28 JUN 2018: From our campsite near the hilltop town of Enna in central Sicily we headed back to the western coast.  This was not to be a good drive:  the initial section was over rocky farm tracks before we joined the highway to Agrigento.  This stretch was under construction for many miles, clogged with trucks and other traffic, with confusing, rough-road diversions.  We were getting used to the fact that, although mostly rural, Sicily is, in parts, a crowded and congested island.  We certainly had not expected to encounter such massive highways.

However, as we drew close to Agrigento we were rewarded with the majestic sight of the temples that dominate the aptly-named Valley of the Temples.  This site is a 'must' for any visitor to Sicily, especially those who are interested in its history or wish for some great photographs.  

We found a pleasant shady campsite in the valley and planned to visit the temples on the following day.  This group of temples date from the 5th century.  The Tempio della Concordia is one of the best-preserved temples in the world, the Tempio di Giove is the largest Doric temple ever known and the Tempio di Giunone is much loved for its commanding view of the valley.  

The site is one of Sicily's high points for tourists, but there are a couple of practicalities that visitors should be aware of.  If driving, one must park in the valley beneath the temples.  We were told that in the high summer season taxis are allowed to drop visitors up at the archaeological site itself, and that there is also a shuttle bus from the carpark.  

Neither of these possibilities were available to us in February, and in any case we were happy to walk as the weather was fine but cool.  But there is little shade on the vast site, so when it is hot, hats and water are 'musts'.  But don't be put off; this site is not to be missed ... it is, quite simply, stunning.

We did not venture into the reportedly busy streets of the nearby town of Agrigento, but instead made our way along the coast road towards Marsala on the island's most western tip.  With hills on our right and the sparkling Mediterranean on our left, this was a fine drive, with even more scenic routes marked on our map that we took when time allowed.

Sunday in Marsala turned out to be delightful, with a market along the promenade and many people, dressed in their Sunday best, enjoying the offerings in the little bars in the old town.  These offerings included tapas featuring the region's famous marsala wines plus tastings of the many varieties of the wine itself.  The variety surprised us.

We had read of a fine campsite within easy distance of Palermo, Sicily's capital on the north shore, so that was our next destination.  High on a terrace above the sea, we were warmly greeted (in Italian only!) by host Maria, who invited us to take our pick of spots available for our motorhome.  There were only two other vehicles, so we chose a commanding spot, with flower-strewn hills behind us, ocean ahead and, to each side, great cliffs above the rocky, wave-swept shore.  It was lovely.

Somehow we communicated with Maria that we wished to visit Palermo by train and after much laughter, gesticulating and watch-pointing we felt we had made a plan.  Maria would drive us to the nearby station in the morning where we could catch a train into Palermo, a trip of about 25 minutes.  Later in the day a phone call would bring her back to the station to pick us up.  It all worked perfectly.

Once a city at the centre of the known world, Palermo can still exert its magic.  It is noisy, crowded, bustling, dirty and, for many, poor.  It is also full of priceless golden treasures, quiet churches, intricate mosaics, statues, fountains and shaded parks.  We set out on the walk suggested by our guidebook for those with just a day to spend in the city and were well pleased with this itinerary; it enabled us to see the city's highlights, including the glittering Cappella Palatina, and to make a detour through the old area where noisy vendors yell details of their wares in the narrow streets.  Palermo certainly is an experience and, we felt, deserves longer than the time we had allotted but, as I'm sure everyone says constantly when in Italy, "We can't do everything."

Next morning we bade Maria 'good-bye' after settling our bill for the campsite and receiving as a gift a large bag of fresh lemons and a bunch of rosemary.

Halfway along the north shore a complex network of minor roads, all marked 'scenic' on our map, lured us inland for a couple of days and several heart-stopping drives.  Why had we not noticed the little triangles indicating mountains, with their altitude printed alongside? However, we negotiated the routes safely and enjoyed the many marvellous views.  

One evening en route our radio news told of an unusually severe eruption that had occurred on Mount Etna that had caused minor injuries to a BBC film crew.  As we were near, and thinking we would be treated to the sight of fiery explosions and flowing lava, we paid our second visit to the mountain.  We camped for the night in its vast but safely- situated carpark designed not only for tourists but also skiers, thinking that the night sky would reveal some excitement, but Etna had no visual treats in store for us although we enjoyed the lights of the large city of Catania far beneath us.

For those visiting in the non-winter months there is a side trip that I'd like to mention as, had it been on offer, we would have been keen to participate.  From the north shore town of Milazzo it is possible to take a variety of ferry rides to the Aeolian Islands, an archipelago of seven little islands that includes other volcanoes, including constantly-active Stromboli and aptly-named Vulcano.  Apparently they are interesting and charming, but as it was winter the ferries were not available to tourists and all we could do was squint across the ocean to try and make out the outlines of these islands in the distance.

We had been on Sicily for just over three weeks when we boarded the ferry for the mainland.  We felt fortunate to have been there so long, yet it's strange to look at our map and realize how much was left to be explored.  It's certainly an island of contrasts with its ancient busy towns and equally ancient farm practices and renowned food offerings.  We are no longer young, so it's doubtful we will return, but I have a feeling those unexplored scenic roads will always beckon ... so who knows?

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Ann Wallace

Ann Wallace is living a writer's dream currently writing of her adventures as she and her husband sail their boat around Europe.

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