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In Italy Winter 2013-14 PDF Printable Version E-mail


IN ITALY in the WINTER 2013-14

Margaret and Barry Williamson

Continued  from: Across France in the Winter of 2013-14

Continued at: In Sicily in the Winter of 2013-14 

Our autumn travels in Slovenia had ended in an abrupt return to the UK and the funeral of Barry's brother, Michael. Whilst in England we also changed the Sprinter van, with which we tow our caravan, for a newer VW Crafter. Towards the end of November we resumed our winter journey to Sicily, where we will spend Christmas and welcome the start of 2014.

Having crossed France from Calais to the Frejus Tunnel, we meet the Mediterranean on the Italian Riviera near Genoa. Then begins the long journey down the west coast of Italy, passing Livorno, Rome and Naples, pausing to visit Pompeii, Herculaneum and Paestum. We then take the ferry across  the Straits of Messina to Sicily and make for the southernmost point of that ancient island, to Stan waiting for us on his excellent campsite - Luminoso.

The Route from England to Punta Braccetto in Sicily

Index of the Campsites we used

1 France - Vraignes en Vermandois: Camping des Hortensias (muddy farm site in Picardy)

2  France – Geraudot-Plage: Camping Les Rives du Lac (ACSI discount, nr Troyes)

3  France – Dardilly: Camping Indigo International  (ACSI discount, nr Lyon)

4  Italy – Arenzano: Caravan Park La Vesima (ACSI discount, nr Genova – Avoid!)

5  Italy – Antignano:): Camping Village Miramare (Very expensive, nr Livorno/Leghorn)

6  Italy - Rome: Camping Roma (Expensive but nearest camp to city)

7  Italy - Pompeii: Camping Spartacus (ACSI discount, opposite the excavations)

8  Italy – Corigliano Calabro: Camping Onda Azzura (cheap overwintering site in Calabria)

9  Italy – Marina di Nicotera: Camping Village Mimosa (ACSI discount, nr Rosarno)

10 Sicily – Catania: Camping Jonio (ACSI discount – Avoid!)

11 Sicily – Avola: Camping Sabbiadoro (ACSI discount – Avoid above all! Access v diff.)

12 Sicily - Punta Braccetto: Camping Luminoso (ACSI discount + long-stay reductions, nr S Croce Camerina - English-managed and highly recommended)

Note: For more information on these campsites, including price, GPS position and comments, see relevant entry in the travel log below.

At Dardilly

There's a handy Esso filling station by the campsite entrance and an Auchan hypermarket 2 miles away, across the motorway near exit 33. We visited both these, parking with difficulty by the delivery bay at Auchan as the main car park had height barriers.

Also spent time planning our onward route to Italy and phoning campsites, both French and Italian. Several listed as 'open all year' were in fact closed. After checking the alpine weather at Modane (the webcam showed clear roads and only light snow at the entrance to the Frejus tunnel) we decided to take the shorter route through the tunnel to Italy, rather than driving south to follow the coastal motorways round the Riviera.



Dardilly, nr Lyon, France, to Caravan Park La Vesima, Arenzano, nr Genoa, Liguria, Italy - 314 miles via Frejus Tunnel

Open all year. www.caravanparklavesima.it.  ACSI Card rate €16 inc 10 amp elec and 4-minute showers. WiFi €2 per hour (1 hour free on arrival). N 44.41437  E 8.70475

The first of December was a Sunday, an ideal day for an international journey (free of trucks on the motorways) – and what a long drive it proved to be.

It was cold and dry as we circled the Peripherique to the north of Lyon. After almost 20 miles we joined A43, then headed east and through a pair of tunnels to Chambery. At 91 miles A43 turned south for Modane and the Frejus Tunnel. As the webcam had shown, there was some snow on the verges but the road was clear and the frosted scenery beautiful. Stopped for lunch on the last French services. We entered the Frejus Tunnel (at 1237 m/4,082 ft) after driving 136 miles and paying €38.10 in motorway tolls. The 13 km/8 mile tunnel under the Alps cost a further €54.10.


