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EXPLORING SICILY -- PART II
 
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EXPLORING SICILY -- PART II

THE COAST ROAD -- MAZARA DEL VALLO NORTH AND EAST

&

SOUTH THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS TO AGRIGENTO

This part of Sicily is perhaps the most enjoyable because it is less visited and less changed than the eastern side of the island. Sicilians everwhere are enormously appealing people, but here they seemed a little more open to us, more curious, more spontaneous and more ready to have a conversation. As I think is evident, we have very fond memories of our visit to the island.
 

Our two days at the beach in Butera ended too quickly and we were back on the road still heading west. Continuing along the southern coast road we came to a small city called Mazara del Vallo. We parked the car on the busy main street and within walking half of a block we found another fabulous gelateria -- very dark chocolate piled on deliciously fresh baked sugar cones. This was a very good sign and true to the good luck omens, just down the road we found a campsite by the sea where we were soon at home in a comfortably furnished two bedroom trailer with a tree shaded roomy outdoor deck. The next day we asked at the office for a local fish market and were directed to a new commonly shared facility. Within minutes Stassi had engaged the fishermen and chaos reined. Sicilians are a wonderfully receptive people, full of life and very genuine. The photographs you see will give you just a hint of the humor and vitality on this magical island.

 
All's well that ends well. We had our fun and left with a bag of shrimp. Not bad for a morning in Mazara.
Mazara is a real port town with a river flowing into the sea. There you can find rusted hulks and sleek motorboats side by side.
 

FISH MARKET
Gancitano Luliano
Via Umbria #26
Mazara del Vallo
Trapani, 91026, Sicily, Italy
Email: [email protected]

SPORTING CLUB VILLAGE
c. Da Bocca Arena
Mazara del Vallo
Trapani, 91026, Sicily, Italy
Tel: 0923-947-230
Website: www.SportingClubVillage.com

Our camping trailer was part of a very upscale campsite with two huge pools, tennis courts, a restaurant and grocery store. The prices aren't cheap as they are in US campsites, but they are always as good as a moderately priced hotel and often better for about a savings of 25%.

 
Reluctantly we left Mazara del Vallo and as always sticking to the slowest most coastal old roads we passed through Marsala, birthplace of Marsala wine, and enjoyed a stoll on the plaza.
 

Back on the road one of our most enjoyable discoveries was accidentally finding Saline Ettore e Infersa and its amazing salt fields along with a few small towns and settlements that looked a little like grand hopes gone wrong. Driving while keeping the sea to our left always kept us on the coast road and led us into and out of many small appealing towns as well. Olive groves were everywhere. Wheat escaped the fields and grew by the roadside. Artichokes were more common than tomato plants and then there were the salt fields.

The sea is contained in acre sized lots bordered by stone all made meticulously many years or decades or centuries in the past. In the hot sun water evaporates leaving behind sea salt. Gathered by hand in wheel barrows in the more picturesque areas and by medium sized earth movers in more commercial areas we wondered where it all ended up -- in chic and expensive containers in natural food shops intended to be stylishly ground at the table or in those giant salt trucks that keep icy roads open for us in winter. Who knows?

 
 
What you see on the right and in the photographs below is harvested sea salt piled up and covered with clay tiles to protect the harvest from rain. The Sicilians and Italians in general seem to have an innate and exquisite sense of beauty even in practical matters.
 
 
The area is undergoing a tourism makeover so I have no idea what you'll find when you get there, but salt recovery and salt mining are fascinating. The photograph to the right is the charming cafe attached to the salt museum.
 

We began our time in Sicily at the Trapani airport, but never saw the city as we left from the airport by bus to Palermo. As it turns out, Trapani is a small very appealing port city with seemingly few attractions for a short term visitor right in the town. It is a city with history however and and it is well cared for by its residents. Its location though makes it a perfect base camp for exploring all of the nearby sights. Trapani not yet being a major tourist destination made it a little more difficult for us to find an affordable and still comfortable bed for the night. There were business hotels, but they seemed a little expensive and didn't seem very appealing to us. Just on the north side of town we found a lovely beach side hotel where the manager advised us against a night's stay because of an anniversary party that was going to take place that very night. It was still light so we drove on to find ourselves in Tonnara di Bonagia recommended by the fellow hosting the anniversary party. We were a little disappointed he couldn't get us an invitation to the party!

 

Hotel Albergo Ristorante Saverino
Via Lungomare, 11
Tonnara di Bonagia, Trapani, Sicily, Italy
Tel: 0923-592-727
Email: [email protected]
Website: www.severino.it

Tonnara di Bonagia is a relatively small town and the stylish Hotel Albergo Ristorante Saverino proved very pleasant as we had a balcony overlooking the harbor.

