Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Natural Siracusa: Exploring the Anapo and Ciane Rivers

The city of Siracusa has so much to offer. Not just archaeology, museums, and charming elegance, but also nature. 

Travel drawing inspired by our weekend adventure
(you can check out more of my work here)

Our most recent visit was dedicated to discovering the natural beauty of Siracusa. The pristine beaches south of the city (here and here) are the most obvious choices. But for non-beachy nature excursions there is also the less frequented Riserva Naturale Orientata Fiume Ciane e Saline di Siracusa

Sunset overlooking the Anapo River

I chose the closest lodgings I could find to the river. The location couldn't have been more perfect (warning: the hotel is much more rustic in real life than it appears on the website). From our door all we had to do was walk up a grassy slope to have a view of the river. The sunset was spectacular!

Explore the river by canoe

On the other side of the grassy slope was a small dock with a canoe just waiting for its next crew. That would be us, of course. 

I was a little confused when the hotel staff told me that this was the Anapo River, not the Ciane River. The two rivers actually intersect with each other just downstream from the hotel. A little further downstream are the river mouths, where together they empty into what is called Siracusa's 'grande porto' (big port). An aerial view on Google Maps is really the best way to understand the situation.

The rivers attract many birds and from our grassy terrace and little dock we spotted snowy egrets, great blue herons, king fishers, several kinds of ducks, and lots of splashing fish. I loved this peaceful spot!

The Anapo River by day

There are several options for exploring the rivers: canoe, bike, boat, foot. We loved taking the hotel's canoe out onto the river. We canoed down the Anapo, made a sharp turn, went up the Ciane, turned around, went out to sea, and then back up the Anapo. It sounds like we covered more ground than we actually did! But what a fun way to soak in the peaceful atmosphere and see lots of ducks and fish. 

Exploring the nature reserve by foot

The next morning we set out to discover the nature reserve on foot. We followed the driving directions the hotel receptionist gave us. Although a little confusing, it turns out they weren't so bad. With the help of a biker we flagged down, in no time at all we found our way to the beginning of the trail. Soon we were walking alongside open fields and a winding river flanked by a canopy of green. Ahhhhh!

Shady spots

We had a gotten a later start than we should have and it was hot. The shade of the trees was most welcome. My nature loving boy was the one who spotted frogs, a river crab, and several ducks peeking out from behind the reeds.

Sporadic signage

Our goal had been to walk to the Fonte Ciane, the source of the Ciane River. After an hour into our walk, though, it became clear that we were not going to make it there on foot. With hindsight we realized bikes would have been the transport of choice (we passed quite a few bikers, and even some runners, along the way). 

Papyrus plants

We didn't mind, though. We enjoyed poking around the banks of the river and hanging out with the bundles of papyrus plants that flourish in its waters. I promise this is fascinating stuff since it is one of two places in Europe where papyrus grows, the other also being in Sicily. It is not certain if it is a native plant or if it was introduced to the area in antiquity.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Swimming at Punta Castelluccio, Plemmirio

Last week I shared about our first stop in our exploration of the Plemmirio Marine Reserve. The old lighthouse and cliffy coastline at Capo Murro di Porco was stunning, but not at all accessible for swimming. Even though it was not the sunniest of days, the air was warm and we didn't want to miss an opportunity to get wet in such pristine water.

We knew from the map of the reserve that there was a swimming beach called Castelluccio further north towards the city of Siracusa. So we got back in our car and headed in what seemed to be the right direction. Several locals we passed along the way confirmed we were on the right track. There was some good signage, too, a rarity for this island! 

10 minutes later we found ourselves parking on a dead end dirt road along with a small crowd of cars. A foot path appeared to be heading towards the coast, so we meandered along and after just a few minutes found ourselves peering out over this beautiful spot! YES!

Spectacular secluded beach at Punta Castelluccio

Crystal clear water and two little sandy coves.

We stood and watched for awhile, soaking in the view. A lone swimmer glided soundlessly through the inviting water. It looked so perfect!

