Sunday, December 2, 2007

Petralia Soprana

Some things just have to be done. There are places that are just darned inconvenient to get to by bus. One of those places is Petralia Soprana. Petralia Soprano and her twin sister down the mountain, Petralia Sottana, are located right on the edge of the Madonie mountain range and a state park. I thought it would be good to give it a visit since my great grandfather was born there. Richard, an optimal travel companion, was amenable to an adventure to the remote interior of Sicily and happily shot photo after photo to record the experience.

First, we needed a car.

When I saw the Smart Fortwo on the list of cars I could rent, I snapped it up. We'd been seeing them around and had been curious about what they were like, so I thought I'd get some hands one experience with one. This blog post isn't about the Smart, though. Let's just say, yes, it's really tiny. It doesn't have much acceleration, but the gas mileage is damn good, it goes fast enough, and it doesn't complain at all about climbing and descending steep mountain roads.

The terrain south of Catania is a vast, rich fertile plain full of citrus and olive orchards.

As you travel west the terrain becomes hillier and more barren.

As you're getting close to the Petralie (there are two of them), you see the edge of the Madonie mountain range.

Then you see Petralia Sottana, the lower of the two Petralie.

To get to Petralia Soprana, you first drive through Petralia Sottana and then past the entrance to a state park.

What we found when we got there is a tiny medieval town on top of a mountain. At one end you can walk out of the city through the castle, now a church, onto a ridge with a nice view of the countryside.

First things first, though, we needed some lunch. There seemed to be one trattoria in town, so we decided to give it a shot. As we would learn from talking to Salvatore, da Salvatore is listed in both the Slow Food and Gambero Rosso guides. For lunch there were a handful of locals and then Richard and I. Before we left we had said at least a few words to just about everyone in the place. As it turns out, every single person we encountered in this tiny town was incredibly nice and friendly. I don't know if I've ever been to such a friendly town. As far as the food goes, we had some pasta that was just fine but didn't knock my socks off--ziti in a spicy tomato sauce with olives and capers. The best part of the meal was actually the appetizer, the antipasto rustico, which for uninteresting reasons we ate after the pasta. It was a mix of a bunch of different things, mostly all gathered, grown or produced in the immediate vicinity. Several different varietys of mushrooms, a few different cheeses, some salame piccante, pickled onions (sounds terrible, tastes wonderful), zucchine, etc. It was very fresh, simple and, well, rustic. More or less what people have been eating there for centuries.

We talked to Salvatore a bit. Apparently I'm not the first American to go there to see where my ancestors are from. In fact, Salvatore pulled out a binder filled with business cards from Americans who'd come to Petralia Soprana because their ancestors are from there. I was just one of many. Salvatore showed us some literature about Petralia Soprana and directed us to a newspaper stand and a tourist office where we could get some phamplets. Both of these were still closed at 4:45 when we left. Oh well.

After lunch we did a little more exploring of the town. There's not muc to it, so it didn't take very long to see. It's a pretty town, though. Founded in 1300 or so, it still retains the feel of a medieval town.

After our brief, pleasant stay in Petralia Soprana we made a quick run over to Caltagirone on the way home.

Then we ate sandwhiches and went home. We managed to drive all over Sicily in a tiny toy of a car without incident (except getting mad at road signs). Success!