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Welcome to the Author Elise Darcy’s newsletter
~ Up on the Roof ~
This issue of Up on the Roof is brought to you from Sicily, the setting of my new novel, The Villa in Sicily.
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and the setting for my new release, The Villa in Sicily. Before I started writing the book, I wanted to find out what Sicily had to offer as a tourist. So, I put myself in Josie’s shoes, the main character of the book, and looked at joining a tour. And that’s when I discovered just how much this unique island has to offer. With its many wonderful archaeological sites and artistic treasures, sandy beaches along the Agrigento coastline and an abundance of towns and villages each with a plethora of cobbled streets to explore, I was overwhelmed at choosing where to start with my trip. I felt like someone who had landed in a sweet shop full of Luxury Chocolates, and I had to pick-and-mix the best delights! Different cultures have left their mark on this island – Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans and later the Normans and unlike chocolates, where once you have made a choice they are carefully wrapped and handed to you in a gorgeous box tied with a bow, Sicily has such an abundance of delights that even the most meticulous plans cannot encompass them all.
In the novel, Josie joins a pre-arranged tour. But for purposes of research, I did a solo road trip as it gave me the flexibility to explore Sicily and experience the true magic of this island. My itinerary took a long time to plan, as there was a lot of ground to cover. Also, the island is large and to avoid doubling back on myself; I flew into Palermo airport and out from Catania airport.
I arrived at Palermo airport and took the airport bus to the city centre. As I alighted the bus, I looked around expectantly for the young woman I arranged to meet whose apartment I had booked for my four-night stay. I wanted to live like a local and walk around this fascinating city, shopping in the markets and taking in the sights. Thirty minutes later and as bus after bus arrived, and passengers disembarked and still no one contacted me, I wondered if I had fallen for a scam and the flat I paid for did not exist. Then I saw an older gentleman checking each of the buses as they arrived and talking anxiously on his phone. I approached him to ask about the flat and to my utter relief and his – it was the young ladies grandfather who she sent to meet me. Speaking little English and with my non-existent Italian we eventually made our way to the little apartment which was to be my home for the four days in Palermo. It was a wonderful experience, and the kindness and generosity of this old gentleman gave rise to another character in the book.
My visit to the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento is best described in the book through Josie’s encounter with this once thriving Ancient Greek city. Before I set off for Agrigento and The Valley of The Temples, I took a little detour to Medieval Erice. Having brought my own Satnav from the UK, I punched in the details and happily set off. As I climbed the winding road up the mountain to the 12th century walled village, I began to feel something was not quite right. The road became narrower and with tight bends and few spaces to pull in if I met a car or heaven forbid a coach coming in the opposite direction; I dreaded the thought of having to back up with a sheer drop down the mountain on either side. When I arrived in the car park, I was amazed to see the size of the coaches parked there. How did they navigate that road, I wondered. It was later in the day after enjoying the wonderful charm of this place with its sensational views to the sea and valley below that I found a new road had been built to Erice. This little incident was another inspiration for my novel.
Beautiful Ragusa was another stop on this tour and has special memories for me for two reasons. Firstly, the views of Ragusa Ilba (the lower town) from Ragusa Superiore (the upper town) are enchanting. And secondly, and memorable for all the wrong reasons. When I departed my lodgings and arrived in Syracuse for the next leg of my journey, it was then I discovered I still had my room key in my pocket. The key was the only one they had to the room, and after ringing the bed-and-breakfast and apologising profusely, the proprietor arranged for it to be collected. A three-hour round trip! That experience gave rise to another episode in the novel.
The final episode in the book takes place in the wonderful hilltop town of Taormina where I visited The Greek Theatre with its spectacular views of the coastline and Mount Etna, joined a Godfather tour, but not the one Josie experienced in the book and wandered around the charming resort and marvelled at the numerous beautiful old churches. Although I love hiking, I was not sure if climbing Mount Etna was something I would enjoy. However, my mother had joined me for this half of my trip and booked us both on a half-day excursion visiting the north side of the volcano as a surprise. We walked through ancient woods and around extinct craters and learnt many facts about the spectacular volcano. It was the highlight of our trip.
If you want to see some photos of Sicily that I took on this trip, check out the ‘gallery’ page on my website.