17th April 2018
Anna Cole takes her mother and daughter on a G3G (girls-only, three-generational) holiday to Sicily’s Valley of the Temples – by plane, train and local bus
The sunny Sicilian morning turns into film-set flash storm, but as quickly as it arrives, it’s gone. But it’s enough, after a swift Tuesday morning EasyJet flight to Palermo, to leave us bedraggled as we board a bus to Palermo Central station, and I wonder whether the thunderous reception is to welcome the return of the flesh-and-blood Juno to the isle where her predecessor’s temple is to be found? A few days before giving birth to my daughter and still searching for a name, Juno had appeared in a dream. My husband and I liked the sound of it and discovered it was the Roman name for the ancient Greek goddess Hera who was, according to classical mythology, the queen of the gods.
So with my daughter now in her thirteenth year, I am keeping a long-awaited promise to take her (along with my mother Carole, 76) to visit the Temple of Juno in the Valley of the Temples, near the town of Agrigento, on the Mediterranean island of Sicily Leaving the airport we travel by bus to the main railway station of Palermo Centrale and from here by train to Agrigento. We’re delighted by the train journey that follows the turquoise coast before travelling inland: as my mum notes in her diary that evening, ‘Window views of hibiscus, oleander, eucalyptus and craggy outcrops of stone in the midst of fertile volcano-nourished fields.’ In Agrigento we stay at the Camere A Sud B&B, a small alley off the main street.
It’s a pearl of a place with cream and pigeon-grey walls offset by colourful cushions. We have a Juliette balcony looking out to the quiet shopping street that makes us feel like locals, and a large, modern bathroom with ornate tiles. We go for an early meal at Opera. I eat Siciliana pizza with gently salted ricotta, asparagus, aubergine, cherry tomatoes and black olives. Juno and Carole try a Sicilian speciality of pasta and tomato ragu, with aubergine and a parmesan crust.
Mum and I enjoy a glass of smooth Sicilian red wine, and later the waiter brings an enormous plate of sweet cannelloni, stuffed with ricotta and honey, another local delicacy, plus a parfait for Juno and complimentary limoncello for mum and I. The restaurant’s terrrace has sweeping views down to the Valley of the Temples. As dusk turns to night, the sky fills with swallows, dipping and weaving just a wing-tip from our table, and distant lights come on to shine on the far-away temples. The bill is wonderfully affordable and by the time we wander back to our lovely B&B, doing a little window-shopping in the buzzing, chi-chi boutiques that have woken from their siesta, we are full, happy and ready for an early night before our journey to the Temples.
The day starts with cactus marmalade and pistachio spread on croissant so fresh as to rival those of Paris. Elvira, our host at Camere A Sud, helps us figure out the local bus to the temples which stops, endearingly, in the middle of the street to let us on before winding its way down the hill to the entrance to the Valley, as the driver and his friend chat at the front. Talking to an English tourist on the bus, Juno proundly tells him her name. We arrive in the valley early, before the tourist buses, and there’s a quiet, gentle expectancy in the air. Each of us is moved by the spacious beauty of this dry place and are happy to have come here together.
We wander up the steps to Juno’s temple. My daughter delights in seeing her name written on an information board and later says visiting the temple makes her feel proud of her name and its significance. It’s a magnificent piece of architecture perched on a precipice, with giant sandstone columns and an expansive view out to the turquoise ocean. Between the Temples of Juno and Concordia is the garden of the ‘Soulful, Righteous Guardians’.
It sounds quite super-hero, and I guess in a way it is: it’s a memorial mainly to the judges who were killed by the Mafia for their anti-corruption stance, and more recently to commemorate a group of Sicilian archaeologists captured and killed by Isis. In this sacred site it’s a reminder of the violence of a world that seems at times to have lost its reverence for life.
After walking a long stretch of the Valley we start to tire, and lose enthusiasm for our trek to find the archaeological museum as we find ourselves walking up a hot, busy road with tiny pavements. If you’re not visiting the Temples in a hire car, don’t attempt the walk to the museum unless feeling particularly brave. We’re hot and dusty so after a light lunch at the bar by the West entrance, we call for the taxi Elvira has on standby for us.
The driver surprises us by appearing in minutes. ‘That was magic!’ I say, and she replies, ‘Life is magic!’ Here, in the sunshine not far from the Temple of Juno, I believe her. We travel back to Palermo for the night and stay at the elegant Delle Vittorie B&B, in the heart of the old town. After checking in we join the crowds enjoying the cool evening air below in the laid-back passeggiata, the evening stroll.
We make our way through the old town to the Piazza Pretoria with its baroque, nude statues and fountains, and take in the perfectly curved buildings of the Quattro Canti. At dusk we stroll back towards our accommodation, stopping at Enotlqua, a friendly, atmospheric little wine bar that serves only Sicilian wines – oh! and the best Aperol spritz ever!
Travelling with my mum and daughter, just the three of us, is a joy – no dads or husbands to hurry us along, slow us down or contradict our plans. We figure things out together and find we all share a sense of adventure. It feels like we could happily journey together for longer. My mum reflects afterwards, ‘Travelling together I found Juno’s excitement at being there under the blue, blue sky so enriching.’ It means a lot to each of us to be three generations of women travelling together. We zip along the coastal road back to the airport, enjoying the ocean and the dramatic hills rising from the shore.
On the road to the airport there’s a memorial to a judge, Giovanni Falcone, and the airport is named in remembrance of him and another judge, Paolo Borsellino; both were killed by the Mafia for their anti-corruption stance. Our taxi driver tells us the big money has left Sicily now and the Mafia is following it, hastened by years of anti-Mafia campaigning. It’s a sober end to our fabulous trip, but let’s hope those men, and others who fought corruption, did not die in vain. It would be nice to think the beautiful island of Sicily can have a new lease of life. It would be a fitting end to a trip to honour the goddess of new life, Juno.
Flights from Gatwick to Palermo with Easyjet from £64 one-way.
Where to stay
Where to eat
When in Agrigento, try the excellent Opera, ristorante – pizzeria, via Atenea 239/241, 92100, Agrigentol, Tel: 0922664456