Spurred on by my Italian teacher who is Sicilian, we booked up a walking holiday in Sicily, from the highest town in Italy, hill top situated and very windy Enna, north to the coast at Cefalu (pronounced Cheffaloo).
We had originally looked at all the usual walking companies – ATG , Inntravel etc, but they were all very structured and inflexible in their itinerary, and expensive. So with a bit of internet research we found Carmellina (who turned out to be an Australian who had fallen in love with a Sicilian and the island) and her company Sicilian Experience.
Carmellina created a bespoke trip, organized airport transfers and baggage transfers as we walked from A to B to C, and all for half the price.
Sicily is stuffed full of ancient buildings. Everyone has occupied it – Romans, Greeks, Byzantines, Conquistadors, and all have left their mark. Before sitting off on our trek to the coast we visited Agrigento, which boasts Europe’s most intact Greek temples.
In Piazza Armerina they have unearthed a huge intact Roman Villa with the best roman mosaics in the world – and they really are amazing. So there is lots of history to see.
Then, after two days of sightseeing, and a very narrow escape from a head on collision with a group of bikers coming around the corner at speed on the wrong side of the road (well it is Italy) off we set from Enna on our walk, with our bags packed with clothes for sunny walking, and what happened? One of the wettest few days in the year! Whilst we started and ended in sun and heat we had a couple of days in the middle of full wet weather gear and a log fire in the evening to dry everything out. All this whilst the UK basked in a heat wave!
Sicily was not at all what I had expected. Previous Italian holidays had been in Tuscany, Umbria and north to the Aosta valley. The interior of Sicily on the other hand is like a land that modern life has left behind. It is green verdant farmland full of wild flowers and gently rolling hills covered in arable crops and grazing cows.
The towns are slowing fading into economic dereliction as the young move away to the attractions of Palermo and the west and east coastlines, and instead of the attractive Tuscan villages the hill top towns have a worn and tired air, and are surprisingly full of utilitarian housing rather than the old quaint streets that I expected. Castelbueno was the only village on our walk that had a real central square where everyone meandered about in the evening, and a typical Italian ambience.
The people were extremely friendly and welcoming, especially to lost walkers! No one spoke much English, so as I am learning Italian I was in my element. The food was rustic and unsophisticated – and generally not great, but that is in comparison to the elegant simplicity of Tuscan dishes. You also need a good map and a compass, as the Italians have not heard of signposts and waymarks.
Cefalu is a lovely old town, and restored my faith in Italian architecture, but I would say its not a place to go to in the high season, when its beaches must be packed with rows and rows of sunloungers. Again, the food was not great, and I would say that this was the overwhelming disappointment. With some exceptions it was heavy, rustic and not of great quality.
If you are thinking of doing a walking holiday in Italy don’t opt for walking through the centre of the island – go for a coastal route . I was pleased I went, but I wouldn’t repeat it.