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Greece to Tunisia via Sicily 2010 PDF Printable Version E-mail

From Greece to Tunisia via Sicily 2010

The Travel Log of a Motorhome Journey from the Greek Peloponnese to Tunisia in the Winter of 2010

Margaret and Barry Williamson
February 2010

This illustrated travel log describes our journey with a Mercedes Sprinter van, bicycles and a tent, starting from Ionion Beach in the north-west of the Greek Peloponnese. Initially we travelled through the mountains of the Greek Peloponnese, south to Finikounda at the tip of the Messinian Peninsula, and then circled via Sparta, Leonidio and Tripoli, returning to Patras for a ferry to Brindisi at the Heel of Italy.

After traversing the Foot of Italy to Villa San Giovanni, we took a short ferry ride across the Strait of Messina to Sicily. Virtu Ferries operate a high-speed catamaran service from Pozzallo on the south coast of Sicily, taking only 90 minutes to reach Valetta in Malta. With a special four-day return fare, we took the bicycles across, leaving the Sprinter in Sicily while we paid our first visit to the EU's smallest member.

But our main aim is to take a ferry from Trapani on Sicily's eastern coast to Tunis and spend a few weeks exploring Tunisia, by Sprinter and bicycle. We are inspired by the motorhome journey of George & Jane Swindail in the winter of 2005/6 (see their article and photographs on this website). In preparation, we have bought the Lonely Planet Guide to Tunisia and a good map (Reise Verlag - see www.reise-know-how.de) and read the travel advice published by the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This is summarised on this website with a link to the full article on the FCO website.

Returning from Tunisia, we have our eye on a ferry from Bari to Durres in Albania. This would give us access to a Balkan return to the UK, travelling through Montenegro, Bosnia and perhaps Serbia before hitting the main roads of Central and Western Europe. We shall see …

The travel log recorded below gives an idea of the extent to which our ambitions have been fulfilled.

Click: From Flair to Sprinter - how we came to be travelling in a White Van
Click: Images and a description of our Fleetwood Flair motorhome
Click: Images and a description of our Paul Hewitt touring bicycles
Click: Images of the Mercedes Sprinter Van we used on this Journey

Click: Images of the Journey through the Greek Peloponnese
Click: Images of Malta: Valetta and the Grand Harbour
Click: Images of the Journey through Sicily

8 February 2010   220 miles   Ionion Beach Apartments (Glyfa) to Finikes Rooms (Finikounda), Greece

South through the mountains of the Greek Peloponnese

After farewells to friends old and new, with renewed thanks to the Fligos family for their welcome and hospitality (see article about Ionion Beach), we drove down to Gastouni, collecting our post in Vartholomio on the way. Work on a new bridge over the Pinios River here necessitates a detour round bumpy lanes to reach Gastouni - maybe it will be finished on our next visit!

The faster busier 'New National Road' led to Pirgos, from where the main road south (usually taken by motorhomers) follows the coast to Kiparissia. With the advantage of a smaller van, we chose a longer 'scenic route' inland via Olympia, where we parked for a picnic lunch with a good view of the ancient stadium.

From there we followed a road we'd once cycled (as part of a tour of the Peloponnese), climbing steadily to Langadia. The hotel we'd stayed in, perched high above the gorge at over 2,000 ft, is now closed and for sale, replaced by a pair of smarter hotels opposite. Continuing through the sparsely populated mountains of Arcadia, we squeezed through the long narrow thoroughfare of Dimitsana, where there is a new Museum of Water Power on the Lousios River.

The next mountain village is Stemnitsa, above the Lousios Gorge. Cycling, we had spent a night here at the Trikolonia Hotel, though it's now turned into an up-market Country Club. There are walks down into the Gorge, where we once found the site of Ancient Gortis as well as some early Christian churches, but today there was no time to linger, aiming to reach Finikounda before dark. The morning started out fine but dark clouds were gathering over the peaks.

The road twisted and turned, following the curves of the contour lines clustered on our SatNav, past the fine hilltop castle at Karitena (formerly featured on a Drachma banknote of fond memory!) Rain set in as we continued through Andritsena and by the time we passed the Temple of Apollo at Bassae it was falling as snow. The ancient temple looming eerily out of the mist on a bare mountainside, hidden under its marquee to protect it from the elements up at 3,630 ft, is simply breathtaking (especially if you've cycled up from sea level to see it!) The wild road, twisting its way for 26 miles down to the coast, was littered with rock-falls and stones and it was a relief to gain the coast road, where the rain was easing.