Emerging into Piemonte, we soon exited the motorway at Oulx West and took rd 335 to Salbertrand, where we knew Camping Gran Bosco in the wooded slopes of a national park. Only yesterday we'd rung to check it was open – 'Yes, no problem'. Reaching the gates, there was a substantial problem: snow on all the paths and pitches, deep and crisp and even, with no sign of anybody around! So it's 'Plan B'.

Back to motorway E70 and through a series of short tunnels to Turin, where we turned south on A6, confident that we'd make the next campsite open on our route before dusk. The nice lady at Camping Cascina near Bastia Mondovi had also promised 'yes, no problem', saying there was some snow on the sports field but we could park on the road round the edge. We duly took the Mondovi exit and Sat-Navigated our way to the campsite. The not-so-nice lady had omitted to mention the steep narrow lane, uphill through thick snow, which was the only access. Cursing, we returned to the A6 and 'Plan C'.

All we could do was continue down A6 to Savona, where the coast would be snow-free, though as we descended there were warning signs for crosswinds. Meeting A10, we turned east towards Genoa, hoping that 'La Vesima' ('yes, no problem') would admit us after dark. Warnings of high winds, with some lengthy instructions in Italian, flashed overhead as we continued to the Arenzano exit, after a record 311 miles and another €41.90 in Italian tolls.

The campsite, 3 miles east along SS1, the Via Aurelia, was imprisoned behind high automatic gates of solid metal and looked firmly closed. However, the intercom worked, the gates slid open and a friendly English-speaking receptionist raised the inside barrier to usher us onto an empty place among the statics. It was very lucky that we'd left the motorway at Arenzano, just before a gusty viaduct now towering high above us. Apparently the signs had warned of severe danger to caravans and high-sided vehicles, though non-Italian drivers were obviously dispensable!

Safely off the road, if tired and hungry, we settled in as the receptionist chased a young donkey between the vans in the dark … it's that kind of site!

At Arenzano

In the daylight, we saw more of the place we shared with a couple of resident workers – and the donkey, allowed out of its paddock to graze. The basic campsite, squeezed between a noisy main road and an even noisier railway line that cuts it off from the sea, has no view whatsoever, except of the overhead motorway viaduct! There is no hot water or washing machine) and the grubby draughty shower was still running cold as the 4-minute token (a 50-cent piece) finished.

On complaining about the showers, we were given a pass key to a much more salubrious heated indoor bathroom with toilet and shower! M celebrated by baking a dozen mince pies and a large quiche, as well as making 3 Christmas puddings to store under the bed.

It was still very squally as we ventured out, east along the Via Aurelia in search of diesel. The traffic in the next town, Voltri, was utter chaos, parking impossible, and the Lidl marked on our SatNav had obviously moved. Back at the camp, safely locked behind the double entry system, we used our free one-hour WiFi ticket, declining to pay €2 per hour for more.

On the second day the wind had dropped, the sky was blue and it was 18 deg C outside. Access to the 'beach' (a small patch of black shingle) was via a locked revolving gate (pass key from Reception) and a tunnel under the railway line. The photos in the ACSI Card book were surely not taken here! As it was impossible to stroll along the shore, we walked west along Via Aurelia into the small fishing port/resort of Arenzano (3 miles each way, including a short tunnel). Here we found a bank machine and rewarded ourselves with coffee in the sunshine at a pavement cafι.   

Arenzano, nr Genoa, to Camping Village Miramare, Antignano, nr Livorno, Tuscany - 128 miles

Open all year. http://www.campingmiramare.it/eng2/.  €21.35 inc tax, 10 amp elec and showers (but only after serious negotiation, see below). Free 20-hr WiFi ticket. N 43.48119  E 10.33327

On a brilliantly sunny morning we escaped Fort (sorry, Caravan Park) La Vesima, voting it the worst campsite we'd ever stayed on, though it has to be said that the Reception staff were helpful and it was at least open.

