ONWARD TO CEFALU...IN A RENTAL CAR...YIKES!!
06.01.2015 - 06.01.2015 78 °F
Monday morning was packing time. I went down to breakfast and Marg joined me later. I couldn’t get the safe to open in our room and, after I checked out, the front desk sent someone to open it.
It was a beautiful, warm sunshiny day and the pool was occupied. I absorbed some Vitamin D until it was time to leave. The hotel shuttle took us to the port where we caught an Ustica hydrofoil to Milazzo where we will pick up a rental car. I must admit, I am not looking forward to driving on Sicily. Well, the boat is about to land in Milazzo, so more later.
Feeling like part of the Amazing Race, when we landed at Milazzo we had to find AutoEuropa to pick up our car. A taxi driver who tried to hustle us became very helpful when I showed him the voucher for the car…”Oh, AutoEuropa!!”, he exclaimed! He took me outside the terminal and pointed and said, “Grande edificio rosso”…and I saw a big, red brick building a couple of blocks away. “Si”, I replied, and nodded, knowingly. And then he said and gestured, “a derecha e, adesso, sinistra.” All of a sudden, Spanish left me and Italian returned. I was to walk past the red brick building, make a right and then a left. I was off and, a five minute walk later, was in front of the AutoEuropa office. It was about 2pm and, of course, Sicily is like the rest of Italy and everyone closes down for 2-3 hours at lunch time. This office was to open at 2:30. I could see our car, a Volvo station wagon parked just inside the locked gate. Promptly (for Italy) at 2:30, the door to the office opened and I was greeted by Stefano, my namesake. All the proper forms were filled out and I was given the key. As I walked out of the office, Stefano said, “Oh, it takes diesel.” “Nice to know”, I replied. So I got in the car and saw that there was an on/off button on the dashboard, put my foot on the brake and pushed it…nothing. I asked for some help and an Australian fellow who was there to pick up a car, took the key fob and entered it into a slot under the on/off button, and off I went. I made my way back to the port and parked just outside the area where I had left Marg with the luggage. Just as I did so, and got out of the car, I realized I was in a taxi zone and was blocked in by a taxi that had pulled in. I went and got the luggage and loaded it in to the car, but could not move. A portly little Italian man came shouting and gesturing as Italians do, upset that I was stopped in the taxi zone. Margaret found the guy that had blocked us in, he moved his car, and we proceeded toward Cefalu, or, in this case, Castelbuono, where our hotel was located.
The drive was easy. We wound our way through Milazzo and on to the autostrada. The autostrada was fast and easy…at least for me. Margaret wanted to know what was the hurry…I just said it is the autostrada and we can go as fast as we want. Eventually we were on the road to our destination, the Relais Santa Anastasia hotel in Castlebuono. Just as we got to what appeared to be a sign that might be for the hotel, we were too close and there was a car on my tail, and we missed the turnoff. We made a u turn and were back on the road. The road to the hotel was a long and bumpy road, 3 km until we got to the gate. The drive up revealed an incredible expanse of land, what appeared to be several hundred acres of grapes and olive trees, ancient buildings, and signs to an Abbey. The property was overwhelmingly beautiful. We kept ascending and the views became more and more incredible.
And then we arrived at the gate and pressed the button and the gate opened and we drove up to what was once a 12th century abbey, now an incredible hotel and winery. The Abbazia Santa Anastasia was a medieval abbey of Benedictine monks founded in 1100 by the commander of the Normans, Count Roger of Altavilla (which we would drive past tomorrow) who became the ruler of Sicily after the defeat of the Saracens in 1092.
We were greeted by Anna Marie who checked us in and led us to our room, the Cabernet Sauvignon room. She insisted on carrying our bags, over my protest, up a flight of stairs into an amazing 2BR, 2BA suite that had amazing views to the ocean and over the vineyards and expanse of land that the abbey occupied.
While I had done extensive research on the hotels I decided on, I really did not remember much about this one. I knew our destination was Cefalu (“Chef.a.loo”), but this was 12 miles from Cefalu. As it turns out, this is clearly among the top 5 places we have stayed in our travels, in my opinion. We arrived late afternoon and settled into our room and it was apparent that we would be eating at the hotel this night. The dining room, the food, the experience was to die for.
Because there is a winery here, part of the dinner consisted of a tasting of four of their wines…a Chardonnay and three reds. This is an organic farm/winery and each of the four varietals was wonderful. Interestingly, we were given a sheet of paper with each of the wines listed and three different smiley/frown faces to describe our reaction, with comments. The reds were a Nero D’Avola, Syrah and Cab.
I had a salumi plate to begin which had sausage, prosciutto, mortadella and a variety of cheeses…yum. For the main course I had rack of lamb. Margaret had a risotto with vegetables followed by a fresh tuna. She raved about the risotto as being the best she’s ever had…has a little Chiosso in her.
Headed back to the room, tired from all the chewing…for a little reading and uploading of photos to this website. Buona sera.