Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Driving from Puglia to Sicily via Basilicata and Calabria

(May 2016) Though most people take an airplane flight to Sicily, since we were already in Puglia and had a big comfortable bus with a great chauffeur for our 28 travelers, we decided to drive. It turned out to be an excellent decision because we were able to see some very beautiful parts of Southern Italy, including the non-touristy provinces of Basilicata and Calabria.

The Beach in Scilla, Calabria

Basilicata – Home of Aglianico del Vulture

We left our hotel at 8am and eventually came to the border of the Basilicata province. Basilicata was similar to Puglia, in that the portion we traveled through was flatter and near the sea. In terms of wine, Basilicata is most famous for its DOCG Aglianico del Vulture Superiore, which is made from Aglianico.

Calabria – Land of Immense Beauty and Home to the Sybarites

After about two hours we crossed over into the province of Calabria, and the landscape suddenly changed to tall green mountains, deep valleys and glimpses of the sea.  It seemed completely unspoiled to me with many tiny forgotten villages on mountain tops. I thought how easily it would be to disappear for a few months in this long forgotten land of the Sybarites. If you don’t remember what Sybarite means, it is a person who seeks pleasure and luxury.

Calabria - Land of the Sybarites

Lunch in the Seaside Town of Scilla- Home of Homer’s Monster

We stopped twice for rest breaks, and then arrived in the seaside town of Scilla around 12:30. This is an adorable village with a white sandy beach, gently lapping waves, and huge rock formations rising up behind it. Apparently it is the legendary location of the sea monster from Homer’s Odyssey called “Scilla (also spelled Scylla), and pronounced “Shiela.”

Restaurant on the Beach at Scilla, Calabria

We had a tasty lunch of grilled sword fish sandwich, the local specialty, as we sat at a small seaside café on the beach, called Café Mauro at Lido Francesco. We also ordered a pitcher of the local white wine, which was called “misto,” or mixed white grapes, and we discovered that the primary grape was Grillo - quite delicious and refreshing. Later we waded in the water, and some member of our group went swimming. The village was not very touristy, and there were very few shops, but many seaside restaurants. The island of Sicily was easy to see from the beach, and I realized then how close we were to our final destination.

Jug of "Misto" Wine with Appetizers and Swordfish Sandwich

Lorenzo, our guide, was from Calabria, and he told us some of the ancient legends about the places we visited. It was interesting to realize that many of the locations we were traveling through were written about in the Odyssey – a book I have always loved. Later when we crossed the Straits of Messina, he pointed out the white caps in one section of the water, where two seas meet – the Tyrrhenian and the Ionian. He said this was where Scylla would fight with the other sea monster from the Ionian called Charybdis, and together they would create the whirlpool, which was dangerous to ships. Charybdis was the daughter of Poseidon and Gaia.

Our View from Restaurant at Scilla Beach -- But We Didn't See Sea Monsters

The Ferry Crossing to Sicily

It was only a few minutes after leaving Scilla that we crossed a very large bridge over a huge canyon overlooking the sea, and then within 30 minutes, we had loaded the bus on the ferry and were sailing over the Straits of Messina towards Sicily. Everyone jumped out of the bus and went on deck to see Sicily rising up before us.  I was surprised at how mountainous it was, as well as the many beautiful flowers on the island. As we exited the ferry, I had a strange tingling sensation, but I couldn’t tell whether it was a good or a bad feeling.

Ferry Crossing from Calabria to Sicily -- Over the Straits of Messina (We did see monsters!)

Arriving at the Royal Palace Hotel in Messina

Our hotel was a few minutes drive from the ferry landing, called Royal Palace Hotel, located near the docks and within walking distance of the Duomo and Main Square.  It was another 3 star hotel, and a bit run down, but had obviously been very fancy at one time. The rooms were the largest we had yet encountered, and were decorated in real wood wainscoting and nice furniture. They also had a beautiful meeting room, where we met for our private presentation and tasting of Donnafugata wines.

Excited About Our Ferry Crossing to Sicily

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