After a good night sleep at our second AirBnB location, we spent some time checking out Castelbuono. This town doesn’t get the attention it deserves as it is a nice base for some hiking in the Madonie mountains as well as a location to soak up some of the interior of Sicily.
Yet another place with a long history, it is one of the places that is lively enough to spend a few days. It has a lovely old square, a number of tiny groceries stores, restaurants, butchers and bakeries, but unlike for example Cefalú, it isn’t much focussed on tourism. This is always a good sign of the vitality of a place. The mayor, Mario Cicero, is apparently forward thinking and suggested to use donkeys again to improve the collection of household waste rather than getting trucks through the narrow streets and alleys.
Steep and narrow
Our AirBnB host had to go to England at the last minute, so we had the entire house for ourselves. If you think about it, that is pretty gutsy, leaving your home to people you have never even met. We had a large bedroom, a large bathroom, a kitchen, a large balcony off the bedroom with views over the valley and large patios around the house all for ourselves.
An acquaintance of the owner waited for us ‘at the gas station when you enter the village’ ( a ubiquitous Italian yellow and black brand called ”AGIP”) and drove ahead of us through impossibly steep and narrow streets. So steep, that I couldn’t even drive the Smartcar in the second gear.
The BnB was as the edge of town and it was easy to walk back into town after we had settled in.
Sicily’s environment is a chapter on its own with tales of clear cuts and slow progress in restoring some nature, bad planning and garbage all over the place. Let’s say it is not being made easy to appreciate the island’s nature. The entire environmental sector oozes shortage of money, from mediocre websites to poor wayfinding to lack of education and staff. Here and there is some evidence of volunteer initiatives and that is much appreciated.
On a side note: It appears there is very little government staff anyway, not in museums, not at archeological sites or any other place where you expect some government people. Maybe it is not a surprise considering Italy’s debt to GDP of 133%. It was ‘only’ 100% in 2007. (Canada is at 91% and the Netherlands at 62% – source: TradingEconomics.com). I see very little evidence of citizen driven initiatives, something I have really gotten into since I live in Canada.
The Madonie is a mountainous area in the north central area about 60 km east of Palermo and the first area set aside for some environmental protection. It includes the highest mountains and a number of really picturesque villages. Searching the internet in advance we found it hard to find good information and even when we were in Castelbuono the places that were supposed to be open to provide us with info weren’t open: we were kind of on our own.
One of the easy accessible hikes starts behind Castelbuono. In theory, you could walk to the start at the hut, but that is a two-hour uphill walk on asphalt road. This is an example why a car comes in handy. We left the car at Refugio Crispi (park outside the chain, else you might be locked in) which resembles an Alpine mountain hut and did an easy hike to a small meadow, Piano Pomo.
From there we passed through a centuries old stand of hollies, with trunks the size of an old oak tree.
This is an unique place and albeit small, worth the walk. The path leads up further towards a hill top, Cozzo Luminario (1512 m), with spectacular views over the valley as far as Mount Etna, 75 kilometers away as the crow flies, and the volcano islands north of Sicily.
From there we hiked further, trying to find our way mostly by guessing, rather than any sign of a path. The path became very rocky and we decided to abandon our effort to go all the way to the top of Monte Ferro (1906 m). If we had pressed ourselves, we could have done it, but we were satisfied with the views as they were.
After three nights in Castelbuono, we decided to move on. We took a detour along the northern edge of the Madonie to Cefalú via a wonderful route to Isnello; we decided it is worth going back one day but look for more information to get more out of the visit.
Someone, somewhere should know more. In searching, I bumped into a useful site of passionate Italian-Australian Carmelina Ricciardello, who offers multi day hikes (and tons of other experiences).
This might be a good alternative, although we are both wary of groups. You always end up waiting for the same person who is late, who needs a smoke or overtakes the conversation. Her website that appealed to me was the Sicilian Experience, which I only found when we were in Sicily already.
The coastal town of Cefalú is located on the central north shore. We tend to avoid touristy coastal towns, but since it was a Sunday morning in Sicily and hopefully calmer, we thought it was worth dropping by and take a quick peak at the old harbour. It turned out it was a bit of a nightmare to get into town as there was a Triathlon going on and part of the coastal road was closed off.
We nearly got stuck in one of those crazy narrow streets where traffic comes to a complete stop and it looks like you will stuck in that jam for the rest of your life. We did find a parking place though after smart detouring. Little did we know the Giro d’Italia would pass through town two days after our stop. There wasn’t any evidence of it for sure.
Cefalú is cute to see for an hour or two, situated on a small bay, but the focus is on beach and tourism. Lots of restaurants and gift shops, but at least they closed the main drag off for motorised traffic. You might like it when you enjoy being on a beach and dining al fresco, but we felt we were not missing much.
It was time to move on (cliff hanger)…More coming this week
On another note: I learned that Eric Darwin is reading the Sicily series to his wife, whose health is not great currently. I wish Frances all the best in this difficult time and I am so happy my stories make a difference. Hang in there, Frances, as there are two more episodes to come.
Read the previous installments:
Part 1 The southeast UNESCO sites
Part 2 Villa Romana del Casale and Morgantina
Part 3 Castelbuono, Madonie and Cefalú
Part 4 Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples and Siracusa
Part 5 Catania’s Treasures
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