As Indigo says to Wesley just before they storm the castle in The Princess Bride: “Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” That’s how we feel about our Sicily walking tour. So I’m going to start with a summary and some favorite photos and then post more details after that for those who want a deeper dive into our tour of Sicily.
Caspin Tours: The trip with Caspin Tours was remarkable, filled with adventure, fantastic food, interesting hilltop towns, history, wonderful travel partners and caring, knowledgeable guides who created a tour including many of the paths less traveled. Pino was born in Sicily. He immigrated to England where he met and married Caroline, and together they created Caspin Tours. We have been so well cared for by Pino and Caroline who have been leading small group tours in Italy for over 20 years. My parents, George & Sheila, took this same “walking tour of Sicily” with them back in 2008 and convinced us that we should do the same, and we are so glad they did!
The People: Jim and I haven’t done a group tour like this before so we weren’t sure how it was going to work. Our fellow tourists ranged in age from the 40’s to 80’s. Everyone else in our group were from SF Bay area. Our careers spanned from Lawyers, and PhD psychologists to professors, pharmacists/flight attendants, teachers/artists and business people. We just want to thank Charles, Jackie, Jean, Joan, Samantha and our dear friends Greg and Carolyn for making this True Love Adventure trip so special. Because of Jim’s physical limitations we weren’t sure how we were going to do all the hikes that were planned, but with a few tweaks here and there it all worked out perfectly. The comraderie and conversation warmed our hearts and expanded our minds.
The Place: Sicily is a large island off the SW coast or “toe” of Italy. It’s a large island, more than twice as big as the “Big Island” of Hawaii, and almost as large as Vancouver Island. The population is about 5 million, which is a little more than Oregon (4.2 million) and a lot more than Hawaii (1.5 million). It’s very hot and dry in the summer, which is why we planned our visit for early October, when the temperatures are more mild (mid-70’s to lower 80’s) but with occasional rain. There are hills and mountain ridges everywhere, and one large and active volcano (Mt. Etna) on Sicily’s east coast plus the nearby Aeolian Islands which also have smaller, smoking volcanoes. Mt. Etna is 11,000 feet high, which makes it smaller than Mt. Rainier (14,400’) but still very impressive.
The Journey: We began our trip in Palermo, where we did a guided walking tour led by Fabio to begin our Sicily immersion and met up for dinner that evening with Greg & Carolyn. Pino and Caroline picked us up the next day (Wednesday) and over the next 10 days we experienced mountains and ocean, old hilltop towns, winding out-of-the way roads and ancient ruins. We began with an ocean-side hike about an hour northwest of Palermo and ended with a a ridge hike over 4,000’ high above the beautiful hilltop town of Castelbuono (the “good castle”). In between we stayed in: Erice, Agrigento and Siracusa. We also took the ferry from Milazzo to the Aeolian Islands (still volcanic) where we braved a crazy thunder storm on the island of Volcano and then spent two nights at the nearby island of Panarea (perfect in the off-season where we had the usually crowded star-studded island to ourselves), then we traveled to a winery resort near Cefalu and Castelbuono. From their we took the train to downtown Palermo for our last night with Greg and Carolyn. At this moment we are at the Palermo airport waiting for our flight to Rome and our last night in Italy before the long flight home, first from Rome to Montreal and then from Montreal to Seattle.
The walking, the swimming and the food: We walked/hiked between 4 and 7 miles every day. I snuck in 4 swims in the beautiful warm coastal waters of Sicily. Thank goodness we exercised so much because we sure ate and drank a lot of good Sicilian food! Companada (made various ways, always with eggplant) graced our table at almost every meal. Homemade pasta and bread were always abundant. We learned about “first press” olive oil (also abundant this time of year) in all its bright green, peppery glory. Note: never buy “aged” olive oil; olive oil, unlike wine, is best when it is newly made. The delicious local wines flowed at lunch and dinner. And of course we ate lots of delicious fish. We will surely miss Sicily’s fresh goat & sheep ricotta cheese! We’ve never tasted anything like it back home.
The History: Sicily is the melting pot of the world. Almost all of the native Sicilians are a beautiful mixture of the various cultures that conquered the island over the past 2,500 years. We hiked to the isolated Genoese cave with 12,000 year-old cave drawings. Then we visited ancient hill top towns with churches that were transformed through the ages from Greek to Roman to Muslim to Norman to Spanish and then back to Roman architecture over the past 2,500 years. Many buildings combine all the influences. Our tour included the beautiful mosaics of the Roman Emperor’s Villa Romana de Casal in central Sicily where it was buried in a mud slide over 1,000 years ago and only recently rediscovered. Our wonderful guide Lorenzo taught us the history of the giant Temple of Zeus in Agrigento, which was the largest Greek Temple west of Greece in the centuries before the Christian era began. We visited two of the largest Greek Theaters and Roman amphitheaters. And our final hike brought us to the ancient hilltop town of Castelbuono, still vibrant and authentic.
After this post we’ll send out more detail and photos for everyone. But this is a good start! Ciao for now! Fawn & Jim