We met our first Ape at Ravello, on Italy’s Amalfi Coast – one of the most glorious parts of our planet
While exploring a hillside pathway – barely wide enough for two people – we were startled by a car horn.
The honking came from an Ape (roughly prounced ‘A – Pee’) a tiny vehicle used to haul lemons, chestnuts and vegetables from some terraced farms along the steep valleys above the Amalfi coastline.
This three-wheeled vehicle complements mules and the farmers themselves – known as ‘contadini volanti’, or the ‘flying farmers’, who climb the steep heights to visit the groves.
However, locals sadly pointed out that the efficiency of the Apes, mules and farmers is gradually proving no match for competition from cheaper, less aromatic lemons from abroad.
For some years, this competition has been driving prices down and applying pressure to Amalfi’s vertical farmers to abandon terraces previously cultivated for generations.
Naturally, it’s feared that this could lead to the collapse of dry stone walls and an increase is erosion along a stunning coastline famous for its pastel-coloured villages sitting in narrow, V-shaped valleys.
The dry stone walls were built stone-by-stone by the ancestors of today’s farmers who went on to plant and tend for many thousands of lemon trees.
However, some local residents now fear that, if maintenance is reduced, the walls may not last.
Add the inevitable summer bushfires in the Lattari Mountains, some clear-felling of land and the ageing of the remaining lemon farmers – and you have further problems for the terrace walls that have been a bulwark against erosion for centuries.
In September 2010, a fatal mudslide hit the enchanting Amalfi Coast village of Atrani.
In the aftermath, an early warning escape route was established through the tangle of cobblestone lanes and streets in the ancient village.
As we wandered through this unbelievably beautiful area on our most recent visit, we noted the ‘Escape route’ signs and the pedestrian-only routes to the sea through huge arches.
There’s also talk of ground sensors and remote-controlled cameras in the hills.
The Amalfi Coast is one of the ‘must-see’ destinations of the world and, hopefully, the possibility of stone walls ever substantially falling into disrepair may remain just that – only a possibility.
However, if possible, we can all probably help ward off problems by seeking out bright-yellow Amalfi lemons for our shopping basket.
Note: the writer was flown to Europe courtesy of Scoot Airlines