On this tour, we will discover a different side of Sicily. It is an area far away from the coasts, the crowds and mass tourism. We can define it as ” an island within an island”. It’s a part of Sicily so distant from the sea that, in the past, those born here could spend a lifetime without ever seeing it. We are talking about an intimate Sicily, which reveals itself only if we stop running and start … walking. Walk, walk, walk to discover the centre of Sicily. After crossing wild and proud lands, we will reach the sea at the end of our journey. It will feel like seeing it for the first time. The itinerary follows the ancient routes that the monks used to walk or ride on mules. We are talking about the path “The way of the friars“. It is a 166-km-long route from the heart of Sicily to the Norman town of Cefalù. It doesn’t matter whether you are believers or not: walking will help you discover a new way of travelling inside and outside yourself. Let’s march!
As a first stage we leave from Caltanissetta or San Cataldo (CL), heading towards Marianopoli. If we choose to start from San Cataldo, we will enjoy the cool Gabara forest and ford the Salito river. Crossing forests and rivers, we will feel like travelling out of time. As we leave the woods, we rejoin the bypass from Caltanissetta and arrive at Marianopoli. We join the SS 121 in the direction of Caltanissetta until we reach a crossroads. Here we come to a rural area, and then we proceed toward a stream. We climb to the Sanctuary of Castel Belici, in the territory of Petralia Sottana. The Sanctuary has been a place of pilgrimage since the 17th century. It is dedicated to the worship of a SS. Crucifix. In 1638, Friar Innocenzo da Petralia made a stunning life-size polychrome wooden crucifix. Then the monks donated the work to the owner of the feud: the Duchess Maria Fernanda Alvarez. Today the crucifix is in the front part of the Castle’s church. At the rear of the Castle stands a statue of Christ the Redeemer, erected in 1995.
But there is more to life than walking. In the municipalities around the Sanctuary, we can taste something typical: ask for the Siccagno tomato and the Villalba lentil. Both are slow food presidia. After enjoying this break, we continue on our way toward Resuttano. We arrive at Borgo Vicaretto, a ghost town built in the late 1950s. After fording the Imera River, we come to the ruins of Resuttano Castle, immersed in nature. We continue north towards Blufi. Before entering the village, we stop at the Sanctuary of the Madonna dell’Olio. To discover the name’s origin, we should look at a spring behind the Shrine. Here we will find a niche blackened by mineral oil. There is also a glass next to it for drawing this prodigious fluid. Legend tells that edible oil originally gushed from here. Due to excessive and undue withdrawals, it dried up. Our Lady worked a miracle and reactivated the spring in another location. From the new spring flows a different oil, a hydrocarbon still used today for skin diseases or as a vermifuge. A few steps away from this unusual source, every spring, we can admire the famous fields of wild red tulips of Blufi.
Let’s follow now the Touristic path of Blufi. We cross the concrete bridge over the unfinished dam. Then we reach Castellana Sicula, a beautiful village where the summery “dance of the cordella”, an ancient fertility dance, is still performed. We then continue to Polizzi Generosa. From here begins a challenging stage, in the direction of Petralia Sottana, with an average altitude of 1000 m (touching 1810 m asl). We cross the arches of the Roman-style water main and reach the equipped area of Sanguisughe. We then continue into the coniferous forest until we gain altitude and enjoy the wonderful view of the Imera valley. Halfway along the route, we stop for a moment of reflection and meditation at the Sanctuary of the Madonna dell’Alto. The name comes from the fact that, from here, you can enjoy a 360-degree view of the Madonie Mountains and the villages below, as far as Enna, Caltanissetta, Mount Etna and the Aeolian Islands. In the sanctuary, the Church altar dates back to the Medieval era. On the altar, there is a marble statue of the Madonna dell’Alto. The beautifully crafted work was created by the sculptor Domenico Gagini (dated 1471).
We are now ready to set off again and follow the pilgrims’ path down to Petralia Sottana. On the way, we can stop for a while and say hello to the Lord of these lands: a 500-year-old Puntaloro ash tree. The giant tree has an 8-metre circumference. Once in Petralia, wander through the narrow streets of this beautiful village to admire the religious architecture. The town is also known for a particular building. Here we can see one of the world’s narrowest houses, the so-called Casa du Currivu (i.e. “ House of Spite”). The house is only 100 cm wide, it dates back to 1950 and was built after a neighbourly quarrel. Its purpose is to obstruct the view of the house behind.
From Petralia Sottana, we head towards Gangi. Compared to the previous one, this will be a resting stage. We ride along the Salso river and ford it almost to its source. We will arrive in Gangi, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Let’s lose ourselves in the winding, narrow streets of the town, among the noble palaces and churches. Let’s leave now for another beautiful village: Geraci Siculo. We pass a watering hole and leave the main road. From the Contrada San Giovanni, we climb towards Geraci, among pastures of cows and small cultivated plots. We arrive near Bevaio della Trinità. From underneath the spur of the castle, we climb up to the Mother Church of Geraci Siculo. In this beautiful village, we can deeply experience the Middle Ages. The Salto dei Ventimiglia took place here. In 1337, Francesco I Ventimiglia was escaping from the royal troops of Peter II of Aragon when jumped down with his horse from a glass and steel balcony. He fell to his death into the ravine below. It is still possible to lean over the terrace today, but do not do it if you are afraid of heights.
From Bevaio della Trinità, the route heads towards the small country church of San Cosimano. The church is at the end of a broad meadow. We visit it and continue along a path hidden by vegetation. We follow the mountain profile as far as the San Focà picnic area ( set on a plain at an altitude of more than 700 metres, in the thick green of black pines, elms, poplars, willows and holm oaks). After a long slope, we reach Castelbuono, another lovely medieval village. We arrive at the last stage, which takes us to Cefalù. We walk through Isnello and Gibilmanna, among forests and other centuries-old trees. This place is home to the Gibilmanna Downy Oak (estimated age 450 years) and the Villa Lanza Mandorlino Pear (estimated age 400 years). We can stop for a while at the famous Sanctuary of the Madonna di Gibilmanna. This Capuchin monastery dates back to the 16th century and stands on the ruins of an older abbey. Take time to visit the works inside and don’t miss the Library. It preserves precious manuscripts from the 16th century to the 20th century. In this area, there’s a deep devotion to the Madonna di Gibilmanna. Since 1954, Mary of Gibilmanna has been the Celestial Patron of the whole Cefalù Diocese and Protector of the town. After this moment of prayer, we take the Salvabosco path and start to descend towards Cefalù. Obviously, our destination will be the Duomo. Cefalù Cathedral stands a stone’s throw from the sea. After a journey immersed in the silence and uncontaminated nature of the Madonie, arriving in a tourist village might be a bit disorienting. We leave the Duomo, reach the sea and make its acquaintance once again.
After crossing the rivers, dipping our feet into the seawater will be an unforgettable experience.