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Sicily

From Realmonte to Piazza Armerina. On the saddle from the sea to the inland rich in art and history

To roll along this itinerary means to skim super fine sand beaches, perfectly preserved castles, baroque masterpieces of the Baroque and Roman Empire. So, beware: the temptation to stop pedalling and experience it only as tourists will be very strong.

A good 171 kilometres, with 2,530 metres of total elevation gain – this is the identikit of the third stage of the Giro di Sicilia Eolo 2022, a route that from the fine sandstone of the southern coast plunges into an inland that smells of almonds and olives. But there is much more to find out along this route, especially for lovers of history and art. Here, then, are the main attractions for those who want to retrace the exploits of the pro riders and at the same time also enjoy the beauty of the surroundings.

1. Realmonte and Porto Empedocle: nature & legend

Aerial view of Scala dei Turchi white rocky cliff and of the turquoise sea below

The start is in Realmonte, in the province of Agrigento. To those who do not know southern Sicily, it might seem un unknown dot on the map. In fact, at just 3 kilometres away, a natural landmark is envied by the whole world: the Scala dei Turchi. It is a rocky cliff formed of marl, a sedimentary limestone and clay formation, in the shape of a white staircase in contrast with the blue sea. Legend has it that, in the 16th century, it was stormed by Saracen pirates (improperly called “Turks”), who easily reached the mainland by climbing the natural steps formed by the waves and the wind. Since February 2020, due to the risk of landslides, it has been a protected area, which can only be admired from the beach below. But the days of the ban on access seem to be numbered. The authorities are working to reopen this natural amphitheatre of extraordinary beauty to tourists as soon as possible. Ride for few kilometres along the coast and you reach Porto Empedocle, the birthplace of Andrea Camilleri, the creative ‘father’ of Commissario Montalbano. Some of the detective’s adventures were set here, in an imaginary village called Vigata, which also appears on some road signs.

2. In Naro, a castle in the clouds

The Castle of Naro seen from below

The first difficulty along the course is the climb heading to Naro, a medieval village at 467 metres above sea level, with a peak gradient of 15%. The effort is immediately rewarded by the spectacular view ranging from Etna to the Madonie Park. Greeks, Carthaginians, Arabs, and Normans passed through this village of narrow streets, stairways and magnificent civil and religious buildings in ancient times. The powerful Chiaramonte family arrived here in the 14th century and built the Castle of the same name on the ruins of an Arab fort. The mighty walls, towers and donjon dominate the town and are well worth the ticket. The same goes for the 12th-century Norman cathedral and the Chiesa Madre, once the Jesuit College. The course continues through fertile countryside covered with almond trees and hilly Mediterranean maquis that requires all the riders – both pros and amateurs – to climb and descend relentlessly. The course then runs through Canicattì, one of the few towns along the race route, where the roads become narrower, requiring some caution.

3. From Caltagirone to Piazza Armerina: art and architecture

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The finish in Caltagirone will delight those who, in addition to cycling, love art, handicrafts (the city is famous for its ceramics) and architecture. Its historic centre was entirely rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake and, since 2002, has been part of the Val di Noto UNESCO site, in honour of the late Sicilian Baroque. Expect sumptuous palaces, imposing staircases, and beautifully decorated buildings, such as the Church of Santa Maria del Monte or the Monte delle Prestanze. After a 3-kilometre climb at an average gradient of 5%, you reach the finish line in Piazza Armerina, the town in the province of Enna perched on a cliff at 700 metres above sea level. Not far away is a must-see that allows no exceptions: the Villa Romana del Casale, a luxury residence from late imperial Rome that has been listed as a UNESCO site since 1997. A jewel of 4,100 square metres of mosaics, made – legend has it – by some African artists of the time: 48 rooms, in which the floors, frescoes and designs are embellished with 120 million tesserae, depicting scenes of daily life, hunting and games, heroes and gods.

 

By RCS Sport editorial staff.