The Italian Camino, Day 6: The amphitheatre and the dodgy picture in Sutri
Starting point to end point: Vetralla to Sutri
Distance walked: 25,2 km (4,7 km/h average)
Height climbed: 356 meters
Highest point on the route: 499 m
Descent: 402 m
Lowest point on the route: 272 m
Distance to Rome at the start of the day: 92 km
After two days of monsoon and two days of being blown around by the wind, I’m woken up by birdsong at Antica Locanda, just outside Vetralla. Perfect weather!
The previous night, I’d opened the flat’s shutters, so I could watch the sun come up, and the morning looks fresh. But again, I’ve got butterflies in my stomach and wish I had a phone with me to make calls.
Today I need to walk to the ancient amphitheatre in Sutri, according to the instructions from caminoways.com, and from there call a number so that I can be fetched and taken to my accommodation just outside the town. But how?
Initially, my plan is to walk to Sutri and then find a phonebooth or a friendly stranger there. Today there is also a between-town on the route – Capranica – where I can ask someone to help me. But when I encounter my friendly host at the breakfast table, I decide to just try making the call from here.
The owner doesn’t speak any English, so we communicate with each other via Google Translate, typing and translating messages to one another. The hotel owner patiently dials the number, and someone on the other line answers.
He turns to me and asks: “Hore, hore...?” I don’t understand what he’s asking, which encourages him to ask it louder: “HORE? HORE?” Because – and here’s a travel tip you can take to the bank – if someone doesn’t immediately understand your language, just ask the same thing again, but much louder.
Luckily, I’m good at guessing, and assume that “hore” must have something to do with “hours” so I hold up three fingers. He gives me a thumbs up. I pray this means someone is coming to fetch me at the designated spot at 15:00 today.
Sutri is 24 km from Vetralla, but I’m still at least 2 km outside the town.
So there’s a tough walk ahead of me today. The good news is, there’s no sign of wind or rain. It’s a lovely day to be a pilgrim. Vetralla is also a charming little town, and by the time I get there, the village is busy with its morning routine.
People are drinking their espressos at cafes, men tip their hats to me on their way to work, and at a pedestrian crossing, I wait patiently for the scholar patrol to help the school children cross the road (Don’t roll your eyes, there’s even peak traffic in Vetralla.)
I’m a morning person, so I enjoy witnessing a town like this rubbing the sleep from its eyes. In The Pillars of Hercules Paul Theroux writes: “A painful part of travel, the most emotional for me in many respects, is the sight of people leading ordinary lives, especially people at work or with their families; or ones in uniform, or laden with equipment, or shopping for food, or paying bills.”
I feel quite the opposite. Early morning is when the townsfolk are busy with their “ordinary lives” and with the mundane tasks of the day. It’s here where you catch the true spirit of a town. The town that’s still walking around in its dressing robe and hasn’t had time to put on lipstick and dress up for the tourists yet.
Then I try to imagine myself living here. Where would I stay? Where would my regular coffee spot be?
The signs for the Via Francigena aren’t always very clear, but the blue line on my Suunto soon takes me out of the town and sets me on the most beautiful mountain bike path.
At the entrance to the route, there is a clear drinking fountain where I make myself some Rehidrat and a sign that proudly declares that one of Italy’s Olympic mountain bike champions practices on this very route.
I walk, but I’m constantly looking around me, I just can’t shake the feeling that there’s someone on my heels.
And ... There is! It’s my fellow pilgrim from the Netherlands, Gerhard, whom I met on my very first night in Radicofani. Gerhard sets the pace quite hard today, but we both enjoy the walk.
The blossoms on the walnut trees look like they’ll bloom any day now, and for long stretches we walk between olive groves. At one point we have to wait patiently for a funeral procession to pass.
At the ruins of the Oralndo tower, an ancient monastery, we pause for a moment, uncertain which direction to take, but once again the Suunto sets us right and gets us back on the road.
We’ve already decided long before we reach Capranica that we’re going to stop for a coffee in the village and catch our breath, but to reach Capranica, we’ve got to climb one last steep hill. We look for a café.
We’ve already put 18km behind us today. Gerhard orders a cappuccino and two croissants, and later we enjoy a second cappuccino.
We’re not exactly sure how far away Sutri is still.
My guidebook says 4 km, Gerhard’s say 6 km, and a man in the café claims that its 7 km. There’s quite a difference between 4 km and 7 km if you’ve got to meet a stranger at a specific spot at 15:00 to get picked up.
The reason, of course, is that there’s more than one way to get to Sutri. Gerard shows me that his book provides an alternative route, one that takes you along the SP96 and cuts out a kilometre or two.
We’re fairly stuffed after our coffee and croissants, and we struggle down the steep hill of Capranica – only to have to climb another high hill a few minutes later. We look at one another with big eyes.
We hesitate for a moment when we reach the spot where, according to Gerhard’s book, the alternative route starts, but we eventually decide to take it. We’re both feeling a bit stiff after those hills and could do with 2 km less on our route.
The SP96 is a neat tar road that doesn’t have too much traffic on it – so it turned out to be a good decision in the end (The official route traverses farm roads.)
