Tag Archives: donkey

Caccamo, Cefalu and Castelbuono

dscf6723In my last week on Sicily, I potter along the northern coast. The S113 runs close to the shore, criss-crossing the railway line, which does the same, providing wonderful views out to sea and occasionally I can spot the volcanic Aeolian Islands. However, I manage to drag myself away from the coast and venture inland to the mountains where the Normans erected some pretty impressive castles.

dscf6633The first of these dominates the town of Caccamo. Built in the 12th century, it is a memorial to the art of defence. Thick walls, steep approaches, plus twists and turns all combine to confuse would-be attackers. Not to mention the boiling oil, sling shots and arrows that any invader would have to face if they did get that close.


Captives were slung into the prison cells where they doodled on the plaster walls until they were freed or, more often, killed. There’s also an oubliette for those unlucky enough to be forgotten and left to starve to death in the dark hole.


On the scenic terrace above is a plaque which details the story of two prisoners who escaped the hangman’s noose by using sheets as parachutes to jump from the walls. One died and the survivor, badly injured, was put back into the prison until the lord of the castle felt that he should be freed for his bravery, or perhaps his stupidity!



Most of the rooms are decorated with period pieces, such as furniture, clothing and arms. They are also being used to exhibit artwork by Sicilian artists.


dscf6683In the small chapel I learn of another gruesome tale. Undesired guests were brought here believing they could pray, but when they knelt at the altar, a trapdoor opened and they fell onto spikes in the chamber below. It is commonly known as the ‘Trick Room’.


dscf6726Leaving behind the medieval torture tales of Caccamo, I head back to the coast and the town of Cefalu, which sits below a rocky promontory known as La Rocca. I’m here to see the cathedral, built by Roger II in gratitude for his safe landing during a violent storm. The 12th century Duomo features an apse with a mosaic of Christ Pantocrator, much like the one in Monreale, but overall I’m disappointed with the visit.


More interesting is the Saracen lavatoio, a stone wash house near the beach which I arrive at just before a large school party of Palermo teenagers.


dscf6768I head back into the mountains to see the beautiful castle of Castelbuono, although it’s not actually that beautiful and, after Caccamo, is a real let down. Even the fact that the chapel on the top floor houses the skull of St Anne is not enough to hold my interest.



Luckily, the 14th century Church of Matrice Vecchia charms me. The interior is not that special but a trip down into the crypt causes my jaw to drop. The walls are covered with amazing 16th and 17th century frescos depicting Christ’s life from the Last Supper to the Resurrection. They are so vibrant in colour that I find it hard to believe that they haven’t been retouched.




Another charming aspect of the town is its determination to be eco-friendly. Greengrocer trucks selling local produce are parked at the edge of town, a water dispenser offers locals (and me) the chance to recycle bottles and fill them with cheap, clean water (5c per litre) and best of all, donkeys patrol the streets to collect the rubbish. Unlike the 5* hotel at Eze in France, Castelbuono wants to retain these cheap and cheerful animals instead of replacing them with electric golf carts!



Travels in the Cevennes without a Donkey

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go; I travel for travel’s sake.
And to write about it afterwards……”

Robert Louis Stevenson


I fully agree with Mr Stevenson with regards to travelling and I’m following in his footsteps by visiting the Cevennes National Park, although I am not travelling with a donkey named Modesto but in a motorhome named Trixie.

DSCF5669I start my journey in the south eastern town of St Jean du Gard where, during the summer months, it is possible to take a steam train ride through the valley. I have chosen to take the Corniche des Cevennes which traverses the higher ground at altitudes of 500m to 1000m. Initially, I am winding my way through mountains thickly covered with firs and pines. I stop briefly at the village of Saint- Roman-de-Tousque where there is a stunning viewpoint featuring a war memorial to the soldiers who died in the local battle at Saint-Etienne-Vallee-Francais in April 1944. Unusually, as well as the local French losses, it also names the Germans, some Russians and a Spanish man.

DSCF5696After the village of Le Pompidou, I find myself on a high plateau with pastures and occasional menhirs (standing stones) beside the road. At the far end, I branch off to the village of Barre-des-Cevennes where the main road through the village looks so narrow that I leave Trixie in the car park before the entrance. I have a small leaflet with a guided walk and it leads me to fountains, squares, the small but beautiful Romanesque church and the old chateau, now camouflaged by the houses built around it. As I leave the village by the main road I have to step aside for a large and long, low-loader to pass by. So, I guess the main road isn’t as narrow as I imagined after all!


DSCF5729At the end of the Corniche is the town of Florac where I decide to branch off to Le Pradal which sits at 1000m, above the town, on the edge of the Causse Mejean. At the entrance to the road a sign warns that the route is “dangerous and difficult”, and it is indeed a hair-raising ride to the top. The road is narrow and steep, clinging to the cliff edge with tight hairpin bends.
DSCF5749However, I safely make it and park up, completing the last kilometre on foot for a spectacular view down the valley below. It’s a desolate place and there is not another soul in sight. Travelling back down the road to Florac is almost as scary as the ascent, but Trixie copes bravely proving that she is as strong and determined as any donkey.