 

That evening, we looked over our car rental map and planned the next day. I'd also picked up a tourism pamphlet listing the places that were "must do's" near Trapani and we were on for the adventure. Next morning though we'd already passed the route to the island's most north westerly point we backtracked to take a look. We've found that corners always seem to offer something special.

Along the way we passed through a quiet little town called Castelluzzo and I spotted a "pane" or bread shop. On went the brakes and in we went. This is one of the dozens of bread shops we visited in Sicily and it ranks as number one or two. Aside from the wonderful quality, this one was of special interest because the woman running it spoke fluent English. She had been raised in California by her Sicilian parents who left this little town to settle in the States. After many years, they decided to return home and she went with them. She now runs the bakery that was her parent's so long ago and she does a very fine job.

 

Cathy Catalano, Owner
Panificio La Spiga di Candela Giuseppe
Pane, Pizze, Biscotti
Viale C. Colombo 272
Castelluzzo, San Vito Lo Capo
Email: [email protected]

 
Continuing on down the very scenic road we finally came upon San Vito Lo Capo, a great surprise -- a chic beach side town that could hold its own with the best -- a beautiful beach, great restaurants and bars, very stylish hotels, lots of charm and centuries old churches to add a little sparkle to your intellect. There is even an all natural gelato shop pictured on the left that is a must visit. If you are planning a week's holiday in Sicily, this might be one of the best spots. And, for those who want to get out and about, the western end of the Reserva Naturale dello Zingaro is just a short, though harrowing, drive away. The views are spectacular and the ride up on this side of the park should not be missed.
 
 
Descending the western access road to the Reserva Naturale dello Zingaro on the left, we once again passed through Castelluzzo and stocked up on focaccia which was a good thing as this proved to be a very long day on the road eventually ending in the tiny town of Scopello, just by the Reserva Naturale dello Zingaro on the eastern side.
 
Scopello is a charming small town where we found another campsite. This one was a little long in the tooth overall, but with new and lovely cabins and great views of the park.
 

Reserva Naturale dello Zingaro
Website: http://www.riservazingaro.it/index.php?lang=en
Enter from the Scopello area or from San Vito Lo Capo. The park is about 10 km from entrance to entrance and there are no services along the way which is also mostly in bright sunshine.

Gelateria Pasticeria Minando
San Vito Lo Capo

Camping Lu Baruni
di Di Bartolo Gaetano
C. da Barone, 27
Scopello
Tel: 0924-391333

 

Waking up at Camping Lu Baruni and then waking up the owners, two very elegant Italians, we got on the road and within an hour we were driving down the precipitous road to Castelmari del Golfo. This is another town that you might think about if you have only a week to get away. It is beautiful. You could spend days wandering narrow streets, dining outside as life passes by, hunting for the best gelato and exploring a wealth of shops. In this tiny town they've found a great solution for putting out the trash on their narrow streets and alley ways; they hang it as you can see on the right.

 
 
 
Vito, the smiling fellow on the right owns one of the best gelaterias in Sicily. He even has his certificates from gelateria school posted on the wall. Try the pistacchio; it is dreamy!
 
Gelateria Caffetteria Garibaldi
Corso Garibaldi, 52
Castellamare del Golfo, Trapani
Vito A. Nannini, owner
 
Leaving Castelmari del Golfo we passed through a small town stopping at a bakery for directions to Segesta. They pointed straight down the road. After traveling a few miles, the road began to narrow. There were no towns or stores or bakeries and soon there were only farms and wildflowers began coming in the windows. We had done it again! But as you can see in the photographs below, there is never a dull moment on the road.
 
 

One of the funniest things about this encounter was the jangling of the large bells that each lovely sheep was wearing. It was an amazing racket! In the photograph to the right, look at the top of the hill to get a peak ahead at the Greek ruins at Segesta.

 

 

 

 

Our friends Inge and Wolf have a lovely farm in Sweet Home, Oregon, with sheep and alpacas. Do visit to see all of the wonderful crafts they produce with the help of these sweet animals. Click here Timber Wolf Farm

 
We did eventually find ourselves in Segesta and truly it was just down that very road. We had gratefully avoided all traffic and following only one road is just the ticket for us as any choice in directions almost always leads to our being lost. Segesta is a Greek archaeological site with an exquisitely situated temple like the Parthenon. At a distance and on another higher hill there is a large well preserved theatre. Do take the bus up to the theater site. It is inexpensive and everyone we saw walking up the hill was dragging their behind even just half way there. After all, the site is meant to be enjoyable, not arduous.The overall site is busy, but not plagued with visitors so it is very special. For the best experience of its extravagant beauty get there early in the morning. There is a snack shop at the site where food looks fabulous, but we found all of it inedible -- good for the waistline as all of it went in the trash bag.
 
