You are currently viewing Western Sicily, IT

Western Sicily, IT

April 1st, 2023

We were back at Minou after our trip to Malta by 7:30 am and had the whole day in front of us; neither of us slept well last night and Fran had SO much typing to do for the Malta blog (she had done none on the trip) that a day of rest and catch up was in order.  She got through that and began culling and editing the photos too in the hopes that that blog post won’t be too delayed as she’s caught up to Sicily and would prefer to get a post out a week to stay on track.  We’ll see how that goes….

Doug went over to the Lidl grocery store for a couple of things for tonight’s dinner and we’ll do a big grocery shop probably on Monday after heading inland tomorrow after Doug’s run and hot showers.   Fran got SO much done and the day was good.

So we took off Sunday morning and went westward inland to what we had read was a “hidden gem”, a place called Enna at 650 m / 2133 ‘ in altitude.  Enroute we saw Etna smoking:

We got a parking spot and walked into town and were pretty unimpressed.  We checked out the Torre di Elia and our impressions did not improve so we took the long way back to Minou and decided to move on.

Upon arriving at Minou, a fellow in a food truck asked for a jump for  his truck battery.  As we keep one of those quick start chargers, Doug was able to help him very quickly.

Upon leaving Enna, we could still see Etna:

Agrigento a city on the south coast much further west than we’d been prior to our jaunt over to Malta.  Here you find the Valley of the Temples for which we didn’t have super high expectations but that was good because it exceeded those low expectations.

The site is huge – more than 2 km from end to end with trails and paths in many directions.  Some temples were in ruins, other partial and a few quite impressively restored.  It was the first Sunday of the month and the entry fee was waived!

The Valle dei Templi or Valley of the Temples, is an archaeological site in Agrigento, Sicily. It is one of the most outstanding examples of ancient Greek art and architecture, and is one of the main attractions of Sicily.  The term “valley” is a misnomer, the site being located on a ridge outside the town of Agrigento.  The Valley includes remains of seven temples, all in Doric style. 

The Temple of Castor and Pollux (Italian: Tempio dei Dioscuri): dates back to 495 BC

Temple of Hercules:  dates back to 470 BC

While walking, Doug found a 5 note!  So this place was less than free!

Temple of Hera Lacini – misnamed Temple of Juno: dates back to 450 BC

Temple of Concordia: dates back to 440 BC and is the best preserved on site:

Greek city walls:

Girgentana goats

The Girgentana is an Italian breed of domestic goat indigenous to the province of Agrigento. The name of the breed derives from Girgenti, the name of Agrigento in local Sicilian language. There were in the past more than 30,000 head in the hills and coastal zone of the province. Today, however, this breed is in danger of disappearance and is on the endangered list.  The animals could have been introduced to Sicily by Greek colonists about 700 BC, or in the eighth century AD by Arab invaders.  The Girgentana goat has characteristic horns, twisted into a spiral form. It has a long beard and a primarily white coat with grey-brown hair around the head and throat. It has a good production of high-quality milk.

Copy of the statue of Atlas:

Remains of the Temple of Zeus:

We parked nearby overnight and we could see some of the temples lit up.

Today’s drive took us through 16 tunnels

It was a very quiet night until the birds awoke and we began the drive northwest to Sicily’s capital: Palermo.  We did not try and visit the actual western coast where there a few beaches as the weather was terrible.

Palermo, the capital of Sicily is a city is noted for its history, culture, architecture and gastronomy, playing an important role throughout much of its existence; it is over 2,700 years old. Palermo is in the northwest of the island of Sicily, by the Gulf of Palermo in the Tyrrheian Sea.

The city was founded in 734 BC by the Phoenicians as Sis (“flower”). Palermo then became a possession of Carthage.  Two Greek colonies were established, known collectively as Panormos; the Carthaginians used this name on their coins after the 5th century BC. As Panormos, the town became part of the Roman Republic and Empire for over a thousand years. From 831 to 1072 the city was under Arab rule at which time the city became the capital of Sicily for the first time. During this time the city was known as Balarm.  Following the Norman Conquest, Palermo became the capital of a new kingdom, the Kingdom of Sicily, that lasted from 1130 to 1816. 

The population of Palermo and its metropolitan area is the fifth most populated in Italy with around 1.2 million people whose inhabitants are known as Palermitani. For cultural, artistic and economic reasons, Palermo is one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean and is now among the top tourist destinations in both Italy and Europe. It is the main seat of the UNESCO WHS of Arab-Norman architecure.

