Dave the motorhome is on the edge, perched on a ledge in Enna (N37.56060 E14.27164), with a view over half of the island. We’re 1000m up in the air, and it’s getting cold. Ju’s hiding under a blanket. Hang on a mo while I go fire up the gas heating. OK, here comes the heat, puffing out from beneath the benches.
The car park at the Villa Romana del Casale emptied out by 8pm and we had the place to ourselves for the evening. I’d taken Charlie for a walk earlier, avoiding a shepherd and his flock as, despite Charlie’s diminutive stature, he goes insane at the sight of sheep. A single wild dog spied us and made cautious tracks in our direction; the act of picking up a stone halted said tracks and there were no dogs around our sleeping place. As a dog lover, I feel for these discarded animals; over the past couple of days we’ve seen four of them dead, and I’m certain there are no funds in ailing Sicily for a dog catcher.
The road out from the villa took us back into Piazza Armerina, at which point we bottled it. Half way into the town on a steep-ish block lava road a ‘no entry’ sign had us swinging Dave to the side of the road and our jaws open. Erm? There is no other way through? We waited. A couple of locals drove straight past the sign and up the first gear track to the left. We followed. Nearing the white-slashed red circle a smaller white rectangle underneath told us it’s only blocked on market day, which wasn’t today. Dave hauled himself up the slope, feeling light at the front on the switchbacks as my hands involuntarily gripped tighter until we opened onto a large space at the top; the market place which surrounded the football pitch. Although dilapidated, the bumbling beige hill town, topped with an imposing duomo, was a treat to see from a distance.
Finding ourselves on the S117 we laughed and sang, a beautiful wide smooth red road, all but empty mid-morning on a Sunday in January. Even turning off onto the yellow S561, I hardly had cause for a single involuntarily spat out expletive as Dave failed to find his front teeth (wheels) being battered by the Sicilian roads. I couldn’t help but snort indignation at the rumble-strips here; they’re madness, as felt as a waft of breeze compared with the usually-incessant crashing about as you drive squint-eyed with mechanical sympathy.
A bit of research yesterday had thrown up the unexpected: we were with sniffing distance of a Formula 1 track. Kind of. The Autodromo di Pergusa isn’t marked on our map, only the lake which it surrounds (the only natural lake in Sicily – the rest are dams). It hosted a few non-championship F1 races, labelled the Mediterranean Grand Prix in the 1960’s; John Surtees won the 1963 one. Driving into the car park just off our route we found locals walking, cycling and running around the track. We parked up and joined them, fooling around on the start-finish grid with the odd coach of tourists peering out from the road which circumnavigates the track.
Back en-route, we cruised along until Enna popped up. Dubbed Sicily’s navel (due to its central position), and belvedere (we’ll come onto that one), its spent much of its length history as a fortress. A pretty much impregnable one, mainly falling to various waves of the island’s conquerors through traitors handing it over. One bunch of desperadoes apparently got in by crawling up a sewer one by one. During Rome’s ‘mine is bigger than yours’ wars with Carthage, the Roman commander here got wind of the locals leaning towards defecting to the African side, so rounded them up in the town and had them all killed. I doubt these guys love Rome any more now than they did then.
Approaching the massive hill, we felt something many of the attackers must have felt. It looks quite big, steep, nasty. Should we bother? We ventured on, the road eating the elephant, grabbing a few meters here and there by swinging back and forth. Although easily wide enough for Dave and oncoming traffic, we both leaned forwards in expectation of becoming stuck somewhere. Nope, we topped out and found this free, level parking space, you beauty!
About 1pm, on a Sunday, in January, is just about the deadest time to arrive in a Sicilian town. As we searched out the duomo and the castle, the place felt like a film set, one on which everyone’s been sacked. With no open shops or bustling people and traffic, my eyes turned to look at the place itself. It is, without sparing words, a dump. Every building is splattered with graffiti, the talentless taggers having wandered the place at will and sprayed our their pointless signatures onto everything. The architecture is of the ‘fill this box with concrete’ variety. Everything else is vandalised, closed down or just crumbling away naturally. The duomo and castle were both shut, as was tourist information.
The saving grace for the place, as was probably ever the case, is its position. Wherever you reach the edge of the town, ignoring what’s behind you, the views out over what seems the entire island are incredible. The weather was kind, Etna was easily visible, the autostrada strutting off towards it, stalking the lumpy green sea below us on tall stilts. To the north Calasibetta crowds off another hilltop, looking stunning. In my humble opinion (and it is just that), Enna is eminently worth missing, but the vista from up here has held us for the night, and I can hardly wait to wake up in the morning for the other-world feel of standing in our doorway worshipping it.