Tag Archives: castle

Swimming with the ancients

Not so long ago I was in a lovely little agriturismo looking at a rather tired and messy looking noticeboard. There wasn’t actually much ‘up-to-date’  information on it but I did spot an excursion to a place called ‘Cava dell Carosello’ and it mentioned swimming! Now, I love a bit of – what do they call it nowadays? – wild swimming, that’s it. So, the moment I got home I googled Cava del Carosello and decided that I had to go there while the weather was still hot. Last weekend, I did exactly that and I found a little bit of paradise which for most of the day, my partner and I had all to ourselves.

We started with a granita and brioche in Noto, obviously. I love Noto and I love granita. Not only that, it was Sunday so I could justify treating myself. I think the bar we visited had the longest list of granita that I have ever seen. I had limone (lemon) and mandarino (mandarin) and my partner had fig with nuts and prickly pear. We had a little walk around and took pictures even though we take pictures everytime we go there and must now have hundreds stored on our laptops. Our hunger satisfied, we headed back to the car.

Noto

Cava del Carosello is located in the area of Noto Antica. Somehow, I had forgotten there even was an old Noto seeing as the current Noto is pretty old. It is a short drive away from Noto further up the hill and the roads are more than a little bumpy and narrow. The first thing you notice from the car are the ruins of a castle, then you see hundreds of grottoes. It is an impressive site and there appears to be a number of walks in this area, although one walk around the grottoes was closed. We pulled up at the entrance to Noto Antica which is now an archeological site but which is currently completely free to enter. Situated on Monte Alveria, Noto Antica used to be a large walled town until an earthquake in 1693 flattened it and the inhabitants wisely decided to rebuild a little further away. It is a beautiful, peaceful place to walk around and some buildings or parts of buildings still stand amongst the ruins. We didn’t have time to visit it all due to my overwhelming urge to have a swim.

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The trail to Cava dell Carosello is signposted off what used to be the main square of Noto Antica. The walk down into the valley is fascinating as some of it is hewed out of the rock. It is rocky and you do really need to watch your footing. There are plenty of good viewpoints into the valley below and scents of wild mint and rocket drifted up to meet us. At the foot of the trail just before the first swimming spot is a cave which might have been a former home of someone or a necropolis, it is the first cave of many. The whole valley is teaming with caves which house former tanneries from the time the Arabs occupied the island. Think, the tanneries of Fes in Morroco, in a series of caves.You can safely visit them and wonder at their construction. They are a little spooky too if you possess an overactive imagination such as I do and enter the darkness of one alone. Further along the valley there is an old mill. This evidently, was an important economic area in the past which until recently was all but forgotten.

The river which flows through this valley was probably once filled with different colours from the dyes used in the tanneries. Now the water is crystal clear and runs into a series of small pools, some of which are large enough to swim in. I must admit it took me quite a while to brave the water initially. This was not because I thought  it was going to be cold, I was rather hot after all from the walk and needed to cool off, it was more because I had spotted some crabs and possibly something else crustacean in there. I didn’t mind the black dragonflies which were fluttering around me or the pondskaters on the surface of the water, I just didn’t fancy my toes getting nipped.

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I would like to say that when I did finally pluck up the courage, that I gracefully dove in. I did no such thing. More like a bum slide in then sheer panic when I touch something at the bottom which moved (it was just a small rock). The water was certainly fresh but definitely invigorating. We were all alone with the dragonflies, crabs and who knows what else, oh, and an abandoned doll that creeped me out and I am afraid to say I left there. We were later joined by an older couple who told us there was a large waterfall somewhere along the river so we set off to find it. Along the way we encountered yet more dragonflies but this time coloured orange, pink and light blue. We walked past more caves and eucalyptus trees and came across another pool and promptly took a dip. This one was much warmer as it was in full sun, had a few more crabs and some type of fish which must have freaked out when we got in the water.

Lunchtime came and went. Luckily, we had had a granita in Noto because stupidly, we had forgotten to bring anything to eat. Anyway, we were too excited and enjoying ourselves way too much to even think about being hungry. A little further on again we came to another pool. Beyond this, but fenced off, was the large waterfall we had been told about. Although we couldn’t really see it very well. It was fenced off I guess because there was an enormous drop into another valley below. This pool was deeper than the others and not as easy to get out off. It took a bit of bum sliding and more than one attempt. Another couple had got there before us but we hardly noticed them. We enjoyed a swim and some figs off a nearby tree before the wind started to pick up and we decided that it was time to make our way back. The trail we had followed continued on and might be worth exploring but we really didn’t have enough time and as we were in a valley the sun was setting fast. Somehow, we got back up and out of the gorge, faster than when we had come down but I put that down to stopping less to admire the view.

I love it when you find a little bit of paradise that you never knew existed. We left with smiles on our faces and a determination to revisit, this time with a picnic and a better camera.
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Aci Trezza & Aci Castello – The Normans meets Greek Mythology

Aci Trezza and Aci Castello are seaside towns north of Catania that merge into each other but each have their own feel and stories. Towns where people drive to from Catania and around to go for a ‘passeggiata'(a stroll which in most places is more to be ‘seen’ than for exercise, undertaken quite often on a Sunday evening when people get dolled up in their Sunday best; people walk so slowly that they barely seem to be moving and stop often). They are also great places to have a granita or an aperitivo as the views over the sea are stunning.

