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June 21st 2015
Published: June 21st 2015
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Saturday 13th June Cagliari to Agrigento 97 miles

An early start in Palermo, Sicily as the ferry docked at 7.30am and by 8.00am we were parked and sightseeing!! Palermo is a bit of a quiet ‘wow’. Lots of tall, dark, medieval streets and labyrinth alleyways, with iron balconies on the five storey buildings and a huge number of old theatres, churches, palaces, squares, Vucciria market, as well as the Cathedral all within walking distance! Our best find was the catacombs at Cappucini. It was a bit of a walk to get to but it was a Covento that retained its own burial ground for several hundred years, placing the dead in catacombs under the church. Most of the bodies dated back to between 1800 – 1880 and most were dressed in the clothes of that era and a lot of the bodies were stood upright! Weird! The embalming was done with vinegar and arsenic and some of the bodies had retained their hair and moustaches and there was a body of a child so well embalmed that she looked like she was asleep! Lots of dead newborn babies and stillborn children – it really was something out of a horror film!

I’m sure we missed quite a bit in Palermo and you would need several days to do the City justice, but we then had a 2hr drive over the mountains to Agrigento to see the Valle dei Templi that is one of the most impressive complexes of ancient Greek buildings, outside Greece. A lot of the site has been destroyed, by the Carthaginians in the 4th Century BC and then the Christians. Earthquakes wreaked further havoc, but nine of the ten temples are still visible and traces of the old Greek city still remain. I quite liked the Girgentana goats, the name derives from girgenti or Agrigenti, thought to have been introduced by the Greeks or the Arabs and are endemic to Sicily!

Fortunately there was a campsite just down the road so we camped up for the night (Camping Valle dei Templi, San Leone)

Sunday 14th June Agrigento to Cefalu 193 miles

We knew we had quite a hard day today to get back to the North coast, so we left the campsite by 9.00am and followed the S115 along the south of the island, past all the plastic greenhouses, to Gela. Followed the S117 to the Villa Romana del Casale, just outside Piazza Armerina and stopped for coffee. The Roman Villa is thought to have belonged to Maximianus Hercueleus, Diocletians co-emperor from AD286 – AD385 and is said to contain some of the finest roman mosaics! They were certainly very impressive, as room after room revealed intricately detailed mosaic pictures. The Villa must have been truly fantastic when it was complete and intact as I don’t think I have ever seen so much mosaic! And it was only excavated in the 20th Century!

Onwards to Enna, where we tried to take a shortcut! BIG mistake!! The road petered out into a mud track, after part of it had fallen away. I think we were lucky (well Chris’ skill a six point turn !!) to get the Van turned around and out of there!! We were directed onto theS561 past the lake, where we had lunch before driving up to the castle at Enna! Massive castle at the top of the hill, free to go in, so had a quick wander around but it was really just too hot to climb the tower!!

It was a short hop on the Motorway up to Cefalu and we hoped to be there by 16.30 but at Tre Monzelli we were directed off the Motorway for a 20 km detour, over two mountains, through the town of Polizzi Generosa and along the white road through the National Park to re-join the motorway at Scillato, so we eventually got to Cefalu at about 18.00.

It was absolutely packed out but we found a Sosta Carpark by the seafront and decided to stay the night, as it looked to be a lovely seaside town, dominated by “La Rocca”, a massive rocky outcrop and the Cathedral. It turned out to be a little gem, as there were loads of old medieval, tourist streets to wander about in, a restaurant meal outside on the sea-front and sunset over the sea. It was perfect! (Sosta CarPark (Parcheggio), Cefalu)

Monday 15th June Cefalu to Giarre 163 miles

The Sosta wasn’t brilliant as the Tunisian market traders came back with their wares and were moving cars around very close to the Van up until about 1.00am!!

However, left fairly the next morning, with a view ti having a look at Tyndaris, a ruined Greek city by the sea and thought we would just run along the coast road S113. After about 20 miles or so, and bend after bend, very hazy views, up and over the hills, absolutely hogging the coastline, we decided that if we were going to get anywhere we would need to jump on the Motorway. Got on at Tusa and off again at Patti – the motorways are also very hard work as there are frequent lane changes, and tunnel after tunnel, some as long as 4kms and some very badly lit!!

From Patti we tried to find Tyndaris but ended up at a Sanctuary on top of a hill instead of down at sea level so gave it up as a bad job, had coffee, and moved on!!

Back on the Motorway to Milazzo where we thought we would see if there was an afternoon trip out to the Isole Eolie to see either volcanic islands. It turned out to be just be ferry port with lots of people offering secure parking for 20 euros, so we got cold feet leaving the Van and gave the ferry trips up as a bad job too!! Not every day is perfect!!

