swim, I chose the second. I was told it would be hard to go with it alone but I found that to be wrong. I had no trouble pedaling and I loved the experience. I took it as fast or as slow as I liked and I stopped for a swim when I felt like it. Rent is by hour and the prices vary from lido to lido so my recommendation would be to check prices in a few places. My pedalo could have carried 4 people, with 2 people pedaling. The price was 20 Euro per hour in one place and 10 Euro just the next door. The kayak was 6 per hour in the first place I checked and 10 in the other. Everyone adjusts their prices at will and on the spot so I will not recommend a specific place, as they can change anytime. The first hour is charged in full and anything after is prorated. This is how I was told it works. Yet, as I arrived after 75 minutes they only charged me for an hour. I think they liked that I was trying to speak Italian and that I was talking a lot. Sometimes being friendly helps.
The first cave is called Grotta del Leone and it is deep and dark further in. I ventured as far as I could with my wide pedaling vehicle. I took a bath and learned to drive the thing through the rocks and the dark openings, wondering at some point what makes me do the scary things I do at times, alone.
The second cave is called Grotta Azzurra. The water here is refreshing and clear blue. You can see and swim with the fish, and the opening above seems to be home for some flying bats that did not bother me at all. I almost missed this cave entirely as I did not know how far to go for it. It is at the other tip of the island, at the farthest point from the beach, but truly worth the trip there.
The pedaling experience was a pleasure and having the whole vehicle to myself was a real treat. I could stop and take sun on the back whenever I liked. I could go in the caves as far as I wanted to, and I could stay there for as long as desired, swimming in the azure and refreshing water at my own pace.
What an amazing day!
On the way home I decided to use the train ticket to the maximum. As it is possible to get off and on the train in the same direction, over 6 hours I got off in Diamante and walked to Cirella. I took a stroll through both of these towns for pictures and enjoyment.
My walk also took me to a hotel by the beach in Cirella, where I met the owner and enjoyed a great conversation in Italian. He traveled internationally a lot and lived in Peru before, so we had great stories to share. I got a ride back to Diamante in his car.