After a busy 5 miles east along SS1 through Voltri, we joined the A10 and continued through tunnels and over viaducts to Genoa. From there, briefly north on A7 before taking A12 east for the port of Livorno (or Leghorn, as it's called in English). At 94 miles we lunched on a large service station before Viareggio, then glimpsed the dome of Pisa's white marble cathedral as we passed near the city.

Leaving A12 at Livorno after 112 miles (and a toll of €26.40), it was another 16 miles south on SS1 to the campsite on the right overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. Reception was closed until 3.30 pm but a notice instructed arrivals to find a place and check in later, so we settled on a pitch in a hedged alcove with sea view. We were the only campers on a large site with very basic amenities. The electric hook-up tripped every time we tried to use it.

Margaret's subsequent negotiations with the smart young man at Reception ended in furious argument and threats. On phoning to check the site was open, we were quoted €20 a night. Now, he claimed that was the price for a pitch at the back of the site (plus €1.35 tax) and including only 2 amps electricity. He insisted 2 amps (which barely runs fridge and lights) was 'normal'.  A sea-front pitch cost €30 (plus tax) and an upgrade to 10 amps would be another €3, total €34.35 per night – in low season on an empty site with grim facilities! The not-so-smart young man suggested we move pitch or leave if we found this too much. Suffice to say that we stayed where we were, got 10 amps and paid €21.35, which was more than enough.

At Antignano

Next morning we drove into Livorno to shop at 'Ipercoop', a nightmare-sized hypermarket with large free car park 5 miles from the campsite. On into the city to find diesel and, by chance, Lidl and a bargain case of tinned peas!

Barry cleaned the dust off van and caravan while M stuffed and baked tomatoes, then we took a short walk on the stony beach before dinner, viewing the lights of Livorno and a tiny offshore island.

Antignano, nr Livorno, to Roma Camping Village, Rome - 183 miles

Open all year. http://www.ecvacanze.it/en/camping/camping-in-town/roma-camping-village/. €25 (+ taxes) inc 7 amp elec and heated showers. Free WiFi. N 41.88741  E 12.40468

South down SS1 Via Aurelia, which soon turned into a dual carriageway. After 8 miles it declared itself a motorway for just one mile (toll €1.30!), then reverted to dual carriageway, toll-free all the way to Civitavecchia, the modern port of Rome. The sun shone as the landscape became gradually more Mediterranean, with umbrella pines and olive groves.

At 96 miles we turned along a 'Camping Zone' at Albinia, north of Orbetello in Tuscany. A string of campsites tucked in the pine forest between SS1 and the shore were all closed except Camping Regio - the one we'd phoned ('no problem'). It was deserted, the office locked, the site entirely full of statics with only 2 tiny spaces for tourers. We ate our lunch and continued south to meet the A12 motorway north of Civitavecchia, bound for Rome.

The Via Aurelia held good memories of a cycle tour one Easter, when we flew from England to Rome, cycled to Civitavecchia for a ferry to explore Sardinia, took another ferry back to Livorno and returned along the Via Aurelia to visit Rome and Anzio before the flight home. Happy Days!

At 172 miles we left A12 at the exit for Torrimpietra, taking the SS1 to the Rome ring road. In every layby along this dual carriageway a sad-looking prostitute waited. There was nothing hidden about this underworld activity. The 'camping village' is signed on the right, 2 miles after passing under the ring road, and only 3 miles west of the centre of Rome.

It proved to be a highly organised modern campsite with level pitches and excellent heated facilities. The restaurant/bar was open and the 'bungalows' were popular with groups of youngsters. The office sold bus tickets into the capital, organised tours, arranged airport pickups and advised against cycling!

At Rome

A rest day, catching up with laundry and emails and enjoying an excellent take-away from the site pizzeria. We agreed this is a 5-star campsite – until the Saturday night rave started in the campsite restaurant/bar. The music went on until 1.30 am.