Decided that we would just push on to Taormina before going to the campsite and after another session on the Motorway, and our first glimpse of mainland Italy we got back on the S114 at Taormina. A lovely rugged coastline and we took the cable car up into the old town of Taormina to see the 3rd Century Greek theatre and then a wander around the old streets. Didn’t make it up to the castle as it was still sat high up above us!! Drove onto the campsite with views over Mount Etna so hoping for a good sunset tonight (ACSI Mokambo, Giarre)

Tuesday 16th June Giarre to Mount Etna to Giarre 68 miles

It was still hazy the next day (not sure if its due to clouds, heat or smoke from Etna!!) but Chris decided he was going to drive up Mount Etna! (If coaches can get there then so can I!!) Cut back across the plain somehow but was unable to find the Nicolosi road to go up so we ended up at Zafferana Etnea where a route up Mt Etna was at least signed! It’s a long way up and the trees get sparcer, and then there is a section of yellow trees and then just bleak, black rock! Fascinating stuff! Flowers grow on the molten ash but the whole thing is a bit like a moonscape.We stopped at the ‘top’ Rifugio Sapienza (a bit like Lands End!) and duly walked around the crater Silvestri before Chris decided he was going to do the hours walk up to the La Capannina crater that erupted in 2001! Looked too much like hard work to me!!

Came back down Etna via Nicolosi and it was a fairly easy jaunt into Catania, that the guide books describe as ‘worth seeing’. The whole city was destroyed by Etna’s eruption in 1669 and subsequent earthquake in 1693, but was rebuilt in the 17th Century using the old lava rock as the main building material ! The Guide book suggests resisting the urge to leave, as its an intriguing City with its with squares, cathedral, tall, narrow, black lava buildings and the obligatory 2nd C Roman Theatre and earlier Greek Theatre !

Left the City via the Coastal road with its black rocky lava waterfront – the 1669 eruption engulfed the City and Harbour !!

Washing and shopping done we are set to go to Siracusa (ancient Syracuse) tomorrow!

Wednesday 17th June Giarre to Siracusa (ancient Syracuse) 132 miles

Our last day in Sicily – I can’t say I’m unhappy about it because the traffic and the roads, the lack of signs, diversions, road works, cars jumping at you from all ways has made it very hard work – for Chris especially! However, as we have been at the same campsite for the last three nights we have orientated ourselves quite well and managed to get on the Autostrade and down to Siracusa by about 11.00am. Parked quite easily in the Tourist Car Park then had a wander over the bridge into the ancient Greek City of Syracuse (now the island Ortiga District of Siracusa), which was the most powerful Greek City from the 5th – 3rd Centuries BC, and according to the Roman Consul Cicero, the most beautiful.

There is not a lot left of old Syracuse in the centre, other than the Tempio di Apollo (570 BC). The most impressive buildings are around the Piazza del Duomo, dominated by the Duomo (Cathedral) itself. The base building of the Cathedral is the Tempio di Atena (5thC BC), much of which survives thanks to a Christian Church founded in the 7thC AD, which incorporated the temple in its structure by hacking 8 arches in the cella walls, and 12 of Temple’s columns embedded in a Norman wall ….all very complicated architecturally!!.

Various other ruins are scattered about the four quarters of the city, including the Greek Theatre with a capacity of 15,000 and the Roman amphitheatre, but after having walked around Ortiga and the the old Battalion Castle, and the old fine streets, the heat was just too much to do much more sightseeing!

Drove back to the campsite during siesta time so the roads were quieter, to plan the next leg of our journey – Mainland Italy !

Thursday 18th June Giarre to Messina to Salerno 72 miles

Change of plan!! The weather wasn’t good when we got up, with rain threatening, and by the time we got to Messina it was pretty torrential! We found the Ferry terminal ok and went to get our ferry tickets from a Café/Bar , who would only take cash (55 Euros) which we didn’t have !! So whilst Chris went off to find an ATM, I noticed that there is a ferry that would take us up to Salerno and save us two days driving and 600 kilometres. Finding the ticket office proved impossible, so booked the ferry tickets to Salerno online on my phone! ( Ferry line Molo Norimbega)

The ferry departs 01.00 hours Friday Morning (we can board at 22.00) so we had the whole day to potter around the North East tip of Sicily (in between showers!!) It was pleasant enough with a couple of lakes, beaches, an old fort, and great views of the straights of Messina. Sharing a cup of tea with another UK campervan couple we met also helped pass the time very pleasantly!

We got to the Port about 19.00, picked up our tickets, from the ferry port office, cooked a meal and now waiting for the ferry to Mainland Italy! (Overnight Ferry Cartour Delta)

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