Sicilian Views!

Sicily is renowned for many things: the drama of organised crime, massive and hugely flavoursome lemons, boat loads of sunshine, a convoluted and fascinating history and of course, Mt. Etna, a smouldering volcano and the largest scarily active one in Europe.

I have just rubbed shoulders with all of the above, so to speak – except the Sicilian mafia – as far as I can tell anyway!

My metaphoric journey to Sicily started many years agon when I vowed to visit Positano on the Amalfi Coast of mainland Italy. As Sicily was a simple hop across the water I dedcided to give it a go and so the actual journey was born: watched over by Mt Etna –  as almost everything is in Sicily!

The trip started in Palermo Airport. Palermo, I was soon to discover, is ringed in filth. The ouskirts of the city spoke of a dirty city with tons of domestic rubbish piled into small hills on the street corners, much of the road-kill is of the rat variety and I wondered what the hell I was letting myself in for. Skirting the mountainous piles of rubbish and unable to avoid the stench I found relative cleanliness and beauty in the old historical centre. Breath a sigh of relief! Some municipal pride after all…and some beautiful old buildings!

Superb architecture in the Old Historical Centre of Palermo.

Superb architecture in the Old Historical Centre of Palermo.

In fact a fascinating place, if old and run down. The food is wonderful and the hospitality the same. Only a fleeting visit but if you want an edgy place then Palermo will do it.

For the open countryside, wide plains and rolling hills then the traverse across the spine of Sicily towards Catania is the route to choose. The motorway is quick and easy, but the country roads are slower, more windy, mostly damaged through roadslips – but a lot more flavoursome!

The rolling hills of the trans-Sicily route.

The rolling hills of the trans-Sicily route.

Being volcanic Sicily is geologically new: the soils and rock still adjusting their relative positions, hence the roadslips. The countryside is fertile and the views beautiful. Mt Etna, the stronghold of Vulcan, the God of Fire and the home of Cyclops, the one-eyed monster,  soon appears over the horizon. Like a huge beacon with clouds swirling around the snowcapped peak and smoke drifting from the caldera she also hints at tremendous power and potential for destruction. Vineyards, farms and houses clamber up her slopes and so provide Mt Etna with the occasional moniker of “the most dangerous” volcano for her frequent eruptions and proximity to habitation.

Mt Etna is ever-present and a little ominous!

Mt Etna is ever-present and a little ominous!

 

Mt Etna brooding in the sunlight

Mt Etna brooding in the sunlight

The most picturesuqe village in Sicily, apparently, is Taormina. I haven’t seen them all so I can’t really say, but I can say Taormina is beautiful and idyllic! Well there are two parts to Taormina really: the high bit and the coastal bit. The coast road arrives along the steep cliff edges above the beach and Isola Bella, the beautiful little island in the bay, periodically connected to the mainland by a little causeway of sand and pebbles.

Isola Bella Island, beach and causeway.

Isola Bella Island, beach and causeway.

The low road is thronged with restaurants and cafes, but the finest chocolate croissants must come from Villa Bianca Bar! Do yourself and test my claim if you ate passing! In April Spring is springing and the wildflowers carpet the hillsides and the towns and villages are rich in blossom.

A window on the Ionian Sea. from Taormina.

A window on the Ionian Sea. from Taormina.

The high bit of Taormina is a wonderful 15 – 30 minute walk up 100’s of steps, or a short cable car ride away. This is the bigger bit with wide streets, hotels, villas and of course the ancient Greek Amphitheatre. (“Teatro antico di Taormina”). From here you can marvel at the stunning backdrop of Mediterranean coastline and snow-capped Mt Etna. What a setting and a fantastic place to see the whole panorama comprising old town, coast, volcano, beach, mountains and sunny blue skies!

The ancient Greel amphitheatre in  Taormina...and Mt Etna!

The ancient Greek amphitheatre in Taormina…and Mt Etna!

April is the perfect time to go to Italy to see the spring colour in the hillsides, the blossom in the orchards and to avoid the crowds that swell and swell in the summer…

Happy travels!

ciaou

Richard.

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The Amazing Amalfi Coast!

Years ago as a younger man in Africa I saw an image of a village in Italy called Positano. The name and the image have been stuck in my mind over the years, and although I am not one for bucket lists, I often wondered whether I would ever get to visit that beautiful, gravity-defying village.

Well, events have transpired to deliver me there!

The Sorrento Peninsula & Positano from above Praiano.

The Sorrento Peninsula & Positano from above Praiano.

Positano is a small village clinging to the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast on the Sorrento Peninsula, south of Naples. Probably the most famous of the Amalfi Coast villages, possibly the most beautiful – but this is all debatable! Certainly there is much to explore and admire. The village is reached by foot along the high crags, cliffs and gorges of “The Path of the Gods” – the  Il Sentiero degli Dei – carved into the hillsides. The walk is beautiful and arduous. On one of the high crags sits the ancient Convent of San Domenico. A beautiful and thought provoking spot with a wonderful vista of the Mediterranean coast line.

Walk of the Gods views

The view over the Sorrento Peninsula from the Convent of San Domenico.

For the brave or foolhardy a road will also take you to Positano along the sheer cliff edges, winding and snaking along the very edge of the land and sometimes directly over the sea. For a more sedate approach Positano can be reached by boat as the village tumbles down the cliff to reach a small beach and little dock.

I am particularly fond of arriving somewhere by sea as from afar the profiles of the landmass, the cliffs and promontories appear unchanged and for millennia sailors must have admired exactly the same vista. Imaging myself as an ancient trader plying the coastal waters with my cargo of lemons, tomatoes, grapes and wine I stepped ashore at Positano for the first time. I looked up and marvelled at the sheer walls of rock high above the village.

Winding my way up hill – there are only two options up or down – I found Positano equally fascinating, beautiful and hectic. Traders and shopkeepers vie with restaurants and homes for space: any ledge, nook or cranny will do and the engineering skill required to fasten an entire village to the steep hill side is mind-boggling.

Positano tumbles down the hillside.

Positano tumbles down the hillside.

As Spring is springing the colours of the Mediterranean are even more magical and the street markets are as colourful as the Spring flowers on the hill sides. What a way to banish some winter blues – with those of the Mediterranean coast!

Colour to banish the winter blues!

Colour to banish the winter blues!

Feeling peckish after the climb I turned to a regional delicacy – sfogliatelle. These are shell shaped pastries made of thin leaves of pastry. Native to the Campania region they are filled with flavoured ricotta, almond paste, candied citrus ….mmmmm

Pastries for breakfast in Ravello!

Pastries for breakfast in Ravello!

In fact I prefer Ravello to Positano! Ravello is perched high up inland of Amalfi – with superb views from Villa Cimbrone, the Monastery and the Town. The village square is abuzz with life and an hour or two of people watching over a coffee and a pastry is a lovely way to wile away a sunny morning…before tackling the sheer cliffside routes again!

Closer to Salerno nestles Amalfi: a gorgeous harbourside village – with some wonderful cliffs and views of a slightly different nature to Positano. Amalfi has a much more accessible waterfront and harbour too, so if you tire of the panoramic views and fancy some people watching near the beach then Amalfi village is a vibrant waterfront spot.

Amalfi from across the harbour.

Amalfi from across the harbour.

 

…..and the food – well that is something the Italians take very seriously! Would I go back? Definitely: sun, sea, food, views and stunning walks :-)

Enjoy some more of my colourful images of the delightful Amalfi Coast

…thank you

Richard.

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