An unexpected detour turns out to be a slice of heaven.
It’s late morning. With a “pshh” from the air brakes and a puff of engine oil, the bus slowly rolled into motion as we pulled out of the Catania bus terminale. It took but a few minutes to reach Autostrada 18 southbound towards Pozzallo, a place we hadn’t even heard about that was proving to be a required detour. But that’s where we needed to be to hop the ferry to Malta at 9 this evening. Travelling distance from Catania to Pozzallo by road is roughly 120kms. Of course, this being the bus, it stopped at many towns and settlements along the way, the largest being Siracusa. You can still see Mount Etna in the distance from here.
As it often is on a bus, passenger conversation was animated early on as people pulled out drinks and sandwiches and settled in. When not looking out the window, Dianne and I read up about Pozzallo in our travel guide – seriously, we’re going to Pozzallo? The further south we went, the deeper in Sicily we were. The further away from home, I felt. I was ok with that. The Mediterranean, blue as ever, was to our left while the rolling hills of Sicily kept us company on the right. The scenery was arid, I don’t think it had rained in weeks. Countless side roads and dirt roads each no doubt leading to a farm or a fabulous lookout in the hills kept me dreaming about what might be out there. So many roads and I wanted to take them all. I could sense a special laid-back atmosphere here in the Sicilian sun. With the rhythm of the road, the bus eventually quieted down as travelers closed their eyes or stared at their phones.
By early afternoon, we had reached our destination. Pozzallo, Italy. About as far south as you can go in Sicily without falling into the Mediterranean Sea. We were dropped off somewhere along Corso Vittorio Veneto. We had absolutely no clue where we were. The street was deserted in the hot afternoon sun. It must be siesta time. We could see the Mediterranean two blocks away, so that’s where we headed. Perhaps we can glimpse the porto from there – first thing we needed to find were ferry tickets. From a boardwalk jutting out into the ocean we couldn’t see the port, but to the north the most amazing beach stretched for miles around the bay. A postcard beach with white sand, turquoise waters, and countless loungers for tourists to fall asleep on. On this particular Tuesday afternoon, there didn’t seem to be anyone soaking up the sun. It didn’t appear the port was in that direction, so we walked south following the ocean along via Enrico Giunta then via Raganzino. We walked through a huge. empty beachside piazza and reached the end of the street on a sandy point. Looking out at the ocean we could now see the porto. It had to be 2 or 3 kms from where we stood.
Doubling back to get to the road that led there, we soaked in the sand-coloured architecture, appreciating the shade these narrow streets provided us. With so few people about, it felt like a ghost town. We were accosted by a short plump sweaty man in red shorts and a tank top. He had noticed the Canadian flags on our backpacks and was up for an informal game of 20 questions with the travelers in his neighbourhood. Learning where we were headed, Francesco offered us a ride to the ferry in his tiny car. We graciously accepted. The idea of walking all the way there wasn’t so appealing in this heat – even if it was along the beach. With the windows rolled down and breathing in the salty air, we headed to the port only to find that the ticket office opened at 7 tonight. So Francesco took us back to town and gave us a bit of a tour. Pozzallo is actually Comune di Pozallo. It’s not a village or a town but rather, a commune. Mind you, a commune of maybe 15 000 people. Four beaches here have received a Blue Flag Award, which takes into consideration environmental management, water quality and things like that. I wasn’t surprised. The beaches were so pristine, so white, so clean and so perfect. I could see myself spending the night under the stars, sleeping by a fire.
We were hungry so Francesco dropped us off at his favorite restaurant. After trading email addresses, he went on his way leaving us to our own designs. The restaurant wasn’t quite what we were looking for. It appeared rather swanky, and we were dirty and looked like hell. So we headed towards where we had come from, via Enrico Giunco. Here we found the Cafe Valata. A small cafe with no indoor seating and a fairly large deck, 10 feet from the Mediterranean. Like the town, the cafe was empty at this time of day. We found a table in the shade of an umbrella and ordered drinks. Diet Coke for Dianne, birra for me. I still couldn’t get over the fact that a beer was half the price of a Coke everywhere we went. Our drinks were icy and refreshing and we had several more as we killed off the afternoon. It was just too hot to do anything but kick off our shoes and enjoy the light breeze, the salty ocean air cleansing us. We replenished our fluids and ordered salads and breadsticks for a mid-afternoon lunch. Cold, crispy, delicious. Just what we needed. I could have stayed here forever. This was my blue heaven.
Our server was one of 3 brothers who own this piece of paradise. Luca and was in his late 20s or so, he was quite nice and wanted to know all about us and our travels. As was often the case, we communicated in 2 different languages. He mostly in Italian, and us mostly in English. In between drinks, Dianne and i would wander down barefoot to the water – literally just feet away – to soak our achy feet and legs. The ocean was as warm as a bath. It was over 40 degrees Celcius that June afternoon (roughly 112F). I wished i had another pair of shorts as i really needed a bath or a swim at this point. When the bill came i was shocked. We asked Luca if he was sure he added everything properly. It added up to 35 Euros for both of us. We sat here for probably 4 hours eating and drinking, being merry and making friends for less than 50 dollars. Luca must have bought us several drinks. The best afternoon in my life? This was probably it, all things considered.
By the time we left Cafe Valata i was feeling no pain. We needed to meander down to the ferry terminal to continue our journey. Off we went with our heavy packs, again down via Raganzino and the beachside piazza. Earlier, it was empty. Now however, a crowded outdoor mall had sprouted. You could find almost anything from shoes to furniture to food to books and cd’s. It was apparent once the sun started fading, Sicilians stepped out. I picked up a bracelet for a couple of Euros as a memento of this awesome little commune. We took frequent breaks walking the path along the water to the ferry’s ticket office. The afternoon beer buzz was wearing off. I was getting sleepy. It seemed to take us forever to get there. Now there was all kinds of activity at the ferry terminal too. Dozens of cars waiting to board and a long lineup of pedestrians. We waiting an hour for the ticket office to open, which gave us plenty of time to appreciate just how huge the ferry was. In fact, it wasn’t a ferry at all, it was a catamaran.
Pozzallo had been an unexpected but really incredible day. Sometimes, the unexpected is definitely a good thing. Before long, we were on the catamaran to Malta, half dozing while watching Nanny McPhee on the big screen, dreaming we’ll have the opportunity to come back and spend more time here in this little gem of a commune. After all, we certainly owe Luca a beer.
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Dianne & Mike