The countryside didn’t really improve much as we approached our stopping place for the next four nights, and with just 15 minutes to go before we were at our site we were all feeling more than a bit deflated at the rather (flat, hot, untidy, grubby and commercialised) unimpressive area we were in.
Exhausted, we ploughed on the last few miles; just glad we had somewhere to be stopping, and thankful for the flexibility of Margot which allowed us the safe knowledge that if we didn’t like it we could move straight on in the morning.
But as we pulled into the road leading to Riva Di Ugento, things started to improve. The run-down industrial area was lost, swallowed up by a thick pine forest. The road narrowed, branching into various large resorts and hotels – almost all seemingly closed and already boarded up for the winter. Finally rolling into our campsite, we turned the engine off and our ears rang in the blissful peace that enveloped us.
We breathed in the tang of the pine, the salt of the ocean in the air… and I could see the hunched tired shoulders of my family straighten, and the journey-dulled eyes brighten and look around with interest.
Riva Di Ugento is a huge site; at the height of the summer it holds 5,000 people. But while we were there I’m guessing there were at most a 100 guests scattered throughout the forest. And the British very rarely make it this far south; we hadn’t seen anything but Italian number plates for hours, and the receptionist couldn’t recall the last English person who stayed – thankfully she spoke a little English, and my broken phrasebook Italian was all we needed to fill the gaps (along with some large and illustrative gestures).
We were able to choose our own spot, a sandy space amongst the thick trees just a two minute stroll from the beach. We parked Margot, ran through our by-now slick set-up drill… And then stopped.
We didn’t move again for another four days.
We didn’t even bother to move Margot to fill her with water – every time we contemplated unplugging and battening down to drive across the site to the water filling station we shrugged our shoulders and decided we could do it tomorrow… Instead we simply employed a rota system for filling our fine collection of empty pellegrino bottles at the nearby water tap for our minimal drinking/cooking needs.
And we did… Nothing.
We slept late.
We spent our days on the amazing beach, and our nights playing cards and reading in the cicada-filled silence.
The beach was constantly changing; when we arrived the sea was stormy, magnificent waves crashing high above our heads, far too rough for the youngest to go into, far too exciting for the oldest to stay out.
Over the days the sea calmed itself; on our last day there was barely any swell at all, the colour changed from cloudy steel-green to a dazzling clear turquoise and the white sands hurt our eyes in the mid day sun.
We found all the supplies we needed in the small site shop – being right at the end of the season most of the shelves were empty and it was only stocked with the barest of essentials, but that was all we needed. Fresh bread every day, simple meals in the evening.
The temperature climbed rapidly to a steady 29 degrees, and we allowed ourselves to wallow in the tranquillity and emptiness.
We felt unbelievably lucky to be there, privileged to experience it.
I can’t imagine what the campsite is like in the height of the season, crammed with vans and tents among the trees, the empty pathways filled with bicycles and families, the endless beach crowded with people.
For us, the sheer emptiness was like a cloud of relaxation wrapping itself gently around us.
After all the travelling and the doing, it was an amazing place to simply…. Stop.
To catch our breath.
And to fall a little in love with the calm emptiness that is an out of season Riva Di Ugento.
Leaving this place was going to be quite a wrench.