Tuesday, 23 February 2016

San Vito lo Capo

Saturday 20th February, 2016

We've had two enjoyable days here. The scenery is dramatic. Two cliff -like volcanic plugs, both well over 2000 feet high plunge down towards sea level, a narrow coastal plain separating then from the shore. At the end of the low promontory lies the small resort of San Vito lo Capo. It's quite ordinary, hardly characterful, but its spectacular setting more than compensates for its drab, utilitarian architecture. Given the size of the car parks, in summer it must heave, but right now it's quiet, but not so deserted as to feel spooky, as we found at Secca Grande.

S. Vito lo Capo, not an architectural gem, but a stunning location.

Nice beach - plenty of room for the serried ranks of umbrellas and sun loungers for the summer hoards.

Pleasant main square
With an old fortified tower and an lone British tourist (part of central casting).

The lighthouse is under restoration - from a distance it looks like a Sicilian attempt at a space rocket.
Where we are staying - Canping Pineta - is a really well organised, well equipped site. It must have almost 200 pitches. Right now there are only four motorhomes in the place. Even so, the site shop and bar are open, and although there is no wifi on the pitches, there is an excellent signal in the restaurant area, which we are free to use at will.


No accident its called 'La Pineta' excellent site, but so shaded it can seem gloomy.

Monte Monaco at the rear...

The Med just outside the gate - that's pretty good.
Today we cycled towards the Riserva dello Zingaro, a protected shoreline about 8 kilometres west of here. The nature reserve was the first to be established in Sicily in 1981 as a result of a campaign by local environmentalists. It sounds great, cars are banned and there are lots of way-marked paths and a few small museums. It will have to wait for a return visit as the road to it was very steep; conscious of Gill's recent knee sprain we decided to turn back at the summit of the pass but not before taking-in the astonishing view across the Golfo di Castellmare. As the photos show, the light was incredible, but as so often in the Mediterranean winter, this was the result of a northerly airstream - beautifully sunny, but bone chillingly cold.

From the site the road winds upwards towards the northern end of the Riserva dello Zingaro.

ebikes make it easy for 60+ knees


The top of the pass.

A dream ride down..


The campsite wifi has enabled me to sort the blog out a bit and eradicate some of the typos and layout issues. Reading over some of the previous posts I do seem to have been somewhat wound-up recently. Partly I think it is a result of the stress of driving in the more built-up areas, the abiding sense that someone is going to do something really stupid, allied to the collisions, minor and major that you pass with depressing regularity hardly fills this obsessively compliant British driver with sweetness and light.

However, I don't think that wholly explains my somewhat melancholic mood over the past week or so. The more you travel through Sicily the results of its conflict ridden and dark history become ever more apparent. The ancient sites, Agrigento and Selinunte speak of previous civilisations, now faded. You sense the grandeur of their monuments, but also the violence and bloodshed that their history reveals. The same dichotomy exists as you wander through Sicily's Baroque towns. The zest and exuberance of the magnificent churches and palaces may be astonishing, but you are conscious that the wealth that built them rested on ecclesiastical and aristocratic privilege and quasi-feudal systems of bonded labour which existed right up to re-unification in the 1860s.

Even then democracy and emancipation was denied to the people of Sicily, as the aristocrats' bandito cronies corrupted the political life of the island, and a new anti-democratic force prevailed as mafia power became predominant, aided by American support in the immediate postwar period. The effects of this are immediately noticeable in the soul-less concrete apartment blocks and patched-up motorways on crumbling stilts, both outcomes of mafia control of the construction industry.

The Mediterranean island we know best is Corsica. It too has had a troubled history, but in a sense its predicament is diametrically opposite to Sicily's. Corsican nationalism led the French government to ignore and under-invest in the island for decades. The issue in Sicily is not lack of investment, but unregulated and corrupt development. Whereas Corsica looks unspoiled, Sicily, at least in part, looks despoiled. Which is worse for the inhabitants - economic stagnation, or corrupt development? From a visitor's point of view, I think you will always be drawn to wilder landscapes and find urban sprawl and rampant plasticulture disconsolate. At times the view of the magnificent Sicilian landscape seems to be forever glimpsed from beyond a litter strewn roadside or with foreground interest provided by a gaunt abandoned factory. For all its lovely places and magnificent monuments I have found myself musing upon the effects of unbridled human impact of the environment and dreaming of landscapes where human activity and nature seem more in balance.

Is this a Romantic notion? Probably, but such places do exist, albeit increasingly in patches. It's why I love Corsica, and why our travels through the southern Peloponnese last autumn was so enjoyable. Here at the far northwest tip of Sicily the landscape also seems to achieve this elusive balance. It even has picturesque longhorn cattle with clanging Swiss-style bells grazing by the shore to complete the bucolic image. Though the way they roam freely by the roadside can be somewhat disconcerting. 

It probably is escapist, the resort of the incurably romantic to seek out these 'haunts of ancient peace', but I do love them and I am sustained and heartened by their fragile survival.

e

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