Sunday, February 20, 2011
Nebrodi Mountains – A Different Kind of Sicilian Experience
The island of Sicily is actively promoting its environmental assets by attracting eco-friendly tourism. A newly formed association, SiciliaNatura (sicilianatura.org), is an organizing point for this initiative. It was through them and the Italian Government Tourist Board that I found myself in a remote mountaintop hideaway, chilly in September, nibbling on Sicilian specialties and listening to a live band play some of the best folk music of the island.
Allow me to back up a little. The Nebrodi mountains are in northeastern Sicily and are part of the Sicilian Apennines. Parco dei Nebrodi (Nebrodi Park) was created in 1993 and is Sicily’s largest protected reserve. The Park is home to a stunning array of wildlife, including the San Fratellani horses. They are perhaps Sicily’s most wild species of horse, and here “wild” is a relative term. They are cared for, sheltered and fed and I saw a few wearing a bell around their necks. But none of this detracts from their singular nobility. There are less than 800 San Fratellani horses in the world and only a few hundred live in Nebrodi. It was a rare privilege to see them up close.
It was also a rare privilege to see Nebrodi Park, which is a part of Sicily not many travelers experience. The views are open and vast, the air crisp and clean. Mountains rise and fall gracefully into untouched green valleys. Lakes shimmer and reflect the white clouds as they move overhead. And it’s quiet. No vespas whirring or radios playing. It’s a place to appreciate, ponder and enjoy.
We spent the night at the Rifugio del Parco (rifugiodelparco.com), sitting high in the mountains, in a setting as remote as it was beautiful. The Rifugio serves as a rustic retreat for hikers making their way across portions of the Nebrodi mountains, or for anyone who wants to get away from it all and revel in mountainside Nature. The rooms are clean and small with most of the space taken up by beds (including bunk beds). The bathrooms are modern and well-designed for the space. Each room has a shower, hair dryer, TV and telephone. The communal dining room is on the first floor and serves wonderful, hearty food to satisfy a mountaineer’s appetite. Prices are very reasonable.
Rifugio del Parco offers a variety of hiking and trekking routes for its guests, categorized by level of difficulty and suitability for children. These treks bring you along pristine wetlands, towering forests and magnificent rock formations that are nesting sites for raptors and other wildlife. A few of these trails will even bring you to small, picturesque villages.
But back to my chilly September evening. On this particular night, we were entertained by Antichi Suoni, a rather famous Sicilian musical group (antichisuoni.it). The seven-man group has spent years researching and performing the centuries-old folk music of Sicily. They often play at festivals throughout Europe and have several CDs to their credit.
Antichi Suoni translates to Ancient Sounds, and the group keeps their sound as true to Sicily’s ancient roots as possible. They play the traditional instruments associated with this music, including guitar, mandolin, accordion, recorder, tamburello and tammorra. Their music evokes images of shepherds and minstrels whose melodies graced the countryside for centuries.
Nebrodi Park is designed for the intrepid traveler seeking an alternative to the expected tourist experience.