Where in the world are we?
Serra San Bruno is high up in the mountains of Southern Italy. You get there on a twisting road that snakes up through the highland forests.
Trees hang over the road to create a tunnel that filters the sun and cools the air. Snow signs warn that, in winter, this could be a more tortuous trail.
But today the road is clear. We pass few cars. And you have the feeling that you are experiencing something special that has been set aside for just a few. Wild flowers grow up out the forest litter and vines twirl their way around the tree trunks to search out their share of the sun. The leaves are starting to turn their autumn shades and a variety of greens speckle the canopy overhead.
We arrive at Serra San Bruno, perched on the crest of the heights before they fall away to the Eastern Italian coast and the Golfo di Squillace.
Our first stop is a Baroque church, one of the three in this small town. All are well used, well preserved and impressive in their architecture and presentation.
This one has some excellent wood carvings and stain glass panels high in the walls above. The ceiling soars above to make a grand statement.
There are some beautiful palaces to see and some fine stone work surrounding the portals.
This is a very traditional Italian town. The old men sit as they do each day in the town square. Today the talk is about the coming olive harvest, but the discussion is mostly about the past. The happenings of last year, or maybe the events of ten years ago – to them it was only yesterday and it has been told many times before. They enjoy a joke together and no one cares if the story is embellished to make it a little more interesting this time around. They look so natural against the fading paint – it seems like they have been there forever (some of them have!).
Serra San Bruno has around 6000 residents and is home to a Carthusian monastery which was founded in 1095 and is still active today. The monastery is open to visitors and has a museum and beautiful gardens.
When you leave Serra San Bruno, the road falls away to the coastal plain. As you descend you will find three small villages grouped closely together – Stilo, Pazzano and Bivongi. All have a charm and natural beauty that you will not forget. There is a famous 7th Century Byzantine church, a small grotto, and the 100 metre fall of the Marmarico Falls.
In these towns you will find lanes that twist and turn, steps that will lead you to the houses that are stacked one over the other as they perch on the hill. There will be little surprises around every corner – this is the joy of exploring these Italian hill-top towns.
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Halong Bay is a beautiful bay in Northern Vietnam about 100 kms from Ho Chi Min City. There are over 1,600 islands in the bay and almost as many cruise boats offering a wide variety of experiences.
As you cruise through the bay in one of the famous ‘junk boats,’ you’ll pass by countless towering limestone rock formations surrounding the luxury cruise ship. The bay was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 and is today one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Vietnam.