At the end of February/start of March, we spent a week in south east Sicily, right before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold. The trip was planned a few weeks prior as I had some annual leave to take and we had been planning some time away together abroad before a summer at home. We nearly booked a week in Lombardy in Northern Italy (where I used to live) which would have been cancelled, but flights and the promise of a bit of warmth beckoned us to choose Sicily, it’s crazy to think back to this and how the virus was only slightly on our radar and the idea of going somewhere wasn’t a crazy prospect.
The week before we left, we were trying to decide whether or not to go as the situation in the north of Italy was getting worse. However, the cases in Sicily were minimal (I believe there was only 1) and we went for it after weighing up the risks. Looking back and knowing what we know now, it was risky but we were lucky and made it home with no issues and no virus (we have been home for over 2 months now) but I’m sure if we had been just a few days different it could have been a very different story. We arrived home on the evening of the 7th March, by the 8th the entire north of Italy was locked down and by the 9th the entire country was locked down. We were really lucky not to be caught up in it and make it home safely. My thoughts are with everyone affected in Italy (+globally and here in the UK) – my heart aches for the town where I once lived in the north of Italy which was one of the epicentres of the first clusters of cases in the region.
I didn’t post anything about this trip online while we were there or following it, it just didn’t feel right with the situation and worry that everyone was experiencing to share holiday images. Even looking back over them and editing them, it just feels like another life; we were driving around, going to restaurants and cafes, going on hikes, exploring, swimming in the sea, relaxing and staying in Airbnb’s – it definitely felt quiet but at the time we chalked it up to being the off season but it was due to people staying at home more and not going out due to virus fears. This was echoed in the UK on our return as cases began to rise and everyone began to go out less and social distance. As I say, the way we were viewing while there was that it was bad in the north but not in Sicily and that was true at the time but the situation changed so quickly as it has for all of us and we had no idea (like the rest of Europe) that the virus would spread the way it has causing lockdowns across the continent.
I hope you don’t mind me sharing some of my pictures from that trip. Looking back at the bright blue seas, beautiful landscapes, Italian towns and villages and delicious food gives me hope and although it will be a long time for many of us before we go anywhere, it is nice to look back on.
I love Italy, I feel so calm and at home there, and still speak a little bit of the language so it was nice to use some of that in conversation again. It was also S’s first time in Italy and I have been wanting to go with him pretty much since we met so was very glad we finally got to go. I had never been to Sicily before and had never really researched it much before until we booked this trip. We flew into Catania, rented a car and spent 4 nights on Ortigia Island in Syracuse and 3 nights in the countryside near Taormina. It was great but we wished we had spent more time in Syracuse on the beaches. It was great to see all the different landscapes though and there is so much to do and see in Sicily.
This was our street on the first morning we were there. We arrived late in the evening, which I kind of love as you get to wake up not knowing what you will find. Our apartment was super cute with a tiny little balcony and within walking distance of lots of historic sights on the island as well as all the gorgeous alleyways of Ortigia and the harbours and waterfront areas.
A man paddleboarding near Ortigia
Bright blue water off Ortigia.
Enjoying the sea breeze on Ortigia.
Orange trees in a local park.
Our first pizza of the trip. It was incredible and so yummy.
First gelato of the trip!
S’s first Italian Gelato
Visiting the castle on Ortigia
S and our Fiat we rented for the week. He did all the driving and thank goodness. Driving in Italy is no joke and we were so relieved when we handed the car back with no scratches or bumps, there had definitely been some near misses but Sean is luckily the most calm but also quickest reactor so he did amazing.
On our 2nd day, we drove to Cavagrande del Cassibile which is a canyon where we hiked down to the river and some natural pools where you could swim. It was so beautiful, we saw birds, lizards and barely any other people. We took a picnic lunch and spent the afternoon swimming, sitting and taking in the views. The water was still pretty chilly but the air was lovely and warm and so welcome after a chilly rainy winter in the UK.
This is the pool we swam in – there were also mini waterfalls that fed into it.