The familiar drive down the wonderfully quiet west coast through Kiparissia to Filiatra was straightforward, followed by a choice of route to Pylos: the coastal road via Marathopoli or the inland one via Gargaliani. Taking the latter, we climbed inland again to Nestor's Palace (mentioned in Homer), set among the vineyards where the superb wine bearing the Nestor label is produced, then through Hora (the village where the splendid archaeological museum houses the finds from the Mycenean Palace).

We reached Pylos as dusk fell and the rain ceased. Around Pylos on Navarino Bay there are a pair of castles, a lagoon where flamingos winter and a waterfall to walk out to at Schinolakia. Plenty to explore (not counting the new unfinished golf complex!)

And so to our favourite place, Methoni at the south-west tip of the Messinian peninsula - where we were married one hot July day! Its splendid Venetian Castle is paired with Koroni Castle, at the south-east tip: these were the 'Eyes of Venice' - both freely open to visitors. Just 5 more miles brought us to the small fishing port and holiday resort of Finikounda - home to no less than 5 campsites (3 open in winter), several very good friends - and one mystery and cowardly enemy (see Threatening Email from Finikounda).

22 February 2010   156 miles   Finikes Rooms (Finikounda) to Castleview Studios (Paralio Astros on the Argolic Gulf), Greece

Over the mountain passes of Laconia and Arcadia, through Sparta, Kosmas, Leonidio

After 2 weeks of walking, talking and eating with our stalwart friends John & Lisi, Rose & Alf and, of course, Camping Finikes's own Untersturmfeldgruppencampingplatzführer, Rod, we set off to complete the circuit of the western Peloponnese. Through the familiar villages of Iamia and Harokopio, we reached the coast of the Messinian Gulf and headed north to Kalamata (pausing only to shop at Lidl in Messini).

From the maelstrom of Kalamata's traffic, the lonely road to Sparta climbs rapidly from sea level to 1,375 ft, then switchbacks down to 860 ft to cross the Nedontas River at the bottom of the gorge before climbing again to 2,250 ft at Artemisia village (with new 'Rooms'). Continuing upwards through sparse forest it reaches 4,225 ft at the top of the pass, where there is a 'Tourist Pavilion' (café and hotel). Very disheartening for cyclists (as well we know), giving 2 steep climbs between Kalamata and Sparta.

We had a picnic at the top of the pass, now clear of snow with just a few flecks on the tops. The descent into Sparta is spectacular, below overhanging rocks, past a monument to a firefighter lost in a forest fire, twisting down through serpentine bends. The road is good and well-graded, a wonderful challenge for carefully driven motorhomes and fit cyclists.

The busy modern town of Sparta, down at 550 ft, felt much warmer and the recently harvested oranges were being loaded onto trucks. Heading north out of town, we crossed the Evrotas River, then turned immediately right (south) to climb gradually again to 1,000 ft shortly before Geraki. The road swings north again, crossing the Laconia/Arcadia border, reaching almost 4,000 ft at a war memorial just before dropping slightly into the tiny village of Kosmas, which has become a summer retreat.

Kosmas, at 3,730 ft, was cold and almost deserted, with only the Maleatis Apollon taverna/rooms open (named after the local Temple of Apollo Maleata). After a short walk round the square, we took the road down - and down - to Leonidio (altitude just 100 ft). On the way, an Orthodox Convent (Elonis Monastery) clings impossibly to a rock face above the road - well worth a visit for the view alone. We have taken this route by motorhome (and by bicycle), though it can be difficult in winter's snow.

From Leonidio we turned north up the east coast of the Peloponnese, along the serene Argolic Gulf, through Paralia Tyrou and Ag Andreas to Astros. Turning down to the beach at Paralio Astros in search of a room, we passed a couple of closed hotels before spotting the Castleview Studios.

The very friendly receptionist (Rosa from Sofia) found us a self-contained room, fully equipped with small cooker, kettle, coffee maker and sandwich toaster, enabling us to enjoy supper with a view of the illuminated Venetian castle on top of a small hill opposite, guarding the bay.

23 February 2010   150 miles   On board the Endeavor Lines ferry 'Ionian Queen', Patras to Brindisi

Return to Patras through the mountains, via Tripoli, Levidi and Klitoria

A fine sunny morning for a drive to Patras, to catch the 5.30 pm ferry to Brindisi in southern Italy.