Hoping to block out the noise, we turned up the volume on the DVD we were watching (Alec Guinness in 'Tinker Tailor …') but Smiley was no match for the drunken wasted youth, who regularly came outside to shout amongst themselves and into their smart-phones. Embarrassingly, most were speaking English or its Antipodean version.

Rome to Camping Spartacus, Pompei, Campania - 158 miles

Open all year. www.campingspartacus.it. ACSI Card rate €14 inc 8 amp elec and showers. Credit cards OK. Free WiFi. N 40.74638  E 14.48388

On leaving the campsite at Rome, we complained about the previous night's noise, as well as the surprise addition of 10% to the price of €25 per night quoted on arrival. The 'taxes' were eventually waived!

It was a quiet Sunday morning as we drove 2 miles back to the Rome Ring, then anticlockwise for 18 miles to take exit 19 onto the A1 for Naples. An uneventful journey, past Cassino below Monte Cassino, where we've visited the British and Polish war graves. At 145 miles we joined the A3 near Naples, Vesuvius looming ominously above as we continued south for 12 miles to the exit for Pompei West. Total motorway tolls €22.50.

From the A3 exit, turn left along Via Plinio for a mile to Camping Spartacus, just before Camping Pompei, on the right. There is also Camping Zeus on the left, and all just a stone's throw from the entrance to the archaeological site of Ancient Pompeii. We turned into the first campsite, a small well-guarded place, and joined three friendly Italian gipsy families in an orange grove. The women hung out daily washing and cooked outside in large pots, while their menfolk were busy buffing and polishing a continuous supply of brass candelabra and church ornaments, removing a deep patina of verdigris.

At Pompei

We checked the adjacent campsite, similar though larger. It was empty – not surprising, at €23.50 a night! Camping Zeus across the road charged €16 for ACSI Card holders, with more modern facilities but a charge for internet. We preferred our eccentric site, where the showers were hot in the mornings and the WiFi worked well.

There were also free oranges and lemons for the picking – rather sharp but good and juicy, producing 6 pounds of marmalade before we left! Margaret also made a Christmas cake, which we stored to mature, and another dozen mince pies which we didn't.

For shopping, we tried a small 'Carrefour' near the railway station but it was poorly stocked and a couple of local lads tried to charge us for parking in its courtyard! There was also an 'Auchan' supermarket, where parking was all but impossible. National stereotypes are often accurate and the Italians should never have been introduced to the internal combustion engine!

Roman Pompeii

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/pompeii.html

The 1_Pompei_(4).JPGvolcano Vesuvius (4,200 ft or 1270 m) is only 5 miles (8 km) north, ever brooding menacingly on the skyline. Is that a puff of steam? Or smoke? Or just a small cloud in a blue sky? Is that vibration a tremor or just another train rumbling past the campsite? Vesuvius hasn't blown since 1944, but the imagination roams freely in the early hours before dawn.

Of course we revisited the ruins of Pompeii, just across the main1_Pompei_(2).JPG road behind a bazaar of souvenir stalls. The site is open daily at 8.30 am, last entry 3.30 pm, tickets €11 – or free for EU citizens aged 65 plus with ID. On a bright sunny day we spent nearly 4 hours walking round to photograph the excavations, including a break in the cafι.

The remains1_Pompei_(1).JPG of the city destroyed in the cataclysmic events of 79 AD form an extensive and impressive site, lost for centuries after all was buried under successive waves of tephra: rock fragments thrown high into the air by the volcanic eruption. Most of the houses and many of the roads are now closed, following the collapse of the House of the Gladiators in November 2010, and there have been no excavations for several years. However, there is no sign of any repair work in progress and the considerable takings at the ticket office (2.5 million visitors annually) are finding their way into other pockets. It seems disgraceful that rema1_Pompei_(3).JPGins preserved for nearly 2000 years are now crumbling for lack of maintenance. There was also an absence of signs and information, unless you bought a guide book or hired a guide at the entrance.

