Sicily, Italy

Towns and Wanderings from the Villa

20-26 October 2013

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Tenuta Don Ruggero, Sicily 

Polizzi Generosa
Polizzi Generosa

What are we going to do today? There are so many choices and so few days! Everyone was on their own to visit wherever and whenever they want. Some chose to drive over the hills, taking in the stupendous view. Others chose to visit the hill top villages of Polizzi Generoso, Castellano, Petralia Suttana, Petralia Soprano, or Castelbuono to view the mountains and valleys from the scenic lookouts and visit the beautiful, old churches and castles at the same time. Cefalů, on the north coast, was another destination for those who had not visited before. Several of the villages had local farmers markets where we bought food for our communal dinners. A few of us climbed the hill behind the villa for a bird’s eye view of our villa.
Driving through the steep streets of Petralia Sottana, the lower of the two Petralias, was a challenge. Ray and I were in one car, followed by Neil in another car, threading our way uphill when we encountered a large transport truck approaching in the opposite direction. There was no choice but to back down the hill until we reached a section wide enough for the truck to pass. The best option at that point was to find a parking spot and proceed on foot. A few blocks farther up another large truck started down the road. We ducked into a side street to get out of the way. Two cars also backed into the side street so that the truck could proceed down the road. That left a long line of traffic continuing up and down the hill, trapping the two cars in the side street. This was an opportunity for Huibert. He was the perfect traffic director. He stepped into the main road, stopped the traffic in both directions and ushered the trapped cars into the street and on their way. Huibert earned a standing ovation.

What could be better than ending a day of excursions with a swim in the infinity pool with a view of the mountains. Of course there was a price that the hardy Canadian women and two of the men were willing to pay. The water temperature was a decidedly cool 66F (19C). I found that two laps of the pool acclimatised me enough to stay in for another 15 minutes. A hot shower after my swim was very welcome.

BirthdayOf course each dinner was a time to celebrate our day. All the women were born in 1943, so it was natural that one of would be celebrating at the villa. Suzanne was the lucky one. Two of the women went into Castellano to buy a birthday cake and candles as a surprise ending to our meal. The candles were lit and we all sang Happy Birthday as the cake was brought in. Suzanne took a deep breath and blew on the candles. She didn’t get them all out a tonce so she took another deep breath to try again. Before she could blow, the unlit candles came to life again! They were trick candles. It certainly was a surprise to everyone, even the two who purchased the cake, which was delicious. 

You have to be a member of the Imperial Roman family to rate a country villa the likes of Villa Romana del Casale. Built between the end of the 3C and the beginning of the 4C AD, it was occupied as an occasional retreat and hunting lodge for no more than 150 years, when it was damaged and partially destroyed by Vandals and Visigoths. Thereafter a small village, named Platia, grew up around the villa until the 12C when it was destroyed by fire then covered in a mud slide that obscured all but the tops of the tallest structures. Nothing was known of the site until the 19thC when pieces of mosaics and some columns were found. It took until 1950 before serious archaeological work uncovered its most important feature, floors covered with incredible mosaics, most in excellent condition. Now a UNESCO site, it is one of the most important stops for tour groups and a must see for us.

Our drive to the site took longer than anticipated 1 ˝ hours when we got off the major highway to face a traffic jam. We crawled along for ˝ hour to find a tourist bus broken down in the outskirts of Enna with all the passengers standing of the sidewalk with their suitcases with suitcases by their side. We were glad we weren’t on that tour. Finally our line of cars was able to pass the bus and we were on our way again, past Enna and Piazza Amerina and out into the countryside to our destination. It was worth the drive. Elevated walkways with excellent signage allowed you to view the mosaics in the numerous rooms of the villa. We all took scores of photos of scenes depicting daily life, mythological scenes and festivals. The ‘bikini girls’, portraying women participants, dressed in skimpy outfits, for events making up athletic events of a pentathlon, were a favourite of everyone. Another favourite was the 60M long corridor floor depicting hunting scenes of exotic animals being captured for circus and gladiator games. 

Bikini Girls
Bikini girls

Animal capture
Capturing animals for Coliseum

Thursday was market day in Castelbuono, the capital town of the Monti Madonie, about 40 minutes north of Cefalů, where we had stayed before arriving at Tenuta Don Ruggero and about more than an hour from our villa. Ray and I drove from the villa to Polizzi Generosa, and then followed a road directly north, detouring to the ski area at Piano Battaglia to have a look at possible walks the next day. We heard later that the ski resort is no longer in operation. The autumn day we were there had a distinctly Swiss atmosphere, with the tinkling of bells on wooden collars around the necks of cattle contentedly grazing in the fields beside the road.

Castelbuono is a town to explore by foot. We parked at the bottom on a long hill lined with market stalls and walked up to meet the Greiners and Cathy Pawley who had come on a different route. There is much more to see in the town besides the market. I found my way to the 14thC church Matrice Vecchio on the Piazza Margherita. The interior was covered in beautiful frescoes on the columns and the walls. The altar itself had a lovely medieval style painting of the Madonna and baby. There are even more frescoes in the crypt below the altar, but I didn’t have time to view them.

Altar in Matrice Vecchio

Castle chapel
Castle chapel

It was after 12 PM and the Castello Ventimiglia just down the road closed for the afternoon at 1 PM. The castle was built as a fortress in 1316 for the Ventimiglia family on an old watchtower dating from before 1100. Knowing we had limited time to visit, we went directly to the Palatine Chapel. The chapel, commissioned in 1684, is covered in stucco bas relief statues of cupids, angels and other figures. It was the second most elaborately decorated chapel in Sicily we have seen; the first being Palermo’s Palatine Chapel in the Norman Palace. The castle was damaged in the earthquakes that rocked the Madonie Mountains in 1818-1819 and was taken over by the city of Castelbuono in 1920 when the castle was put up for auction by the remaining Ventimiglia family. There were also rooms displaying Religious art and artifacts, modern art and some information on archaeological finds. My favourite was a display of ornately embroidered vestments worn by the highest order of priests.

HikersFriday, our last full day at the villa, was a treat for ten of us who love to hike. Piano Battaglia, at 1600M, was in the sun but not too warm, just perfect for walking. It was uphill thru loose rock on a well marked train, through some woods, and up a ridge where we had lunch. The return was a gentle climb downhill to the road for a 0.5 km walk back to the cars. We all enjoyed the day and wished we had time to explore another trail in the mountains. 

The next day, Saturday, found us saying goodbye and heading off in various directions, some back to Canada, some to stay longer in Sicily and Ray and I, returning to Rome to meet up with our daughter Erica and our two grandsons.

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