About 10 miles north up the coast from Paralio Astros, at Kiveri, we turned inland to climb (max 2,500 ft) to the busy city of Tripoli. At 36 miles, up at 2,100 ft, we crossed the toll motorway, which leads to Corinth and Athens, and continued into Tripoli, pausing to shop and withdraw cash at an AB Supermarket.

Road 74 led north for 20 miles to Levidi, a lovely little mountain town at 2,680 ft, then a further 20 miles north to Klitoria (where we can recommend Mount Helmos Hotel). From there we turned west, past Ancient Klitor, climbing to 3,290 ft.

Heading north again, we met and followed the Vouraikos River as it headed for Kalavryta (from where it cuts a gorge down to Diakofto - the route of a spectacular rack and pinion railway). Shortly before Kalavryta, near the famous Ag Lavras Monastery, we turned west through wonderfully quiet hills, held up only by herdsmen driving their flocks of sheep and goats. It's lambing time - or should it be kidding?

Dropping down into the backside of Patras was a sudden shock to the senses after such a peaceful bucolic scene. Through miles of traffic jam, unsignposted chaos and a one-way system not designed for strangers, we passed the ruins of the castle and somehow emerged onto the waterfront between the docks and marina.

Parking inside the port gates at 3 pm, we collected the Endeavor Line ferry tickets (booked by phone) and paid with a credit card, no problems (www.endeavor-lines.com). The port police and razor wire now seem to keep intruders and illegals out and we had none of the problems reported by travellers last year. The Customs officials had a quick look inside the van but trucks were being thoroughly searched and our 5.30 pm departure was delayed 30 minutes by the checking of the last lorry to board.

The sea was smooth and we were welcomed on board with free orange juice. The self-service restaurant opened at 7 pm and served a good pork chop and chips. We were leaving Greece to its dire financial problems and austerity package, though we are sure to be back.

24 February 2010   279 miles   Brindisi to Cannitello, Villa San Giovanni, Italy

A long drive across the foot of Italy

The 'Ionian Queen' docked at Brindisi at 8.30 am Italian time (put watches back one hour). This was 2 hours later than scheduled, because of an hour's delay loading lorries at Igoumenitsa during the night, plus a head wind! We drove straight through the port, past Endeavor Lines' new terminal building, with just a quick Customs/passport check and no delay.

Following signs for Taranto, we took the E90 (Via Appia) with a break at the Auchan shopping complex near Mesagne to buy bread and biscuits. No McBreakfast though, as the fast food emporium didn't open until 10 am! After the naval base of Taranto, the coast road led west and south to Trebisacce, where we parked by a pebbly shore in the sunshine to make lunch.

Near Sibari we turned inland to join the toll-free motorway A3, south past Cosenza. The weather turned to rain as the impressively engineered Autostrada climbed high through tunnels and over viaducts, eventually reaching dense fog up in the clouds above 2,000 ft. Long stretches were still being widened and improved, with new tunnels being bored into the hillsides.

Descending, we turned off at Scilla in search of a room before dusk. We found it in the 'Autostello Albergo', a humble hotel on the main road at Cannitello, about 3 miles before the port of Villa San Giovanni. We had a wonderful view of Sicily, which looked very near across the Strait of Messina ('between Scilla and Charybdis' as the saying goes).

25 February 2010   213 miles   Villa San Giovanni, Italy to Pozzallo, Sicily

Down the coast of Sicily, with a side trip to Mount Etna

The Albergo breakfast (bread, jam and coffee) did not delay us long and we were soon in the thick of Villa San Giovanni's morning rush hour, seeking out the elusive signs to the ferry. Tickets are purchased by joining a noisy crowd of truck drivers round a window while struggling to argue the price in halting Italian, but we finally made it aboard for the 30-minute crossing to Messina. It was a fine calm day, after a spectacular electric storm overnight.

Disembarking, we joined the A18 toll motorway south down the coast. We bypassed Taormina, having visited its spectacular Greco-Roman theatre on our first motorhome tour of Sicily in the spring of 1998 (see March 1998, April 1998 and May 1998). It faces the snow-capped peak of Mt Etna, which now loomed into view, tempting us to leave the Autostrada at Giarre (toll 3.20 euros).

