Don Crione and his Sicilian Adventure.
Part #4: Cefalù and Madonie Park

Before I reach Cefalù, let me travel in time back to Giardini Naxos, where few different people advised me to book a place to sleep there in advance. It was weekend time and apparently half of Sicily tended to come there.

I listened to their advice and it was a very good move indeed, as even online I barely found 3 rooms left — one of which was heavily discounted in a 4 star hotel — Villa Gaia — 20m from the beach. I don’t have to tell you that this is the one I went with.

My journey from Giardini Naxos was rather uneventful, although I had a super annoying moment in Messina, when I was trying to get some information from the box office and ended up waiting in a 5 people queue for 30 minutes… Surprisingly even locals were losing their patience with 2 clerks doing everything but selling tickets.

I arrived at my destination just after 10PM and after a short stroll I reached my hotel. The room seemed very nice, big and airy; in fact the bathroom on its own was massive. The contents of the bathroom, on the other hand, were quite err… adventurous.

At this point I feel a need to say, that I like to think I’m fairly familiar with and comfortable using modern devices, so imagine my sudden doubt when I tried to take a shower and the cabin surprised me with more buttons than my phone! Whoever designed it, definitely lacked UI experience.

The initial interaction started with me nearly getting a heart attack since one of the buttons turned inside-cabin radio, which followed by cold water pouring at me from all possible directions. I think I screamed like a girl at that point, though I like to believe that the sound was cancelled by the loud music(; After few minutes of fiddling with the control panel I finally managed to figure out what was doing what, so I gladly switched myself into relax mode. It didn’t last too long though, because I suddenly realised that I couldn’t see a thing — the whole cabin was filling with some kind of odourless smoke! How the hell was I supposed to know that one of the buttons enabled some kind of delayed mini sauna mode, puffing crazyload of steam at my feet level?

My bathroom adventures in Cefalù's Villa Gaia hotel

I tell you, it was the most stressful shower I have ever had… And yes — I am a proud Master of Science. And an Engineer!

Next day I was hoping to accomplish 2 things: find a laundry and get a map for the next stage of my journey — Parco Regionale delle Madonie. Although taught by recent experiences I imagined complications, I did not expect such a massive failure.

Sure, I found 2 places, where I could wash my clothes, but why would anyone have them open on Saturday? So rather than enjoy the sun outside, I bought a smallest bottle of hand wash liquid (2l) and turned my hostile bathroom environment into one oldskool washing facility…

Memorable view of Cefalù and The Rocca from Villa Gaia hotel's beach

The map pursuit didn’t go much better. After receiving few ‘be gone demon!’ looks from sales assistants in a bookshop, range of travel agencies and tourist information, I was relieved to find an official office of the park! I could even see the 1:50000 map on the wall (sure it was as pointless as the one from Etna, but better that than nothing)!

Of course they could not sell it to me — it was the last one they had and there was simply no way I could use it. There also had no idea where I could get a copy. Hoping to at least get some info on bus times, I was kindly pointed to the train station, but warned that the earliest one was coming in 2 days!!!

Double You Tee Eff?!

I rushed to the train station but, as expected nobody had a bloody idea of anything. Slowly losing my patience I went back to my hotel and tortured a receptionist to Google it. After 30 minutes he confirmed it, also giving me a rough schedule from 2008.

I was stuck in Cefalù for whole 2 days, but then again, can you be really stuck 30m from the sea in the old fishing village, BBQing yourself in 27°C? Of course not!

Northern end of Cefalù

Still, I’d probably regret all that wasted time a bit, but fortunately my ‘sorrows’ were quickly forgotten thanks to certain Russian girl, who I met climbing the ruins of fortress on top of the Rocca hill which raises in the middle of the village. Did I mention that Cefalù was occupied by a small army of super hot Russians? I haven’t seen anything like this before.