Aci Castello is dominated by a Norman castle which sits on a large rock that seems to have come from no-where. At the base of the rock, people sunbathe or fish. Along the coastline of both towns you find people perched on the lava rocks, soaking up the sun; they rather remind me of seals basking. In the town square you will find Sicilian men passing away the hours, chatting and sitting in the shade beneath the trees whilst the women clean the house and prepare lunch or dinner. When we were there a couple arrived to film their pre-wedding video. It is customary to film a short video telling the story behind a couple’s romance. It is also a popular spot for wedding photographs with the castle and the sea as the backdrop. The castle is interesting to visit and contains a small museum.


You can sea Aci Trezza from Aci Castello but alas in the summer you can’t walk along the seafront from one town to the other due to a rather large, private lido commanding all of the available space and blocking any walkway. It is a shame as I think it would prove to be an added attraction and benefit for both towns. Aci Castello viewed from Aci trezza Aci Trezza seen from Aci CastelloAci Trezza is the busier of the two and in fact a borough belonging to Aci Castello. Instead of a castle it is dominated by – I Faraglioni dei Ciclopi – the rock of the Cyclops, as local legend would have it that these are the rocks that were thrown by Polythemus at Odysseus when the latter was making his escape. It is not difficult to understand the reasoning for this legend. You can see Mt Etna from the town and the lava basalt rocks do look like they landed there but in fact they rose up from beneath the sea due to volcanic activity. The rocks are an interesting feature on the seascape and provide a perfect place to dive into the sea from for fearless local boys. There are many other interesting volcanic features to see in Aci Trezza but my favourite activity here has to be people watching. In the harbour you will see fishermen tending their boats, bringing in their haul, selling their fish or just relaxing in the shade out of the glaring midday sun. Large yachts, big fishing boats and small wooden boats are moored next to each other. Giovanni Verga set his novel ‘The House by the Medlar Tree’ or ‘I Malavoglia’ here which Luchino Visconti based his film ‘La Terra Trema’ on. I haven’t read the book or watched the film – yet! It is a MUST do on my list as I completely understand how this tranquil but busy seaside town could inspire a writer.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, apart from the granita this is a great place to eat fish! Obviously!

If only I were a goat!

I am  not really sure if I agree with the grading of some of the walking trails in Sicily – they definitely do not take people with average fitness levels into consideration and neither do they factor in the effects of the temperature. Just the other day a group of us took what was deemed an easy trail only to find ourselves on all fours for the final part of the ascent; the wind was not helping us feel secure on our feet and the trail was now a steep piece of rock and although one of us had a carabiner, none of us had any rope (ok, I might just have exaggerated the steepness here). It would seem that every time we go walking we start off by having to climb uphill – we almost always consider turning back (due to the lactic acid building up) but the desire to see what is beyond keeps us motivated just enough to continue (I know, anyone would think we were attempting to climb K2).

This time we had gone to Francavilla di Sicilia to take a circular walk which skirts part of the Alcantara river. When we got to its medieval centre we noticed straight away that we could also reach the ruins of a castle high on a hill overlooking the town. The route was marked as easy but we immediately sensed that it would not be when we looked up and saw how steep the hill was. We pressed on anyway, attracted the attention of some goats and stopped often to admire the view, or if I am to be honest, to catch our breath. When we neared the top and the trail has disappeared I nearly turned back. I blame the wind and the wobbly legs that by that point I had for momentarily turning me into a bit of a woose. I was encouraged to continue by ‘I have conquered the mountain’ shouts and the promise of a spectacular view together with some ruins to explore so I steadied my legs and crawled up the last bit.

The view was worth it!

On the way back down which by the way, killed my knees, we saw some goats high on a craggy rock face – easy for them and their nifty trotters, just not easy for us hefty two-legged folk. Back in the medieval heart of Francavilla di Sicilia we nosed around a derelict building which still had old jars of sauce on its now rather exposed shelves before taking the circular walk we had originally intended to do.Derelict house FrancavillaWe immediately passed some old ruins of a Greek settlement which seem to have been left to decline into further ruin (if that is possible). Covered by a now rather shabby shelter which is falling apart the ruins seemed to be inaccessible to the public but are proudly marked by a sign on the route.  Nevertheless, the rest of the walk didn’t disappoint and we were taken to some beautiful spots on the Alcantara river. Two snakes were spotted, one ‘good’ snake attempting to exit the water and another ‘bad’ one which had been warming up its body on the wall. Slightly freaked out by the viper we walked much more heavily through a section of path which was almost completely overgrown just in case there were more snakes around. After the old mill the trail started to go uphill again – easy for the goat and maybe a goat herder but not so easy for the average Joe in the now hot midday sun but don’t let me put you off as this is a beautiful walk and it is relatively easy – I’m just a little unfit and the climb to the castle finished me off. If you want to try the walk yourself click on this helpful link here.