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November 2019 to February 2020. Italy, Sicily and Sardinia.

5. Sicily. Sant' Alessio, Naxos, Mount Etna, Taormina, Siracusa, Ortigia and Piana Calzata.

The ferry from the Italian mainland to Sicily only takes about 15 minutes but was expensive - 56 euros - however we were straight on as soon as we arrived at the terminal - I just had enough time to buy a ticket.

I had booked our ferry from Sicily to Sardinia while we were in Italy. In January there was only one sailing a week from Palermo on a Saturday evening (it's a 12 hour crossing). We arrived in Messina, Sicily on January 6th so we only had 12 days to explore.

I decided that we'd spend most of our time on the East Coast. Free camper stops were hard to find - they tended to be down narrow streets or tiny spots so we opted to stay at paid Camper Stops, all of which were fine. The ones at Sant 'Alessio and Naxos were surprisingly busy compared to what we'd got used to in Southern Italy but we were the only people at the Siracusa camp.

 

 

 

 

1. Sant' Alessio

Once off the ferry we headed south and found a nice site right next to the sea at Sant' Alessio.

Sunrise.



It was quite windy but we were able to sit outside sheltered by the van.


A huge local market.


2. Naxos

As we were driving south along the coast road we came round a corner and had our first sight of Mount Etna.

We stayed at a camper stop at Recanati, just outside the seaside town of Naxos, which was within walking distance. We stayed there for 3 nights and each day either walked or cycled along the beach.

3. Mount Etna.

On our first afternoon in Naxos I checked the weather forecast and decided to book a half day Mount Etna tour the following day which turned out to be a beautiful sunny day with no wind.

We were picked up by David at 9am and he then drove us to a garage on the outskirts of Catania. He was very chatty and told us a lot about the region. At the garage we met our guide, Francesco, his assistant Julie and 4 others who had booked the tour, a couple from Austria and a couple of guys from Germany.  We drove up towards Etna through several villages while Francesco gave us lots of information about Etna,  the countryside and the villages. 

We stopped and got out with a good view of the craters at the top of the mountain - there are currently 4 active craters - which were spewing out steam and, from time to time volcanic ash which was grey. 

Francesco showed us some of the different volcanic rocks lava and ash and gave us an excellent explanation (with drawings in the ash) of how Etna was formed. 

Our transport .

Ash, volcanic rock and larva.


We drove a little further with snow on either side and stopped in a wood of beautiful birch trees where we were handed out helmets and torches before walking along an icy path to some caves that were created during an eruption thousands of years ago.  In the past the caves were used to store ice.  Snow was pushed down some holes and then compacted to form ice blocks which were then carried out of the cave to be used to store food.  Francesco tied a rope to a tree and we used it to go down some steps into the cave which had lots of stalactites and some stalagmites. We walked a short way through a tunnel and then up some other steps (again with the help of a rope). 


After another short drive we stopped and then had a walk for about an hour to look at some craters created about 150 years ago (there are about 300 craters on Etna).  We could see Etna to the West and the coastline (rather hazy) to the east.  We walked around a crater and then down into it to see the caldera, once again lots of interesting information from Francesco. 

This is the crater we walked up to. There are a couple of people on the top.


Walking along the edge of the crater with the top of Mount Etna in the background.

Some parts of the mountain have trees and shrubs growing on them while other areas are completely bare. It depends how long ago the latest eruption was in that area.


The caldera, which is where the gases/ash etc would have spewed from. It's about 30m below the edge of the crater.

Our final stop was at the ski resort on the northern slopes of Etna where there was a café.  There was quite a bit of snow but none of the lifts were working, just a few people with sledges.


4. Taormina

From the camper stop near Naxos we caught a bus to the hill town of Taormina.

On the way up to the town we had a good view of some islands just off the coast.

We had intended visiting the Greek theatre however the price put us off so instead we wandered around the streets and then had a meal at a small restaurant There was one main street through the town with lots of smaller alleyways and lanes on either side. There was a cold wind blowing so Kevin regretted wearing shorts!


The piazza at the southern end of the town.

The view to the north.


A narrow walkway.

The view to the south - with Naxos just in view on the promontory, but Mount Etna was hidden by clouds.