The book 'Pompei' by Robert Harris – a fictional story in a well researched historical setting – has made a strong impression on both of us and is an excellent evocation of the horror and devastation of the eruption. An intriguing read from a favourite novelist of ours.

Roman Hercolaneum at Ercolano

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/herculaneum.html

10 miles 2_Herculaneum_(1).JPGnorthwest of Pompei (take A3 to the Ercolano exit, it's worth the toll to avoid the traffic chaos of the coast road) the remains of Herculaneum lie quietly in the sun, in a small square dug out from the modern town of Ercolano. This site is better restored and maintained than crumbling Pompeii and many fewer coaches of puzzled and culture-shocked East Asian tourists make it through the narrow approach roads to a guarded car park. The parking fee for those of us who couldn't squeeze under the height barrier was €5 an hour.2_Herculaneum_(2).JPG Entry to the site was again €11, or free for EU citizens aged 65 plus with ID, but this did include a very informative guide booklet in English.

The split-level site may be less extensive and less well known than Pompeii it is much better preserved. Most of the population escaped before the prosperous ancient port was buried more deeply in tephra than Pompeii, preserving houses, roofs, mosaics,2_Herculaneum_(2).JPG artefacts, murals and even charred wooden beams and doors on a large scale. The bad news is that three quarters of the Roman town is now lost under the modern buildings of Ercolano, whose inhabitants peer over a cliff of lava into the excavated site.

Our only complaint was the lack of a cafι, so lunch was coffee and KitKats from a vending machine before going down to explore the lower level and the ancient shoreline. Here the barrel vaults still hold the skeletons of those who didn't manage to get to the boats.

The Greek Temples of Paestum

Click: http://www.magbazpictures.com/paestum.html

Paestum, 40 miles or so southeast of Pompei, is the location of three Ancient Greek temples, the 3_Paestum_(2).JPGruins of a Greco-Roman colony, and a new archaeological museum. Leaving the caravan behind, we drove down the A3 past Salerno to the Battipaglia exit, then due south to the village. There was no-one to pay at the car park, and entry to temples and museum was also free for us Seniors.

The magni3_Paestum_(1).JPGficence of the temples in their survival and in their setting is second to none that we have seen the length and breadth of the ancient Greek world. In fact, the best of Ancient Greek temples are to be found here, in Sicily and in Turkey: perhaps because the Ottomans (unlike the Greeks) did not rob them as pre-cut stone quarries to build churches, and the Romans adopted them to worship their own gods.

Paestum was founded by Greeks from the 6th 3_Paestum_(3).JPGcentury BC, the Romans taking over the colony in 273 BC, renaming the gods. The main temple to Hera, for example, became the temple of Minerva. The foundations of the Greco-Roman settlement bore traces of the usual theatre, amphitheatre, forum, etc. With the site to ourselves, the sea nearby and the sun brilliant in a clear blue sky, it was3_Paestum_(4).JPG a thrilling morning.

After a pizza each at the nearby La Basilica Cafι, we looked in the new museum which included finds from the Heraion, a Greco-Roman sanctuary a couple of miles north by the Sele River. Returning along the wooded coast road, we located this Heraion, though there was nothing to be seen except a few stones in a field. On to rejoin the A3 at Pontecagnano and drive back to Pompei after a superb excursion.

Pompei to Camping Onda Azzurra (=Blue Wave), Corigliano Calabro, Calabria - 171 miles

Open all year. www.onda-azzurra.it. €11+metered elec (10 amps) at €0.35/KWh. (€7+elec for stay of 14 days plus.) Free showers and WiFi. N 39 °42'10"  E 16 °31'32" (Ignore the version N 39.4210 E 16.3132 given on their website under 'How to Get There'. You won't!)

From the Pompei campsites, we'd found access to A3 southbound awkward and congested when we drove to Paestum. Moving on with the caravan, therefore, we took the much easier northbound junction, next to Camping Zeus, then turned round at the next exit (Torre Anunziata) to head south. It was well worth the small extra toll!

