According to the guide books there is nothing of merit along the Tyrrhenian Coast between Messini and Palermo, just an endless stream of tourist resorts. This is not true, the Oil refinery at Milazzo is quite spectacular with its maze of intricate pipework and towering red and grey chimneys belching pollution high and wide over the surrounding area. There are rows of half demolished ceramic factories to gaze and wonder at and beaches with enough jetsam and flotsam on for Noah to have built an Ark the size of the Queen Mary. And all the time you are looked down on by the toll-requesting Autostrada that snakes it way along the coast reminding you of what a low-life cheapskate you are. However, in the midst of all this beauty is the resort of Cefalu:
Cefalu; wedged between a dramatic mountain peak and a sweeping stretch of sand has the lot: a great beach, a lovely historic centre with imposing cathedral and winding medieval streets. Yes, this sounds great until you have to pilot this old lump around town with a sat nav that hates you and a set of driver’s intent on being the first to everything. On the third attempt of trying to get to our parking spot we were successful and after a swift round of bartering we pulled up for our three night stop on the sea front in the centre of town for a total fee of €40 including water.
The first thing Tracy saw on exiting the van was the towering lump of Limestone that overshadows the entire bay. Hardly containing herself with excitement she shrieked ‘get me my walking boots and let’s get trekking’. ‘Steady wife’ I retorted, ‘Why not climb the peak when the weather is better?’ Grudgingly, Tracy agreed and without any spring in her step spent the rest of the afternoon walking around cosmetic shops and designer boutiques. Not like Tracy at all.
In the evening we had a meal in a local trattoria which was tinged with disappointment as we could not get the staff away from the fire to perform any duties that could be called serving a customer.
Knowing how Tracy likes to be teased I held back from suggesting we should scale the peak and managed to persuade her to have another walk around the star-spangled shops interspersed with a quick shufti of the cathedral.
Cefalu Old Town, sea View
Historic Centre with ‘Tracy’s Rock
Porta di Terra
Fruit and Veg Man
More Sea Houses
The Duomo di Cefalu is one of the top draws in Sicily’s Arab-Norman world with the immense portrayal of Christ filling the central apse. This is reputed to be the oldest and best preserved Byzantine Mosaic in Sicily. Surprising the rest of the cathedral is sparsely decorated apart from some disgusting 1970’s stain-glass windows that some stoned head thought it a good idea to open up Christianity to the masses, man.
Duomo di Cefalu
Note The mosaic in all its glory
Close up of the main man. This is a mosaic
In the afternoon we went to the launderette, bartered the price down till a reasonable amount and finished off the day by rushing around the local Spar before getting back to the van before the heavens opened.
Today Tracy’s dreams came true and we headed off up La Rocca. But first we needed to make a detour to the local hat shop to arm ourselves with his and hers Sicilian Caps known as La Coppola. For the un-informed the Coppola was a traditional Sicilian hat that was adopted by the Mafia. Organised crime members wore the Coppola at a slightly jaunty angle dipped over the right eye to prove their allegiance. These days in Sicily there is a fight-back against these villains and a lot of thought and research has gone in to lead this cause against ‘swimming with the fishes’ and the hard-man vigilante they have chosen is:
Yep, Will Young. Good luck Will with that.
Starting from the main Square we headed upwards towards our goal 250m nearer to heaven than sea-level. Paying €4 each to a collection of elderly gentlemen allowed us access to this natural wonder and we started cautiously up a stone staircase. To say we had over-planned the hike was an understatement as I was equipped with ropes, a space blanket, whistle, walking poles, bottles of water and a GPS. This overkill was made more embarrassing by a guard-rail alongside the path and informative signs every few metres in Italian, English and Brail.
After about half an hour we were left with a choice to either go for the Temple of Diana or the castle that resides on the top of the craggy mass. We went for the castle and were rewarded by the stone staircase coming to an abrupt halt and the only tools left open to us to make the summit was our wits and experience. It wasn’t long before we stopped to take photos of ourselves in our new hats.