Sutri is in sight when my heart drops into my stomach – Sutri is ahead of us, but between us and the town there’s a deep chasm. What goes up, must come down…again.
Gerhard laughs at me “You should know by now that the trademark of the Via Francigena is that every day ends with a steep hike.”
Sutri is small, but beautiful. It’s is dead quiet when we get there. Gerhard and I say goodbye on the town square. His accommodation is down one of the side streets, but I’ve still got to reach the amphitheatre on the other side of town.
On my way to the amphitheatre, I stop in at one of the cathedrals. It’s 13:50 when I take my bag off my shoulders – I’m more than an hour too early!
Unfortunately, the last tour of the amphitheatre is at 13:00, so I have to satisfy my curiosity by looking through the locked gates. I’m hugely relieved that I called this morning. There’s not a restaurant or shop in sight, and there’s definitely no chance of finding free WiFi.
I’d have sat waiting here until midnight. The weather has become really cold again, so I’m grateful that I didn’t get a chance to enjoy the coffee in my Atlasware flask yet. I sit and read my book and notice just how dirty my Hi-Tec boots are after today’s walk.
It’s already 15:15 when a station wagon pulls into the amphitheatre’s parking lot. A grey-haired Nonna of at least seventy indicates I should get in. “Angela,” she says, indicating herself.
While she doesn’t speak a word of English, Angela is not your typical senior. She drives like and Italian Grand Prix driver, and dextrously navigates the traffic. Her radio is blaring and a gravelly voice belts out a lively rock version of “Million Miles Away”.
The Montefosco, the agri-toursim accommodation that caminoways.com booked for me, is a row of hostel-like rooms on a farm about 4 km outside of Sutri.
Mine has an enormous double bed as well as a single bed, and the biggest shower I’ve ever seen in my life. But the weather has turned freezing again. A dodgy painting on the wall catches my eye. I take a shower and snuggle under the duvet to do some journaling in my diary.
At 19:00 I walk down to the restaurant, which, it turns out, is just the dining room in Angela’s house. There are two more…ahem… nudes on the wall. Two tables are set, and I’m seated at one of these. A man in his thirties sits at the other table, but he also speaks zero English.
Angela doesn’t have a menu, you eat what you get served. Your only choice is take it or leave it.
But each course is brought proudly forth from the kitchen, and each time Angela puts a plate on the table, she takes a step back like a MasterChef contestant offering their dish up to the judges for inspection.
This is real Italian food, and it’s delicious! Conveniently, it feels like eating at someone’s house (haha!). Primi piatti (starters) is a simple pasta with nuts and pesto, and for prima secondi Angela puts a massive plate in front of me, with nothing else on it but meat.
I’m not a big meat eater, so I feel a bit awkward about what to do here.
But a friend chides me over Whatsapp, saying that I can’t be walking long distances day after day and just survive on pasta. At some point I’ll have to eat some protein. I bravely take a stab (proverbially and physically) at the meat. And I’m pleasantly surprised. It smells like cloves and tastes like a roast from my childhood, tenderly falling off the bone.
Or has it been stewed? I’m not sure what it is or how it’s been prepared, but there’s no one here who speaks English, and no menu that I can read (with Google Translate). I’m making surprising headway for someone who doesn’t usually eat meat.
The man nearby is having a passionate conversation with Angela in Italian, but the food can’t be the source of his unhappiness – this is disappearing in huge gulps down his throat. The meal is concluded with the most lekker crème brulée.
I’d turned up the room’s heating before heading to dinner, so I fall asleep cosy and snug.
I was originally put out about sleeping outside of the town (again), because I enjoy exploring these Italian villages in the late afternoons, and Sutri is beautiful. But Angela’s Motefosco is so truly pastoral and so authentically Italian, that I’m glad I got to experience it.
From here, it’s still about 70km to Rome.
The amphitheatre in Rome is world known and is something to experience, but it’s highly likely that you’ll be swamped with thousands of other tourists. The amphitheatre in Sutri is a lot smaller, but the chances are good that you’ll have the whole place to yourself.
No one is sure when exactly the amphitheatre was built, but it was already there when the Romans captured the village from the Etruscans in 394. Apparently, the style of the construction is that which was common in the first century BC.
There are also a range of interesting caves and burial vaults that border the amphitheatre.
There are 14 trains that run between Rome and the Capranica-Sutri station, the duration of the journey is about 1:20 minutes. Ticket prices start at 4 euros per trip. Remember, you’ll have to order a taxi from the station.
If you don’t have a cellphone, use the cost-effective Engelbrecht-method: Ask a friendly stranger to phone, and offer a euro for their services. Save the number of the taxi service in Capranica ahead of time.
If that’s too much effort, you can also book a day trip from Rome to Sutri.
Sutri has a variety of lovely restaurants and cathedrals to explore. It’s also a really great way to experience a taste of the Italian countryside.
Caminoways.com organises walking and biking tours on a variety of Camino de Santiago routes. A six-day trip on the famous Camino Frances from Sarria to Santiago starts from 420 euro (about R7 000) per person sharing. (For details and a free quotation, contact email@example.com or visit caminoways.com.)
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