In Sicily what had started out reasonably well, was about to get decidedly better. It was time to rent a car and explore the mountains and hills above Cefalu. If it hadn’t been for my Lonely Planet guide to Sicily, we may never have discovered the Madonie regional park. The title sounded pretty prosaic, but the reality certainly wasn’t.
The Madonie moutains are the highest range in Sicily outside of Mt. Etna complete with ski areas and dotted with medieval villages. I think we arrived at the perfect time of the year (April). It was pleasantly cool and mountain sides were all green.
From sea level Cefualu we ascended quickly (15 kilometers and over 2600 feet) to the Santurario di Gibilmana, a beautiful hillside shrine dedicated the Virgin Mary. The fresh air and views were splendid as well as the interior of the church
From Gibilmanna we zigzagged another 18 KM to Castelbuono, a charming medieval village where we finally found a good meal at Bistrot Restaurant. There were no crowds Styrofoam or plastic dinnerware there, but still a few Germans to remind us we were not alone. The pasta con ” funghi”/mushrooms really tickled my taste buds.
An after lunch stroll took us to The Castello Ventimiglia. Here we encountered an inviting piazza and more stunning views of the surrounding mountains. The interior of the castle housed a museum and an ornately decorated chapel on the top floor.
We left Castlebuono and continued our zigzagging through the switchbacks through green pastures and wooded glens. Never did I think Sicily could be so green. We wound our way through the hills and past the hill towns. Finally although we had plenty in the tank, we “ran out of gas” and high tailed it to the free autostrada and back to Cefalu. Someone explained to me that many parts of Sicily were too poor to pay tolls.
This day was one of the most pleasant I have ever spent in Italy.