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 Game of Thrones season 6: Jon Snow theorists believe Ned Stark's son may have a twin sister
- 2 Artist takes LSD, draws herself over different stages of the 9-hour trip to show its effects
- 3 Miley Cyrus address Robin Thicke VMA controversy: ‘He wanted me as naked as possible, but I got the heat because I’m a woman’
- 4 iPhone 6s camera: features to include 4K video camera and flash for selfies
- 5 A pint of water every day is the key to losing weight, scientists say
Dresden riots: Protesters in Germany attack refugee buses shouting 'foreigners out'
France train shooting: US soldiers speak of the moment they stopped gunman and 'beat him until he was unconscious'
Labour leadership: Jeremy Corbyn accused of 'deluding' young supporters with 'claptrap'
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
£26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Product Development departm...
£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...
£30000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Estates Team of this group ...