We had a bit of on and off rain sprinkles overnight and on the drive to Palermo we hit some heavier rain.  Traffic in the city was horrific!  Took us twenty minutes to go a few blocks. The weather continued to be wet and we drove to the suburb of Monreale to see its famous cathedral. We paid to park for an hour and walked up the stairs into the old town.  The sky was still rather dark and the rain was on and off although not nearly as hard as earlier but we have to say it was very damp feeling; the kind of damp cold that gets into your bones.  The temperature barely reached 13C / 55F.  After Malta’s sunshine and warmth, we were quite chilled.

According to a legend, William II of Sicily fell asleep under a carob tree while hunting in the woods near Monreale. The Holy Virgin appeared to him in dream, suggesting him to build a church here. After removing the tree, a treasure was found in its roots, whose golden coins were used to finance the construction. It is more likely that the church was part of a plan of large constructions in competition with the then bishop of Palermo, Walter Ophamil, who had ordered the large Cathedral of Palermo. The construction of Monreale, started in 1172, was approved by Pope Alexander III with a bull on 30 December 1174. Works, including an annexed abbey, were completed only in 1267 and the church consecrated in 1178.  Pope Lucius III established the archdiocese of Monreale and the abbey church was elevated to the rank of cathedral.

Sidebar:  Today we received reimbursement for the parking ticket we incurred at the guesthouse in Malta from the owners.  Very good customer service since their advice has been inaccurate. 

We arrived before noon, got checked into Green Camp Parking that offers parking not just for cars, but has about 20 spots for motorhomes with power, Wi-Fi, toilets, water and dumping access.  Hot showers are available for one euro.  It’s secure with 24 hour security and away from busy streets so pretty quiet.  We got settled, had some oatmeal and went to find laundry.  The office here at the parking lot told us of one but it turned out to not to be a coin operated laundry but more of a dry cleaner and the lady spoke only Italian.  We walked further in the other direction to one we’d found on park4night and it was a self-serve and we got it all done.  We wanted to grocery shop too but all the stores were in the other direction so we just hung out waiting for the clothes to be washed and dried.  We were back by 4, made our beds back up and decided it was too late to go shopping so we walked into the historic district and found a place to have a drink and some dinner outside Cathedral Square.

Here we met a couple of women from Chicago. Charlotte and Lauren who were teachers on spring break.  Fran enjoyed a Lemon Sicilian Spritz: This limoncello spritz is made as follows the classic 3:2:1 spritz ratio of 3 parts Prosecco, 2 parts limoncello and 1 part soda water with some granita – very refreshing. Doug tried it but found it too “puckery”.

Sidebar:  Italian drivers are terrible!  They rarely use their signals when passing on the highways, cut in far too close and they park anywhere including double parking EVERYWHERE which probably explains all the broken side mirrors!  There seems to be no consideration for others although they do often give way to larger vehicles. They don’t pay attention to speed limits, often going too fast with the odd idiot going far too slow!    

As for the roads themselves, Doug (being a civil engineer specializing in roads and bridges) doesn’t understand their logic.  They have super short on ramps, stop signs where there shouldn’t be (i.e. the end of a ramp!) and so many pot holes in areas where they shouldn’t be suffering from freeze thaw. 

Tunnel count today:  4

So next day, Tuesday after exercising and tea, we walk about one kilometre to the Lidl grocery store to stock up and on the way back, at a green grocer for produce.  As mentioned above, there are about 20 spaces with power for campers at this “camper stop” and this morning there were about 26 of us here – obviously not everyone got power but still, that’s a lot of campers!

It had rained overnight but Doug did not get wet on his run and we stayed dry all day.  We had a bit earlier brunch than usual and then went to check out the sites in Palermo.

First we made our way to the furthest one, the Villa Malfitano where we’d read one of The Godfather  movies had some scenes filmed in it.

The villa wasn’t all that impressive but the grounds around it were a lovely park.  It was also closed so we could not go inside.   It is a 19th century villa hosting the Whittaker’s natural history and archaeological collection.

Enroute we saw Castello della Zisa:

Next we made our way to the famous Palermo Theatre Massimo – opera house; third largest in Europe and deemed one of the most beautiful.  You had to pay a €10 entry fee and go on a guided tour.  The tour started in the foyer then took you up to the Royal Box on the second floor.

This theatre seats 1381, 300 on the floor and just over a 1000 in seven tiers of boxes.  Each box holds six chairs, except the Royal Box which was 20.  It was designed to promote the unification of Italy in 1861.  Construction started in 1874 and took 22 years to complete including an 8 year hiatus.  It is the largest theatre in Italy and inspired by ancient Sicilian architecture.  It was closed in 1974 for safety reasons and opened again in 1997, four days before it’s centenary.  After this time, “charges of corruption and political meddling along with budget deficits and heavy debt” afflicted the house but since 2014, it is said to be back on track.  The final scenes of The Godfather Part III were filmed here. 

