Footloose in Italy 5
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Italy V" DVD
A feature-length motoring tour and city walking travelogue in Southern Italy and Sicily. Runs 150 minutes!
OUR JOURNEY FROM OTRANTO TO TAORMINA
Footloose in Italy 5
~ 2 holidays - in 4 chapters on one DVD!
THE SOUTH OF ITALY ~ 'Heel to Toe'
1. Puglia ~ After picking up our open-topped Fiat Cinquecento from Bari Airport with the wind in my hair we chugged down to the first desination on our tour: Otranto, a wonderful fortified and ancient port right at the heel of boot-shaped Italy. This compact resort was once a very important gateway to the Orient, but nowadays it has become a haven for Mediterranean yachties. It's the first of many UNESCO listed sights we encountered as we explored the south. With no time to relax Dave and I travelled on to Lecce which must rate as the most flamboyant Baroque town in the south of the country. Street after street is lined with ornate buildings with creamy limestone facades, breathtaking!
From here we headed north to the principal wine growing region of Puglia, the Valle d'Itria, famous for its hill towns and little pointed stone houses known as 'trulli'. The largest concentration of these fascinating dwellings is at Alberobello, an unashamedly touristy town where there are well over 1000 of these in the form of 'gnome-stays', shops and restaurants.
We stayed in one for several nights and it made a charming base for touring the rest of Puglia, as well as visiting the amazing 5-star Trulli Resort just up the hill.
Perhaps the most mystifying place in the region is Castel del Monte, a huge incredibly well-built 13thC octagonal castle in the middle of nowhere, defending, well nothing really. But it does have the UNESCO seal of approval.
2. Basilicata and Calabria ~ Leaving Alberobello, our tour continued across the empty famland of Basilicata to reach a very unusual town:
Matera has been in existence for thousands of years and many of its ancient homes (sassi) and churches were, and still are carved into the side of the limestone gorge that the town is built upon. Once a very poor, disease-ridden town after WW2, the inhabitants were moved into new homes nearby. Since those days Matera's old town has evolved into what is now Basilicata's top tourist destination.
From here we motored on into the Pollino National Park, the largest in Italy, known for its dramatic beauty and isolated village communities. We stayed at a comfortable Hotel in Laino Borgo, and donned our walking boots for the afternoon to see an incredibly tall viaduct over the gorge and religious celebrations in the village later.
Crossing into Calabria which forms the 'toe' of Italy, we drop in to the medieval town of Cosenza for a whirlwind tour, before visiting two exquisite resorts on the 'Coast of the Gods'. The colour of the sea here is unbelievable, and the whole area is known for its Ancient Greek past. Tropea is stunningly beautiful with its 'church on the rock' overlooking the beach. The old town is perched on top of the sheer cliff and is packed with piazzas, shops, bars and restaurants.
Although our Fiat Cinquecento was normally fun to ride in, the Satnav supplied with it gave us a nightmare as we negotiated the minor Italian roads trying to reach our second resort of Scilla. We finally arrived at dusk and could then enjoy a two-night stay at the attractive seaside town. There's a magnificent beach here and this time a castle crowns the cliff. There are fine views to be had across the crystal blue waters to Sicily. We were by then only a few kilometres away from the ferry. With an afternoon to spare we made an outing to a little place perched right at the tip of the toe: Pentedattilo, a ghost town. This poor little settlement, precariously sited under a huge rock formation, has witnessed a massacre and many earthquakes in its terrible past. Enterprising locals have re-invented this atmospheric place and it now hosts music, art and film festivals in and amongst the ruins.
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3. Tour of Sicily ~ The ferry terminal of Villa san Giovanni on the mainland is bewildering and defies logic, but it’s well run and only a short ride to Messina across the straits. We skirted the town as we drove on our way to the popular beach resort of Cefalu on the north coast of Sicily. The medieval old town reaches down to the shores, and it’s a pleasant stroll through narrow streets to the cathedral, and for the strong, the ‘pull’ up to the castle on the top of the cliff.
From there we headed for Palermo, and stayed just outside so Dave could have a rest from driving and took the train instead. The capital is an assault on all the senses, a complete contrast to the sleepy resorts we’d relaxed in. We took a tuk-tuk ride that was great fun (morphing from one hour to three), seeing all the best sights, some of which were breathtaking, and the unique Arab-Norman architecture is fascinating. Palermo has a completely different feel to it, and its street cuisine is making a name for itself in the worldwide food markets.
We left the bustle behind for Agrigento and its amazing Valley of the Temples, the Temple of Concordia being the most complete anywhere outside of Greece and the jewel in the park, before passing through the Baroque hill town of Ragusa on our way to Syracuse in the south east. Strolling through the ornate streets of its island Ortigia was a treat before we immersed ourselves in the antiquity of the Archaeological Park which contains the most complete ancient Greek theatre in the Mediterranean.
4. Taormina and Mount Etna
We skirt past the major town of Catania, and our last stay is at popular, and pricey, Taormina. We elected to stay in a luxury b&b in the cove below the town in a totally over the top Baroque grotto of a room. We even had a precarious rooftop terrace all to ourselves, overlooking the cove. The cable car was very close, so an effortless trip up to the ancient settlement and its glorious Greek theatre – and its shops. We managed an afternoon on ‘the Godfather’ trail with a side visit to another hilltop town Savoca, to see one of the film locations – Vitelli’s Bar.Our final destination was the brooding, and active, volcano – Etna. We arranged a private tour (along with hundreds on other tours) to take us up to a crater at almost 3000 metres. With 45 mph winds it was a challenge for the camera, but we were lucky enough to capture an eruption whilst we were there. I’ve never seen so many people on an active volcano. A typical Sicilian feast was laid on for lunch, before we were driven back to our grotto. A fantastic experience. We flew home from Catania airport.
For the purposes of the film we combined what should really be two holidays, for Sicily deserves one all by itself, and there were still plenty of destinations we didn’t get to see in the southern Italian mainland. We were on roads less travelled (and believe me, it felt like we were the first in some cases) and the countryside was diverse and quite different to its northern neighbours. In the deep south here are no less than 12 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the three regions, as well as Italy’s largest national park. In Sicily with careful planning, the huge island could be toured by rail, for there is still a dedicated train ferry at Messina, but it could take time.
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Puglia has two Airports, Bari and Brindisi. We chose Bari because it was close to our central accomodation in Alberobello and had direct flights from London. If you were to tour the South of Italy without visiting Sicily then Reggio Calabria would be a possible airport..
Sicily has two major airports at Palermo and Catania. We chose Catania because it connected like Bari with London Luton Airport and our hire car could be dropped off there too: Sicily by Car had lower drop-off charges.
Climate ~ Matera
Climate ~ Catania
Puglia, Basilcata, Calabria
CN Travel Guide Puglia
Basilicata top 20
Matera (Italy Heaven)
Pollino National Park
Calabria (Italy Heaven)
Pentedattilo ghost town
Inroduction to Sicily (ItalyHeaven)
Valley of the Temples
We recommend hotel bookings by booking.com
We stayed at...
Trullo Relax | Palia's Hotel | Francesca | Casa Maria |
Hotel Della Valle | B&B Nostos | Villa Arianna B&B
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