In October 2013 we spent our holiday on Sicily. Read our dairy from this journey.
We flow to Catania and arrived in the afternoon in the lovely Agriturismo Case Perrotta on the slops of the volcano Etna. A wounderful hotel in the middle of fruit gardens. From here we started our first excursions in the area.
We "climbed" the volcano Etna. Well, not really "climbed", we went by cable car and 4-wheel bus to the youngest crater. The weather was good up on the mountain but foggy down in the low lands. On the top we enjoyed the fascinating black and red lava landscape.
In the afternoon we went to the "100 horses chestnut tree". Europe's oldest tree (so they say, I think there are some competition from other places!). Anyway 1200 years old. A foggy, mystic and beautiful area near the village Sant' Alfio. A great day!
Driving on the slops of Etna, Alcantara gorge
Next day we went with the car along the slops of Etna, heading northeast of Sant' Alfio. Made a hike in the Alcantara gorge. Then down to the coast to visit the picturesque town Taormina. The drive was awesome with pretty small villages and a beautiful cemetery.
This beautiful town is located on a cliff above the Mediterranean Sea. Fantastic location with a awesome scenery but very crowded with tourists.
After three nights we left our Agriturismo facility in Sant' Alfio and drove along the coast via Messina and the north coast to Palermo. We had the first heavy rain on Sicily, but after 20 minutes the sun was shining again. On the way we visited the spectacular town Cefalù. This town is squeezed in between cliffs and the sea. Small narrow streets and an old cathedral.
Driving a car in Palermo is pure adventure. There is just ONE traffic rule: The bravest takes it all! We read in the travel guide, that you can't park in the city center. Still we managed to get in to the center, to find a free parking lot, to get out of the city AND WITHOUT any traffic accident. Hey, I guess we were just lucky!
Palermo is very crowdy and noisy. The streets are extremely narrow. Mostly you walk in the middle of the street. Thousands of small cars and a million Vespas driving slalom between the cars and walking people.
But this city is amazing. Very ancient with beautiful patina on the buildings. A lot of Mediterranean history and a thousand old churches. We were impressed of the Chiesa San Cataldo (small church in a Arabic Norman architecture, one thousand years old).
They sell everything on the Ballarò Market. It is huge and covers many quarters.
We had a fantastic Sicilian lunch at Antica Focacceria S. Francesco.
Palermo area and Segesta
In the morning we drove to the pretty beach village Mondello. The rich citizens of Palermo build their summer residencies here. Beautiful "Villas" along the beach and a pier reaching out into the Mediterranean Sea. Well, it was on the way and nice but nothing really special.
Further west we reached the best-preserved Greek temple in the world at Segesta. It is said, that if you want to see good preserved Greek temples you have to visit Sicily! Segesta is really a "must do" on this island. Situated in a beautiful landscape between green hills the temple is in a really good shape. Close by there is a Greek theater with a marvelous view over the hills down to the Mediterranean Sea and the Golfo di Castellammare. We walked around at Segesta for some hours and it was one more high light on this trip.
The cathedral in Monreale is impressive. 6340 m2 with gold mosaic on the walls and on the ceiling. Haven't seen anything similar before! Beside the cathedral there is a unique cloister with 460 pillars. Every pillar is different. Some of them with mosaic. The cathedral and the cloister were built by Christian and Arabic craftsmen. They had free hands from the bishop - an early example of religious tolerance.
Enna, Villa Casale, Caltagirone
We left the Palermo area and discovered the central part of Sicily. Drove to the Town Enna on top of a mountain. The location has something similar with the Mesas in New Mexico. A topical Italian medieval town with very narrow streets. For my Swedish friends: we found almost original Swedish Princesstårta in a cafe in Enna. Delicious!
The central part of Sicily is very hilly like the whole island but now in the autumn there are too many brown fields. The green atmosphere from the costal and Etna part is missing.
The high light of this day was Villa Casale. The ruins of an ancient roman villa with impressive mosaic on all floors. The scientists argue about who built this unique establishment. Some thinks it was a hunting villa for a roman emperor. Other believes it was a rich Merchant who earned his money with importing wild animals from Africa for the Gladiator Games in Rome. Nevertheless it is an unique place on earth. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures there.
At the end of the day we went to Caltagirone to look at the beautiful Scala Santa Maria del Monte. 142 steps to climb that staircase and look at all the decorated ceramic fronts of the steps. Really beautiful!
In the area of the old Greek town Agrigento on the south coast there a lot to discover.
Close to Agrigento my “volcano wife” was happy to have identified an area with bubbling mud pools (Vulcanelli di Macalube). Through volcanic activities in the underground the clay bubbles up to the surface. Like Iceland, but in a much smaller shape. Anyway, Gabi was happy.
The high light of the day was the Valle dei Templi (Temple valley) at Agrigento. An impressing broad area with four or five ancient Greek temples in different shapes and other ruins all over the place. The temples are in an awesome landscape with a beautiful scenery. A "must see" from my point of view.