Breathtaking Punta Castelluccio
To get down to the cove would require descending a steep, rocky hill. The small sandy patch we were eyeing already looked a little crowded, even with just a few people there. Hesitant to make the trek, we decided to check out the cove on the other side of the path and see if that might be a better swimming option.  

Our private beach at Punta Castelluccio

Ahhh! Over here it's not quite as protected, but the same crystalline water greeted us and we could have this spot all to ourselves. 2 out of 3 of us took the plunge! I hate to admit it, but the water was a little chilly for me. I did, however, wade to my heart's content. 

Our private beach at Punta Castelluccio

Our little beach felt perfectly secluded with this as our backdrop. 

Shallow waters for exploring at Punta Castelluccio

And there were also these shallow waters to explore. My son went berserk! A nature boy's dream.

We all agreed these were the cleanest, clearest waters we had seen in a very long time. Another Sicilian treasure to add to our growing list.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Discovering Plemmirio. Capo Murro di Porco.

A birthday weekend last month was the perfect excuse to embark on a local Sicilian adventure.  It had been over year since we'd been able to go exploring, so planning this weekend felt extra special. 

My destination of choice was the area of Siracusa. But not the ancient-cultural Siracusa that I already know so well. For this trip I wanted to discover natural Siracusa. Getting outside. Walking. Rivers. Canoes. Birds. Pristine beaches. Oh yes! Siracusa has all that good stuff, too!

Our first outing was to the the Area Marina Protetta di Plemmirio. The coastal reserve is on a peninsula just south of Siracusa. 

There are lots of different beaches and points of interest within the reserve. We drove around and followed the signage, stopping to explore at several spots. 

The first stop was the lighthouse, or faro in Italian. Something about the peeling white washed walls of the abandoned lighthouse and stone building next to it fit perfectly with the landscape of rough, white rocks, brushy bushes and prickly pear cacti. 

Lighthouse of Capo Murro di Porco
Going for a walk in the Riserva Naturale del Plemmirio Nature Reserve

We wandered down the trail and then hopped across the rocks until we could get a good look at the water. 

Rocky cliffy beach at Capo Murro di Porco. Supposedly great scuba diving here!

No swimming here! But a beautiful site nonetheless.

We took our time walking back. Lingering near the cliffs. Examining the ruins. Admiring the cacti.

Breathe. Release. Recharge.

Let the adventure continue!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Taormina getaway

I'll let the photos speak for themselves....
This time it was about relaxation and togetherness. We mostly enjoyed our hotel, the pool and a special meal...the next morning wandered through town with two main goals in mind - a birthday present for hubby and a peek into my favorite ceramic shop in town known as Don Corleone. I just love everything inside this place...the fun wall mosaic is what greets you at the shop and here's its front door with the artist's information in case any of you are also lovers of fun and original art. A little free publicity because I love it so much.

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Sicilian view...

I've spent a lot of time recently looking at this hillside. It was enjoyable etching it into my memory through the creation of this drawing I feel called to share here on the blog today after a long period of blogging silence.
Peering out the window, my mind would relax into the distance of this view, the little farm house, built of gray-black etna stone, the terraced overgrown groves of orange trees, the quintessential prickly pear tree, the wild weeds sprouting everywhere and already dry with the early summer heat. 
There is nothing unique about this hillside, there are a thousand others just like it all over this island, but I am grateful for the ripose it offered me in a time of need, for the simple rugged beauty, the wild cultivation, the spark of inspiration, my love of lines and colors that emerged in a natural graceful flow of creativity. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A peek into Palermo

It only took 24 hours to fall in love with Palermo!

We slept among the rooftops in a sweet little room in the historic center on the main drag.
The sunny morning invited sitting on the balcony and enjoying all that could be taken in with both eyes and ears: the contrasting colors and patterns of the roof tiles, domes, spires, clouds. The morning noises seeping through shuttered windows across the street, almost close enough to touch, hiding what I imagined to be narrow apartments filled with families just waking up to enjoy their Sunday mornings. The tinkling of church bells chiming the hour, reminding us it was time to make our way down to street level so we could continue our adventure on foot.

