Heading back to the Italian mainland from Sicily was never going to be easy, so we found one last distraction to put it off for a day – Taormina. The Greeks had built a theatre here, on top of a rock next to the ocean, with a stupendous view of Etna. The Romans, when they came along, liked it all so much that they took it over and remodelled it – putting a chuffing great big building just behind the stage, totally blocking the view. Fortunately, that building’s a bit decrepit now, so the view’s back.
The town itself is a bit touristy, but we did manage to say goodbye to Sicily properly in another respect, too – we found a superb Arancini shop! We probably mentioned this already, but they’re balls of sticky rice, classically filled with meaty ragu (think SpagBog), but often with ricotta and spinach or various other scrummy mixtures, then given a crispy crumby coating and deepfried – delicious. Here’s a YouTube vid of how they make them. My mouth’s watering watching…
Being Palm Sunday, Taormina was full of little stalls selling woven palm leaves, but – of course – we’d managed to miss all the parades. Hiho.
We’d even managed to miss the eruption that Etna had had overnight, despite being camped half-way down the slopes! Our Swiss neighbours did say they’d seen an orangey glow against the clouds… Anyway, ignoring the visit to the top of Etna, we’d ticked off all the things we wanted to return to, and could leave with a clear conscience.
Whilst we were on the boat, we had a look at the map to choose which way to head towards Puglia – north up the coast then across or south round the southern tip of Calabria. We decided to go straight inland and over the Aspromonte mountains instead. The tail end of the Appennines, their remote interior means they have a reputation as a favourite place for the ‘ndrangheta (Calabrian mafia) to hide their kidnap victims… Not at all hard to believe, as the road twisted and turned up narrow, steep valleys, with spectacular views all around. Olive groves covered most of the lower slopes, netting covering the ground to aid harvesting.
Gradually, we got more and more lost – the signage in one town was in such short supply that we left by every single available road, always returning to the centre sooner or later, as a group of old boys watched us with increasing interest from a street corner… One of the roads was a 20km detour up into the natural park covering the peaks of the mountains. We thought it’d take us over and down the other side, but the distant snow gradually got closer and closer, right up to the sides of the road and eventually the full width as the road petered out into nothingness.
By contrast, once we dropped back down to the coast, we were on a fairly bland curl around the arch of the foot. Eventually, as we approached Metaponto, we started to figure that this was as good a place as any to stop for the night. Off the main road we turned, and stopped in a layby just off the junction to see if we had any information on nearby campsites. Something yellow caught my eye, attached to a pole just at the end of the layby. A sign pointing to an agriturismo campsite, only a few km away. Perfect! Time to start to plan for where in Puglia the best Easter parades were likely to be. We decided on the Fracchie festival on the edge of the Gargano peninsula, not far from Bari, and headed that way.