Following a signpost to 'Etna' we climbed rapidly to over 2,000 ft. Somehow we found ourselves on a detour via San Alfo (signed Etna Est = East), then round Zafferana Etnea, picking up the route to Etna Sud (= South) and the Refuge Sapienza. It's a fascinating ascent from the vineyards that thrive on the volcanic soil, up into the Etna National Park, where greens give way to the black of the bare lava field. The massive bulk of the live volcano, Mount Etna, dominates the scene, its white ridge appearing and disappearing behind the clouds that sped across a sunny blue sky.

Once we reached 4,500 ft, snow lay piled high at the roadsides. Suddenly, up at 6,090 ft and only 1 km before the Sapienza Hotel and cable car station, we were stopped in our tracks by a snow drift, where the fierce wind was swirling the lying snow across the narrow road. Turning back, we descended to Catania by the more direct route, a wider road used by coaches, which had been cleared of snow.

Catania, a busy industrial port, has been destroyed by Etna's eruptions several times and - like many cities in Sicily - was rebuilt in the Baroque style after a severe earthquake shook the island in 1693. Arriving in the mayhem of the lunchtime rush hour, its charms were largely lost on us.

Eventually we found the road south, despite confusing diversion signs, and stopped for a late lunch by a petrol station. Places to park for a break appear non-existent in Sicily (in common with much of Italy). Bypassing Syracuse (site of an ancient Greek colony to rival Athens, with an extensive archaeological zone that we explored in 1998), our road cut inland past Noto, another town splendidly rebuilt after the quake of 1693. After Ispaca, we turned down to the coast at Pozzallo, a small resort and fishing port. More importantly, there is a Virtu Ferries catamaran from here to Malta - a 90-minute crossing that runs (weather permitting) on 5 days per week - not Tuesday or Saturday. We located the ticket office, saw the fine catamaran (Australian-built in 2004) in port and decided to sail tomorrow evening. See: http://www.virtuferries.com/pages/index.aspx.

Finally we found a few Bed & Breakfast places a couple of miles east of the town centre, just in from the beach. We tried the 'Mediterraneo' (though on our return from Malta, the nearby 'CostaIblea' proved a better choice - friendlier and less expensive, with free WiFi). A short walk from either of them is an excellent wood-fired pizzeria, the Capo Horn, where the seafood special was followed by slices of cake 'on the house'. Very welcome after a long day's drive.

26 February 2010    Pozzallo, Sicily to Valletta, Malta

A high-speed ferry to the EU's smallest country: the Mediterranean island of Malta

Introduction: It was our first visit to the island of Malta, strategically poised in the Mediterranean between Sicily and North Africa, and we were surprised at how much we enjoyed our time cycling and exploring around Valletta, the tiny capital of the European Union's smallest member.

The people of Malta are remarkably open and friendly. Their English is excellent although the majority speak their own language, Maltese, derived from long Arabic occupation but using the Latin alphabet and with Catholicism as the predominant religion. This makes for a fascinating and accessible mix of culture, history and architecture.

The currency is now the Euro, prices are comparatively low, the food is good and the winter is superbly mild (with hot dry summers).

Ferry from Sicily: We arrived in Valletta's Grand Harbour by sea at dusk, a wonderful experience. Virtu Ferries high speed passenger/vehicle catamaran, the 'Maria Dolores', runs once or twice a day (see www.virtuferries.com) from Pozzallo on Sicily's south coast. This splendid craft, built in Australia in 2006, covers the 54 miles in just 1.5 hours though it is subject to cancellation or delay in adverse weather.

We booked a '4-day special' return crossing (€69 per person) at the ticket office in Pozzallo and took our bicycles over, leaving the Sprinter van behind on the harbour car park. There was no charge for parking or bicycle carriage. It's important to give a mobile phone number when booking - on the morning of our return we were phoned with the warning that the ferry would leave Valletta at 2 pm rather than 4.30 pm because a north-westerly gale was forecast.

Accommodation: In Pozzallo we found a comfortable little Bed & Breakfast a mile or so east of the town centre, Costa Iblea (www.costaiblea.com), whose helpful owner speaks English and has free WiFi. It's a short walk to an excellent wood-fired pizzeria, Capo Horn, for an evening meal. For campers, there's a somewhat run-down site called King's Reef on the coast road about 3 miles east of Pozzallo, behind a fading restaurant.

