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Archive for June, 2011

The Madonie Mountains are part of the extensive northern mountain range of Sicily which also includes the Nebrodi and Mt Etna National Parks.
It is an area of an ever changing landscape of wooded forests, green pastures, winding roads, stunning views and towns perched amongst the mountains.The towns are all well preserved and because of their isolation, still maintain their local traditions and culture.

From Castelbuono, we get our first glimpse of the countryside as we approach Isnello.

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Isnello

Driving further into the Madonie Park, we pass beautiful woods and running streams.
The sun shines through throwing dappled light over the area.

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Even the road signs have changed. We must be on the look out for deer!
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As we drive higher, the woods disappear and sparse rocky vegetation takes over, though a few spring flowers brighten the landscape

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We are nearly to the top of Piano Battiglia, 1619 metres above sea level. This is a popular area for hiking in summer and skiing in winter.

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Once we have reached this level, it is an easy drive to the towns of the Madonie.
After a quick visit to Polizzi Generosa we drive to the two Petralie- Petralia Soprana and Pettralia Sottana

Though linked together, their history is very different. Petralia Soprana is the oldest town, having been an important Greek and Phoenician city. It then fell into Roman hands followed by the Arabs and the Normans whilst Petralia Sottana was established in the 14th century. Eventually both cities were taken over by noble families. They still retain their medieval charm, full of narrow streets, stone houses and many churches.

We stop in Petralia Sottana first. It has a very easy, relaxed feel.

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2 kms away is Petralia Soprana, the highest village in the Madonie Mountains.From here you can often see the Nebrodi mountains and, on a clear day, Mount Etna.

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Chiesa Madre

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The castle built in 1062

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Next stop, Gangi

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From here you can also visit Nicosia and continue on to the towns of the Nebrodi and Mount Etna, but we return to Castelbuono via Geraci Siculo.

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Fresh ricotta is a taste sensation. Salted, baked or topped with olives, ricotta is sold in many different ways.

How is it made?
A morning with Giulio, the shepherd, making cheese and ricotta, and our questions are answered.

We clamber down the cow track towards a tiny open shed and are welcomed by Giuseppe, Giulio’s friend, who likes to spend time hiding in the hills.

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He has helped bring in the goats early that morning for milking.
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They love climbing the old gnarled olive tree

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Giulio arrives with wood for the fire

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The cheese is made in this open shed.

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Giulio is very particular that all the utensils he uses are washed in boiling water prior to being used, so a large pot of water is put over the fire to boil.

We are shown a cheese made yesterday, called a tuma in an old wicker basket. Today, wicker baskets are hard to find so plastic baskets are often used. These are not perfect as they can cut the cheese.

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The goats milk is put into a large plastic container and left to set.
The perfect time to start making the cheese is when the fig wood stick stands upright and the whey is transparent.

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The cheese is then taken and put into the basket

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It is pressed to extract all of the whey

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The finished tuma

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The transparent whey from the cheese is then used to make ricotta. This can only happen if the whey has not previously been heated. It is put into a large pot and put over the fire. Extra goat’s milk, salt and hot water are added.

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Slowly the ricotta solidifies and rises to the top

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Impurities are skimmed from the top and the ricotta is put into containers

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We taste the ricotta, straight from the pot.

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Our cheeses

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You can’t beat the taste of freshly made warm ricotta.

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Time to head for the hills!

Leaving the coast at Cefalu, we pass Relais Santa Anastasia on the way to Castelbuono. Centred around a small 11th century abbey, this once private estate is now a country hotel amid their large estate of vines.

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The Abbey

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Castelbuono is one of the towns of the Madonie Mountains. It was once an important county capital and there are many medieval churches and residences along the main street.

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The old water fountain

The shop signs are an interesting contrast.

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Fiasconaro are famous as makers of panettones.

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Don’t miss their tasting table of fabulously light panettones and jams, marmalades and pastes. Try the pistachio creme with the panettone. Delicious.

