A Driving Tour into the Nebrodi Mountains and Snapping Some Locals in Montalbano

Sicily’s scenic beauty continues to amaze me. Yesterday’s excursion by train to the medieval town of Cefalu was just one more example of the stunning urban and rural beauty that this Mediterranean island has to offer. I walked downstairs from my comfortable room in the five-bedroom student apartment to the offices of Laboratorio Linguistico, the Italian language school that provides the rather unusual yet fabulous opportunity to learn Italian on a sailboat. Just last week I had sailed together with six other people through the gorgeous Eolian Islands and studied Italian, just off the coast of Sicily.

Francesca and Sonia from Laboratorio Linguistico

At the school’s office I met Francesca, the wife of one of the co-owners, who also handles student affairs and logistics, as well as Sonia, a young lady from Switzerland, who handles administrative support for the school. Franco Zodda, the other co-owner of the school, was also there and showed me around the premises. I witnessed a three-person Italian class, saw several classrooms, a lunchroom, and the computer facilities which provide free Internet access to the international language students. Everything was very well organized and the staff is extremely friendly. After exchanging my photos with Francesca I headed off to the supermarket to buy some basic provisions to make myself a lunch.

An Italian lesson is in progress

Back at the apartment I met another international language students: Trevor is a 19-year old high school graduate from Cleveland, Ohio, whose great-grandparents emigrated from Sicily, to be more exact, from the Palermo area. Trevor mentioned that he graduated from high school last year and worked the whole year in order to save enough money to go on a seven-month language study trip to learn the language of his forefathers. He was a very well-mannered personable young man who really wanted to learn about the culture of his ancestors. Naturally he was also a bit nervous since he was traveling for the first time away from home, so he asked me basic questions about how the supermarkets work and similar practicalities. I was very touched by this young man’s desire to connect with his roots.

Laundry day in Milazzo

My next adventure awaited me at 3 pm: I was invited to go on a local country excursion with Francesco di Santi and Franco Zodda, the two co-owners of Laboratorio Linguistico. Both gentlemen have a language teaching background, and in addition Francesco is a licensed captain, so he runs the language study trips on the sailboat, now in hindsight a truly unforgettable experience.

A driving tour with Francesco and Franco

The two Francescos packed me into their car and we started driving past the outskirts of Milazzo into the winding roads of the Nebrodi Mountains. I had already had a chance to discover the interior of Sicily a bit about two weeks earlier during my driving tour around Mount Etna and found that Sicily’s countryside is extremely beautiful.

View over Tindari towards Vulcano

We drove about an hour into the mountains and arrived in an area above the tree line that featured a variety of strange sandstone formations. To me the Rocks of Agrimusco had a natural Stonehenge quality, and they have indeed been used for centuries, maybe even millennia, as places for ritual celebrations.

The Rocks of Agrimusco

The view from this area was astounding: a 360 degree panorama unfolded that included the Eolian Islands in the north, the continuous mountain chain of the Nebrodi and Peloritani Mountains, running east-west on the north-side of Sicily, and straight south we were looking at the imposing cone of Mount Etna, Europe’s largest volcano. In one word, a magical, enchanting environment.

Surreal formations

Some of the rocks reminded me of paintings by Salvador Dali, and Francesco pointed out some large, perfectly round inclusions in the rock that looked as if cannon balls had melted into the sandstone. Having grown up in Austria myself, I found myself continuously reminded of the Alps in my birth country and was blown away by the picturesque quality of this island. I commented that Sicily is just totally predestined for unconventional tourism and perfect for hiking, biking, horseback riding and other nature pursuits.

Is that a cannon ball embedded in the rock?

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