As you can imagine, spending weekend on my own in a ‘couple-paradise’ like this, would suck big time, so I welcomed my new crime partner with arms wide open. In between constantly getting lost in those damn narrow streets, we managed to stuff each other with gellatos, lemonades, epic panna cottas, empty couple bottles of wine at the sunset, and enjoy amazing dinners in 2 restaurants I can honestly recommend as my top 4 of Sicily: Le Chat Noir — a quiet gem between main streets, where we were served by a rather funny Swiss girl engaged to one of the owners, and Ti Vitti — as I learned later, one of the favourite places for Sicilians to eat at, which I don’t blame them for.

Old gate leading to the ruins on top of the Rocca

As much as I loved to stay, the adventure was calling, and with buses back to work I could finally proceed to Madonie. Unfortunately my original hope of staying there 2-3 days was completely crushed simply by lack of connections. I settled for a linear hike from an Isnello village to its reasonably distant cousin — Gratteri.

I arrived at the train/bus station around 7AM, surprised by the amount of school girls shoving their (clearly legal;) tight jeans covered bottoms on a chain of buses. As usual nobody could tell me which one was mine, whether and when it arrived, but eventually I got the info out of one of the drivers.

Isnello welcomed me with a pleasant refreshing mountain air 90 minutes later.

Although I planned to go straight for the trail, I couldn’t ignore a small hill on the side of the village with a picturesque church and something that looked like a tower ruins. I didn’t think twice and was rewarded with enchanting panorama of the valley and Isnello‘s orange roofs.

On top of Isnello

Going back through the streets was quite amazing too — you could see people slowly starting to leave their houses, there was laughter coming from behind the corners, and you could just die happy passing by local bakery infusing crisp, morning air with their incredible aromas.

Soon after, I reached the trail. The only thing I have to guide me, was a 5 years old description of the track with a very rough sketch to help with orientation. It did help for the first 500m, yet it was bloody pointless for the rest of the day. But, I’ll get to it a bit later.

After those 500m I had to face a first obstacle — a damn gate and a fence blocking my way!

I really didn’t feel like going back and wandering around the streets for few hours, so I tossed my backpack over it, found a gap between fence poles and squeezed my athletic body through it!

First obstacle on a trail in Parco Regionale delle Madonie

Yes — I am a badass criminal. I heard that chicks dig it, so if you’re one, I encourage you to have a date with me;P

Anyway, for the next half an hour or so, I was climbing through a fantastic conifer wood to eventually emerge at the bottom of a broad gully. I followed the trail description and turned right to get on a right slope of Monte Grotta Grande overlooking Isnello and surrounding mountain strips of Madonie Park.

The path suddenly ended with a fence, this time protecting me from falling down from a cliff. Now, the trick is, the guidebook mentioned it but it also said to follow it up to my left. Problem is, there was no path, only hip tall grass, stones and lizards! But since there was no point of returning, I just decided to cut through the grass and check if I’d be able to see anything at the top.

What I didn’t consider is the super-sharpness of that grass. After 5 minutes my legs had gozillion of tiny papercut-like wounds. Of course I could have just stopped, think and zip in my trouser legs, but why do it, if you can do the same thing 5 minutes later with exploding limbs…

Mysterious Road on top of Monte Grotta Grande

Although not very long, it was a rather hard hike — the soil was sprinkled with thousands of loose stones and rocks, that damn grass was everywhere, and, as expected, it was quite steep at times — but finally I noticed something curious in front of me. It looked like a road cut into a side of a hill! Who the hell would put a road on that altitude?

Funny thing is, it actually didn’t lead anywhere! It just stopped at one point 300m before the summit. Later I learned that it’s used by shepherds in the spring and summer time, but at that time it was quite strange. Unfortunately with that pointless road, my problem was back — where the hell was I supposed to go now?

I wandered along that road few times back and forth trying to find any sign of a path or a trail mark, but there was nothing. And then, suddenly, I noticed a similar road-like cut at the opposing mountain — Pizzo Dipilo — 100-150m above me. Since I didn’t have much to lose I decided to try and reach it. Just then I found a very old, fallen signpost, covered with few layers of mud and hidden by thick layer of grass. Helpful.

