Friday, January 30, 2004

Day 7 - Palermo - Cefalu - Santo Stefano - Caltagirone

Day 7 - Spent most of the day driving, as we are going from Palermo, on the north coast, to Caltagirone, a small town in the mountains in the opposite southeast corner. We have a couple of stops along the way, which are not exactly along the way.

We check out of the hotel and head to Cefalu, a little over an hour from Palermo, to look for some new Sicilian ceramics patterns. We have spent about 36 hours in Palermo, yet have managed to see only the route from our hotel to the Avis office, as we spent all of yesterday outside the city. Palermo is definitely worth a return visit, as even in the short time we have spent here it has exceeded our expectations. Several guide books and personal referrals have told us that it was a run down city, where your personal safety and personal possessions were at risk. Despite our superficial introduction, we find Palermo a beautiful, well kept city and there are a number of upscale store we would like to visit. While it is teeming with humanity, it is neither overcrowded nor overwhelming. It seems to be a sophisticated, welcoming city.

The drive to Cefalu passes quickly on the high speed autostrada that follows the dramatic coastline. Sicily, or at least this portion of it, is a dramatic landscape. Coastal beaches rise into enormous cliffs and jagged, craggy eruptions of rock rise hundreds, if not thousands of feet in dramatic promontories. It is a spectacular landscape.

Cefalu is a picturesque coastal town that is recommended to us for having a good selection of ceramics, with a number of shops around it's 13th century duomo. Cefalu's centro (most Italian towns are truly centered around a central district, known as "Centro," which is easy to find by following signs from the highway to "Centro," which is represented by a black and white bullseye symbol) is not accessible today. Often town center is closed to auto traffic and today is one of those days. We find an illegal parking spot near the perimeter and wander about for a bit. Because this is off season for an off the beaten track spot, many of the stores are closed today and nearly every restaurant is closed. We find the local tourist office, and they direct us to an area where ther are a couple of open restaurants.

We have lunch at l'Antica Taverna (via Vittorio Emanuel 56), a simple osteria. I have the buccatini con sarde, a pasta with sardines, capers and a few other things. We assume that the sardines will be whole, on top of the pasta, but it is a delicious puree, with raisins and nuts as well. Delicioso!

After lunch we begin our drive to Santo Stefano di Camastra, another ceramics town further east of Cefalu. From Cefalu the high speed autostrada ends and we take a picturesque state road that winds along the coast. At spots, the highway is flooded with water from waves that are crashing against the seawall. Progess is slow but breathtaking. At several points along the way we see enormous overpasses being built for an extension of the autostrada from Cefalu to Messina. This would be a welcome addition, as it would cut a half hour off the trip.

Santo Stefano is an off the beaten path stop. It has a number of excellent ceramics shops with friendly welcoming proprietors. They welcome us warmly and we feel a real connection with them, in contrast to the warnings we have received that the Sicilians are distant and suspicious of strangers. The shopkeepers of Santo Stefano, in fact everyone we have met in Sicily are as warm and welcoming as what we have come to love and expect from Italians in general. Santo Stefano has some terrific ceramic pieces at good prices, and we would recommend anyone to stop here. The patterns run the gamut, but in general we find the designs a bit heavier, both in terms of physical weight and in hue, than pieces we have purchased in Deruta.

We leave Santo Stefano and head for Caltagirone, deep in the center of Sicily. The drive takes a little over two hours, on small winding roads and autostrade. We finally arrive at our destination, the Grand Hotel Villa San Mauro in Caltagirone. It is a resort-type property, with a pool and terrace area (not necessary at this time of year), but the rooms are great and it has first class service. We have dinner at the hotel, where again the service was friendly and first class. The waiter recommends a local wine from Caltagirone, a Cerasuola di Vittoria from the Tenuta Nanfro. We enjoy it and hope to visit the winery tomorrow after spending the day shopping for ceramics in this town that is renowned for its ceramics industry.

We did a lot of driving today but had some nice experiences. A little recovery from all the driving is in order, and then more shopping!

Ciao a presto!
Suzy and Bill

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