WORDS: THOMAS OPSTRUP PHOTOGRAPHY: THOMAS OPSTRUP GUIDED CYCLING IN SICILY Cycling in Sicily is becoming more and more popular. With that has followed a growing demand for Guided cycling in Sicily. I had the chance to plan a great ride experience with Alexandre choosing our Rack’n’Ride concept. A very simple concept where you stay at a beautiful hotel for your taste in Catania. I’ll pick you or your group out in the morning outside your hotel. We drive to a selected place and together we have a great bike ride from there. After the trip, we drive back to your hotel and you can relax and go out and enjoy the city. Below you can read about Alexandre’s custom guided cycling experience. You will find that Sicily is more than just beautiful roads. Great riding, great food, culture and history – Guided cycling in Sicily is a complete experience. TAORMINA – SAVOCA AND BEYOND I drive to Catania and I bring a Carbon Racing bike that Alexandre orders before his arrival in Sicily. He is staying at the Habitat Hotel, located next to the Opera House, one of the best areas in central Catania. He chooses our Rack’n’Ride concept, where he stays at the same hotel in Catania, then I pick him up there every morning and take him to different places where he wants guided cycling with me. We drive to Taormina and park in our private parking. From here we drive along the coast until we reach the beautiful climb to Savoca. After some good hairpins we reach Savoca. The village is an old fortress village. It rises along the coast in a mountainous area and sits 303 meters above sea level. We drive to Taormina and park at our private parking. From here we drive along the coast until we reach the beautiful climb to Savoca. After some great hairpins, we reach Savoca. The village is an old fortress town. It rises along the coast in a mountainous area and sits 303 meters above sea-level. SAVOCA Savoca founded in 1134 by Ruggero II was surrounded by a wall of protection in the Middle Ages built by the Normans. Today, only the city gate remains from the Norman period. Today, Savoca is known for its beauty and is considered one of Italy’s most beautiful villages, but also world famous for its Godfather locations. The San Nicolò church, which seems to extend almost into space, built as it is on a massive rocky outcrop, was used to record Michael Corleone’s marriage to Apolonia Vitelli. It is also in Savoca that the notoriously famous scene where Michael meets Apolonia’s father and asks his approval to meet her. Apolonia’s father owns the bar Vitelli in the movie. Today, 50 years later, the Vitelli bar in Savoca Square looks the same. Inside you will find some amazing pictures behind the scenes of Godfather. LOCAL LUNCH IN THE MOUNTAINS Alexandre and I have a cup of coffee and enjoy this historic place with its magnificent views of the Mediterranean. After the coffee, we drive further into the Pelotarian mountains. We pass some of these small Sicilian villages before we start climbing again to the small village of Roccafiorita, where we have a good local lunch. Let’s just order the starter, I tell Alexandre, but he wants more, so he also orders pasta. I smile because I know how great the starter is. The nice people at the restaurant bring plate after plate with local cheese, meat, olives and other vegetables, some dishes cooked cold, others cooked hot. After plate number 5, Alexandre tells me that we probably don’t need the pasta. After lunch we can hardly get up with all this food in our stomach. Well for us it’s mostly downhill from here. We descend through the most beautiful valley overlooking the sea further down. Back down the coast, most of the cheese in our stomach feels partially digested now. A short walk along the coast and we are back in the parking lot of Taormina. 45 min. later we arrive outside Alexandre’s hotel in Catania so he can have a well deserved shower. CENTURIPE The town of Centuripe is picturesquely perched on a mountainous ridge in 730 meters of height. The town rises majestically over the plain of Catania. From the town, you have a panorama dominated by Etna and the surrounding river valleys. ROMAN INFLUENCE Centuripe had its heydays under the roman empire, therefore, you find a lot of Roman monuments. It constitutes some of the most substantial evidence of Roman settlement in Sicily. In the 13 century, the town center was destroyed by Frederick II – the King of Sicily – only to be re-founded more than 300 years later. There are several climbs to Centuripe and there are all with distinctive differences but all fantastically beautiful. Alexandre and I ride from the east. It is a great hairpin road with around 7-8 percent with some great view of the city and the valley below. We enter the square of the city and get some deserved ‘Tavola Caldo’, cake, and of course a coffee. This is one of my favorite places to sit and observe life passing by in this little town. The locals are always curious about foreigners so several come and ask us where we are from, how many kilometers we ride etc. It is always relaxing and pleasant to meet with the local people. AVOLA – NOTO ANTICA – NOTO This day we have the longest transfer it takes around 1 hour to reach our starting point in the town of Avola. Avola stretches to the coast, in the South of Syracuse. If the name sounds familiar then it is possible because the Nero d’Avola wine originates from Avola. These special black grapes have gained recognition all over the world. We pass the grape fields on our climb to the mountain ridge outside Avola. Tiralongo a famous Expro rider that rode recently for Astana is from Avola. If you are lucky you meet him on these roads. It is also the area where Trek-Segafredo with World Champion Mads Pedersen and Vincenzo Nibali does their training camp every December. The sicans the original population of Sicily was presented in the mountainous