February 2014 Sicily Trip Report
We found February an excellent time to travel to Sicily. The weather ranged from 58 – 73 degrees and sunny most days. Wild flowers were in bloom and there were no crowds. In fact, at several hotels we were the only guests, but were warmly welcomed. Car rental and hotel rates were low. All sites were open. We did have one very unfortunate theft along our way, just one part of our story which follows.
Flight on Turkish Airlines from Chicago to Istanbul, then onto Milan. Low winter prices were the reason we choose this airline. We are so happy with the service and comfort on Turkish Airlines, I'm sure we'll fly them again.
Milan: Saturday night arrival: took Malpensa Express from airport to Milano Cadorna R.R. station. Train left from Platform 1 at the airport. We didn’t see any signs stating this. Took taxi from R.R. station to Hotel Antica Locanda Leonardo. Excellent small hotel and a 10 minute walk to Cadorna Train Station. Located on Corso Magenta, the same road as Santa Maria delle Grazie where Leonard’s Last Supper painting is hanging. Tram line No.16 runs along this road, which goes to San Siro Soccer stadium where we saw Inter Milan play a match.
Sunday morning – We took the tram to Piazza Del Duomo where the sun was shining brightly. We needed to buy tickets to the Inter Soccor match which is this evening. The team store in located almost inside of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Once inside, turn right towards the McDonalds, and on the left side, the Inter Team store is located. Match tickets are sold upstairs. We needed to show our passports for identification when buying our tickets. Women’s tickets cost less than men’s. Prices are on the team website. Inter won their match, for the first time this year. We must be good luck!
We walked a great deal around Milan on Sunday visiting Castello Sforzesco and 2 of the museums here. The beautiful park behind the castle was filled with families walking their dogs. The sun was bright after many rainy days before our arrival. We also toured the Opera House and were able to enjoy opera practice.
Monday – Flight on Easy Jet to Palermo from Milan Terminal 2. The flight was smooth until we approached Sicily. High winds made for an interesting landing. We rented at Fiat 500, 2 door with sunroof from Europcar. The price was low, but demand is also low in February. There is a shuttle bus from the small Palermo airport to adjacent rental car lot. Before we left home we discovered the app, Co-Pilot. For $50 we downloaded all European maps onto our iphone. This is voice and map directions which I found easy to use and 99% accurate. No data use required. We could not have driven through the towns we did without this app. Driving west from the airport is SO beautiful. The rolling green hills are delightful, especially coming from the very harsh winter we’re having in the Midwest United States this year. The highway is large, smooth and a joy to drive. Distances aren’t far.
I had wanted to visit the Museo del Carretto Siciliano in Terrasini before driving to our hotel for the evening, but the hotel I had booked in Castellammare del Golfo had problems with their kitchen facilities so we changed our booking to a hotel in Trapani, La Gancia.
La Gancia http://www.lagancia.com/en/ is in all ways excellent. Tomorrow will be my husband’s 60th birthday and this was a beautiful hotel to spend our first night in Sicily. Parking is right next to the old fish market. It’s arches are easy to identify. Park only in blue lined spaces. The hotel entrance is along the sea wall, not accessed from the inside streets of the old town. Views from our room were of the sea and the point. We spent 2 hours walking around old Trapani admiring the many churches lit beautifully for the evening. This is a beautiful old town. The new section wasn’t interesting for us, but we drove through the area with ease. Just stay alert for cars merging in at any angle. Skilled driving is a must.
Dinner tonight was at Osteria La Bettolaccia, Via Gen. E. Fardella 25. The owner is so friendly and generous. We ordered one anti pasta, one pasta and one fish, swordfish, and he split each plate for us. My notes on our meal were stolen when our luggage was stolen in Catania, so I don’t have the exact details of our meals. This was one of the best meals of our trip. Prices are not expensive.
Tuesday - We began the day driving to Erice. The GPS guided us a bit out of the way, but we saw everyone trying to park for their day at work. This is an art in itself. We began by driving to the parking lot by the castle. The castle was closed, but the views were marvelous. We walked through Erice from this location, but repeatedly got lot. Wandering is fun though. Next we drove to the lower lot, the wandered more to the areas we missed from the top. Some shops were open, but we’re not shoppers. Few people were here. We were happy the sun was shining so the slick stone wasn’t a problem. It was best to stay in Trapani last night instead of in Erice.
Next we drove south to the Trapani Salt Flats, on the road to Marsala. I used Google Earth before we left to find the exact spot of the windmills. They are located right across from the island of Mozia. Find Mozia off the western coast of Sicily, and this is where the windmills and salt flats are located on the mainland. South of the Trapani airport. Being winter the museum was closed, but a woman was inside since a group tour was about to return from their boat trip. She allowed us inside to use the bathrooms and buy some salt. The museum looked very tiny, not worth a visit. There are good photo opportunities here though of the salt piles. Next we drove south along the same road finding the row of windmills and salt flats. I was able to photograph them before the rains hit.