In Valletta we stayed at the British Hotel (www.britishhotel.com) on Battery Street, near the Upper Barrakka Gardens, overlooking the Grand Harbour. This family-run establishment 'built by gentlemen for gentlemen' is one of the oldest hotels in Valletta and something of an institution. Our fourth floor room had a bird's eye view from its gallery window of the long flights of steps running behind the hotel - down which we had carried the bikes on arrival. The restaurant offered a panorama over the Grand Harbour: a magnificent backdrop to the buffet breakfast or an evening meal, with a menu including roast pork Sunday dinner.

For campers, there is just one official, well-run campsite in Malta, near the White Tower on Mellieha Bay in the northern corner of the island. (Thanks to our favourite Yorkshireman, Ian Shires, for this info.)

History: Inhabited since ancient times, the island was named Melita by the Romans, who came in 218 BC to a 'fertile abundant land, rich in olive groves, vines and figs'. Malta's Patron Saint Paul, shipwrecked here, brought Christianity in 58 AD. The Arabs made Mdina the island's capital until the Crusades, when Spain finally took control. In 1530 Charles V of Spain made a gift of Malta (along with Tripoli in North Africa) to the Knights of St John, who had been driven out of Rhodes by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent 8 years earlier. Under Grand Master La Valette, the Knights held out for 4 months against the Great Siege of Malta by the Turks in 1565, subsequently building a new capital, Valletta. Even Napoleon occupied the island briefly before it came under British rule.

More recently, Malta's prolonged resistance to Mussolini's bombers and Hitler's Luftwaffe (1940-43), and its crucial role in keeping the Mediterranean open to Allied shipping, greatly facilitated the defeat of Italian and German forces in North Africa and the successful landings of American and British troops on the shores of southern Sicily, causing the immediate surrender of Italy. All this resulted in the award of the George Cross (Britain's highest civilian award) to the whole island.

There are many museums around Valletta covering Archaeology, the Great Siege and WW2; there are sightseeing buses and boat trips (www.visitmalta.com or www.exploremalta.com); or you can visit 'The Malta Experience' and pay for the whole interactive show. With limited time and money, we did none of these.

Our experience: Knowing something of the island's valiant history from a pair of excellent books - Ernle Bradford's 'Siege: Malta 1940-1943' and the same author's 'The Siege of Malta 1565', his translation of the eye-witness account of Francisco Balbi - we wanted to explore Valletta and the perimeter of the Grand Harbour. The bicycles proved excellent for both, though we saw no other cyclists.

Valletta itself - a maze of churches, gardens, squares and tall gallery-windowed houses - was described by Sir Walter Scott in 1831 as 'the splendid town, quite like a dream' and it still leaves a deep impression. We shopped at the Sunday market (for British biscuits and chocolate, or Maltese lace?) and had a picnic on the rocks below Fort St Elmo, built by the Knights of St John in 1552, which played a vital part in the Turkish siege and gave rise to the eponymous Fire.

We were invited into the Roman Catholic cathedral by an elderly and kindly caretaker, who talked about the War when his wife was killed in the bombardment. We were welcomed into St Andrew's Church of Scotland to take coffee with the organist and his wife, Ann & Victor Downing, a couple who met in Malta 50 years ago (she navy, he army) and had chosen to return in retirement. As Victor came from Margaret's native Blackpool, there was much reminiscing!

On a 25-mile ride we cycled to the foot of the Grand Harbour through the old wharves (beware stray dogs!), then up through the '3 towns' of Cospicula, Senglea and Vittoriosa to Kalkara. Here Fort Rinella, built in 1878 to protect the British sea route to India, is home to the world's largest cannon: a 100-ton Armstrong gun which could send a one-ton shell for 8 miles.

During a lunch break in the gardens at Senglea, watching (and hearing) the noon-day gun fired from the Saluting Battery straight across the waters of the harbour, we learnt more history from a delightful 82-year-old English resident. A lifelong yachtswoman, she now lives in Senglea and still rides a 125 cc motorbike - the very essence of a Memsahib! The old dockyards and creeks stood in stark contrast to a new marina, but even at the upmarket Regatta Bar we only paid €0.70 each for a coffee.

