We arrived in Scopello at dusk, struggling against what appeared to be a mad sat-nav to find our apartment. The damn thing kept telling us to zig zag back and forth and re-corrected itself at every other turn. We found ourselves back in the small village square twice before finally figuring out that it wanted us to turn out the village onto a rough track heading up the steep hill. This soon turned into a dirt track full of rivets, holes, mini canyons and drops. Now in darkness, we wound our way up and up, guessing the turns and increasingly unsure of what we were doing.
Against our instinct and the recommended capabilities of our rented Fiat 500, we pushed on for over a kilometre at a snail’s pace, took a final left and arrived at our home for the next 5 nights - Casale Corcella. It proved to be a remarkable little corner of the world.
We were greeted by Marco, the owner of the small collection of stone buildings who, along with his Labrador, was a warm host. Knackered, we knocked out, to awake in the morning and immediately realise that the tortuous drive had been worth it.
Stepping out our door, the view smacked us in the face. We were much higher than I had realised. Situated on a crest with cliffs behind and below, falling to flower strewn slopes and the terracotta roofs of the village proper. Beyond that was Castellammare del Golfo, an expanse of water sparkling in the morning sunlight. Its long arc only broken once, by a narrow peninsular beneath us, capped by a crumbling tower. Jaw dropping.
To cap it all off, fresh orange juice and breakfast were waiting for us on the cliff side patio with the aforementioned vista for back drop. It is fair to say we were pleased with ourselves.
It took some effort to drag ourselves away from our temporary home, but we managed for a day trip to the fortified town of Erice. As a well preserved (if touristy) old town, it proved interesting to walk around, clambering up bell towers and getting lost in side alleys, but it is the setting that took the biscuit.
Erice sits atop a 750m high mountain. An impenetrable fortress, combining sheer cliffs on each side with high walls, fortified gates and a castle atop. The only road up is so twisty that one of my kids discovered the inside of their stomach before we reached the top.
The views from the top are like nothing I have ever seen. On a clear day like the one of our visit, you can see for what must be 50 kms. Sicily itself switching from mountains in the north, through hills, to salt flats in the south. The Mediterranean surrounding on two sides, punctured by mountainous islands to the west. You have to see it to believe it.
In terms of history, Erice is one of those places which gives more with each scratch. Beneath the medieval battlements are remains of Phoenician walls. Within the remains of the Norman castle, which clings to high point of the mount, are fragments of the Temple of Venus, where travellers reportedly came from all over the ancient world to revel in ceremonies of legendary disrepute.
It is in the latter place that my son gave me an odd memory. A three year announcing he is desperate for the toilet at the most inopportune time - nowhere near facilities on the crumbling ramparts overlooking a 500m vertical cliff – finding an unseen corner for him to do his business while looking over said cliff and the boy then demanding “Daddy, make my poo fly”. I had little other choice.
On returning from Erice Chris unfortunately came down with a nasty bug which left her bed bound for the next day or so. I was therefore left with three kids to entertain. What better way than to find more ancient sites to scramble over…
Within an hour’s drive of Scopello are the remains of Segesta. Originally an Elymian settlement, one of the original peoples of Sicily, who were Hellenised by Ionian Greeks and ended up leaving to the world some phenomenal very Greek looking architecture.
On arriving, we did not have to walk far to find one of two highlights of the Segesta. A large and well preserve Doric temple, dating from approx. 420 BC. The temple is very impressive and, when we visited in April, set in fields of wild flowers, giving way to dramatic hills.
Being given many a look of sympathy and surprise by other tourists seeing me with one kid in my backpack, one on my shoulders and the other hand in hand, we explored the site and surrounds and then jumped on a rickety bus to take us to the top of one of those dramatic hills. At the top was the other highlight of Segesta, the ancient theatre.
Carved out of the rock into a perfect high-banked semi-circle, it opens out to a remarkable view. So remarkable in fact that I wonder how the audience in ancient times could drag their eyes from the view to concentrate on whatever play was performing.
The kids loved scrambling around the steps and searching for lizards. I did my best to stop a 4 year old, 3 year old and 1 year old from smashing against ancient marble or falling off an unfortunate edge. A real adventure in a very special place.
SCOPELLO AND ZINGARO
Thankfully Chris recovered to ease the more difficult side of the adventure and we spent a couple of days exploring Scopello.
The village itself was lovely. In spring it is slow moving and full of charm. Locals sitting outside on the street watching the world go by. Small eateries, arranged around a courtyard shaded by old trees. Great views up to the tower and down to the grand building of the old tuna factory and sea beyond.
Taking the northern coast road out of Scopello, we soon found even more stunning coast and no more road. This was the entrance to Zingaro nature reserve. A wild, wonderful haven, stretching up the steep cliffs and coastline of San Vito Lo Capello.
This place has been protected since the early 1980s (in a successful attempt to save the Bonelli’s eagle) and is only crossed by a couple of narrow trails which streak along the hillside, occasionally dropping down to one of the unspoiled beaches.
We made sure we were suitably provisioned up with food and water, put the little one in the backpack, held the hands of the other two and set off on the main trail. It was stunning. Yes, the views of the sea, cliffs and beaches were phenomenal, but the minutiae was equally great. Flowers and insects were everywhere as well as literally hundreds of small lizards (I know, my eldest counted everyone we saw).
This was fortunate as we had to spend much of our time looking down, making sure we did not trip on the rocky terrain or take a slip off many a steep edge. We made it 5km before locating a particular beautiful white pebble beach and descended for lunch, some pebble play and, in my case, a chilly swim.
The walk back was equally stunning, and, in the case of two of my kids at least, not too strenuous, with the smallest one falling asleep in my backpack soon after we set off and the middle one succumbing somewhat closer to the end while on my shoulders.
Everyone was though awake again to see what looked very much like an eagle gliding overhead. This put the icing on the cake.
A great trek to end a great stay in Scopello. If you get the chance, go there. I certainly plan to visit again.