Segesta was easily reached by the main highway. I’m amazed how far we can go so quickly on this half of the island. We used the Michelin map #365 of Sicily for planning. By the time we arrived at Segesta, which is well signed, it was pouring rain. There is a small café here with toliets and a gift shop. We bought tickets to the temple and for the shuttle bus to the theater. The walk to the theater would have been way too far and steep for us even if the sun was shining. Time is a consideration also. The parking lot is large, but had few cars. Easy parking here. The visit here is not to be missed. Wildflowers were blooming all around this Doric temple. We loved the silence of the area. The temple is located just up the hill from the ticket office. The shuttle to the theater is back by the ticket office. Our driver dropped us off and said he’d be back in 10 minutes. That didn’t make me happy, we needed far more than 10 minutes to see this site. We took our time, the views from the theater amazing, despite the rain. When finished the driver wasn’t there so we started walking back down, getting drenched in the process. Part of the way down the hill, the shuttle showed back up and we returned to the main parking area.
Villa Sogno Agriturismo in Castelvetrano is our evening stay. There are not many choices in this area to stay and this was highly recommended. I had emailed Cinzia several times before our arrival about finding somewhere for dinner since this was my husbands birthday. Nothing seemed open. When we arrived at Villa Sogno the gate was locked and ringing the buzzer didn’t get any response. We called their phone and the housekeeper answered. She only spoke Italian, but we communicated our arrival. She buzzed us in. We used Google translate to communicate on the computer. Cinzia and her husband were away. The housekeeper was very kind and did her best. She gave us a card of a restaurant in Mazera del Vallo, about a 20 minute drive southwest. We thought this a much better choice than the McDonalds which was 5 minutes from Villa Sogno.
Café’ Garibaldi in Mazera del Vallo proved delightful. The two women who run the restaurant are the highlight. They are so pleasant and happy, and truly wonderful. Dinner wasn’t excellent as it was last night, but still very good. I was surprised that tuna was never on the menu while we were in Sicily. I asked one person and they said the farming of tuna here is no longer allowed. Swordfish was on every menu. We were the only diners here this evening. Our evening stroll through town was again just beautiful with the main plaza lit for the evening. There is one ATM in this town, if you need one, ask for directions.
Wednesday - The next morning breakfast at Villa Sogno was adequate. We walked the grounds. I can see how this can be pleasant in the summer, but we don’t recommend it for a winter stay.
Rain was off and on this day, but somehow it was mainly dry when we toured Selinunte. No map was available here so it’s good we had our touring books with us. Again, we were the only tourists here. I loved this area and took many photos. One temple is standing and two are in ruins. More wildflowers covered the site and the views to the sea marvelous.
We drove to the second section. Walking would take far too long. This site is more spread out and marvelous. It’s not bad being the only tourists on the grounds. The beach here looks nice and sandy. I’m sure it’s very busy during the summer.
The road to Agrigento was good, but the drive takes some time. We had hoped to stop at Scala dei Turchi, but wisely skipped it so we’d have enough time to visit the Valley of the Temples. Along the road were several small trucks selling fresh oranges. We stopped at a small market and bought lunch supplies, fresh prosciutto ham, cheese and snacks. Very affordable, very fresh. Arriving at Agrigento you realize how spread apart the temples are. Parking at the center is very limited, and not possible. Buses occupy most of the spots.
At the small traffic circle, one exit leads to public parking. It seems far from the temples. We parked, then took a taxi to the top, where Temple Juno is located. A second ticket booth is located here, but no bathrooms. There is also more parking up here, but after our visit we realized we did this site exactly correctly. By parking below and taking the taxi up, you only need to walk down. No wasted time backtracking. This site is very well organized. The sites spectacular and walkway excellent and wide. All along the area the almond trees were in bloom. The views to the current town of Agrigento framed in flowering trees. Amazingly beautiful in February. The weather had cleared. Below in the valley we saw a large group of sheep and their shepherd. There is a shepherd with each group of sheep we saw on Sicily, and there are many.
The tour groups seemed to be leaving as we toured this site, so again, not many others were here. We took our time, explored all the site, working our way down. The bottom section is ruins and doesn’t take as long to explore. Don’t miss the view of the cliffs at the end of the site. When finished there is a small lane off to the right if you turn to walk back. This road leads down to the parking lot. We just guessed, and chose this route correctly. You’ll pass under a road underpass to reach the parking area. The visit could also start here, but then you’d be walking uphill all the way.
We drove to the museum after our visit. It is truly an excellent museum. Parking was a bit hard to find, but it’s by the gas station next door. We spent over an hour here, but more time is needed. It’s so varied and full of antiquities. Time to drive to Argritourismo Gigliotto http://www.gigliotto.com/ near Piazza Armerina for our next stay.
As before, we are the only guests at Argritourismo Gigliotto. The location is great for visiting Villa Romana mosaics. We’re so happy we could stay here in winter, but I’m sure it’s much nicer in the summer. Our room was cool, but we finally decided when we could find no heater, that the heat came from underfloor heating. Our room was comfortable, but the dinner they really wanted us to order was poor. They serve a 6 or 7 course dinner with a bottle of wine included for €30 each. It would be a great deal if the meal was good, but ours was very mediocre. Probably the poorest meal of our trip besides pizza in Taormina. The owner and his son were also eating, but no others were. The TV was loud during dinner in the dining room.
In the morning we’ll visit the Villa Romana mosaics which were a highlight of our trip. All sections are open and the site is wonderful.
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February 2014 Sicily Trip Report