Conclusion: Having discovered the charm of Valletta, we certainly hope to return to explore the remainder of Malta and the nearby islet of Gozo. Above all, we shall remember the warmth of everyone we met. Even a horse-drawn carriage driver, who knew we had our own transport saddled and ready, took time to talk us through our proposed route and his life story. Had the Germans succeeded in 1943, he was sure that all the Maltese would have been exterminated.

The final words come from a friend and colleague of Barry's, Ian Farrington, who has many happy memories of Valletta. His father was in the Royal Navy between the wars, on destroyers in the Mediterranean fleet, spending much shore time in Malta:

From my dad's reminiscences: 'Hello Jack; British Navy, best Navy in England; Queen Victoria, jolly fine bloke; come inside, singing and dancing sixpence a bottle.' I have had middle-aged Maltese coming up to me with tears in their eyes begging me to use my influence (?!) to make Malta a colony again.”

SICILY – POZZALLO TO TRAPANI (between two ferries)

Margaret and Barry Williamson - March 2010

We had toured Sicily by motorhome many years ago (Easter 1998). Now we had returned to the island to take ferries to Malta (from Pozzallo on the south coast) and to Tunisia (from Trapani on the west coast). We intended to complete the circuit of Sicily on our return from Tunisia but in the event the ferry from Tunis sailed straight back to Civitavecchia, near Rome.

Pozzallo

We arrived with our bicycles from Valletta on Virtu Ferries high speed passenger/vehicle catamaran, the 'Maria Dolores' (see www.virtuferries.com) after a '4-day special' in Malta. It was late afternoon when we collected the Sprinter van from Pozzallo harbour's free car park and returned to the little Bed & Breakfast a mile or so east of the town centre - Costa Iblea (www.costaiblea.com), on Stockholm Street off Berlin Street - where we'd stayed before going to Malta. Again we made good use of the free WiFi as we found no internet places open in Pozzallo itself.

Modica

Driving north from Pozzallo and climbing to over 2,000 ft, we reached the proud Baroque city of Modica tucked into the Monti Iblei hills. The main road passes high above the town on two of Europe's highest bridges but we drove through the city centre to admire the majestic architecture along Il Corso, the main street. The Church of San Giorgio (like much else) was built after the earthquake of 1693, with a fine façade and a flight of 250 steps.

Ragusa

Continuing north-west we reached Ragusa, another Baroque gem partly rebuilt after 1693, situated on a plateau between two ravines. We found a free car park at the bottom of the medieval area (Ragusa Ibla), a warren of steep streets and steps on the hillside to the east of the modern town. Wandering through the maze of buildings clustered round the pink stone 18th C Church of San Giorgio on Piazza del Duomo on a sunny afternoon, we came across several information boards describing well-known films shot against this historic backdrop. A lovely setting for our picnic lunch.

Punta Braccetto, nr Punta Secca - Campings Scarabeo & Luminosa

From Ragusa we headed south-west to Marina di Ragusa, where the Tourist Office in the Town Hall was closed due to 'staff problems'. We turned along the coast towards Gela in search of accommodation, across an agricultural plain with acres of polytunnels ripening cherry tomatoes. The low-key seaside developments were mainly holiday flats or second homes, still closed up for winter.

At Punta Braccetto two year-round campsites with modern facilities sit side by side along the beach: Camping Scarabeo and Camping Luminosa. Scarabeo also has some self-contained bungalows, so here we stayed for 2 nights. The washing machine was a great treat, as was a mobile ice cream van visiting both sites.

From Punta Braccetto we cycled east along the coast, with a good westerly behind us, via Punta Secca and Marina di Ragusa to Donnalucata. After a beach picnic we returned more slowly, riding into a head wind. At Punta Secca there is a lighthouse and a simple memorial erected in 2003 on the 60th anniversary of the landing of Anglo-American troops in the bay.

Gela

Modern Gela, 27 miles NW along the coast from Punta Braccetto, is an industrial town with oil pipelines and (we were warned) Mafia! US troops also landed here in 1943 but the town's history dates from 688 BC, when it was founded by Greeks from Rhodes and Crete. A section of ancient Greek sea-wall remains and there were signs of an acropolis but the town was in urgent need of traffic bypass surgery.

Agrigento– Campings Internazionale & Nettuno, San Leone

Continuing NW from Gela for 45 miles, on the narrow main road E931 across the fertile Plain of Gela (vines, grains and polytunnels galore), we halted at the stunning sight of the Greek temples of Agrigento, set along a ridge facing the sea: the Colle dei Templi. Signs lead to the car park (€5 for camper vans – or indeed anything larger than a car), from where we walked along the Sacred Way in the gathering wind and rain. Admission to the whole site is free for over-65's, while younger visitors pay €8 (+ €2 extra for the museum).