Well defined nose and hat
Robert de Nero waiting
Our next obstacle to overcome were the goats that have made this monolith their home. Not so much the goats but what they leave behind after a hearty meal of bushes. In addition, the levels of ammonia were getting higher in parallel with our ascent.
Finally after what seemed like a lifetime and in fact was 50 minutes we reached the summit, exhausted. Tracy laid down on the wall and I run around the top snapping a few pics so you can see why all the effort we expunged was worth it.
That’s our van
Looking west over Cefalu
After a good rest we ran down knowing there was a cold beer with our name on it, fifty minutes up, 15 down and that included time to snap a picture of a kestrel having a rest.
The weather was gorgeous so we had a brace of beers and our first taste of Sicilian street food, namely the Arancina, a sort of rice filled scotch egg. We will be having more of those. After lunch we collected our washing, had a meal, went to bed, got up and left.
Beers with our name on
Villa Margi 18/01/2016
This is a village next to the ceramic super-town of Santo Stefano where every single shop, apart from pharmacies is involved in the selling of brightly coloured pottery. We stayed here because our trusty wild camping app said we could take on-board some water from an un-guarded campsite in the winter. Well the secret is out and there now is a guard who will take a bribe (€3) to let you fill up and empty your tanks. We could have stayed overnight in the campsite for €10 but though it was better value to stay in a closed for the winter restaurant car-park for free, which we did. In the village is a famous (no one outside of the village has heard of it) piece of outdoor modern art; Finistare di Mare and here it is;
Finistare di Mare
Although the tourist-oriented resort towns may lack aesthetic qualities from an architecture perspective the coastal road delivers by the spade quality views. It snakes along the coast between Villa Margi and Cefalu mostly on stilts over the sea providing a memorable driving experience with the turquoise coloured trains of the state-owned railway providing a permanent and reassuring reminder of a fiscally robust nation at the peak of its powers with absolutely no signs of corruption. Weather has been rubbish now for a week, more rain than Manchester.
A rather Pleasant Drive
Motorway Above, Sea Below
San Giorgio 17/01/2016
We pulled up on the grass that adjoins the ocean here for the night. The weather has not been kind and we are a bit loathed to leave the van to have a look around. The place seems pleasant enough with a row of promenade restaurants open even on a Sunday night in mid-January. It has become apparent now that you can tell the sandiness of the beach by the prosperity of the town. If a place is run-down then it is a safe bet it has been dealt an economic body-blow of having a stony beach, the opposite being true if a place has been blessed with a ‘Lungomare’ of sand. San Giorgio has a bit of both and so is firmly in the middle of prosperity but it does have a bit of a bonus; a view over the Aeolian Islands, the most famous being Stromboli, the baddie from Pinocchio , and they look like this:
I used to draw mountains like this as a child and got told off for them not being lifelike
Rometta Marea 14/01 – 17/01/2016
Our first stop in Sicily and it happened to be quite a good one. We were in a small square about 50m from the beach and a slight further distance to the town. We had drains to empty our water and next to the statue of Jesus we had an endless supply of quality drinking water. The place was also safe and quiet.
The first day we were here started off with some spring-like sunshine and so we got the bikes off and rode into the next town of Saponara. To be fair it is a bit of a dump, to be honest a complete dump. We did not stay long, which was lucky because not five minutes after we got back the rain started and did not stop for three days.
Our camping spot with unlimited drinking water
One of the brilliant things we have seen in Italy is the provision of cheap mineral water. Local communities provide both still and fizzy water in street-located machines where you can fill up bottles for 3 cents a litre. Perhaps we adopt this for the UK with a choice of Chardonnay, Rose or Prosecco. Here is a picture of said vending machine.
With the weather forecast appearing to get better we decided to head along the coast towards Palermo and from the moment we left Rometta the landscape started to take on the wow factor, first the mighty smell and exhaust of the coastal refineries of Milazzo and then this. Marvellous.
Pitta on the SS113
Looking towards Aeolian Islands in Black and White
Rometta to San Giorgio
Love to all
E & T