We spent some days in the accommodation "Agriturismo Coscio Badia" near the small medieval town Naro. In the town we visited the old church. In the church there was just the Padre (the priest). He was very old. Maybe 80. When we wanted to leave, he came and asked us if we wanted to know the history of his Church and its decorations. Of course, in Italian. He didn't speak any other language. So, we got a free guided tour in Italian for half an hour. I guess we just understood 20% but it was very nice and special. He was a very pleasant and warm-hearted person.
The typical Sicilian food in our Agriturismo is delicious. Every evening the cook Geraldo offers us a new fantastic menu. Always with self made Antipasti, Prima Piatti, Secunda Piatti and a dessert. And of course their own red wine. They use as much as possible from their own products (olives, eggs, pepper, eggplants, zucchini, ...) they grove on the farm. The owner Antoniella is very communicative and speaks good English. So the dinner is always a social event. Unfortunately we have to leave this accommodation tomorrow to go further east along the south cost.
Costal hikes, Turkish staircase
We used the day on the south coast to hike along the cliffs and the beaches. At Capo Bianco we enjoyed the white chalk cliffs falling steep into the blue-green Mediterranean Sea. After half an hour walk through an old abandoned vineyard we found a long lonely beach. No people as long we could see. Enjoyed walking with bare feets in the warm shallow water.
At Realmonte we walked along the beach to the Scala dei Turchi (Stair of the Turks). A natural chalk cliff rising smooth from the sea up to the green landscape above. It is possible to walk up this cliff. We were not really alone here but I guess in the high season it will be even more crowded.
Impressive is the medieval town Ragusa. It is more three towns from three different époques. We parked in the youngest ugly town and walked through the other two beautiful parts (Ragusa Superiore and Ragusa Ibla). The three parts are on different levels so we had to climb up a million stairs and down a million stairs and up another hundred stairs. Then all the way back. That's good for our fitness! We'll it was really beautiful with some awesome views. It was a good stop on our journey to Noto.
Leaving Ragusa my GPS directed us out in the outback on very narrow steep roads and we got lost. Gabi got angry and upset and it was my fault. We had the drove all the way back to the town and ask a "Carabinieri" how to find the right way out of the town. Well, the signs are not that good on Sicily so it isn't always easy. In the evening we reached the wonderful baroque jewel Noto.
A magic night and a sunny day in the beautiful town Noto. In the evening when we arrived, it was already dark, we went to discover this baroque city. We strolled along the streets and got impressed by the illuminated house fronts and the magic atmosphere in the city. Sat down outside a trattoria and ate a wonderful pasta with a glass vino rosso in the warm and mild evening air. A good start for this place! Our hotel is just in the center of the city, so we don't need the car to visit all nice places. Noto is a top UNESCO world culture heritage. In the last 10 years they have restored most of the historical buildings in the city center. Noto is a "must see" location!
From Noto we went for lunch down to the coast. The fishing village Marzameni still has its original shape. A small harbor with fishing boats. Ancient houses around the harbor, a calm blue sea, a close small island and almost no tourists made it perfect. On the square in the village we found a recommended fish trattoria. Grilled fish with olive oil, some spices and a lemon. A glass of white wine and the lunch was perfect.
After the lunch we went back to the hotel in Noto and slept for an hour. Then a Cappuccino and a Granita Mandorla (semi frozen almond milk). Awesome! It was a very relaxing day.
Cava Grande, Syracuse on the east coast
Again, it was time for a hike. On our way to Syracuse we went up in the mountains on narrow serpentine roads to hike in the Grand Canyon of Sicily (Cava Grande in Italian). From the top we had to walk down the 300 m into the canyon. Well, this is not to compare with the real Grand Canyon in Arizona, but it offers a beautiful scenery and, on the bottom, there are a couple of fresh water pools and some minor waterfalls. I went for are refreshing swim in the chilly water. After a small picnic we climbed up the canyon and went down to the coast and the ancient town Syracuse.
Since Syracuse is our last stop on Sicily I had booked a very nice hotel in an old small palace and a room with seaside view. Pure luxury! Gabi was impressed, and I am happy!
This ancient city Syracuse, the cradle of the European Culture. For 2700 years civilization has been grown here. First the Sicels, then the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, the Spaniards, ... A paradise for archeological scientist. During the Greek era (~400 B.C). it was the biggest city in the Mediterranean region. Even bigger then Athens. Something between 500 thousand and one million citizens. Today the population it's just 120.000. All the time it has been an important religious center. The cathedral was once a Greek temple. The pillars from the temple are still seen in the church. Unique!
Again, we walked for hours through narrow streets and beautiful places. Feeling the spirit of this city. The old town on the island we live on has a very positive atmosphere. Not that noisy as many Italian cities. The old buildings are partly renovated, and the renovation of this heritage site is going on. We feelt the ancient time and the broad history of this place. We also visited the catacombs and the Greek theater.
Syracuse was a perfect final for our Sicilian road trip.
On our way to the airport in Catania we saw a hugh smoke pillar over the volcano Etna. First, we didn't understand why but then it was clear. Etna had an eruption! A new crater opened on the south-east slope of the mountain. Lava, fire and ashes are pouring out. Gabi is happy. Perfect timing for this vacation.
The flight home was just one hour delayed due to the eruption.