Many firsts happened in 260 BC in Milazzo (Mylae). Here the Romans won their first naval victory after inventing the corvus. Gaus Duilius turned the tide in the First Punic War here, then raced to relieve the siege of Segesta by the Carthaginian general Hamilcar. My boyhood imagination woke up reading the Wikipedia account, its dry prose bringing back the excitement I felt reading my fifth-grade history book.
Wikipedia has a short and interesting article about Mylae and the next two Battles of Milazzo (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Milazzo.) It allows one to appreciate the importance of this needle pointing to the Aeolian Islands from the north shore of Sicily.
We hauled our bikes and bodies off the train on Wednesday evening (8 July). It dismayed me to behold a pair of enormous oil refineries before anything else. Fortunately, they lay downwind as we rode through 4km of depressing suburbs to the coast. Then things improved – a lot.
Having had to make our reservations on the train, because we could not take the catamaran ferry directly to Lipari, we encountered our first case of crossed signals with booking.com. Cheryl had found a B&B on the main commercial street, with a washer and dryer and a full kitchen. However, when we arrived, we found that the owner had just checked his email and received the booking notice after letting the flat to a walk-in couple. He quickly arranged for us to stay in the flat owned by a friend 100 m away. It proved to be just as nice, with a large, locked back yard parking area to keep our bikes safe.
That night we walked around the waterfront, mingling with the Sicilians and tourists doing the same thing. Milazzo has put some money into its downtown waterfront, creating a pleasant locale for the traditional passeggiata.
Suddenly, Cheryl pointed and said “There!” A restaurant called Doppio Gusto became the site of our evening repast. The fish has been flopping on the beach that afternoon. We like to try local wines, but we were not ready for a 5-year Etna Rosso. The Etna Rosso grapes grow only on the sides of that volcano. This particular batch was aged for five years before bottling, resulting in a red wine so smooth that I cannot describe it. We found other Etna Rosso wines on the north coast of Sicily, but this one proved hard to find. We enjoyed the coming and going of different groups as we dined al fresco¸ including watching the owner, seated at a table in apparent idleness. You could tell he was the boss, because all bills went through him before going to the table, and various locals would stop by to pay their respects. The stereotype in some Sicilian movie scenes came close to the truth, at least in terms of bearing and demeanor.
The ferry sailed Thursday morning. We had time to walk on the waterfront, but we could not visit Milazzo’s famous beach or the castle. That would have to await a return trip.
The Aeolian Islands did not disappoint, but in my opinion, they did not match the beauty or charm of Ponza. We rode all the way around Lipari, which afforded many instances of beautiful scenery, but the cloudy weather prevented really good photography. We took our afternoon swim on a beach below a very high cliff on the east side of the island. I missed my Teva water shoes: bare feet can handle sand, but not the rocky aggregate of volcanic island beaches.
Saturday found us back on the north shore of Sicily, cycling west on the SS 113. To our left, Mount Etna rose in all its dark, stark awesomeness. To our right lay the Mediterranean Sea with some brilliant beaches most of the way. Sometimes, small towns, factories and industrial areas and the railroad blocked our view of the beach. As we approached the Nebrodi Mountains National Park, we had to climb over some very high promontories, while the autostrada and the railroad tunneled their way through the hills. As usual, Cheryl would pull ahead to the top of the hill, where she would stop for her reward: photographs of the beautiful views. My reward was the steep downhill on the other side!
We spent Saturday night in a delightful town, Capo d’Orlando. We had determined by now that most of the towns roped off the downtown area for pedestrian activity, at least in the evening. This weekend there was a music festival downtown which sounded like a cross between a rock festival and a talent show. Capo d’Orlando happens to have a significant music school, and a large crowd turned out for the music festival.
Sunday (12 July), we made very good time, because the coast road kept more to the coast and did not climb so many promontories. We left the Nebrodi Mountains behind, and approached the Madonie Mountains. Cefalu, our destination, had a three-star rating in the Michelin guide. Cheryl told me it would be a special treat, and she was absolutely right. It probably has the best developed historic downtown of any city in Sicily, perhaps in the whole south of Italy. Once we made our way around the enormous rock that dominates the town (Cefalu takes its name from the Greek word for rock, cephas), we located the historic downtown, and pushed our bicycles to the center, where we had reserved a two-story apartment overlooking a very narrow alley. We had already come to expect good food on the Sicilian coast. Cefalu also offered upscale shopping, historic churches and museums, and a beautiful beach. Most municipal beaches suffer from being too close to the city, but Cefalu’s smooth, clean sand proved the exception. When we arrived, we found the beach hopelessly crowded with local tourists joined by the Palermo weekend crowd.
The next day, the beach had only local crowds, so we got in our daily swim. We walked around, enjoying the sales in addition to the sights. We found the Etna Rosso that we had been asking about since Milazzo – at € 46/bottle. The price had more than doubled, and we were barely out of sight of the volcano. We passed on that, but scored elsewhere. Cheryl found shirts and shorts to send her son, and I an optician to repair my glasses.
I regretted having to leave Cefalu. It is the sort of place one should spend a significant summer vacation, not just pass through. But we had other adventures waiting for us.
Until next week, I invite you to share any experiences you may have had in these wonderful places. Maybe you had an opposite experience!
Smooth roads and tailwinds,