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Piazza Margherita is the main square, overlooked by the 14th century Matrice Vecchia with it’s Renaissance portico and two doorways, one in Gothic style.

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All roads lead to the piazza.

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Busy Piazza Margherita.

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Men gather in large groups ouside their specific circolo(club) headquarters

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The Catholic men’s group.

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Friends of the Carabinieri

When the men of the Circola Amici della Musica, the local musical group, started playing we were invited to listen.

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Dinner is at the well known Nangalarruni Restaurant.

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The area is well know for the Basilischi mushrooms which are very similar to large oyster mushrooms

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A selection of meats and cheeses from the area and a salad of the basilischi mushrooms

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Ricotta and mushroom mousse

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Homemade pasta with ragu of black pig, forest mushrooms and artichokes

Eat
Nangalarruni Restaurant
Via delle Confraternite,10
Castelbuono
Tel: +39 0925 671228
http://www.hostarianangalarunni.it
Nangalarruni Restaurant

Stay

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Relais Santa Anastasia
Contrada Santa Anastasia
90013. Castelbuono
Tel: +39 0921 672233
http://www.santa-anastasia-relais.it
Relais Santa Anastasia

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A quick visit to Cefalu is all that is required.
On the northern coast between Palermo and Capo d’Orlando, it is perfect for a lunch stop.
The town winds around the promitory between the cliff and the sea.

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Though existing since prehistoric times, it was the Normans in the 11th century who renovated Cefalu, building the main street, Corso Ruggero and the magnificent Cathedral.

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The Duomo overlooks the city’s main piazza and the grid pattern of narrow streets that run between Corso Ruggero and Via Vittorio Emanuele on the waterfront. Today, Corso Ruggero is lined with souvenir shops.

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The town has many churches but it is the magnificent mosaics of the Duomo di Cefalu that are the main attraction.

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The old houses of the fisherman’s quarter line the sea front

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Also in Via Vittorio Emanuele is the famous stone fountain known as U’ Ciuni .
With water gushing from holes in three walls, it was used for washing clothes.

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At the end of the street is Porta Marina, the only remaining city gate.

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We were disappointed that the restaurant recommended was closed but, surrounded by locals, we enjoyed lunch at Le Chat Noir

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Pasta con Sarde (Sardines)

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Involtini di Spada (Swordfish)

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Tiramasu

Eat
Le Chat Noir Ristorante e Trattoria
Via XVII Novembre,17
Cefalu
Tel: +39 0921 420697
http://www.ristorantelechatnoir.com
Le Chat Noir

Recommended
La Brace Ristorante
Via XVII Novembre,10
Cefalu
Tel: +39 0921 423570
http://www.ristorantelabrace.com
La Brace Ristorante

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“Leave the gun, take the cannoli”
After tasting cannoli in Sicily, I completely understand these famous words that were uttered in the classic film, The Godfather.

The cannoli of Piana degli Albanesi are just as famous. Famous for being the best cannoli in Sicily
They even celebrate the cannoli at La Festa di Cannoli where a huge cannoli of over four metres long is made.

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Family size cannoli shell

There are no cannoli on display at the Extrabar dei Fratelli Petta in the main square, so I am confused.

Silly me! A pastry with a reputation such as this, is made to order.
I am taken to a small room at the back of the shop where it all takes place.
Pastry cases are pulled out as well as a large bucket of ricotta.
The ricotta is sensational. No sugar has been added and there is the lightest touch of chocolate.

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Quickly put together and eaten just as quickly, they are indeed stunning.

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When I ask how they are made, we are told to follow our noses down the street to find the answer.

It’s not hard following the smell of fresh pastry.
Inside the cannoli shells are being made.

The pastry is wrapped around wooded sticks to create the shape.

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Popped into the deep fryer.

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The sticks are removed and the shells stored until needed. Easy!

