May 4: Monreale to the Agriturismo, Alia

In order to miss the rush hour traffic of Palermo it was arranged for the group to be "bused" out of town to the Agriturismo Villa Dafne on the outskirts of a small town of Alia southeast of the city. With several in the group still in a state of jet lag from traveling from the US, the thought of sitting in a van for a couple of hours was a welcome treat. Just outside of Palermo on top of the highest peak surrounding the city is the Duomo Monreale. Built in the early 12th century it was William II's answer to the Archbishop of Palermo as to who had the most power and was the most influential. The Archbishop at that time had torn down the Duomo of Palermo and built himself a bigger and more beautiful one in defiance to William II, the reigning head of the territory. This could have cost him his head, but William decided to just "outdo" his nemesis -- build the most beautiful cathedral, rather than the biggest. The Duomo of Monreale is fortress in shape from the exterior, but a masterpiece of mosaic on the interior. Each inch is covered with one beautiful mosaic after another displaying biblical scenes, geometric patterns, saints, leaders of the church of the time and the many faces of Jesus.

After a short break to enjoy the beauty of the Duomo the group continued on out into the countryside to the Agriturismo Villa Dafne. An agriturismo is a working farm with accommodations for the tourist to enjoy the natural surroundings, eat homegrown produce, and absorb the ambiance of country living while in the comfort of a highly refine hotel. It is from here that the "biking" will begin.

3:00 p.m. is the magic hour for bike fitting and a short maiden ride out into the rolling hills surrounding the agriturismo. Sicily is a island comprised of many mountains and valleys, hills and dales; a ripple of land that offers every possible opportunity of a gear changing ride. Today's is a short ride to an area grotto -- not too difficult so that no legs are wasted on the first day. Pedaling along the highway one sees a variety of colors -- sulli with its bright red blossoms blanket the hillsides in a patchwork pattern mixed among the wild fennel with its own distinct yellow flower. The olive trees lend a greenish color to the landscape along with the wheat in adjacent fields. To add to the visual, one's nose is engaged with the smell of the sweet pea growing wild on the side of the road intertwined with the poppies red bloom. All senses are on high alert!

And then, there is the road. Like a snake slithering through the grass it twists and turns up the hillside and down the backside. A sharp harp pin turn left or right or a sudden steep grade keep the riders on high alert. The grotto is only a few kilometers away, but it sits on top of a hill well disguised by the terrain. A sudden turn to the left on an old road finds the group now experiencing the first real climb. Nicknamed by the guides as the wall, it jumps from approximately a 6% grade to 18% within a few meters. Pedaling comes to almost a complete stand still as each rider attempts to make it up the final stretch. Some succeed, some walk the bike -- but once there it is worth the effort if for no other reason that to have another view of the area.

Unlike other parts of Italy, Sicily has remained relatively rural. One can see for miles the rolling hills and valleys covered with the agricultural products of the region. Sulli is cultivated for the honey that the bees produce from its flower, grapes are for wine, olives for the oil and the olive itself, wheat for the grain as well as to re-nurture the land after years of grape vines. All serve their purpose and at the same time create an illusion of a patchwork quilt that has been gently laid over the terrain.

Duomo Monreale

Inside the Duomo -- Famous for its Mosaics

Main Part of Duomo

Another Shot of the Interior

One of the Fabulous Mosaic


Floor Mosaic

Mosaic Over the Altar

View from Room at Agriturismo Villa Dafne -- Looking Left

Looking Right

Across the Valley

Ann, Monica, & Kathy: "Okay, Are We Ready To Do This?"

Dario: "Judy, Here Is Your Bike!

Paolo: "Kris, Let Me Lower Your Seat A Little." Pam: "My GPS Says This Way!"

View of the Valley Through a Wild Fennel Flower

Sulli in the Distance Patching the Hillside

Ann, Kathy Judy, Monica, & Sue At The Top of the "Wall"!

Grotto Entrance

The Flowing Countryside

Must Share the Road!