We stopped and lingered at the gorgeous Quattro Canti intersection: four collonaded facades that make you stop and stare, craning your neck upwards to take it all in. The Palermo marathon happened to be in full swing that morning, so the streets were closed to traffic and we witnessed the first place runner zipping through this beautiful landmark.

Then we were back in Piazza Marina, where we had spent time the day before visiting the Museo delle Marionette. Here we were inspired by puppets from around the world and also experienced an innovative and entertaining live performance of The Three Bears by a pair of Russian puppeteers in Russian with subtitles projected in Italian, more NYC than Sicily I couldn't help but think.

Back to our stroll and the enthralling contrast of still standing, barely still standing, and partially destroyed buildings jumbled together in the ancient neighborhood of Kalsa...

....where we visited an unfinished church (Santa Maria dello Spasimo), roofless and open to the elements, and the perfect home for a lonesome tree.

And then we reached the long-awaited destination (especially for the 7 year old). The Botanical Gardens in Palermo is huge for Sicilian standards and invites aimless wanderings along its many paths, some wide and majestic, others overgrown and meandering, as well as peeks into greenhouses and free standing Grecian inspired buildings that house mini museums.

The Palm House was my favorite with its exhibit about everything related to palm trees. Palm inspired contemporary art works. Glass vitrines filled with botanical specimens and objects of all kinds made with parts of palm trees.

Not only did we love the plants and trees,

...but also the lizards and birds (even parrots!) that call this place their home.

It was hard to leave the luscious greenery of the Botanical Gardens, but we still had to visit the touristic port and enjoy the big blue sea to make our brief yet enjoyable visit complete.
Ah, here it is. The pefect spot for climbing on rocks and romping on the open grass in the sea side park before saying goodbye to my new favorite city in Sicily.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The new pedestrian path from Acicastello to Acitrezza

We couldn't wait to check out the just opened Acicastello-Acitrezza walking path last weekend. 

While the two lovely seaside villages are within easy walking distance from each other, this potentially beautiful walk has never been possible in a continuously coastal kind of way. That's because a big lido (aka private beach club) is perched over the rocks right at the border between the two towns. From both towns the lungomare streets dead end on either side of this beach club and before the opening of the new walkway, there was no foot friendly way to get to other side.

We quickly crossed through Acicastello's town center and made our way down to the little fishing port that leads to the seaside street known by the locals as the muretti (little walls). The weather couldn't have been more perfect. The sun was shining bright and we worked up the kind of sweat that that made you forget it was actually November. Seeing lots of people basking in the sun in their bathing suits added to the summer vibe.

Here's a closer look at the (awful!) beach club, the structure surrounded by green fencing. Really it is actually a pretty lido and much loved by the city folks, I am just a little resentful about its obstructive location.

We really weren't sure where this new walkway was located until we got there. We quickly discovered that the Ciclope Lido has made an agreement with the town of Acicatello to open up its doors to the world only from the hours of 9am - 4pm, allowing anyone who would like to enter its premises and follow a signed walkway that takes you through the lido in a circuitous and not so seaside-ish kind of way.... order to get to the other side...
 where you find yourself on solid ground in Acitrezza. Many curious folks were lingering around to celebrate (?) this long awaited event.

We decided to celebrate, too! By continuing our walk into Acitrezza to the nearest bar, where we could have a shady seat and savour a refreshing grantia (think icy fresh fruit sorbet).

On this side things weren't much different. Lots of sunbathers and even a few bathers.

By the time we turned around to head back to Acicastello the crowd had cleared and we were able to get a good look at the new signage and especially the 'rules' of the pedestrian path. Good news, joggers are welcome. Although personally my jogs never happen between the hours of 9am and 4pm. Bad news - no dogs or bikes allowed AND the path will not be open during the summer when the lido is in use by paying clientele. Better than nothing? Absolutely. But still not exactly the kind of pedestrian walkway we were hoping for.

A litle more background information might be necessary here. For years there have been talks of building a bridge to connect the two towns by foot. In the light of past proposals that have never been realized for a combination and political and financial reasons I presume, this 'solution' is better than nothing, but definitely falls short of people's expectations.