Saw lots of lizards on the hike down.
Warming up on the rocks after a gorgeous but chilly swim in the ponds
Picnicking in the canyon, bliss!
From there, we headed to Fontane Bianche Beach and it was so beautiful. White sand, clear blue seas, warm weather and again nearly empty. Sean couldn’t resist another swim while I sat on the sand reading my book and taking in the views.
The water was such a beautiful colour, we couldn’t believe it.
On the drive back to Ortigia, we stopped at this clifftop filled with wild cacti.
There was also a random derelict house, that had the best sea views.
Some more shots of Old town Ortigia, the buildings, colours and textures are so gorgeous.
Spotted a lovely cactus with this beautiful terracotta wall behind it and couldn’t resist a picture.
Fruit and veg at the market a street over from our apartment on Ortigia.
Exploring the alleys
Italian hot chocolate – it’s the best!
Also arancini became our favourite lunch choice – breaded rice balls stuffed with veg and mozarella, so good!
What is it about washing hanging in italian streets that makes it so photogenic?
Jellyfish spotted in the harbour at Naxos.
Collecting fresh oranges from the garden of the cottage.
Note the green fridge in the background in the cottage! A statement :O
Our second accomodation was a cute little 1 bed cottage in the countryside with views of the mountains and fresh orange and lemon trees throughout the garden. The hosts encouraged us to pick as many as we liked and make fresh juice so we started each morning with orange juice and used the lemons for cooking. It was such a treat.
S pulled over when he saw this tree cause he knows how much I love magnolia and would want to take pics of it ❤
This is Isola Bella near Taormina, definitely one of the most touristy spots we visited and it was so beautiful but the beach was so painful to walk on with really sharp stones – we did have a little dip here though and the water was lovely and the perfect way to cool off.
This was a town in the hills above Taormina called Castelmola
We got there as the sun was setting and it was beautiful with amazing sea views.
From the top there were amazing views of the surrounding areas and also mainland Italy (you can just make it out in these photos – it’s below the clouds on the right of the picture)
Happy me on a hill at golden hour with my camera
I loved the golden light
We stayed up there until the sun was nearly gone and the sky faded to pink and blue.
On one of the days, we drove up winding mountain roads to the slopes of Mt. Etna. It was the wrong time of year for hiking onto the mountain and everything was closed up but we decided to go for a mini hike around the base (you can’t go up much further without a guide as it is an active volcano.) It was like stepping into Iceland after being on beaches and in towns the rest of the weeks. We saw snow and ice and it rained and we were wearing all our layers that we’d packed.
The views were amazing of the mountain and the clouds gathering at the summit.
Sean on one of the hills. We were the only people there and it was a little spooky at times. Amazing to see the volcanic landscape.
Hiking back towards the car
Look at the snow!
On the way back, we decided to stop at another hilltop town we had driven past the base of on the way there. It was just a normal Italian village on a hill and it was beautiful, one of our favourite places. The weather was moody, the locals were friendly and we wandered around for an hour or so taking in all the views of the hills and mountains around.
I love all the colours, the hill in the background is Mt. Etna!
We were on top of a park right on the top of the town’s hill as golden light hit the clouds. It was amazing.
Mountain views across the valley.
One of many beautiful spires in this little town.
These golden images were taken out of the car window as we drove down the mountain, it was raining and everything was sparkling with golden light, my favourite kind.
We stopped at one last nature reserve at the bottom off the town on the way home and saw this scene unfold – hundreds (most of them had already gone before this photo) of sheep running under this bridge to another field with their shepherd.
and then we took in the last bits of sunset over Etna as birds flew overhead, this was our last night in Italy and seems ever more poignant now given the circumstances. Kind of unbelievable that the lockdown there happened less than 3 days after these images were taken. I keep wondering about all the people we met and all the groups of elderly people we saw gathered in town squares.
Also the special cats of Sicily get a mention, they were everywhere, it was so nice.
We had a beautiful week and are so grateful for it.
Hope you are safe and well.