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
Liam Neeson's Downton dreams
Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage
Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour
Dramatic GoPro video shows backpacker Alexander Hennessy warding off armed robber in Buenos Aires, Argentina
The Best Place To Be Today shows 365 of the world's most amazing places - and the perfect time to visit them
Top 10 zoos in Europe, according to TripAdvisor
El Caminito del Rey
Pakistani passenger power forces two politicians off plane
- 1 Scottish independence: Learn from Quebec's mistakes and beware of promises. Vote Yes.
- 2 iOS 8 is full of shiny new features - but it's terrible news for app developers
- 3 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 4 Hitler’s former food taster reveals the horrors of the Wolf’s Lair
- 5 Cocaine and cannabis haul hidden in Vatican car seized by French police
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Scottish independence: The Queen breaks silence on referendum debate – as think tank warns of £14bn black hole if Scotland votes Yes
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'
£18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...
Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...
£20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...
£15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...