The A3 runs down through Campania and Calabria all the way to Reggio di Calabria at the foot of mainland Italy, toll-free after Salerno. It's a wonderful piece of engineering, with many short tunnels and some road works where it cuts through the mountains alongside the railway and the old road. It was chilly after overnight rain with glimpses of snow on the tops, especially when we reached 3,366 ft/1020 m at 130 miles.

Lunch on the services, 10 miles before our exit for Sibari, then due east for 14 miles to meet the SS106 coast road. Turn south towards Corigliano Calabro, looking out for a rough lane 5 miles along on the left, signed for Campings Thurium and Onda Azzurra. We reached the latter at the end of the lane by the sea, just before 3 pm.

Reception was closed until 4 pm and the high gates firmly closed. As we were about to leave and check out Thurium, the security guard appeared and we were allowed to join a largely German-speaking winter colony. We found a quiet spot on the edge of the forest, where the WiFi was weak but at least we weren't dazzled by the rival Christmas lights of those crowded nearer the sea. When we camped here 15 years ago the site was open to the beach but now it is all securely fenced in – a sign of the times.

At Onda Azzurra

We bought some seasonal treats at Lidl in Corigliano Calabro, though there was no Christmas Stollen – perhaps Italians don't like marzipan and fruit cake, or the German campers (who do) had bought the lot. At a new shopping mall on the main road on the way to Corigliano Calabro, we got an excellent roast chicken at the huge Auchan supermarket.

On the domestic front, Margaret marzipanned our own Christmas cake and we caught up with laundry and cleaning. We also finished writing a piece about Pompei, which Barry circulated along with 10 photos.

Last time we stayed here, we'd cycled along to the site and museum at Sybaris, an ancient Greek city founded around 720 BC and  known for its wealth and the luxurious lifestyle of its inhabitants (hence the modern meaning of 'sybaritic'). A sharp contrast with the present day poverty of Calabria. The area beyond our tidy campsite was extremely run-down, with overflowing rubbish skips surrounded by piles of litter that attracted pathetic stray dogs. The main road was patrolled by 'ladies of the night' in broad daylight. We posted a few cards, bought in Pompei, though to the best of our knowledge none of them reached the UK.

We walked round to Thurium Camping, along a mile or so of rough pot-holed lane past empty houses with high wire fences and fierce guard dogs. The campsite appeared to be dead behind massive solid gates and high walls. Returning through the pines and along the scruffy deserted beach to our campsite, we had to cross a small stream by balancing on a rusty iron gang-plank, as neither campsite had bothered to maintain a footbridge for their guests. A bright full moon gleaming over the sea that night was the only thing of beauty.

With the metered electricity, we used 32 KWh in 3 days paying a total of €11, which seemed fair. We didn't have any fairy lights on though!

Corigliano Calabro to Camping Village Mimosa, Nicotera Marina, nr Rosarno, Calabria - 138 miles

Open all year. www.villaggiomimosa.com/inglese.  ACSI Card rate €14 inc12 amp elec and private shower/WC. Free WiFi by Reception.  N 38Ί30'39” E 15Ί55'23”

It was 2 miles along the lane to the main road, then 5 miles north to Sybaris where we turned west on SS34 for 10 miles to meet the A3 toll-free motorway, heading south into bright sunshine. Can this be one week before Christmas? Climbing through several short tunnels, at 56 miles we reached 2,122 ft/643 m after Cosenza, continuing downhill (more tunnels) as we descended towards the west coast and the exit for Rosarno.

Misguided by the ACSI Card book, we took the new dual carriageway to San Ferdinando Porto before turning north up the coast on SP50 to follow campsite signs for 7 km, neatly avoiding the centre of busy Rosarno. Then SP50 ended abruptly and without warning at the River Mesona, where the bridge had long since collapsed. The campsite lay on the other side! Of course, when we'd phoned to check whether it was open, the nice man had omitted to mention this.

