Sardinia to Sicily

5th – 7th October 2017

We spent Friday morning driving to Cagliari then circling it’s narrow, chaotic streets looking for a camping shop – a bit stressful for the driver and not helped by local residents cycling the wrong way up the road. The 3rd time we drove past it we actually saw the place. Expecting a proper caravan accessories shop it turned out to be a small room filled with a jumble of bits & bobs which doubled as an office, staffed by 3 people none of whom spoke English. The lady seized our list and with her husband used a translation app with sometimes amusing results, made more entertaining when Danny tried to help by miming. There were some interesting mis-translations and much laughter and we left with a couple of items ticked off our list.

Deeper into Cagliari the roads were wider and the buildings an interesting mix of old and new with lots of apartments. Much nicer than expected. We turned a corner onto the promenade, the sea to our left and tall, elegant buildings to our right with old Cagliari rising above.  We rattled – literally – over the uneven, large sets of the road to check out the port then left the van at a sosta whilst we explored.

As we were starving we went to find the old streets off the sea-front where cheap, traditional food is to be found. Very characterful and with a surprising number of sub-saharan Africans heading to Friday prayers. We tracked down Trattoria Lilliu – Rough Guide recommended – taking a table in the narrow alleyway. Sardinian seafood dishes are it’s speciality with fried eels, sea slugs, octopus, and fish marinated in Sicilian wine all refreshingly reasonably priced. Yes, there was a ‘coperta’ charge but it was clearly shown and bread was “free”. Danny had a bottarga starter which turned out quite different to expectations – very thin slices of the whole roe which had been marinated served on sliced celery in olive oil. Weirdly good. Kate’s spaghetti with clams and bottarga like fine breadcrumbs ion the side to be scattered over. Delicious. Danny’s secundi of grilled sea bass got the full ‘thumbs-up’.

We walked up the steep narrow streets to a large terrace with palm trees overlooking the city and the bay, great views and a lovely warm wind.

Up through the oldest part of the city to the top of the hill and the Citadelle dei Musei where a scattering of museums include the Museo Archaelogico. Not large but with a lot of artefacts from ancient native Sardinian peoples and their contemporaries and successors – Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans. Some of it was from sites we had visited – Tharros, Nora, Su Nuraxi. Obsidian, bronze, some beautiful gold. Stylised figures, boat-shaped oil holders for tombs, jewellery, tools, pottery, weapons, a great display covering the ages and reflecting Sardinia’s position as a trading hub for the Mediterranean.

We had to get back to the van before we had finished seeing everything and had no time at all for the Botanic Gardens or any of the other sights. We wished we had more time to give to the city which had pleasantly surprised us with it’s laid back feel and attractive buildings.

We were at the port in good time and the Tirrenia ferry, which carries huge numbers of lorries, loaded us early and efficiently. Our 4-berth cabin was much bigger than expected and the top deck gave us a great view of the old city.

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So, our verdict on Sardinia? Very different to Corsica’s dramatic mountains and secretive villages but it has it’s own beauty with maquis-covered hillsides, scattered farmsteads, beautiful beaches and lagoons, and of course at every turn the Nuraghe and the Spanish towers remind you of it’s unique history. And of course it has a great flag.

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When we left our cabin next morning we walked through communal areas where groups of black African men, some in traditional dress, had bedded down on the floor overnight. We wondered if these were the sellers who work the beaches, moving on to Sicily as Sardinia winds down for the season. Most had large suitcases with them and didn’t seem to mind if they were an incongruous pink.  One huge man, 7’ at least and dressed in an African version of the shalwar kameez in distinctive orange and green patterned heavy fabric spent the night in the bar surrounded by his luggage despite the efforts of Italian crew to move him on – he simply shrugged and stayed put. Too big to tackle.

By 7am we were approaching Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean.  It’s capital, Palermo, looked nice enough from the sea with the mountains sweeping up to the sky behind. Out of the port area we were into it’s warren of streets which belied the view from the sea and fully lived up to our expectations. Apartments crowded together, lots of small shops selling fish, fruit and veg and coffee, a run-down feel and crazy drivers. Thankfully it was early Saturday morning and not rush-hour.

We travelled west along the coast passing low lying villages running down to the sea where the wind whipped up long breakers that foamed white against the shore. We came off the motorway as we had plenty of time which gave us a closer look at the somewhat scruffy settlements. The architecture is flat-roofed and made us think of Africa and Arabia, all backed by imposing bare mountains of limestone formed from an ancient seabed pushed upwards as the African & Eurasian continents move together.

Fuel prices here caused an intake of breath – a horrific €1.75 for diesel was the highest we saw and we wondered how they get away with it.  We mostly shared the road with cyclists on their Saturday outing and slowly the landscape changed into one of olive trees, prickly pear cactus with ripening red-orange fruits, tall reeds towering above the road, date palms and small herds of black short-horn cattle. At a tunnel by Trapano we had our first exposure to Sicily’s litter issue – both sides of the carriageway were lined with rubbish bags –  we even saw more than one full waste-basket placed neatly at the roadside. We would intermittently pass such areas then they would disappear again.

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On the internet page after page condemns the piles of rubbish, some of which are such permanent features that locals use them in giving directions. We haven’t seen this much litter since the winter of discontent – for those of you old enough to remember.

On the outskirts of San Vito Lo Capo we turned into campsite La Pineta, set beneath the really dramatic and dominating Mount Monaco with its 1000 foot cliff face. The pitches are shaded by Aleppo pines which must be great in the heat of summer but are lousy for satellite TV. No wi-fi is a bit of a pain but we know it’s good for us to disconnect and there’s a lovely pool to relax by if the sun comes out for long enough.

We set up on the edge of the site facing west across rocky fields towards the village, the lighthouse beyond, and hopefully some nice sunsets. Next to us a couple with 3 children and a guitar are camping in a tent. Very brave.

The village is based around a broad curve of soft, fine pale sand with a small harbour at the far end backed by the tall, slim, white lighthouse at Capo Vito. It is very tourist oriented with a number of small hotels, B&B’s, shops selling local products and beachwear, and a lot of small restaurants. Nice feel although not the sleepy fishing village we were somehow expecting.

We walked round the harbour with it’s statue of St Vito looking out to sea and excellent views back to Mount Monaco. A number of small scuba diving shacks, a small mooring for pleasure boats – no gin palaces here – and further on locals rod-fishing from the harbour wall, a row of fishing boats of various sizes from small to very small, and fishermen patiently mending nets or cleaning their boats. The harbour wall sheltered us and the boats beautifully from the prevailing wind although the surf crashing agains them did occasionally send fine sea-spray in our direction.

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It is getting dark earlier and earlier and it was just warm enough to cook outside. Kate stirred seafood risotto and chatted to mum on the phone while the sun set in front of us, putting on a nice display of colours. Yes – we like it here.

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