I recently toured Sicily in a shinny new
Alfa Romeo. It might have been easier to go by tour bus. The traffic and the
non-existent rules of the road were overwhelmingly frightening. But, we made
it. Anarchy rules when it comes to driving.
New places fill my mind as I think back
to Segesta, Selinunte, Agrigento, Giardini Naxos and Enna. I know more about
Greek ruins now, even after visiting Greece. The island is visual. Images of
hill towns, ruins and resorts still fill my brain.
I arrived with a vague sense of this
island’s history. I knew the Sicilians had been conquered by the great
seafaring nations of old. I knew I’d find Grecian temples, Roman Ruins. I
hoped for more and I found it.
I discovered Greek, Roman and Punic
Sicily when the Phoenicians controlled the East half. I discovered eleventh
century Norman relics and learned of the arrival of these northern people
infected with the dream of Crusades. I found Arab cultural relics, from the
year 830 when these people took Palermo. I discovered their interest in the
introduction of sugar cane, rice and the breeding of silk worms. I learned
how each conquering nation brought new ideas in commerce, culture and
architecture. I learned that Sicily is an island with a dynamic past. I
learned too that today it is a vibrant modern society and I found out that
Sicily has a prosperous future ahead.
True, there is poverty on this island of
plenty and there are hard-working people who struggle to earn a decent wage,
but Sicily is moving forward. Cars buzz by on smooth, wide, highways. Hotels
flourish at the water’s edge. There is tranquility and sunshine that is
Sicilian. There are upscale restaurants, fashionable shops, resorts, and
handicrafts for every taste. There is entertainment and some of the best
archeological sites I’ve ever seen. There is a pride in the Sicilian man on
the street. And if football is any indication of modern pride, the people of
Sicily are as proud as the rest of the Europeans. To be in Palermo on the
night of a football victory is to witness first-hand the fabric of Sicilian
preoccupation. Pink and black chequered flags flew everywhere and the noise
neared bedlam when the Palermo side scored a goal.
I arrived with some knowledge of the
battles fought during WWII. I knew of the bombing of Palermo. Today it is a
bustling port city.
I remembered stories of the mountain
battles as the Allies moved east towards the mainland. But I didn’t see a
legacy of war, except for the occasional brush-covered cement bunker, high
in the hills, now too costly to remove. What I saw was a pleasant and
peaceful island with a certain southern charm. Once outside of Palermo, I
saw a welcoming place and I knew immediately that I would go back.
I arrived by plane from Rome. The flight
over the water was smooth but the mountainous terrain on the north shore did
surprise me. Those ancient rock faces rose suddenly from the sea around the
Two days with a local guide were enough
to find out that while Palermo and the area around it had much to enjoy, the
overwhelming numbers of people and that football fever I mentioned, were
enough to make me wonder if I had made a wise decision. As it turned out, I
did enjoy the Norman and Baroque architecture, the modern shopping streets
lined with shade trees, the view of the mountains and especially the famous
Cathedral at Monreale, just outside the city. This Norman-style,
ecclesiastical masterpiece made that morning’s visit worthwhile.
The Byzantine influences are everywhere.
Palermo is a region of castles. It is bustling within the city walls but
peaceful as you leave the somewhat frenzied city.
We chose to drive west, past the small
town of Mondello (where I hope to stay on my next trip) between Mount Gallo
and Mount Pellegrino. This is one of the area’s finest beach towns where
ancient fishermen plied the waters for a once productive tuna industry.
Today, it is a charming resort with natural beauty with submarine caves
boasting graffiti from the Paleolithic age. This ‘garden city’ is now a
resort created for the elite.
But our destination was the northwestern
tip of the island at the hibiscus and bougainvillea bedecked resort town of
St. Vito lo Capo, famous for its seafood, especially lobsters. The drive
took us past the ruined village of Segesta and the warren of tiny streets of
the crowded city of Trapani.
