En route to Sicily from Valencia


Arriving at Palermo Airport from Valencia, we picked up our Hertz car. The good news was that we had been "upgraded", the bad news was it was an enormous 4*4, roughly the size of a double decker bus. And the really bad thing we discovered a few hours later, was that Sicilian towns were not built for juggernaughts of this size. It had a proximity alarm, which sounded if any part of the beast got within a foot of any obstruction, and, in a town, this meant that we were getting constant alarms as we transited narrow Italian streets with cars (badly) parked on both sides. By that time we were not in a place where we could exchange it for something smaller.

Grace's Place

We stayed at Grace's Place for 2 nights. It was about 2 kms from Scopello. It offered incredibly good value for money, but had a number of drawbacks - the rooms had no view at all , and it was quite cold as the heating did not really work properly. Finding Grace's Place was a little challenging, even with GPS, so you need to do you homework, her house is set back about 50 metres down a narrow access road. She had no sign up. When I eventually drove down the access road, so close were the walls that the proximity alarm bleeped all the way there and back.

The place was not luxurious, but our apartment was well decorated, and for the price, remarkable value. Its main failing was that it had no views at all, and Grace's web site did not make that clear, concentrating more on views of the coast that you cannot see from her house. And, on reflection, the bedroom had the same problem fitting us into it, as the drive had fitting the car into it - they were both too small

Grace was a wonderful, warm, welcoming host. And the high point was her home baked breakfasts. She offered a wide selection of Italian pastries for breakfast, as well as a cooked plate. The memory of her oven fresh bread and cakes will remain with me for a long time We were there in March, so very little was open locally. Though the very modern deli, which is only a couple of hundred metres away, was open and we stocked up there. Only one restaurant in Scopello was open, so choice of places to eat out was limited. In season Scopello has a large number of eateries. There is a lot to see and do in the area, and Grace gave us the details. We went into Palermo for a day and she gave us the car park to use in the centre - without that parking would have been a problem.

So in short Grace was wonderful, but probably March was not the best time to visit her.

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About 2 to 3 kms from Graces Place, Scopello is a tiny village on the coast between the resort town of Castellammare del Golfo and the Zingaro nature reserve.

There are attractive stretches of rocky coastline and green hillside nearby, and it is a very popular spot in summer for swimming. Scopello itself is on a plateau some way above sea-level, though within walking distance of the shore below. The settlement consists of a historic baglio, the Baglio Isonzo, and a couple of attractive little lanes only a few yards long. A baglio was the headquarters of an agricultural estate. The Scopello baglio is now the heart of the village, its large courtyard houses a number of restaurants - only one of which was open in March.

Outside the Baglio Isonzo is a picturesque water fountain with a trough, and around the corner are a couple of pretty little lanes, where you'll also find a hotel and a couple more restaurants. That's just about all there is to the village of Scopello; sightseeing here takes a matter of minutes. This is a place for a slow-paced holiday. Or dead stop in off-season. However the village was geared up for the thousands of visitors that it gets every day in summer - we could see that in the massive (empty) car park on the edge of the village: the draconian "no parking" notices everywhere.

Il Baglio was a pizzeria where we ate in the Baglio. Everything else in the village was closed off-season. The restaurant was empty when we arrived, but gradually picked up a dozen punters. They had gas heaters to take the chill of the cold night air, but one either baked directly under it, or shivered if they moved it too far away. The food was clearly pre-cooked, so rapidly was it served. And odd members of the family of the owners ate random food in the restaurant. Even though it was the only option locally, we were not tempted to return the next night.

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A day in Palermo

It was tipping down with rain when we reached the parking lot that Grace had recommended - Ungheria. A long wait to get in due to drivers in the queue not being able to extract a parking ticket before entering. The umbrella purchased from an itinerant Moroccan did not last the day in the wind. The driving rain eased off and eventually stopped for a few hours

Palermo is the main seat of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalù and Monreale. UNESCO World Heritage Sites include the Palazzo Reale with the Cappella Palatina, the Chiesa di San Giovanni degli Eremiti, the Chiesa di Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, the Chiesa di San Cataldo, the Cattedrale di Palermo, the Palazzo della Zisa and the Ponte dell’Ammiraglio. Italy is the country with the most UNESCO world heritage sites, and Sicily the region hosting the most within Italy.

We made our way first to the Cathedral, which was erected in 1185 by Walter Ophamil, the Anglo-Norman archbishop of Palermo on the area of an earlier Byzantine basilica. By all accounts this earlier church had been founded by Pope Gregory I and was later turned into a mosque by the Saracens after their conquest of the city in the 9th century. Ophamil is buried in a sarcophagus in the church's crypt. The medieval edifice had a basilica plan with three apses, of which only some minor architectural elements survive today. The upper orders of the corner towers were built between the 14th and the 15th centuries, while in the early Renaissance period the southern porch was added. The present neoclassical appearance dates from the work carried out over the two decades 1781 to 1801, and supervised by Ferdinando Fuga. During this period the great retable by Gagini, decorated with statues, friezes and reliefs, was destroyed and the sculptures moved to different parts of the basilica. Also by Fuga are the great dome emerging from the main body of the building, and the smaller domes covering the aisles' ceilings.

The Palazzo Reale is the oldest royal residence in Europe; and was the private residence of the rulers of the Kingdom of Sicily and the imperial seat of Frederick II and Conrad IV. The palace itself had the greater part rebuilt and added in Aragonese times, but there are some other parts of Roger's work left, specially the hall called Sala Normanna.

The Palatine Chapel is situated on the first floor at the centre of the Palazzo Reale. It was stunning and was the royal chapel of the Norman kings of Sicily. It is by far the best example of the so-called Arab-Norman-Byzantine style that prevailed in the 12th-century Sicily. The wonderful mosaics, the wooden roof, elaborately fretted and painted, and the marble incrustation of the lower part of the walls and the floor are very fine.

A brief stop for a coffee and bun at an Sicilian fast food cafe Ke Palle. My bun was a bit synthetic, but we both needed the sit down for a half hour, before continuing on to the other half of the city centre

The Quatro Canti (four corners) and close by the Pretoria Fountain were very photogenic (see below). We had a coffee stop to recoup, but it soon started to really tip down with rain again, and we made our way back to the parking lot, and through the chaos of Palermo driving to the Motorway, and hence back to Scopello

The Cathedral in better weather than we had

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The coastal area round Scopello was dramatic and has been kept clear of development

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So it was goodbye to Grace and on to Marsala


On to Marsala

Our Sicily Holiday