area of Avola in the Bronze age the area was intensely inhabited. Riding through the area you can see many old caves carved out of the rock. In the Greek period of Sicily 750 BC. This area is believed to have been an important city on the top of the mountain. The area was abandoned after the 1693 earthquake – more of that later. Over the top, I guide Alexandre on the plateau in the direction of the Cavagrande. CAVAGRANDE DEL CASSIBILE This natural reserve is considered the grand canyon of Sicily The water from the stream created the gorges through millions of years Where we go and see it, is at the deepest point here we stand 500 meters over the bottom of the gorges. Fortunately, there is a cafe so we can sit down and enjoy this panoramic scenery with a cup of coffee. After coffee, we ride on in the direction of Noto Antica. NOTO ANTICA Stand on the Mount Alveria and the first human settlement in the area dates back to the ancient bronze age. In 866 it was conquered by the Muslims, who elevated the city to become a capital of one of the three districts of the island (the Val di Noto). In 1091, it became the last Islamic stronghold in Sicily to fall to the Christians. Later it became a rich Norman city. At the height of its splendor, on 11 January 1693, it was known to be destroyed by a devastating earthquake. Noto Antica has a very special atmosphere because it covers human activity from the prehistoric period and then one day, 11 January 1693, with the earthquake, the town was kind of frozen in time. The roads leading into this place are somehow hidden and covered in wild plants and features these recognizable white handmade stone fences. Around Noto Antica, you also see these tombs carved into the great rock by prehistoric people. After our passage of Noto Antica, we ride in the direction of the new Noto. NOTO Noto Antica was abandoned completely and the new Noto was constructed 8 km. from the old Noto after the earthquake. With the characteristics of the baroque city that made it famous all over the world. Ingenious architects build the historic center as it stands today. Many of the newer structures are built of a soft tufa, yellow limestone, which assumes a honey tonality under sunlight. It gives the town a truly unique appearance that I have never experienced anywhere else in the world. The three main roads are oriented from the east to the west that way they are always illuminated by the sun. Noto also has a good deal of good restaurants and bars. We head for one of my favorite restaurants for lunch outside in the sun. After lunch, it is mostly downhill to Avola where the car is parked. ETNA Etna needs no further introduction than it is around 10,900 feet (3,323 m) high and the crater has a diameter of about 20 miles (32 Km). Eruptions occur, often with staggering ferocity, about once every five to ten years. I think it is the number one spot for guided cycling in Sicily CLIMBERS PARADISE With 6 different roads to 2 different tops – South and North peak – Etna is a cycling climbers paradise. We ride the roads that were used in the Giro d’Italia in 2018. It is a beautiful and hard ride that takes us through the forest and on the latter part the road winds up through the majestic lava fields to the top. Before the forest, we reach the point where Chavez from Mitchelton-SCOTT attacked in the Giro. This part is very steep and with its +15% it takes out all air of Alexandre. But at the time he reaches the forest, he has forgotten about this. The forest part is a picturesque 4 km. Stretch, a narrow road which sides are covered in fantastic handmade 3 meters high stone walls. After the forest, The top crater of Etna becomes visible in the background. We are now surrounded by the majestic lava fields. We pass the famous graffiti that is a tribute to the Italian ‘cycling Saint’ Marco Pantani and reach the top a few minutes later, which causes a small celebration and a big smile for Alexandre. It took more than 25 km. of climbing to reach the top, but the rewarding view is stunning. We only stay a short time because it is quite cold at 2000 meters of height. We descend down a ride through the town of Belpasso and back to the car from there. CATANIA Welcoming you with its grand piazzas, wide roads, and architecture in lavic rock. The city is full of attractions, offering historical and artistic wonders for everyone. Alexandre stayed at a hotel of his own choice close to the Theater Bellini in the center of Catania. From here I picked him up every morning for the daily guided cycling in Sicily. REBUILD AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE After a devastating earthquake in 1693, Catania was almost eradicated and it is estimated that 16000 of its 20000 people died. Rising from its devastation Catania was rebuilt with the impressive Baroque architecture buildings which can still be admired today. Catania has a great history and is saturated with historical sites. The city has a special atmosphere and there are life 7 days a week and at any time. People usually go out for a walk in the city center or stay in a square, like Duomo Square. There are a lot of restaurants, pubs, bars. People are very welcoming so you can talk to anybody on the street. CUISINE OF CATANIA The cuisine of Catania is one of the tastiest in Sicily. With the sea nearby, fish dishes are an important part of the cuisine of Catania but also the Horse meat is a Catanese tradition. In general, the Sicilian kitchen is a kind of Italian kitchen with inspiration from all the different nations and people who have ruled Sicily. But because Catania is a central city you have all sorts of restaurants, Thai, Sushi, Mexican, Kebab, etc. Catania also boasts many shops for those who love shopping. RACK’N’RIDE GUIDED CYCLING IN SICILY If you would like to know more about our Rack’n’Ride guided cycling in Sicily then follow the link above.