Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Sicily - Great in Any Weather
Another school holiday loomed. One of our favourite things to do when all else fails is to freeload off my sister in her fab “La Dolce Vita” apartment in the ancient centre of Rome. “Could you put up with us for a few days”, I asked? “How about you meet us in Sicily for a long weekend” she countered and so the deal was struck.
Given that we only had an elongated weekend; Alexa was recommending the small village of Scopello, an easy 40 minute drive west from Palermo Airport and a short distance from the Zingarao Nature Reserve. The Zingaro , covering 4,000 acres with four miles of what many consider the most spectacular coastline in Sicily also represents one of the most intact ecological environments in the Mediterranean basin.
We were to stay at the Pensione Tranchina in Scopello, recommended by Karen Brown and others, owned and run by a Sicilian/Panamanian couple known for their warm welcome and knowledge of the local area.
A few days before our departure, a devastated Alexa called to say that the weather report for Sicily for the June weekend was uncharacteristically horrendous with rain, wind and low temperatures. One can only be philosophical about these things plus the acid test of a travel destination is whether it can charm visitors in less than charming weather. As it turned out, our weather was indeed lousy but Sicily was magical.
For us, the allure of the island centred on the combination of good beaches, exciting landscapes and coastline, great food and top tier antiquities. From our base in Scopello in the west, which is closer to North Africa than the Italian mainland, we could easily reach the empty beaches in the Zingaro Nature Reserve along well marked hiking trails. Equally accessible were the awe inspiring ancient Hellenic ruins of Selinute and Segesta and the medieval mountain town of Erice.
Selinute, the site of the Greek city of Selinus, lies in spectacular isolation on the coast. One has to use a lot of imagination to reconstruct the Greek colony from the collapsed temples and heaps of ancient rubble levelled over the centuries by earthquakes. Nevertheless, even our eight year old daughter was caught up in the romance of the enormous site, recounting for us the exciting tales of ancient gods and goddesses. After a heavy morning of antiquities, we had a good lunch at the Hotel Alceste in the beach resort of Marinella di Selinute, which is a five minute drive from the ruins of Selinus.
On another rainy day, we spent the morning at Segesta, the rival city of Selinus. Again, the ruins are set in dramatic isolation, this time in the middle of the countryside. More intact than Selinus with a superb Doric temple, the beautifully sited theatre proved the highlight for the children, who put on a performance of Shakespeare followed by popular songs for an appreciative audience of tourists.
Also to be recommended is the medieval mountain town of Erice towering 800 meters above sea level. On a good day, it is said that you can see both Mount Etna and Tunisia from the summit. Needless to say, we saw neither, but what we did do was have a jolly lunch at Ulisse ( the Cave of Polyphemus where the Cyclops ate 6 of Ulysses men can be found in Erice) near the main square where my brother-in-law drank the olive oil, much to the consternation of the proprietor. We visited an interesting modern art gallery, bought beautifully made non-touristy ceramics in a small shop, again off the main square and the olive oil drinking brother-in-law claims to have gotten the best old fashioned shave with a hot towel on the way back to the car. Not bad for a grey day.
Despite the uncooperative weather, I found Sicily to be a perfect No Crowds destination. The Sicilians were wonderful hosts, proud of their island and happy to share its rich heritage with an increasing number of visitors. Palermo Airport was modern, quick to get in and out of and surprisingly efficient.
Scopello proved to be an unspoiled medieval hamlet located on an incredibly idyllic stretch of coast, featured in the George Clooney film Ocean’s Twelve. In a perfect case of life imitating art, when the heist movie, Ocean’s Twelve, was filming in Scopello, several members of known Mafia families were arrested for trying to infiltrate the set, a charge which the producer of the film vigorously denies. For the record, we saw absolutely no evidence of anything sinister anywhere in Sicily, but then I’m no Julia Roberts.
Pensione Tranchina was a spotlessly clean and friendly place that offered excellent value, particularly the delicious four course dinners at €19 per person. We also had good meals in Scopello at Torre Benistra which has a beautiful outdoor terrace and Il Baglio in the courtyard.
The area around Scopello, particularly the romantic remains of the old tuna fishery, is delightful and popular with snorkelers and divers. The Zingaro Reserve is a brilliant example of conservation of which the Sicilians should be proud.
Of course our stay was too short and we visited only a fraction of what the island has to offer. But thanks to Alexa’s excellent planning, we were able to enjoy the best of Sicily on a busy holiday weekend with no crowds. We’ll be back and who knows, maybe next time in good weather.
Via A. Diaz n. 7
Via Natale di Roma
Tel: 0924 541 128
Via Chiaramonte 45
Tel: 0923 869 333
Via Alceste 21
Marinella di Selinute
Tel: 0924 46 184