Fun fact:  the outer panels on the ceiling around the centre painting open and close to allow air exchange for cooling!

crest of the family who built the theatre
view from the Royal Box
In the Echo Room

Making our way to the Fountain of Shame we passed through The Quartto Cinti.

Quattro Canti, officially known as Piazza Vigliena, is a Baroque square in Palermo; it is considered the center of the historic quarters of the city. The site is the intersection of two major streets in Palermo, the Via Maqueda and the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, and at this intersection are the corners of all four of the ancient quarters (Cantons or Canti) of Palermo:  the Kalsa (SE); Seralcadi (SW); Albergaria (wW); and Castellammare (NE). On the southwest corner stands the church of San Giuseppe dei Padre Teatini. A few steps away along the flank of this church, behind the Southeast corner building, along Via Maqueda is the Piazza and Fontana Pretoria, sandwiched between this church and Santa Caterina. A few more steps reaches San Cataldo and the ancient Norman church of La Martorana.

The Fountain of Shame was designed in 1554 in Florence and in 1573, when trying to embellish the city of Palermo, it was purchased and moved here to the Piazza Pretoria.  In order to fit it into the current space, many homes were demolished.  It supports 16 nude statues of myphs, humans, mermaids and satyrs.  It was not always admired and hence gained its name Fountain of Shame.  It is surrounded on three sides with buildings. 

There were several churches around the fountain including:

Saint Catherine’s

Santa Maria Dell’Ammiraglio

And San Cataldo with very Islamic looking features.

Nearby we stopped in a small piazza for a drink and a cannoli before walking over to the Cathedral square next to where we ate last night so we could go inside the church.

Enroute back to Minou, we passed by the Norman Palace with it’s Palatine Chapel but the entry fee was quite steep so we passed on that.

That night it rained off and on and by morning it was quite heavy and complete with thunder and lightning.

No tunnels today.

Palermo was a bit of a disappointment to both of us; guess we had it hyped up in our minds.  It’s pretty “gritty” and needs a great deal of TLC.  It has an “old and tired” feel to it and there is FAR too much traffic. It does have a great deal of history though.

We had to out of the Camper place by noon in order not to have to pay another night so our plan was to shower, dump, fill and head out after a late brekkie.  After showering the rain stopped and the sun came out so we altered that plan and left around 10:30 in the hopes of staying ahead of the rain.

We drove about 70 km / 40 mi to the small ancient city of Céfalu to see the medieval washing house.  Enroute we could see tall mountains and some were still snow covered at the top.  We parked outside the main city and walked down the sloped streets towards the water.

Here the River Cefalino flowed into a cave and women began doing their washing here centuries ago.  In 1514 the cave was demolished and the present day site was built.  It was in poor repair for decades and in 1991 was restored and is opened daily to the public for free.  The “cave” like structure has 22 cast iron mouths, fifteen of which are lion heads, pouring water into the washhouse.  Apparently women still used the washhouse until about twenty years ago, trying to keep the old Sicilian way of life alive. 

stair down to the laundry
where the fountains pour the water in
some of the washing tubs

After a few wrong turns we found ourselves near the beach:

We then walked the pretty alley ways and made it to the Duomo Square where there a cathedral, not a Duomo.

As there’s not much else in this city that interested us, we returned to Minou.  We have to say that the city of Céfalu was much cleaner, in better shape and more pleasant to walk around than Palermo was.  The narrow streets are well kept and the shops are cute.

As Easter weekend is fast approaching we decided we did not want to take the ferry back to the mainland on Friday so we pushed on along the north coast of Sicily in the sunshine (thank goodness) quite a ways on the non toll highway.  It was slow going and took 3.5 hours to go 145 km / 90 mi but it was definitely scenic and not as boring as a toll highway.

We did get glimpses of the toll road at times and what an expensive venture that must have been:

We stopped in the small beach town of Spadafora at a free parking dead end street.  It was quite windy and we had a few sprinkles but it was an overall quiet night.  It was quite cool tonight and we flicked on the furnace for a while before dinner to get the chill out of our home.

Today the tunnel count was nine.

We drove the toll road to get back to Messina on Thursday morning and upon arriving there, were told the ferry doesn’t run from here (we think maybe only in season?) so we had to drive an extra 9 km down to Tremestieri where we’d disembarked to arrive on the island.  The drive through the city was so slow with a lot of traffic lights as it was still rush hour.  We got to the correct dock, waited about 10 minutes and were onboard back to the mainland.

It had not rained on the trip here but the sky across the strait looked menacing!  We’ll have to see.