Segesta is a good place to visit for a
view of the temple, the ‘perfectly pure’ mountaintop theatre and a sense of
the region’s history.
Trapani may have an important history
but it was too crowded for my tastes. St Vito lo Capo was strictly for
tourists who wanted pleasant hotels on a clean, relaxing beach. We chose to
stay overnight then move on. We followed the western road, south past Erice
and along the windmills and salt mines lined with canals, near Marsala. Our
next stop was the archeological site at Selinunte, near the southern coast.
You can see the ruins from two miles away. It is difficult to explain how
small one feels next to this great temple, ‘the work of giants’. It’s almost
like the builders’ purpose was to intimidate the gods and scare the humans.
Our stop that night was at the Jolly
Hotel della Valle, in Agrigento next to the spectacular valley of Greek
temples like the Temples of Harmony, or Hercules, Castor and Pollux. It is a
valley of olive trees and dates back to the 5th century BC. It was
constructed to thank Zeus for the victory against the Carthaginians in 480
BC. No wonder it was called “The most beautiful city of mortals”.
Look for the bigger than life figure
lying on the ground. I’ve never seen anything like that before. It is so
lifelike even after all this time, like a sleeping maiden…
A morning walking through the site was
rewarded with a refreshing dip in the hotel’s hillside pool.
From Agrigento we drove east through
Gela then north to Piazza Armerina with its spectacular Villa Casale set of
3000 square meters of ancient mosaics.
Subdivided into 40 rooms, it is one of
the most unique residences of Roman antiquity.
A drive to ancient Enna on a pinnacle
looking out over an awesome vista is its own reward. This ancient fortified
town is a steep climb but well worth the effort. Then it’s a strait drive
east to Catania where you make a choice to go south to Syracuse or north
towards Taormina. We chose the latter. There, on the gentle coast below the
town is the village of Guardini Naxos, the first Greek colony in Sicily and
the beachfront, luxurious Hotel Hellenia Yachting. Our room had a terrace
looking out to sea with Taormina high on the cliff behind us (5 Km away). We
would walk around the village, along the beach or up into the hills a short
drive away. The ancient theatre in Taormina, the second largest in Sicily,
is still used today and a view of the natural and unspoiled coastline by day
or night is worth the trip. In the background one can see nearby Etna
standing proudly in the sun. Taormina grew as a holiday spot for
international travelers in the 19th century. It is popular with visitors
A day trip south to Syracuse and a visit
to the ancient theatre and city is another must. After lunch, it’s a
relatively easy drive to Mt. Etna. You can get fairly high up by car but to
visit the smoldering rim, you have to hire a special car and driver. We were
interested in the force of the lava as it cleared away everything in its
wake. Nature such as this, the powerful force, has no restrictions. From the
top you can see almost 200 km in every direction. It is something one must
do when in Sicily.
But our time was up and we headed back
to Palermo, only 4 hours away. From there we raced to the airport at 150 K
in an ancient taxicab at 6 in the morning while the driver fondled his St
Christopher medal. That was just one more of our many adventures
Another time, I may visit Sicily by
ferry from Naples. The new service is upscale and you save on a hotel room
as you travel over night and dine in the modern restaurant.
Sicily should not be rushed. One can
stay put in any of a dozen places and take day trips. Distances between
sites are short, especially in a fast car.
Would I go back? Yes. I have already
made plans to return next May with a group. There are still things to see
and things I’d like to do again. This time I may even relax at the seaside.
For further information contact:
You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at:
Over the past few years, Professor
Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece,
Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of
Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the
globe including Italy and most of
China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters
from St.Petersburg to Moscow.
"He took a group to Greece and another to northern
Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour
groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They
winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico. His newly found spare time
is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His
current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders.. "So
You Want To Be A Tour Leader."
Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing
Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel
writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.
Keep reading his web for travel ideas. His next
novel HELLSTORM'S Folly,
will be available this fall. He now
lives in British Columbia.
www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at
(More about the writer.)