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After visiting the eastern side of Sicily for my birthday in 2018, we loved it so much that we came straight home and booked another holiday for the following year. This time, we went to the western side, where we discovered mountainous regions, temples, cassata, and more.
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Initially, we booked a whole week's accommodation at Campofelice de Roccella, but we discovered that many of the things we wanted to see were over two hours' drive, so we shortened our stay here to three nights, but we still had enough time to enjoy the sea view and drinks under the stars.


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On Sunday, we took the train into Palermo, where we browsed through Ballarò market, buying the first cannolo of the trip.
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The Fontana Pretoria (Fountain of Shame) is so called because of the naked statues, not as refined as those we saw in Rome, but splendid all the same. .
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We visited the cathedral and admired the different cultural influences evident there. There was a wedding going on.
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Next stop was the Palazzo dei Normanni and its Byzantine Cappella Palantina.
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I love mosaics, and these reminded me of Ravenna. Not shown is the wonderul Pasticceria Cappello, where we bought our realistic marzipan porcino and mandarin (see below).
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Moorish figures on the city gate and intricate stucco carvings inside the Oratorio di San Lorenzo.
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The Antica Focacceria was a bit of a let-down tourist trap. Inside the Oratorio di San Lorenzo was a copy of the Caravaggio painting that was stolen. We did see some real Caravaggios in Rome at Christmas.
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One of the things we most wanted to experience was an authentic Sicilian puppet show, and we struck gold by seeing Vincenzo Argento's wonderful production that is still powerful enough to draw gasps and laughter from its 21st century audience. The elderly puppeteer was the grandson of Vincenzo Argento, who started the company in 1893. He makes the puppets himself and his wife makes all the costumes and armour.
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The show was full of swordfighting and even included a smoke-breathing dragon.

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After photographing our marzipan fruit on Tuesday morning, we headed for Cefalù before the other tourists arrived. Nick is at the Chiesa del Purgatorio.
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We had the duomo almost entirely to ourselves and could admire the mosaics in peace.
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After the cathedral, we went to the " Museo Mandralisca, which was filled with a quirky collection of Greek masks, seashells, and the map and cabinet shown above.
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The "second most famous smile in the world" is found on a painting of an unknown sailor by Antonello da Messina. Unfortunately, the real painting was on loan during our visit. I wish I'd bought the hipster t-shirt.
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Looking over the walls of Cefalù. There was an accordion player nearby who played Ciao, bella, ciao to complete the atmosphere.
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Once Cefalù started getting busy, we headed for the hills to Castelbuono, where we found the amazing Nangalarruni restaurant that specialises in wild mushroom dishes. It is featured in the Michelin Guide and is famous all over Italy. No Italians wanted to brave the "cold", so we sat outside for a pleasant lunch.
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After lunch, we explored the town and sampled some of the panettone with manna - a first for me - and hazelnut cream from Fiasconaro, recommended by our guidebook.
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Back in Campofelice di Roccella, we bought a whole cassata and a huge pizza before returning to our house.
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Nick and some of the residents of Campofelice di Roccella


