Italy Day 9 – Santo Stefano di Camastra and Pollina

On my previous trip to Sicily, I happened upon the town of Santo Sefano di Camastra. It was difficult to miss, it was on the main road heading towards Palermo and along every street in town there were dozens of shops selling locally made ceramics. Today we returned.

As we exited the new autostrada, I saw a building surrounded by gigantic pots. I pulled into the parking lot. Kathy and I spent time looking at the gorgeous, intricate, behemoth vases. We walked into the store expecting to see smaller versions of the vases outside. Instead, we found the Sicilian version of a Dollar Store. Exploring further outside we found a small portion of the ceramics factory—pallets of clay and undecorated plates, vases, and pitchers.

In town, the number of ceramic shops has multiplied. Many of the stores had similar pieces, decorated in traditional patterns, but there were also shops selling contemporary work with unusual shapes and designs. No matter traditional or contemporary, heads of the Arab King and Sicilian Queen, found their way onto the shelves. There were tiny versions and ones that would dominate any space. The faces, expressions, decorations, and bases varied enormously—they were all one-of-a-kind pieces. I got fixated on taking photos of them—I’ll do an entry about the King and Queen when I’m home.

After exploring several shops, and making some small purchases, we found a café overlooking the seaside. We were surrounded by locals drinking beer and wine, playing cards, loudly talking, and laughing. There were no other tourists. Santo Stefano di Camastro used to be on the main road, but the autostrada now zips along a kilometer or so from town. There is no mention of the town in Rick Steves guide to Sicily or, I suspect, in any other guide. The whole time we were there we only came across one other group of foreign tourists. They were a large group of Americans eating lunch, surrounding a frail, elderly grandma. We guessed she lived in town, and they’d come to visit.

The view of the shoreline is from a terrace high above the water that afforded a sweeping panorama. Next to the terrace was a park dedicated to ceramics. All along the perimeter were tiles illustrating aspects of the ceramic making process.

We visited several more shops, bought a few more small pieces, though really, I wanted a large platter. But that would be far too difficult to carry home and too expensive to ship. Tired from looking, we stopped at another café for cappuccino and cannolo.

Fortified we set off to Pollina, a village high in the mountains. A helpful woman in the Cefalu tourist office had suggested it as a beautiful drive with lovely views.

Driving along the shore on the old road, we hugged the water and saw gorgeous scenery. There were very few cars, most people go on the autostrada. We passed through several small towns before turning into the mountains. What the tourist office hadn’t told us was that the road is steep and winding, with one switchback after another and infrequent places to pull over to take photos. I was glad our car was automatic and powerful; I can easily imagine not being able to navigate the road. As we climbed higher the sky got darker.

When I finally pulled into a parking spot there were four kids playing in the tiny town square. They seemed like a mischievous pack. Mostly though, they wanted to practice their sparse knowledge of English. The two boys were happy to pose, the girls dashed away.

On the way down it began to rain, gentle at first, then steadily. The clouds shimmered with the sun peeking through. When the sun finally pushed through the rain, we looked for a rainbow. Sure enough, there was a huge arch across a valley between the mountains. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a photo of it, but the memory will stay with both of us.

We arrived back at our villa safely. Shortly after, we heard a loud boom and a thunderstorm with drenching rain descended. Between bursts of heavy downpours, we walked to the resort’s restaurant. It wasn’t the same experience as eating outside with its magical views, but the food was delicious.