Spring in Sunny Sicily
Sunday, June 18, 2017
Early May saw 19 Henley & Goring Ramblers set out on our latest overseas adventure: a walking holiday in Sicily. Our destination was the picturesque historic town of Cefalu, on Sicily’s Tyrrhenian northern coast, where we were ideally placed for excursions into the Madonie Mountains regional park.
Our guide for the first week was the adorable Carmelina Ricciardello, who is Sicilian Experience (www.sicilianexperience.com); we couldn’t have wished for a more capable guide. There are very few footpaths and hiking routes mapped in this part of Sicily, but Carmelina walks hundreds of miles a year in the region and knows all the best routes. Initially we walked some lower level paths to find our feet, but then steadily moved to the higher mountains between 1200 and 1600 m, where we were rewarded with spectacular all round views towards the Aeolian Islands and Mount Etna. Along the way we met some wonderful characters: Julio the goatherd, who demonstrated how to make cheese the traditional way in his hut in the mountains, with lots of tasting at all stages of the process; Mimmo the wine maker and restaurateur, who makes wine for use in his restaurant. Mimmo provided us with one of the most memorable meals of our trip as we sat on the sunny terrace with spectacular views of the sea far below, and, with typical Sicilian hospitality was still offering us another glass of wine when Carmelina dragged us back to our coach! We were treated to a display of traditional falconry skills in the high meadows of the Madonie (by another Mimmo!), and a wonderful refreshment stop in delightful Castelbuono to taste proper Sicilian ice cream and almond pastries.
We had five walking days, doing between 6-8 miles per day with ascents / descents of 400-600m. On our “rest day”, many opted to take the train to Palermo and visit the historic palaces and richly decorated churches. The highlight was the Cathedral of Monreale, where every available surface is decorated with spectacular mosaics depicting biblical tales.
Our week passed all too quickly, and we said an emotional farewell to Carmelina, who had quickly become our friend and had shared with us her passion for Sicilian history and culture. We moved on to Giardini Naxos, in the shadow of Mt Etna, and close to the city of Taormina. Here we continued our activity-packed days with an excellent guided walking tour around historic Taormina, and for many of us, a trip up Mt Etna.
Some of the unexpected experiences: arriving in Cefalu as the Giro d’Italia cycle race approached, meaning that the town centre was closed, and we had to drag our cases the final kilometre to our hotel! And touring Taormina in virtual lockdown ahead of the G7 Summit; almost as many soldiers and police on view as tourists!
We would all like to thank Peter Stone for his organisation and leadershipbefore and throughout the trip (and, on the walks, for the endless supply of mints!)
Wye Valley in May 2017