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On Tuesday morning, we woke bright and early and headed south to Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples. We missed the first entrance and went to the emptier far end near the temple of Castor and Pollux. As a result, we arrived at all the main sights when they were devoid of school groups.
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Unlike last year in Ragusa territory, we saw no sign of Montalbano, but we did recognise these locations from the television series.
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Near the Fallen Icarus, beside the Temple Concordia
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After visiting the main temples sight, we drove a short distance to the Museo Archaeologico, where we promptly got a flat tyre. Nick repaired it and we went inside to see the giant telamone figure, one of thirty-eight that once supported the temple of Zeus. Afterwards, we drove to the Toyota dealership north of town to have the tyre fixed.
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Our next stop was the La Scala dei Turchi, which we also knew from the Young Montalbano series. .
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There was a model photo shoot. Above, Livia and Salvo just before discovering the car crash.
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Our guide book said that we would have the ancient Greek site of Eraclea Minoa to ourselves, and we did
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Our next stop was Guiseppe Augello's wonderful B&B, Sotto le Stelle, in Caltabellotta. We had our own balcony and rooftop terrace.
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The best thing about staying with Giuseppe was that he ran the local restaurant, Mates (Mah-tehs) that was featured in the Osteria guide and provided us with a fantastic meal that ended with cannoli. The next morning before breakfast, we walked up to the cathedral and spotted a woman hanging out her laundry.
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Pre-breakfast sights in Caltabellotta, including the Chiesa Madrea, founded by Count Roger one year before he took Palermo and San Salvatore, with its zigzag decoration around the door.
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Views of the ruined castel, San Sanvatore, and a road named Montalbano
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For my bingo card, I had to find wild herbs, so we stopped to collect fennel. I later found oregano and mint. Our destination was Palazzo Adriano, the lofty village where 1988's Cinema Paradiso was set.
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After a delicious sandwich lunch from the bakery pictured below, we walked round and round searching for the Cinema Paradiso museum. Once found, the woman in charge was in a terrible hurry and said we could look around for "five minutes". We admired the objects, listened to the music, and took photos of the bicycle.
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The archway leads to what was Alfredo's house in the film. The cinema was fake, built on the end of the row of buildings where there is now a café. It's a magical film.
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Next stop was Sambuca di Sicilia, "a lovely town without tourists" and home of "Minni di virgini" pastries created by Sister Virginia in 1725 for the wedding of Pietro and Marianna Beccadelli.We were surprised that "hundreds and thousands" existed in the 18th century, but the candied pumpkin filling was delicious.
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The town had a labyrinthine Arab Quarter, which was supposedly haunted, hence the white ghost street art.
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We were lured inside to see the Teatro L'Idea, described by two very enthusiastic men proud of their town's heritage, and our ticket price included entry to the museum across the street, dedicated to local artist Giovanni Becchina, who died in an earthquake in 2001.
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Contributing to the colour scheme of Sambuca di Sicilia
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After eating our fill of the Virgin's breasts, we headed for our birthday accommodation, the wonderfully quirky Baglio Amari Cusa. Within minutes of arriving at our olive grove B&B, our host fed us fruit from her trees, gave us homemade bread, cheese, and olive oil, presented me with a birthday cake (cassata) and a recipe book filled with handwritten poetry and her grandmother's recipe for ricotta cake, then offered to drive us into town for pizza and passeggiata.
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Some scenes from our stay. The pool was a bit chilly to fully submerge. The pine tree was planted by Gaia's parents in 1950, as an engagement present. We spent about an hour in the evening talking politics, world affairs, and business, all in Italian!
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Selinunte's tiny but bustling fish market was not to be missed, according to our guidebook, so we got there around 8:00 and watched fish being brought straight from the boats to be auctioned to the highest bidder. The auctioneer usually started around 12 Euros and the final bid was usually around 7 Eurosfor a bag of fish. Exciting things like octopus fetched more.
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Among the first to arrive at the temples, we admired their grandeur without crowds.
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It was a long walk and increasingly hot, but we saw our fill of temples and blue sea.
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The granita van arrived for the tour groups.
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We dipped back into Castelvetrano to visit La Bottega del Pane Rizzo, and boy, am I glad we did. We bought assorted bags of cookies and other treats and they made us cups of coffee to drink beside the counter. The cute man and the salad were from our next town, Mazara del Vallo
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Another of the big highlights of our trip was seeing the Dancing Satyr statue. We learned about it on Sicily Unpacked, presented by Andrew Graham-Dixon, who said, "In 1998, Capitan Ciccio, was searching for prawns off Sicily’s southwest coast when his crew found an Ancient Greek bronze statue entangled in the net. Covered in barnacles and strings of seaweed, it emerged headfirst from the depths of the Mediterranean Sea. The boat’s captain, Francesco Adragna, tells me that it seemed ‘to dance out of the water’. The piece was worth at least £150 million at auction, but Francesco accepted just a tiny fraction of that sum from the local authority so that the statue might remain in Sicily. Undoubtedly one of the world’s great objects, the statue represents a character from classical mythology that accompanied Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, during his drunken rampages. Depicted in the middle of an ecstatic dance, the figure is full of movement, with startlingly white eyes that seem alive.
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"It's beautiful, Andrew.".
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We drove north and checked into the Duca di Castelmonte Agriturismo, a nice enough family farm with spacious rooms and evening set meals. Our dinner coincided with a child's birthday party, so we left early (after ten starters served in pails and a pasta and risotto dish that we were too full to finish) and drove to nearby Trapani for a bit of passeggiata, seeing such things as the 423-year-old astronomical clock. We didn't think we'd have time for Trapani, so our night-time visit was a bonus. Back at the agriturismo, we actually saw a tiny owl fly overhead and settle on a tree branch, silhouetted against a white cloud, as well as two shooting stars. Birthday bonus!
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The next morning, we ate breakfast outside. I thought I would stop after I got full, but then they brought a cake, straight from the oven, and I had a huge piece. We left the agriturismo and took the cable car from Trapani to Erice, where we were among the clouds with a splendid view of the surrounding countryside and islands.


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Tiny Cow got lots of castle photos while we were up there.
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The castle walls were built by the same architect who created the minotaur's labyrinth, so say the signs.
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More sweets at the not-to-be-missed Maria Grammatico pastry shop. Maria learned to make pastries when she stayed in a convent during World War II and brought her recipes back to Erice to share with appreciative tourists of the future.
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Nick had to "touch three different species of trees in one minute" for his bingo card. Our final temple experience was the huge, unfinished Doric temple at Segesta, which dates back to the 420s BC. "Nearby" was the well-preserved amphitheater.
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A few of the sights from Friday
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Bottom left is an ancient mosque. Worker on the right seen in Monreale.
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We got to Monreale just before the cathedral closed for the day. The 6,500 metres of splendid Byzantine mosaics were created over 800 years ago.
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There was a wedding taking place while we were there, but we still got to have a look around.
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After checking into our final accommodation, the trendy Casa Rossa, we took our host's advice and walked into town for the best pizza and atmosphere of our trip at Toto's, where we sat in the book-lined courtyard (again, bewildering our shivering Italian waiter). The underwear photo was an attempt at my "best of the worst" photos for my bingo card.
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As often happens on our Italian trips, we were surprised by a night-time procession through the town, with hundreds of people carrying candles (and Jesus) and singing in unison. A memorable end to a wonderful trip!

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