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Happy with the cannoli, we move on to explore the town

The inhabitants of Piana degli Albanese are descendants of Albanian families that settled in Southern Italy during the Otterman era. They continue their traditions of religion, language and customs. The wearing of their national costume on festive occasions such as Easter is important to them.

The town is very quiet.

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There are only a few locals in the square

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Others are doing their shopping.

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Peaceful Piana degli Albanesi nestled amongst the hills

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Extrabar dei Fratelli Petta
Piazza Vittorio Emanuele 4
Piana degli Albanesi
http://www.extrabarpetta.it

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Everyone loves Scopello!
Well, not everyone. Ian could not see why people had recommended Scopello nor why we were there. It takes about a minute to see the town. A five minute drive to the southern entrance of the Zingaro National Park and back via the tuna factory and all had been seen.

Help!
A quick phone call, a ten minute drive to the nearby, much larger, town of Castellammare del Golfo and Scopello had been saved.
We hired a boat for the afternoon. The skipper was happy!

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For the next three hours, we saw the Zingaro National Park from a different angle.
The National Park is reserve of approximately four thousand acres and home to many bird species. Walkers love the challenge of the five different paths in the park that vary from a distance of 6kms to 19 kms.

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The old tuna factory

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Small swimming coves provide welcome relief on hot days.

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Back to Scopello

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Not much as changed since the early days of Scopello, which is great!

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Stay

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Pensione Tranchina
Via A Diaz, 7
Scopello 91014
Tel: +39 0924 541099
http://www.pensionetranchina.com
Pensione Tranchina

A lot has been written about Pensione Tranchina and it is all true!

If you have to return a car to Palermo airport before flying out, consider staying at either Scopello or Castellammare del Golfo the night before. The airport is between here and Palermo and it is a lot easier than driving into Palermo!

Boat Hire
Nauti Service
Castellammare Port
Tel:+39 0924 1855124
Mob: 366 3644295
http://www.nautiservice.eu
Nauti Service
Excellent boat for 50E + fuel per day or part there of.

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From Trapani, you can go almost anywhere.

Combine Segesta and Erice for an easy day trip
Segesta and Selinute were constantly at war with each other. Unlike Selinute, the temple and the theatre at Segesta are well preserved.
Buy a ticket for the bus to take you to the theatre with it’s amazing view to the north

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The Temple at Segesta, built in the 5th century BC, can be easily reached on foot.

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Sitting on top of Monte San Giuliano, the drive to Erice, on a clear day, offers spectacular views.

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Erice is the quintessential tourist village. Meander through the paved alleyways and narrow streets to see the small churches and stone houses.

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Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the main street, is lined with souvenir and pastry shops, none more famous than the Pasticerria di Maria Grammatico.

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Mamma Maria

On another day visit Favignana, the largest of the Egadi Islands, a thirty minute ferry ride away. It’s clear blue waters, especially at Cala Rossa, have been receiving a lot of publicity lately as the place to visit. Marettimo is the most isolated and unspoilt island, a little further away. The weather must be perfect to visit Marettimo for a day trip as the ferries will not run if the sea is rough. Levanzo is the smallest island of the group

The main square of Favignana is a short walk from the port. Hire a scooter, take a taxi or jump aboard the small tourist train to explore the bays around the island.

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San Vito di Capo has been voted the best beach in Sicily. In forty minutes you could be lying on the white sand and swimming in clear blue water. Take a book, hire an umbrella and lounge, and relax.

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From here it is an easy drive to the northern entrance to the Zingaro National Park and the walks that start from here.

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If you haven’t already visited Marsala, it is only thirty minutes away. Return via the Salt Route.
In just over one hour you could be in Palermo, eating street food found in the Ballaro markets.
No wonder Ryan Air, who fly into Trapani, are very busy with weekend visits!

Stay in San Vito di Capo

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B&B Le Biciclette
Via C. Gulfi, 3
Tel: +39 3456707437
http://www.bblebiciclette.it
B&B Le Biciclette
Rooms are small, but it is clean and cute. Great breakfast on the rooftop.

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