Sicily – forget about it

A trip to Sicily has been on the back burner for quite a while and here I am, at last.

The Mediterranean’s largest island has been high on my list of places to visit, not least because of the combined attractions of wonderful food and wine, a vast wealth of history and a sun-drenched landscape that is clearly spectacular in parts. But despite all that and as well as it being the archetypal holiday destination I’ve tended to put off visiting for a couple of reasons. First, the locals have done a pretty good job over the past 2500 years in eradicating the native vegetation and, second, they shoot anything with feathers that’s not a hat or a bedspread. I know there are worse places – Sicily’s not as bad as Malta, for example – but when considering the undoubted delights that I’d find here I’d struggled with the notion of developing a lasting affection for a land bereft of birdsong and comprising nothing but olive groves, vineyards and endless rows of cultivation. For someone who finds equal joy in an unsullied natural environment as he does immersion in a cornucopia of culinary and cultural abundance this would present, you’d appreciate, something of a dilemma.

The excellent Andrea Corso helped on the birding front. As the foremost expert of everything that is birds or birding in Sicily he was the man to call and duly provided both reassurance and guidance on where I should visit and, perhaps more importantly given my fear of being seduced by the gods of a land that played host to tourisme de masse, where to avoid. It was disappointing that he would be off the island while I was there.

I didn’t have to be in Sicily for long before feeling the first, subtle headiness of intoxication; I was captivated right from the caffè and cornetto at Palermo airport. There are birds – not a lot, but some and worth travelling for, too – and there are a few areas of native scrub and woodland – again, not a lot – that remain more or less as they were when the Greeks first settled here around 750 BC. And in-between, the vast, cultivated landscape is bespeckled with towns on precipitous cliffs, evocative vistas disappearing into heat-haze, breathtaking Baroque extravagance, awful road surfaces and scruffy, litter-strewn villages.

And then there’s the food and wine – enough to make even the most reluctant suitor submit.

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About Barrowboy

Architect, artist, writer, conservationist, birder, traveller and bon vivant.
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6 Responses to Sicily – forget about it

  1. Very nicely written.
    I have moaned about the lack of birds here any times, but I did actually go for a walk in our local nature reserve this summer and see 3 hoopoes, about five feet from, me in the space of five minutes. I’d never managed to see one of them in England.

    • Barrowboy says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Veronica. I only managed a little birding as I was with friends who didn’t share my interest but I did record over 100 species and expect that a concerted effort would have got a lot more. I still couldn’t get used to waking up and not hearing even a sparrow chirping. That aside, I still found the place fascinating.

      • 100 species? Good Lord, I haven’t come anywhere near that in 8 years here, not even if I include all the birds I’ve seen in the Palermo Bird Zoo at Villa D’Orleans!!!

      • Barrowboy says:

        Hello again, Veronica. There are some organised trips to Sicily, mostly in spring, just for the purpose of birding. A concentrated search by a dedicated group during migration would see well over a hundred species. Problem is the cultivated areas and ‘Saturday morning’ disturbance tend to make the birds a bit thin on the ground.

      • And I fear the situation is going to get worse, because there is less and less wild land here every year. They keep building houses everywhere…

      • Barrowboy says:

        I share your concern; all we can do is encourage those like Andrea Corso and the WWF activists who showed me around Lago della Priola [I will write about these guys shortly] to hold the fort while they can. I fear that in Sicily, however, there is not much that can be done.

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