5. Siracusa.

From Naxos we headed further south to a camper stop on the edge of Siracusa where we spent 3 nights. Ortigia is the historic part of the town and is an island linked to the town by a couple of bridges.

The camper stop owner dropped us off at the Neapolis Archaeological Park which has a Greek theatre, a Roman ampitheatre and an old quarry

The Greek theatre is the largest found outside Greece and was built during the 5th century BC. It is in remarkably good condition and still used for performances in the summer.

More views from the top of the theatre.


The former limestone quarry is now a garden with walkways amongst the trees and shrubs. There is a large limestone pillar in the old quarry.


A cave, called the Ear of Dionysiusas it's shaped like an ear, is huge and has a great echo inside. In both photos Kevin (bottom right of the outside of the cave) gives you an idea of the size of the cave.


There is also a Roman Ampitheatre in the Park and was built for gladiatorial games. It is not as well preserved as the older Greek Theatre and is much smaller.


From the Archaeological Park we took a bus to the old town of Ortigia. The bus stopped for 10 minutes at the Monument to the Fallen in Africa. The square building has statues dedicated to the various arms of the forces (army, navy, air force and the indigenous troops in Africa). There is also some relief work carved into the sides of the monument.

6. Ortigia

We spent the rest of the day on the island and enjoyed it so much that we returned the following day, but this time we rode there on our bikes. The weather was perfect with blue skies and very little wind.

 

One of the two bridges linking the island of Ortigia to the mainland.

The fountain of Diana in the Piazza Archimede.

There were lots of narrow,vehicle free, passages to wander along.

Between the two bridges is a statue of Archimedes who was born and lived most of his life in Siracusa.

We had an excellent lunch at one of the cafes overlooking the bay.



There was a street market with some lovely food stalls. We bought spices, nuts and fish.

The fishmonger at the market had gutted the fish for us so it was easy to cook in foil with herbs and lemon. Very tasty!


We were able to converse with Maria, the camper stop owner, as she spoke French. She had several cats that she fed - this one was very friendly and she pleaded with us to take her home!

From Siracusa we headed north and west across the island as we were due to catch the ferry from Palermo to Sardinia on the following day.

We drove north towards Catania and had great views of Mount Etna for the best part of 50km!

We then took the (free) auto-route across the island passing lots of farms.  Near the coast it was mainly orchards, some cattle, sheep and goats but as we drove up into the hills it was mainly small arable fields with scattered villages and farmhouses.


7. Piana Calzata

The camper stop was next to a sandy/ pebbly beach. In the distance we could see a tower so we walked along to it. Sadly we couldn't get inside.

We left the campsite around mid-morning and drove along the coast road for a while trying to find somewhere to park up for lunch but all the roads to any beaches or harbours were tiny narrow lanes so we gave up and drove to a Lidl store to the south of  Palermo but the car park was not very large and was completely full so we drove to the port through the town.  We ended up at the lorry entrance at around midday and were told that we could go in that way but not until 3pm as our ferry wasn't until 7.30pm.  Luckily there was a space just out side the gate where were able to park and a few local shops where we bought some supplies.

Just after 3pm we went into the port and, eventually, found the ferry we were going to take (there were several there) and parked up at the side of the road for a while.  We were then moved into the queue for the ferry behind several army trucks.  Around 6pm we were directed onto the ferry.  We had a look around the ferry and then got the card for our cabin which had 4 bunk beds and a bathroom.  We left on time at 7.30 and were able to stand at the back of the ferry as we left the port. 

 

1. Central Italy A. Pisa, Lucca, Florence and Sienna.

2. Central Italy B. Lake Trasimino, Numana, Rome.

3. Central Italy C. West Coast, Vesuvius, Herculanium and Pompeii.

4. Southern Italy. Matera, SE Coast, Gallipoli, South Coast.

5. Sicily. Sant' Alessio, Naxos, Mount Etna, Taormina, Siracusa, Ortigia and Piana Calzata.

6. Sardinia. Cagliari, SW region, Gira Plateau, Santu Antine and Alghero.

7. Spain. Travelling from Barcelona to Bilbao.

 

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We'd first tried, and enjoyed, arancini in Ortigia so later bought some which we had one evening.