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The sea beyond the strait

A trip along the Sicilian coast, from Messina to Cefalù

The sea beyond the strait

For those arriving from the Italian main land, Messina is the first place they will see; the native city of Antonello, considered to be one of the greatest masters of 15th century Italian painting. In the Peloritano Museum, his San Gregorio Polyptic is conserved. Among the other works housed in the museum, one also finds the 'Adoration of the Shepherds' and the 'Resurrection of Lazarus' by Caravaggio, and the 'Scylla' by the sculptor, Giovanni Montorsoli.

From Messina to Palermo the coast is a succession of fascinating seaside villages and indeed, it is the sea the common denominator of this, an itinerary along one of the most beautiful stretches of Sicilian coastline. Once beyond Capo di Milazzo, the first section is covered by foot along the Tindari promontory, where to admire the salt lakes of Marinello and the landscape which provided the inspiration for Andrea Camilleri's 'Trip to Tindari'; one of the author's most successful novels recounting the adventures of his Inspector Montalbano.
Archaeology enthusiasts, should not miss the ancient ruins of Tyndaris; one of the last Greek settlements to have been founded in Sicily.

Continuing in the direction of Palermo, one soon arrives at Capo d'Orlando. Stretching out in to the Tyrrhenian sea its name derives from the legend which sees the great Orlando stopping off here on his return from a mission in Palestine. The sanctuary and the ruins of the Orlando Castle, perched right on the edge of promontory, are well worth visiting, as is the ancient fishing village of San Gregorio.

After a few kilometres one reaches S.Agata di Militello with its fabulous beach. Here, twice a year (14th and 15th of April and 14th and 15th of November) a historic cattle fair is held. Once upon a time, horses, bulls, oxen, pigs, sheep, and goats were brought here from every corner of the Nebrodi district to a market which almost entirely covered the beach. Today, the fair is organised in the proximity of the Inganno torrent, but the sight of the animals which, for the occasion, are adorned with bells and elaborate harnesses is, nevertheless, spectacular. S. Agata constitutes the ideal departure point for those wishing to visit the Aeolian islands.

For travellers interested in traditional craftwork, nearby Santo Stefano di Camastra is an absolute must. Famous for its ceramic art, the town's center is full of shops selling artefacts made from the local ceramic, showrooms, and artists' studios: the perfect place where to purchase a souvenir or two. Even without its glorious seaside location and magnificent Cathedral, Cefalu' would be well worthy of a visit only so as to be able to admire the many masterpieces of Antonello da Messina which are housed in the city's Mandralisca Museum. Here one can observe the 'portrait of unknown man'; the painting which inspired Vincenzo Consolo to write his 'Smile of the unknown mariner'. The cathedral dominating the main square is embellished with splendid mosaics.

For those who can't resist the opportunity to bathe in the Mediterranean sun, once on the 113 highway to Palermo the succession of bays, rocky outcrops, and pebbly beaches caressed by wonderfully clear waters, is endless: Capo Playa, Mezzoforno, la Caldura, S.Ambrogio; the choice is yours. At this stage we leave the coast and turn inland where to delve into the enchanting landscape of the Madonie. Castelbuono, Polizzi Generosa, Petralia Sottana, and Petralia Soprana are all places worthy of a visit. On these roads and between these little towns the thrilling Targa Florio was held, a spectacular car race which over the years attracted some of the world's most famous racing drivers: from Tazio Nuvolari to Arturo Merzario, Stirling Moss, Piero Taruffi, Colin Davis and many other great sportsmen.

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