First impressions of Sicily… some of them lasting sadly = Europe’s Africa. Rubbish in huge piles on street corners (people go to the effort of taking their trash to the bin but the bin never gets emptied). Driving… children in bumper-car rides at the show could do a better job – lack of road rules maybe? Beautiful landscapes and beaches were overdeveloped and packed but 2 minutes down the road we could find a perfect place to ourselves.
Things improved greatly when we reached Balastrate and tried our first aranchini ball and a ‘gelati-in-a-bread-roll’ – followed by a shady eucalyptus tree campsite (we all know how much we love these!).
Sicily is thick with history (and the buildings left over) and we got to explore a few buildings… ignored a lot of them but more often than not they were in some stunning spots… normally on top of the biggest hill around.
Erice is a medieval town on the top of a massive hill. Rather than ride up (lazy sods) we put our bikes in the cable car and explored while the weather/storms/cloud closed in around us.
The western coast was still rather uneventful and full of tourists so when we finally reached Sciacca we decided to head inland.
Great decision! Despite some navigation errors, soaring temperatures of over 40deg and the 1000m altitude climb this basically eliminated all other tourists and gave us great country-side to enjoy.
Caltabellotta was incredible and we had the perfect day for the vistas. Access to the castle at the very top may have had a close gate but they didn’t fence it off enough to keep foreigners out.
We were buying lunch in the Marianopoli supermarket (way off the tourist trail) and were approached by Francesca (speaking English) who after being so surprised to find a couple of strangers in town, invited us to her home for lunch instead. Gabriel and Laura (Francesca’s parents) treated us to lunch and a shower – true Italian/Sicilian hospitality! We even were encouraged to make our own cannoli (waffle cone-type scroll filled with sugared ricotta and sometimes chocolate). This was followed by a tour of their wheat farm which was mid-harvest. A highlight especially for Tim who could not believe the hydraulic-controlled suspension on the harvester keeping it flat on steep ground – he has only ever seen the flat plains of NSW being harvested therefore no need for the function.
We ran into the occasional English-speaker in lots of small towns and even met a girl who had lived in Melbourne for a while… All of these people were much more useful and informative than all the tourist info offices we found. They pointed us in the direction of Ragusa, Modica and Scicli which all had great architecture (Baroque-style) and lots of stairs!
We’ve managed to find some Italian ‘street food’ which is full of flavour (lots of tomato pasta, eggplant and lemon chicken) although not as common as we could find in Spain. Thankfully Sicily seems to serve ‘rough’ red wine – which is exactly how we like it.
We have discovered a strange rule Italy-wide that we must wear a swimming cap when swimming in a pool (Emily finds this easy yet not justified hygiene-wise. Tim claims to have more hair on his legs than head!) and no shirts allowed – this is obviously something normal for a pair of fair-skinned Australians… but no clothes is also a rule!
We are not sure on the rule for free camping but we have not had any problems yet apart from being woken one morning by a pack of eight sheep-dog puppies. Very cute and unexpected. Yet not helpful in assisting to pack up the tent.
Natural park attractions have drawn us away from the coast as well. Cava Grande is a best shown by the pictures. We spent the entire day there. Flume Alcantara was beautiful for its basalt rocks and the gorge. Mount Etna was a very different landscape and although it is a UNESCO listed national park there is nothing indicating you can’t just walk around by yourself – so we did. We had a great day admiring the views and even playing in the scree slopes.
We now take our last car ferry to arrive back on mainland Europe…the toe of Italy’s boot.