The iconic Tuna Factory at Scopello, Sicily
This is the last installment in my travel blogs about our trip to catch up with our children who live in London. This last weekend was in Scopello, Sicily. Bob and I first of all left Geneva (after the train trip from Zermatt) and flew into Palermo, hired a car and then headed off to look around Sicily for a few days before the kids arrived on Thursday at Scopello. A heads up about car hire in Sicily. I have established three essential rules.
- Never hire from a big name company (Hertz, Europe Hire, Avis etc) because the queues at Palermo Airport for those companies were ENORMOUS. We hired from Italy Car Rentals and there was no queue, the car hire rate was cheaper and the car was fine.
- ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS pay the added amount each day to have zero dollars excess because it is virtually impossible to not have some car damage in Sicily because of the narrow roads, very tight parking and (crazy) Italian drivers. We had to get our car parked for us at one hotel in Castelmola and the car got brought back to us with a new scrape but as we had paid the extra charge we could relax and not worry.
- As from the previous blog, always use a normal credit card for any deposit or car hire charge rather than a debit card or cash travel card otherwise you will have the full amount deducted and your real money will be unable to be accessed.
The first town we headed to was Agrigento, the Valley of the Temples. It was strikingly arid, poor and there was garbage dumped literally everywhere and anywhere by the side of the roads on the drive down to Agrigento.
Extraordinary the way all freeway pullover spots are dumping grounds for rubbish!
On the way to Agrigento we called in at a natural wonder called the Turkish Steps or Scala dei Turchi. The photos do not do it justice.
This is a rocky cliff on the coast of Realmonte in Southern Sicily. The steps are formed by marl, a sedimentary rock with a characteristic white colour and there is a beach area close, with a restaurant with an amazing view to the steps. Here we had a beautiful Italian lunch with a view to die for and the food was pretty good also.
Lumie di Sicilia Ristorante, Turkish Steps
Beautiful seafood dishes
We then drove onto Agrigento and seeing the magnificent Greek temples in very good condition was certainly worthwhile and if you go late in the afternoon, then you see a glorious sunset with the temples and ruins lit up at night, which gives a hauntingly beautiful aspect to the scene.
Statue of Zeus Archaeological Site of Agrigento
View from our hotel in Agrigento with a view of the Valley of the Temples
The next day we headed to a very small village called Castelmola perched high on the mountain above Taormina. We had originally planned to stay at Taormina, but we were worried about the terrible parking situation in there and so changed to the elevated village of Castelmola. It was such a good move. It was peaceful and quiet and with spectacular views across to Mt Etna and the hills beside.
Castelmola perched above Taormina The long walk down passing some quaint buildings
The first day we walked down from Castelmola to Taormina down hundreds of steps. My quads were definitely shaking by the end of the walk. We explored the village, checked out the pottery shops and had a lemon granita and generally we were so relieved that we could escape back up to the quiet of Castelmola at the end of the day.
View to beaches from Taormina Botanical Gardens and a cute alleyway in Taormina
Lemon Granita was delicious A statue in the Taormina Botanical Gardens which encapsulated me at the end of each day
We caught the local bus back up there for 1.8 euro and admired the spectacular view from the bus on the winding trip. Our room in Castelmola had a beautiful view of Mt Etna which had been obscured by cloud all day but then suddenly at midnight she revealed herself and gave a special display, which we later heard did not happen all of the time!
After the cloud hiding the top of Mt Etna lifted at midnight the fiery display was revealed
The following day we saw the beauty of Mt Etna for the first time.
Mt Etna and a panorama of the rolling hills opposite Castelmola from Hotel Villa Sonia
The next day we caught the local bus to the funicular in Taormina to take us down to a beach below called Isola Bella. There are a number of beaches along the coastline, but our hotel had an arrangement with the place we chose, so the beach lounge and umbrella were 10 euros each for the day. There is a cafe with food and drinks which were very reasonably priced and there’s something special about walking up to bar and ordering food and drinks and especially more granita and then lying back on a lounge to read a book.
This is a typical rocky beach which really requires special plastic rock walkers to enable beach walking or swimming without looking ridiculous and suffering enormous pain. Unfortunately I didn’t see the guy selling them for 5 euros until we left the beach, but I bought a pair for the next stage of our holiday at Scopello which also has only rocky beaches.
Scopello was our final destination in Sicily and we saved the best for last. Its a tiny village with the BEST town square where you could easily stay for a month and just relax and do nothing. When you buy drinks at the bar above, the lovely waiter brings you ‘presents’ of free food and I’m not talking about a bowl of chips but delicious slices of pizza, calzone and yes there were some chips. In the afternoon after a long, hot day walking to and from the beach, the square is in deep shade and the big comfy lounge chairs just swallowed you up.
The bar which was so enticing and Jimmy and Mike kicking back at the end of the day.
The place we stayed at Scopello was Pensione Tranchina and my daughter had stayed twice before and had been raving about the hospitality and especially about the beautiful breakfasts. Marisin Tranchina (the owner) greeted us like we were family and as we arrived before Sophie it was very special. She guided us to our room (which she called Sophie and Jimmy’s room – thanks Soph for making the ultimate sacrifice) and it did have a verandah with a view to die for and was spacious and extremely comfortable.
Sue, Marisin and Sophie outside the beautiful Pensione Tranchina and the view from our room
The breakfast was all fresh produce grown or produced by locals – honey and fresh ricotta, sour dough bread baked on the premises, juiced fruits of all types and home-made jams and cakes. Yum. Marisin also has a five course dinner available at night where you start with a welcome wine outside the front door of the Pensione and meet the other guests and then move in to eat a seafood feast. They also cater for vegetarians and we all were very well fed that night.
Seafood feast about to be devoured
Fortunately there are kilometers to be walked before the beaches are accessed, so many calories are burnt during the day, allowing not only for enormous meals to be consumed, but also many gelatis.
A little bit of magic at Scopello
Matching Budgie Smugglers at Scopello and a pair of daredevils in Budgies
We walked the National Park the next day and it was hot (searingly hot) and I almost threw in the towel and gave up, but thank goodness we reached a beach and I staggered down and fell in the amazing water and revived myself enough to continue the rest of the day’s walking. The coastline is rugged and spectacular, but I have to say I will never whinge about the climb up from Sunshine Beach again after the hills of Scopello.
We bid Marisin and Pensione Tranchina farewell and drove off to a small village called Erice – an historic town in the province of Trapani in Sicily – to fill in some time before the airport and we were lucky enough to chance upon some time trials for racing cars at the top. People may have planned for 12 months to make sure they made this event and sometimes when you are travelling you come across these priceless moments.
Erice racing car time trials
After the excitement of the racing cars (and traversing the extreeemely narrow roads up and down the mountain, we arrived at the airport to go our separate ways. Airport farewells are always sad, but we were so lucky to have had some precious time with our kids and cherished every moment. Facetime, Whatsapp, Messenger and Skype calls allow us to see our faraway loved ones (for free) but they haven’t mastered the feel of a hug and that’s why we spend their inheritance and travel for 24 hours to see them. Hugs are special and irreplaceable.
So ends our 2019 trip. Now it’s back to bladders, bowels and the like and dreams of 2020.
View from the rooftop garden of our Rome hotel (which made up for the stinky bathroom and kitchen)