Everyone here seemed to be waiting for the play to begin. Just imagine when this was an active Greek theater. Maybe creations like this will allow them a little forgiveness for their current financial problems.
 
 
Leaving the Segesta parking area with the treasure to photograph on the right right complete with beautiful antique leather luggage, we headed back to the coast road driving many miles through closed up towns of private residences and condos. Along the way we passed through and explored coastal areas of marble mining that were spectacular though not especially good for the environment. We continued on and on and on eventually finding ourselves in Azzolini, not a remarkable town, but it had the great advantage of having an open hotel. We stopped by to inquire about the price of a room, but it was early enough in the day to move on thinking something better would be just down the road. It wasn't. We passed through miles of small beach side towns still closed up for the season, but all seemed to be alternatives to summer life in Palermo -- all private homes or condo apartments. After driving through a lot of these still pre-season small towns each of us getting tired and a little edgy about a bed for the night, we opted to drive back to the hotel in Azzolini where we slept in style.
In this part of Sicily there are mountains of marble as in the photograph on the right and a not infrequent sight along the back roads are small businesses selling huge and gorgeous slabs of marble as you can see on the left.
 
Azzolini Palm Beach Hotel
This was expensive and Stassi tried to negotiate with no luck. Lovely facility facing the ocean at the end of town if you are heading NE. No internet in the rooms, but it worked fine in the well appointed bar/dining area which also served as the area for the lovely breakfast.
 

From Azzolini it was our plan to spend two or three days driving south through the center of the island seeing areas we hoped were untouched by tourism if there still is such a place on earth. We drove close to Palermo trying to reach the route south without actually getting involved in Palermo traffic and we did a pretty good job, hardly being scared at all. Somewhere along the way we passed through a town and stopped at a bakery, nothing unusual for us. BUT this bakery had the best pizza I found in all of Sicily and Naples. It was foccacia style with a spicy sausage similar to pepperoni, lots of rich tomato sauce and delicious melted cheese. Every time Stassi's attention was elsewhere I grabbed another bite and went to heaven. When it was all gone I moved on to the fried snack the owner had thrown in -- an arrancini. A bite contained a heavenly combination of rice, creamy cheese and raw talent. I would go back to Sicily just to visit her bakery if only I could remember the name of the town.

 
We then headed south, up through the highlands of Sicily where tourism has yet to have a major impact. It was glorious -- small towns like the tiny, but exquisite Ficuzza in the photograph on the left, perfectly beautiful farm lands, mountain vistas, forests, wildflowers, blue rivers and ponds and quiet.
 
 
After about four hours we were approaching Agrigento which we had seen before, approaching that time on the coast road heading west. Now we were entering from the north and it was very different, not an appealing place -- modern with no chic. BUT we were there to visit the Valley of the Temples and to enjoy another fabulous cannoli if we could find the bakery again. And we did both -- the bakery is not to be missed nor is the Valley of the Temples.
After stocking up at the bakery and refreshing ourselves with a gelato, at the end of this long day on the road we found the small beach side town of San Leone in the photograph below just a few miles away from Agrigento where we had read that there was a campground. And indeed there was. We had a small kitchen with stove and old fridge, an outside covered deck for dining, chatting and reading and lots of greenery. Everything was a bit rickety, but also with a bit of charm. The town itself is very appealing with all low key restaurants, bars and small hotels lining the beach. There are small parks and lots of places to have a coffee or a glass of wine while people watching.
 
Early next morning we got on the road back to Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples. We parked our car and taxied to the entrance. Being early we didn't have to share our experience of this truly extraordinary site with its thousands of daily visitors. One of the things we found amusing and sad at the same time is that folks on holiday often bring along a checklist -- "been there, seen that." Not that they particularly care about a Greek ruin or a Byzantine church or a 19th century painting, but at the end of the day they can say they saw it or visited it. The group in the photograph to the left were being guided through the site so quickly that they would most likely return home with more memories of their photographer than of what was behind them, their supposed reason for being there in the first place -- The Valley of the Temples.
 
 
 
 
 

Agrigento
Valle dei Templi Agrigento
Tel/Fax: (+39) 0922-596-674
Email: [email protected]
Website: www.guidavalledeitempli.it

Paticceria Infurna
Via Atenea, 96, Agrigento 92100
Tel: 0922-595-959

San Leone
Camping Valle Del Templi
Internazionale San Leone
Viale Emporium, 192, Agrigento 92100
Website: www.CampingValleDelTempli.com

Forward to Sicily III -- Palermo back to Sicily I

 

 

 

 

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