There are the remains of no less than nine temples built in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, the most substantial being the Temples of Hercules, Concord (which was converted into a Christian cathedral) and Juno. The extensive paleo-Christian necropolis on the ridge was a surprise, with many tombs cut in the soft tufa rock, using the underground ancient Greek cistern as catacombs.

In a second area, across the road and near the museum, the Temple of Jupiter lies in ruins. This was one of the largest in the ancient world, with 66 ft high columns in between which stood the astonishing male stone figures, the 'Telemones'. One of these 25 ft giants can be seen in the museum, with a replica laid outside on the ground. As we left the site, soaked through, a couple of enterprising lads had set themselves up selling umbrellas at the entrance – too late!

The nearest campsites are at San Leone, on the coast 7 miles from Agrigento. Camping Internazionale is open all year and had damp depressing 'bungalows' at €60 per night (without linen). Camping Nettuno, a little further south, was closed for camping but it had much better (and cheaper) 2-bedroom apartments available, with sea view, linen and towels. A good place to dry out.

Selinunte – Campings Maggiolini & Athena

Keeping NW along the coast from Agrigento, past the industrial port of Empedocle, we paused after 10 miles at the excavated foundations of a Roman villa. Sadly it had been covered with a tin roof, fenced round with wire and abandoned to become overgrown. A little further west at Punta Grande the chalk-white stepped cliff is known as the 'Scala dei Turchi' (Turkish staircase). We walked down and along Majarate Beach to take photographs and watch the fishing fleet trawling.

We still followed road E931 NW, turning inland after Sciacca. Shortly before Castelvetrano, a minor road led south to Selinunte, another Ancient Greek site on the coast.  The gates to Camping Maggiolini, where we had camped 12 years ago, were locked but the next campsite we passed, Athena, was open. Four motorhomes (Italian and German) were in residence and there were simple en-suite rooms above the restaurant.

Next morning we revisited the stunning archaeological park at Selinunte: entry tickets €6 (or free for over-65's). It's a huge site in two parts, each with a free car park. You can pay extra to be driven round the whole thing on a guided tour, or (as we did) explore one part on foot, then drive yourself to the second car park to visit the rest.

At the main site, it's splendid to be able to scramble among the impressive tumbled stones and columns of a fallen temple, alongside a proudly standing one. At the second site, as well as another Greek temple, there are the fortifications, walls and foundations of the acropolis and settlement – originally Greek, then Punic (it fell to the Carthaginians in 409 BC) and finally taken by the Romans in 250 BC.

Cava di Cusa Quarry, nr Campobello di Mazara

Heading west to Campobello di Mazara, we searched out the amazing and little-known ancient Greek stone quarry. This was the source of the stone for Selinunte's temples, abandoned in haste when the Carthaginians came.

Look for signs to the 'Cava di Cusa', at the end of a country lane, where you can park and wander freely among the yellow tambours quarried from the tufa stone in the 5th century BC. Imagine cutting these column drums, then rolling them on logs, pulled by oxen and slaves for over 10 miles to Selinunte. And imagine the panic when the work ceased!

TrapaniMotel Salini, Nubia

From Campobello, our road reached Marsala (Sicily's westernmost point, famous for its sweet fortified wine) before turning north to Trapani. This sheltered port, with a view of the Egadi Islands, is overlooked by the unforgettable sight of Erice - an ancient town clustered within its walls on the steep summit of a mountain rising 2,500 ft above the coast.

At Nubia, about 5 miles south of Trapani, there is an interesting stretch of coastal saline pans, complete with little windmills (once used to grind the salt) and a saline museum. There is also an excellent motel, 'Le Saline', less than 4 miles from Trapani (www.lesalinehotel.com). As well as rooms, a café, free WiFi and a petrol station, the motel has a safe overnight parking area for motorhomes (a 'sosta'), its price dependent on whether the water, waste and hook-up facilities are used. It even has its own toilet and shower block for an extra fee. We stayed here before taking the Grimaldi Lines ferry to Tunisia next morning. 

For the continuation of this journey, click: Tour of Tunisia 2010 and Greece to the UK via the Balkans 2010