Welcoming summit of Pizzo Dipilo

The climb was unusually tough. Again, there was no trail whatsoever and I had to go through completely ploughed sheep grazing zone, my already irritated legs being constantly kissed by the endless sea of nettle… Fortunately what seemed like road from the lower grounds was exactly that!

I was back on a track and for the first time since I went through that first gate, the description of the trail and the trail itself matched! I also noticed the time and realised that I’m in a bit of a trouble. With all that ‘being lost’ bullcrap, I was exactly half way through in between both villages and while my last guaranteed bus was leaving in 3 hours, I was not sure whether the ‘last according to the schedule’ will bother to arrive at all.

I couldn’t be bothered at that point though. As a regular male, I’d rather lose an arm than admit I can’t hammer a nail to a plank — chose to back down and fail. Not very smart, but if you haven’t figured it out yet, we — guys — don’t think much when it comes to having sex, booze, food and maintaining our pride.

So yes — I went forward.

View from the grazing fields of Pizzo Dipilo

The biggest mistake I made though, was that I rushed it too much. A lot of surface was gravel-like so if you walk quickly with a fairly heavy load over it, no matter how hard your soles are, after couple of hours you’ll start being a host to calluses. Few hours later, when the adrenaline levels dropped, I knew I screwed big time.

Having said that, it was a very enjoyable descent — the other side of Pizzo Dipilo offered completely different weather, for some reason not allowing clouds and cool wind pass through its summit. I could revisit my memories from Etna and walk through a thick cloud, although this time surrounded by all sorts of vegetation, especially notable thick patches of aromatic herbs, like mint or oregano.

Descending from Pizzo Dipilo towards Gratteri

The road snaked down for couple of hours through a dense cork and oak forest to finally open into rather scenic Vallone San Giorgio with the ocean glimmering at the horizon. Few bends later I reached the top of a shallow valley, on the opposite side of which I could see an abandoned road leading from a nearby cave to Gratteri. I had 15 minutes left to catch the bus and at this point I knew that, unless I could hitchhike a paraglider, it would not happen.

I enjoyed that last few hundred meters. Leaving the clouds far behind me and coming back to the sun struck planes was a very welcomed change.

I must say that it is the first time I ever reached a town through a back road. Crossing dead empty streets (which, by the way, were everything but parallel and organised) for over 10 minutes, makes you suddenly remember all zombie and deadly virus movies.

I finally emerged into something that looked like a main piazza and it even had 4 senior locals sipping beer at the only bar. They kindly pointed me to the bus stop and confirmed the bus coming in 45 minutes. Yay.

Entering Vallone San Giorgio

I took that time to refill myself with plenty of liquids, which I definitely deserved after my madly rushed descent. It was also when I notice a serious stench emitted by my backpack, and, unavoidably, shirt. It was nasty. And I mean pee-on-your-clothes-and-leave-it-for-a-week-in-a-sun nasty. I guess I reached sweating capabilities of the backbone cushion.

The bus arrived on time and I took my seat in the 2nd row, unfortunately for a couple of German tourists, who decided to sit in front of me.

After 2 minutes they noticed the odour.

I could see them trying to pinpoint the source of it with no success. They even turned around to me at some point, which I welcomed with a smile and a cheeky question ‘Is everything OK?’. Rather than change seats, they decided to take super uncomfortable positions, stretching their bodies as far away from me as they could(; Poor bastards.
That was also a rather new, educational experience for me — I don’t remember people ever creating empty spaces around me on public transport(;

Anyway, I arrived at Cefalù just before 6PM, managed to change from the stinky clothes at the hotel’s bathroom, and rushed to grab a train to my next stop being Caccamo, or if not possible to get there at that time of a day, Termini Imerese — a port city half way through. Probably the biggest disappointment of the whole trip.

I invite you to check all the photos from Cefalù and my day hike through Madonie Park on Flickr or through the gallery below. Some really good shots there!

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