Guided by the SatNav, we followed narrow country lanes inland to cross the next bridge at Rosarno, then took SP49 back to the coastal campsite. It appeared to be closed, hidden behind the now familiar high locked gates, but a bell summoned the French-speaking owner, Umberto. It's a large site, about a mile south of Nicotera Marina, with just one other touring caravan staying.

At Nicotera Marina

The private shower/toilet, which had sounded appealing, was a great disappointment! The tiny room was cold and grubby, the water tepid, the shower barely separated from the toilet bowl by a mouldy curtain - and we were told to empty our cassette toilet there! The highly recommended site restaurant/pizzeria was, naturally, closed. 

We wrote some emails, though had to take the laptop up to Reception to send them, and talked to our well-travelled neighbours, Jeff and Joyce from Stoke, who asked us to send greetings to Rod at Finikounda.

A stroll along the beach to Nicotera Marina and back, with a hazy view of an offshore volcanic island, occupied the afternoon. We looked forward to reaching Sicily tomorrow.

Nicotera Marina to Camping Jonio, Catania, Sicily - 100 miles (plus ferry)

Open all year. www.campingjonio.com.  ACSI Card rate €16 inc 6 amp elec. Free showers. WiFi expensive (eg €4/1 hr, €6/2 hrs). N 37.53194  E 15.12055

Returning through Rosarno to the A3, we headed south through many short tunnels to the exit for Villa San Giovanni at 37 miles, then followed ferry signs for 2 miles through the streets of the port to the terminal. Tickets for the half-hour crossing to Messina (running every 40 minutes) can be bought from kiosks at the dock, or from either of the last two service stations down the A3. To avoid queues and ticket touts, we had stopped at the first of these services, just south of Rosarno. The tickets were expensive (€92 for van, caravan and 2 adults) but credit cards are accepted. They are only valid until midnight on the day of purchase and don't specify any particular boat. You just join the line of vehicles at the barrier and wait. We saw no sign of the bridge to Sicily once promised by Silvio Berlusconi.


We were lucky to board the next ferry, which took us smoothly across to exit into the maelstrom of traffic and confusing signs that is Messina. Somehow finding our way through the centre onto the A18 motorway, we turned south down the coast towards Taormina and stopped for lunch on the services just before the first toll booth. The fantastic sunshine was warmer than the mainland.

After 35 Sicilian miles, as we crossed the Provincial border from Messina into Catania, Mt Etna hove into view, seeming to block the road ahead. There was very little snow on the peak which rose through the lower clouds and it appeared calm after recent volcanic activity. Its name comes from the Greek Aitne, from aitho, 'I burn'. Etna is the highest active volcano in Europe, its topmost elevation being more than 10,000 ft (3,200 m). Like other active volcanoes, its height varies: in 1865, the volcanic summit was 170 ft higher than today. Etna covers an area of 600 sq mi (1,600 sq km) and its base has a circumference of about 93 mi (150 km). You can't miss it!

60 miles later at the Catania ring road we took the Catania San Gregorio exit (toll €7.40), then followed Catania Est, descending through 5 miles of busy traffic to the campsite on the Ionian coast. The small camping area is very awkward to access and the man in reception insisted that the places overlooking the sea were only for motorhomes. Despite there being empty pitches there, we were directed onto the gravel car park behind the restaurant, next to a noisy road, with no view and a barking dog. (An English couple we met later in Sicily reported similar treatment at Camping Jonio, with sea view pitches reserved for Italian campers.)

We soon found that the ACSI book description of a “renovated campsite with very modern sanitary facilities” is a blatant lie. The draughty showers are activated by holding on to a grubby cord, the cassette emptying point was blocked and overflowing and we didn't like the look of the antiquated rusty drinking water taps, but it was too late to leave until tomorrow.

Even the take-away tuna pizza from the restaurant was a great disappointment. Costing the same as the delicious one at Camping Roma in Rome, this specimen was small, with the merest hint of topping.

Continued at: In Sicily in the Winter of 2013-14