Up into the Hills

It is with slight trepidation that we dare the ascent to Luca’s property. We wait for darkness as it makes it easier to spot oncoming traffic in the hairpin bends. It’s just about ok, we have to reverse once or twice in the middle of a bend, but compared to our experience of getting stuck in the middle of Noto, this is easy-going. Luca opens the gate to one of his fields, and for the next 24 hours, we share company with 60 beehives. What a beautiful sound to wake up to – the world around us is humming!

This is the first place in Sicily, where we don’t start our stay with a litter picking session.

The landscape here is utterly different to Passopomo, where the ground is all black from volcanic stone. Here, the main colour is a bleached, white stone and the vegetation talks of dry, hot-hot summers. Luca has recently acquired this big property and has great plans for it, part farming, part rearing horses and trekking. Over 30 hectares stretch across two sides of a valley, including olive and almond groves, Neolithic caves, a stream and lots of beautiful nooks and crannies, mostly overgrown. In this area, many properties have lain abandoned for years, and the shepherds have taken possession of the region, driving their herds across the land with no regard for boundaries, damaging walls and buildings in the process. Luca has a Shepherd on his land too, and he talks about the need for diplomacy in slowly requesting him to recede from the property. A shepherd may be on your land, and his goats may be destroying walls and caves, but if you upset him, he has many ways of making your life hell. In his eyes, the fact that he’s used the land for many years while it has lain abandoned gives him a right of usage.

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In the morning, we meet Laura, Luca’s partner, a young and dynamic German woman with a passion for the project they have in front of them. There is a huge amount of work to do to clear the land and make it habitable for the animals, to tend to the trees and harvest their fruits. Laura’s and Luca’s main focus centres on horses – breeding as well as providing quality trekking experiences. In time, they will have accommodation on their property too, once they have converted some of the stables. But like with all projects, all these dreams need a solid amount of money to make them come true, so Laura has two other local jobs while studying in Germany too!

Laura and I go for a horse ride, while Luca takes Frank for a walk to show him the caves.

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I am riding Gina, a lovely, sensitive and calm mare, just my type of horse. It is a wonderful ride through very beautiful countryside, up the meadows through olive groves, to some stunning viewpoints. Laura shows me another valley where she hopes to clear a path for the horses that will eventually allow them to go all the way down to the sea. It is wonderful to feel her enthusiasm for the project, her youthful energy.

Meanwhile Frank and Luca, after visiting the caves and finding them inhabited by goats, walk on to visit Salvatore, the 74 year-old neighbour, who still runs a dairy farm and makes the most delicious cheese. He has some back trouble, so Frank arranges for him to come for a massage later that day.

In the afternoon, we help clearing the lower branches of an olive tree and a heap of brambles to bring more light to the corral where they exercise the horses. This takes a couple of hours hard but fun work with four people and a chainsaw. We light several fires to burn what we cut down. It feels lovely to be working with natural materials (instead of rubbish). In the grand scheme of their project, this was but a tiny action, but I think they nevertheless appreciated our input.

At 6pm, we await Salvatore for his massage, but he doesn’t turn up, until Luca drives over and gives him a pep talk. It’s the first massage in his life! He brings along one of his wonderful cheeses in payment.

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We want to have one more night by the beach before going back to Passompomo, so after promising a return visit, we bid Luca and Laura a farewell and tootle back down the hill to our beach, arriving in moonlight, eagerly awaited by the trio of strays.

A few days later, Luca tells us on the phone that Salvatore walked a lot straighter the morning after his massage.

For more photos, go to the flikr album


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