On The Road: Finding sanctuary as modern-day pilgrims
Saturday 08 August 2009
The sounds of the Sicilian countryside wake me up early: the whine of electric chainsaws, and the screech of ancient Fiats taking the turn at the end of the road at hair-raising speeds. Our little house is buried deep in groves of hazelnut trees in a remote valley in the Nebrodi mountains, and it's harvest time. The ground between the trees is covered in luscious brown nuts, and we'll be collecting a bucketful later to entertain our toddler. Before he wakes up, I head out to the balcony to snatch 10 minutes with my hero, Commissario Montalbano, the Sicilian detective created by Andrea Camilleri, who is unravelling another mystery in Excursion to Tindari.
We are also off to Tindari today. It's a notable Sicilian sanctuary which crowns a beautiful headland overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, and today is the feast day of the Black Madonna, a Byzantine statue which apparently dates back to the 8th or 9th-century. Pilgrims will come from across the island – some travelling barefoot through the night – to worship her. We arrive, more prosaically, in a battered hire car, and begin the hot, sweaty climb up the hill. Colourful bunting flaps along the winding road, which is packed with stalls selling sweets and souvenirs.
The sanctuary exudes a carnival atmosphere: kids are running up and down the steps, their mothers chatting animatedly, while the men hang out with the local policemen on the main square. Inside the sanctuary, two choirs try manfully to sing above the hubbub. Despite the chaos – or perhaps because of it – it's genuinely very moving. Half of Sicily is here, displaying their love for their patron saint.
From the little square in front of the church, we gaze down on to beautiful lagoons enclosed by fingers of pinkish sand. This is the Riserva Naturale di Laghetti di Marinello, a nature reserve which boasts spectacular beaches. They are reached from the little seaside town of Oliveri, at the foot of the headland. We tuck into some fresh hazelnut gelato stuffed in a brioche before heading out to the reserve. As our toddler splashes happily on a deserted beach, I return greedily to Commissario Montalbano and his latest conundrum.
Footprint's Sicily guidebook is available now (£13.99)
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 1 End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
- 2 This restaurant has misunderstood the concept of 'cheese and biscuits'
- 3 Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face death penalty
- 4 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 5 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
Thailand tourism video Love En Route criticised for featuring Instagram stalker
Luggage: The journey from canvas rucksacks to carry-on capsules
Eurostar re-opens between London and Paris after person killed by train in Kent
The Atlas of Beauty: Photographer travels around the world to capture cultural diversity through stunning portraits of women
The 10 Best hiking boots
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Qualified Lifeguards are required to join a fa...
£19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in South Kensington, this prestigi...
£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...
£25000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Partner is required to ...