Friday, 31 October 2014

Adventures in Sicily

Anti pasti for one in Sicily - only 3 x 2 foot!!  

Thanks to Massimo of ScicliB&B for the use of this photo!!!

Desperately in need of a break at the end of a successful season 2014  (with thanks to all our great guests for their support over the Mercantour walking holiday season) ..........we take ourselves off to Sicily - our loins girded for a long session on Trenitalia - and the romance (?) of a private compartment overnight.........we sleep like dogs on a clattery old train, dubious rolling stock - trying to remember the joys of the process of travelling!

They really do put the train on the ferry on the short trip over the Messina Straits, which is a welcome break from the rattling, and our first "arancino" of the week....and are successfully re-gurgitated into Palermo central where we are spoilt rotten with kindness by Manuela and Manilo at the lovely Via Delle Bicicletta - the bikes make their appearance the following morning, as we stumble out to have a look at the eclectic Palermo old town - having feasted on lovely pastries and coffee.

Rather loathe to take ourselves off to pick up a hire car - as it seemed as if we hadn't really done justice to Palermo, we headed off into the thrash of Italian driving and the Madonie Park and Gangi (where you can pick up a house for a €  if you are quick!)....where the Villa Raino is an oasis of calm (note that the B&B is before Gangi to the west of the town - NOT where Google maps would take you!!!) - while the inviting pool was perhaps a bit chilly looking we have a "bring it on" supper - astringent wine - great to cut through the olive oil - listen to the trill of birds and sleep like logs!!!  Hey logs and dogs.....but sleep - it was good...........and Etna was clearly visible in the morning - as it is - a mighty hulk of nearly 3000m - around the island.  The first snow brought the slopes of the volcano into sharper relief by the end of the week.

Rather like the Mercantour here in France - it seems as if few tourists want to walk in the pretty Madonie hills (we DO need to walk however if we are offered 5K calories of delicious "bounty" a day!) - and the tourist office aghast that we would even contemplate such a mad venture.....

En route to Scicli - we pass by the Villa Romana de Casale which, aside from the shrieking Italian guides with cruise ship clients - was absolutely astonishing and worth the trip to Sicily in itself.

In Scicli, we throw ourselves on the mercy of Nino (Italian but German speaking too!) and his chestnut roasting friends who offer to take us to the Scicli B&B behind a fast moving disabilty scooter! YES!! Fun to be in a studio in the old town where we can eat wonderful tomatoes and plain rice for a couple of nights!!!

Massimo - and he knows who he is - is a cute teddy bear of a host - so keen to get over the splendour of his home town - and perhaps disappointed that we haven't even seen Montalbano on the box. A wealth of splendid churches in the village - a shame that the nearby coastline is a desert of ghastly - but we do manage a nice lunch in Pozzallo.  Ragusa and Modica not visited!

The old town of Syracusa was a treat before we headed off with much anticipation towards Taormina - where perhaps a Saturday evening - not the best time to visit - indeed a beautiful location but much better during the Grand Tour era of the twentieth century - the twenty first has left the town rather  tawdry and expensive.

However we are lucky to be staying outside the town in Lettojanni where we are well tended by Brita at the Casale Praia and, what is more, an amazing meal at the Le Pietre Restaurant in Gallodoro - where we were truly astounded by the 10 (yes 10) plates of anti pasti - having to draw a line at about 70% of the way through the meal - and then a bill of €35 for us both!!!

A drive over the hills on the following day was fun and then a wander around Cefalu provided a diversion (but do look look look at parking restrictions in Sicily's tourist towns as they are hot on parking tickets - we know!).  A shame that the churches are not always open for visitors to appreciate the wealth of history.

After a hassle rich delivery of the hire car and walk back to town, we were delighted to see Manuela and Manilo again and then enjoy a cafe style Indian snack that evening...!!

Bubbling chaos (rather Indian!)  in Palermo on the morning of our departure - but the chance to visit the magnificent cathedral - even if we miss out on the Norman splendour!

Thoughts for the wary!

Read - The Middle Sea - John Julius Norwich - to get in the swing of things
Transport - Fly there!!
Visit - historic sites - first thing in the morning or at lunchtime - check opening times for churches etc
Eat - go steady - there is always more to come
Stay - lots of good value accommodation - check out the location to avoid being in an off season backwater, overlooking a road or train line or half finished buildings
Parking - check out all the restrictions in popular towns
Travel - roads are interesting! - don't plan to thrash through the miles

Enjoy - Sicily has a huge amount to offer!  

SPACEBETWEEN -  we don't offer client trips to Sicily but we have contacts there now if anyone is interested!