We catch up with Karen Whitney, one half of our Grey Gappers, as they travel from Sicily to mainland Italy.
We had decided to extend our stay in Sicily by a day, for the simple reason that the Tuesday was to be a brighter, sunnier day and the view from Castlemola was said to have spectacular views of Mt Etna.
So we spent the rather dull Monday food shopping but also venturing slightly further along the coast on our bikes. However, tunnels prevailed and they are bad enough in the van let alone on a bike so we turned back and headed to base camp, where we treated ourselves to roast potatoes in the motorhome oven.
Tuesday dawned and was, as predicted, bright and sunny. So after some washing was done and hung out we caught the bus up to Taormina. Last time we had walked, but the plan this time was bus to Taormina and then walk up to Castlemola.
The bus was a fun journey. It was packed when it arrived with a mix of Italians and tourists and when we turned onto the sea road there were oohs and ahhs from all, with the left hand side of the bus crowding over to take a picture of the sea.
The bus made its way up the narrow hairpins bends, taking its own full length and the roads to make each turn. About half way up Mount Etna revealed itself in all its glory, again with one half of the bus standing and leaning over to the other side to take the required photos.
We all arrived at the bus depot in a full frenzy of excitement ready for the rest of the day’s adventures- if only the 89 bus to Blackheath station was so much fun!
After a quick ice cream we began our hill climb up to the amazingly placed Castlemola, with a few breath stops along the way. The village was cute and a bit more lived-in then Taormina or so it seemed to us. Following LP’s advice we stopped in Bar Turrisi which, due to the hilly terrain, is set over 4 floors and the very top one has the most awesome view of Mt Etna, which that day it really was in its full glory, capped in white snow with its steady stream of smoke pumping out.
Back at camp we spent our last night on Sicily in the company of new found friends having a farewell drink as we all headed on to our various chosen destinations.
Our trip and crossing to mainland Italy was sunny and uneventful apart from nearly running out of fuel, as the satnav steered us straight to the exit port of Messina and with us refusing to pay main road prices for petrol.
After the short hop to the mainland we had to again ignore the navigation and detour into the actual town to find both petrol - now at any price - and a supermarket. After a few fraught moments (slightly longer and slightly more than fraught) we found both and headed to the seaside town of Tropea – famed for its captivating prettiness, dramatic position and amethyst sunsets.
The clue might have been in the wording “dramatic position” and the run into it was certainly that, with David having to use all his now considerable motorhome driving skills to make the hairpin turns on the very narrow road with the locals still intent on trying to get past us in their cars, up and down.
Our eventual home for the night was a lovely car park on the seafront with a view of another active volcano on the island of Stromboli and we did indeed get a lovely sunset that night so after a slightly trying day, all ended well.
We’ll move swiftly on from the actual town of Tropea as after a quick explore the next day it was firmly shut, but we do not doubt that in summer it is completely stunning. The magic came later that day when we moved slightly further up the coast to another seaside town called Pizzo.
Again our home was to be a car park but this one was adjacent to the town’s small but sandy little cove, with beautiful clear waters. After parking up and donning our shorts, we made the again steep climb into the old town - and what a treat it was - with a lovely main square lined with cafes and gelaterias, all open and welcoming with their cries of 'buongiorno!'
Dragging David away from the famed local ice-cream speciality 'tartufo', we headed to see Castello Murat named after Joachim Murat - apparently a decent sort who unfortunately was executed in the castle after being found guilty of treason. The castle and its display were all you could want - simple, informative and entrance at a reasonable €2.50 each.
Moving on, what is tartufo? It’s sort of a chocolate bomb but not with a hard chocolate case, runny chocolate encased in chocolate ice-cream and with a coating of chocolate powder. As we all know, the Italians are famed for their ice-cream but this particular treat is known only from here but we never did find out why. Also famed in this area are very sweet red onions and this obviously must be to do with the soil and location, but these were indeed wonderfully sweet as we had them in a deli- sandwich and we also cooked them in-house in our much favoured chicken cous cous recipe. We have brought some seeds back with us so when we do return we’ll find out if it’s the soil, location or the actual variety that gives the sweetness (apply now if you want a seedling)!
A happy 2 nights were spent in this lovely spot before we headed eastward in search of a washing machine for our seriously dirty sheets and towels but not before we visited one last treat that Pizzo boasts - Chiesa di Piedigrotta. This is a simple tourist attraction of an underground cave with a painting of Madonna that sailors had prayed to when it was on their ship shortly before they were ship-wrecked at this spot. All were saved, including the picture.
Carvings were made in the rock and it was eventually turned into a church. Descendants of the original sculptor have maintained the figures ... and have in fact added ‘less- godly’ figures like J.F. Kennedy to the display.
We have both enjoyed this week here in Italy and have taken great delight in the friendliness and humour that the people in this area have shown us (not those in cars however!).
Pride in their local foods and wines, aided with small tasters and not big expensive tourist spots (yet to come), but the small simple local attractions like the caves, castles and churches which give such an insight into the history and make-up of the local area.
So it is the little things that sometimes go so far…………..but who needs a little glass of wine?!
Our Route This Week: