Sicily by Wheelchair '08

by Mark & Margaret Edwards
 © 2008

 

We knew that getting around Sicily by wheelchair was not going to be easy. The guidebooks are only too clear on this point – mainly by admitting that there is very little information available and that really Sicily is unsuitable for those who need help getting around. We could see their point: Greek temples, Roman villas, medieval churches, cobbled streets, buildings with steps, limited lifts, steep streets, high pavements…all the usual problems and a few more. However, it was possible to see far more than we thought we might. We didn’t see anyone else in a wheelchair for the whole two weeks – there may be a message in there somewhere. On balance, it does help if you can walk a little – it massively increases what you can see. The message is “it can be done, it will take a great deal of effort but it will be worthwhile”. 
 

GETTING THERE AND BACK 
 

Not too many problems – we flew British Airways from Gatwick to Catania. On arrival, we were met at the plane by a “pusher” with a wheelchair and conveyed down to the baggage claim. My own wheelchair failed to appear on the main belt and it was only with a bit of looking around that it was located in the lost baggage section at the far end of the baggage hall in the internal flights section. 

Getting back was more interesting: the BA check in staff were very keen that we were held in the special assistance “lounge” immediately adjacent to the checkin. We didn’t want to because we wanted to have a look at the shops airside and there was no daylight in the lounge. This was accepted and we tried to pass through security: security appeared not too impressed that we were not escorted by a professional wheelchair pusher. This may or may not be a local rule. We explained we didn’t need one and wanted to do some shopping. We were instructed not to move until enquiries had been made. We waited as per instructions and when security had clearly lost interest in us, we made our own way. 
 

It is worth knowing that the airport was not designed with disabled travellers in mind but alterations have been made which try to help. There is a small lift from behind security to the actual departure level. There are disabled WCs both air and landside which are accessed by lifts put in after the construction of the airport. 
 

It is also worth knowing that once you have passed through security there is no means of communicating with landside. A tannoy call was put out for us – doubtless to make a further attempt to get us into the special assistance lounge but we never found out why. There is no way that you can get back to the check in desks landside. We asked Alitalia who maintain a desk airside if they had a telephone number for BA – they claimed not to and my husband couldn’t access international enquiries in the UK on his mobile to find a number. Ultimately, it didn’t seem to matter.  We did our shopping, explored the lift system and were waved through immigration embarkation controls in front of everyone else who had queued up. 
 

CAR HIRE 
 

This was a package included with the air tickets. The offices at Catania are located about five minutes walk from the terminal building. The best approach is turn right out of the building on the ground floor and follow the pavement round to in front of the old terminal. The building with the hire offices is in front of you across a couple of access lanes.

 

We hired from Hertz who immediately recommended a larger car – a wise move to get both a chair and a suitcase in and the agent strongly recommended that we took as much insurance cover as possible. This proved to be an even wise move a week or so later when we found a badly scratched car.  
 

DRIVING  
 

Let’s be fair and say it was a challenge. Most of the cities have narrow streets, an apparent lack of street and direction signs plus too much traffic all going very quickly and impatient of any delays. However, Sicily is challenging to get around by public transport so a car is essential if you want to see more than one area or get out to the country. The best advice we can give is just don’t stop – you may take a wrong turning, but you will still be in one piece to do it. Palermo was so difficult that we would recommend driving there only if you have no other choice.

Parking is challenging – there’s precious little of it and it isn’t all that clear as to just how far the “Blue Badge” is accepted. We got conflicting opinions. However, there seems to be little interest in hauling away cars which are illegally parked – probably on the grounds that it would be full time job. We parked carefully but displayed the badge at all times. 
 

A car is essential for exploring the countryside – for example we drove on small roads over the mountains from Palermo via Enna to Catania, the snow capped peak of Etna dominating the countryside, passing through little towns, through orange groves and across plateaux rich in wild flowers. The route from Enna via Petralia Sottana, Colensano and on to Cefalu took us through the Madonie Regional Park – there had been a fall of snow the night before and while the road was clear, the landscape was smothered in white which drifted down from the trees.

The challenges in the country are different – people overtaking on blind bends and animals wandering around in the roadway. 
 

TICKETS 

Virtually everywhere is free to wheelchair users and their companions. You do have to obtain tickets – for administrative and head-counting purposes – but I think we only paid on a couple of occasions. Disabled visitors are not listed in the usual concessions which are advertised – students, over 60s etc – but it just seems to happen. 
 

CATANIA 

We stayed close to the airport at the Castello D'Urso Somma B&B. This was an extraordinarily good choice with a pleasant ground floor bedroom in an annex by the castle and a relaxed help yourself breakfast. Although not specifically designed for disabled patrons, I found it perfect – the only drawback being that since it was early March the huge swimming pool was empty! However, it was pleasant to walk around it with a view of Etna and the sound of frogs croaking away in the pools around the estate. The proprietors also own two large dogs – amiable but decidedly substantial. On his return from the local supermarket one evening after dark, my husband suddenly noticed a heavy weight gently leaning against him as he got out of the car – someone was showing an interest in supper! 

 

Catania posed all the usual problems of parking but with a great deal of patience, care and going around the same route several times, we found on street spaces reasonably easily on the three or four times we went in. Just bear in mind that markets tend to spring up during the day and your routes will change. The food market in the streets off Via Garibaldi near Piazaa del Duomo  is well worth a visit just to see such a fantastic range of produce and to watch people going about their daily affairs. However, once parked, Catania is reasonably easy to get round as most of the main sights are close together.  
 

Duomo 

A beautiful façade and an imposing interior with a rich series of side chapels and exposed medieval foundations. Noted for the memorial to Bellini (incorporating an air from “La Sonambula”) and a gloomy but spectacular depiction of the eruption of Etna in the C17th in the sacristy. 

The duomo is accessed up a low flight of steps from the square in front (the one with the statue of the elephant). There may be a flat entrance into the side of the building through a garden off Via Vittorio Emanuele Il. Once inside, the floor is level but there are steps to the sacristy and the chapel on the right hand side of the altar. 
 

Roman Theatre 

A bit of an anomaly – there were some steps up from the street to the ticket office and we were told that we could go no further – there is a view from a view by the ticket office. However, when he went off to have a closer look at the site, my husband found a disabled WC – albeit only accessible after you had gone up a couple of steps. He decided therefore that the site was disabled accessible, pulled me up the steps and rolled me round onto a series of ramps which give access to the lower levels of the site – from which you can see a great deal. On the way out, we were directed to another door which opened directly onto the street and avoided the steps around the ticket office. So, if you decide to visit, call in at the ticket office first and get them to open this door – coming from the city centre, it’s the next door after that to the ticket office. 
 

Teatro Massimo Bellini 

This splendid building opened on 31 May 1890 and is named for the composer of Norma, La Sonnambula, Il Puritani amongst others (and who is buried in the Duomo) and details of performances are on their website at http://www.teatromassimobellini.it/index.asp (click on the Union Flag at the top right to convert into English).

 

This opera house is a gem with excellent acoustics (Gigli reckoned they were the best in the world) and a brilliant auditorium, crowned with scenes from Bellini’s best known operas in the centre of the ceiling. 
 

It is not possible to book a disabled seat on their website and it is necessary to make the arrangements over the phone, at least a month in advance of the performance and in Italian. We were told when we phoned that the performance we hoped to see was booked out – however, it was suggested that we present ourselves at the ticket office an hour before the performance and they’d see what they could do. (A very big thank you to my husband’s colleague Dom Palumbo who did the negotiations).  
 

Some performances start at 17.30 so at 16.30 we were in the caffe opposite the theatre waiting for signs of life. The box office is at the righthand side of the theatre facing it so the caffe is a good viewing point – it also does a range of teas so the timing was perfect. When it opened, we slid in, explained who we were and were provided with tickets - €50 for both of us, it not being clear whether this was two tickets at half price or one full price and one free ticket. 
 

Before entering the auditorium, the usual enquiry for the disabled lavatory led to an a trip around the corridor behind the boxes on the right hand side of the theatre (up three steps to start with but on our return, a red carpeted ramp had been provided) and the disabled facilities are inside the gents because there is no step up into that area.  
 

The disabled space is at the back of the stalls and the theory is that the companion sits next to it. This doesn’t always work – on this occasion this seat had already been sold and my husband had been sold a seat some rows away. On enquiry, this turned out to have already been sold to someone else and some further references to the box office led to the issue of another ticket.  
 

Refreshments – the bar is on the fourth floor and there is no lift. My husband had explored before the performance and ordered some prosecco for the interval. The bar staff don’t speak English so apparently he explained what he wanted in mime – successfully as it transpired. For information you pay in advance and then race up the stairs at the interval for the drinks to be poured and then carry them down to the entrance foyer. And it was a good solid performance as well of a highly traditional type which was warmly appreciated by the audience. 
 

San Nicolo 

Claimed to be the largest church in Sicily, it is currently undergoing restoration. It is up a steep hill from Via Vittorio Emanuele Il and is accessed by a flight of steps at the front. It’s a lot of effort to get there and apart from the meridian line with its zodiacal signs, there is not too much to see. 
 

MOUNT ETNA

 

The drive up from the Catania side is dramatic – moving away from the lush vegetation at the lower levels to where the road has been blasted through lava flows from recent eruptions. Some of the flows conceal the ruins of houses with only the remains of the roof sticking out from the rock  
 

This is one area where some degree of mobility is necessary. The cable cars are not designed to take wheelchairs and you need to be able to walk in. Also, there is a long flight of external steps to the lower station followed by internal steps to the departure area.  
 

Having said that, we parked (blue badge proudly on display) in an area at the bottom of the access road to the lower cable car station just before a barrier which stopped us going any further. This did not seem to cause anyone any problems. 
 

The view from the cable car is astonishing and seemed to extend to the whole of the island as we went up the mountain. 

At the top station, it was icy and the ground was covered in snow. I didn’t want to do too far because it was cold but my husband wandered about – discovering that the surface under those conditions was too poor for a wheelchair.  
 

However, once back at lower levels, the road which runs around the eastern side of the mountain in the direction of Zafferana Etnea is a particularly attractive route through small and villages and orange groves.  
 

TAOMORINA 

There is reputed to be a Greek theatre in Taomorina. I know that because I’ve seen pictures of it. However, in driving around the town – which has more than its fair share of narrow streets and is a wonderful drive up from sealevel – we saw only one sign for the theatre and this sent us round in a circle. We could not find the place and after an hour, even my husband gave up. Yet in all this, we did find the Belvedere which (up about four steps I’m afraid) gives a splendid view down to the headlands and the sea below. 
 

SYRACUSA 

Remembering that we travelled in early March, parking was not a problem. There seemed to be a high number of disabled parking spaces in the Ortegia area which is the oldest part of the city on an island – these will still be there in the summer but the competition for them will be higher.  
 

Galleria Regionale del Palazzo Bellomo 

Currently closed for major repairs and it was claimed to be reopening the following day. This seemed ambitious as several months work seemed necessary. One of the workman advised us to go to Trapani if we wanted to see Caravaggio’s “Il Seppellimento di Santa Lucia”. Sadly, there wasn’t enough time. 
 

Duomo 

Recently restored and a beautiful building both inside and out, showing plenty of evidence of the pre-Christian structures around which it was built. 
 

There is a steep flight of steps up to the front but once inside, you are on the level. We didn’t explore this option, but at the entry to the Bishop’s Palace next door there is a disabled sign. This may enable you to work back into the Duomo without using the steps – we didn’t have time to explore. 
 

The piazza outside the Duomo is attractive – lined with baroque buildings including cafes. It was a decidedly chilly day when we went to Syracusa so we decided against taking going for refreshment in the open air – it would probably also have disturbed the ginger cat who was asleep on a chair at the next table. 
 

Paulo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum 

A fascinating although rather old fashioned layout exploring the archaeology of Syracusa and the surrounding area. At the time we visited, the building was being overhauled and a number of areas were closed. However, it was still worth the visit – particularly on a wet day. 

Parking is limited – there is a disabled space immediately outside the museum complex in front of the small parade of shops and offices by the gate. This is a public space so don’t rely on it being available.  A slope runs up to the museum itself. Inside, there are some very steep slopes around the various exhibits and you will need to treat these with caution. A lift serves the upper floor and the lavatories in the basement – it is one of those slightly odd ones where different doors serve the various floors, involving a 90 degree turn of the chair to get out.

 

Parco Archeologico della Neapolis

An absolute must see, but be warned – there are some very steep slopes which are manageable but need some care. 

We parked a short distance from the entrance – there are disabled spaces in the road opposite the entrance which runs alongside a sports ground – it’s the viale Augusto and is a one way street off the Corso Gelone. 
 

There is a very steep slope down to the ticket office which runs passed a café on the right hand side as you go down and on your left towards the bottom of the slope are the remains of what was once the biggest altar in Magna Greece – something over 200m long.  
 

A path leads from the ticket office to the theatre and shortly divides – the left hand path goes to the walkway between the lower and upper areas of seating and the righthand to an upper walkway which runs around the back of the higher area of seating and behind the rather incongruous looking little house which occupies part of the site. Both offer splendid views and a real appreciation of what the structure must have been like when it was complete. The upper walkway also brings you to a nymphaeum or fountain where water was carried down from the hillside above. 

Retrace your steps back to the ticket office and you will see another path running down hill which may be closed off with a gate. This leads to the quarries and the so-called “Ear of Dionysus” – a dramatic cave with some interesting sound effects. To get there does involve another gate at the bottom of a steepish slope – this appeared to be padlocked on first examination but wasn’t – the lock wasn’t closed. However, the gate was in some state of dereliction and partially fell apart as my husband opened it.  He had to prod it back together on our way out. So take care!  

Once down in the former quarry which leads to the cave, the paths are flat and relatively smooth. The cave is wheelchair accessible although the ground is a little uneven – the effects of even the pigeons cooing up in the roof make it worth a visit. 
 

Villa del Casale Piazza Armerina 

This should be a “must see” – a 3rd-century Roman villa featuring more than 40 beautiful mosaic floors and a UNESCO World Heritage Site into the bargain.

However, it currently has the builders in, replacing the covering structure,  and only parts of the site are accessible even to non-wheelchair users and open hours were also restricted - The reduced hours are Tuesday to Friday, from 10 am to 2 pm; Saturday and Sunday, from 9 am to 3 pm; Monday, closed.

As a result of the steps to get you up to the viewing platforms for the mosaics, if you are unable to walk, this site presents a problem. I am sure that this will all change with the replacement of the crumbling structures which currently protect the mosaics against the elements – at least I hope it will. As the result of all the works going on, the mosaics are covered in dust which reduces the brilliance of the colours. At least being there on a wet day (it hailed as well!) meant that drips through the roof brought out the colours. 

The main car park for the site is some distance from the buildings – show your disabled badge and it will get you much closer. We stopped at what we thought was the end of the access road. It was only when we had set off down the steep slope to the site that we were told that disabled drivers can park at the bottom of the slope. 
 

There are WCs in the café at the bottom of the access slope. On the day we visited they were out of order – all of them. Hope this has been rectified! 
 

The site is also incredibly busy – particularly with school groups – so get there early in the day. 
 

Lunch – it was a chilly and damp day and we went back into Piazza Armerina in search of refreshments. This is a town which offers many signs to restaurants but they all peter out – or did in our experience. We drove round for some time (and it’s steep as well as being attractive) with at least one traditional reverse back out of what proved to be a cul-de-sac. We finally found the hotel Villa Romana in via Alcide de Gasperi which had a parking space outside and a ramp for disabled access. The restaurant is on the ground floor – as are the WCs – and we had an inexpensive and decent lunch – it became surprisingly busy after 13.00.

 

MORGANTINA 

Located off Route 288 near Aidone, in the province of Enna, Morgantina may have been settled from central Italy around 1300 BC. The Greeks absorbed the city some six centuries later. It was destroyed by the Romans during the Punic Wars in 211 BC, but eventually rebuilt as a Roman city. Morgantina was abandoned around 30 BC for unknown reasons.  
 

The site is well sign-posted from Aidone and there is a car park on the right hand side of the access road with a disabled WC close by. However, the entrance to the site is about another 500 yards along the access road. We drove it and were informed by the person staffing the ticket office that despite other cars being parked near the office, we couldn’t. 
 

We returned to the car park and my husband took a walk around the upper part of the site. He reports that there was little of interest to see and the ground was extremely rough, also that it was not possible to cross from one part of the site to other as a fence was in the way. In a way, all this was to our benefit – within fifteen minutes of arriving, the sky opened for a torrential downpour. 
 

ENNA 

The highest provincial capital in Italy – somewhere around the 3000ft level. Which goes some way to explaining how when we arrived it was swathed in the darkness of low clouds with only the high wind to remind us that it wasn’t fog. Enna is another difficult place to get round – particularly if you can’t see where you are going and don’t grasp that it is not all on one hill but several. 
 

We stayed at the Grand Hotel d’Sicilia which is on a small square closed to the Duomo. The exterior of the building is gloomy – there a photo on Tripadvisor showing it with scaffolding – that has now gone but my husband who used to be a surveyor wondered what repairs had actually been made – crumbling concrete etc still being in evidence. Inside, it is better preserved and quite elegant - the marble floors being re-polished during our stay. We had a comfortable room with bath and what was claimed to be a spectacular view over the countryside – only visible in the morning when the clouds lifted to reveal that a gentle fall of snow during the night had happened during the night. The central heating comes on at about 16.30 contrary to the report in Tripadvisor. A very decent breakfast set us up for s day’s sight seeing. 
 

A good recommendation of a restaurant: “Ariston” at Via Roma 3 about ten minutes push away and slightly hidden in a corridor between two shops just before the main square. Very good food, inexpensively priced and in a pleasant atmosphere – but ten minutes push back a steepish slope afterwards to aid the digestion! Don’t be put off by it being up a scruffy corridor between shops – there are however a couple of steps down. 
 

Duomo

The Duomo in Enna is magnificent: rather scruffy and worn on the outside but a treasure house within. There is disabled access via a ramp but you need to find someone to open up the door – a good place to try in the office on the far side of the nave. Otherwise, it’s seven steps up. Inside, it is so worth the effort – a coffered ceiling with angels and a riot of decoration and colour. 
 

CEFALU 

Nestled between the Madonie Mountains and the sea, Cefalu has a beach, winding, narrow, medieval streets, and delightful restaurants overlooking a rocky coast. It is reasonably easy to get around the town – the streets are narrow and are shared with traffic so you have to be careful. 
 

We parked on the sea front – Via Lungomare G Giardina - close to a group of restaurants with views of the sea. The lunch at Al Gabbiano at Via Lungomare Giuseppe Giardina 17 was not only excellent – we both went for the saracenic fish dish – but was easy to get into with a WC on the level and very friendly staff – reasonable on the wallet too. 
 

Going towards the town, Via Lungomare Giuseppe Giardina leads into the Via Vittorio Emanuele which in turn has side streets running off it into the heart of the town – all very picturesque. If you keep going along Vittorio Emanuele, the end brings you onto a small quay over looking the beach with a view of the coast in the Palermo direction. 
 

Mandralisca Museum 

Not wheelchair accessible and spread over three floors, but once you are at one of the levels, its an easy surface to get around on. 

However, this is one of the most charming museums we’ve ever visited: founded by the Baron of Mandralisca in the 19th century, it displays his breadth of interests from ancient coins, through a sedan chair to stuffed birds with a lot of items in between. The art collection includes the famous Portrait of an Unknown Man, the 1465 work of Antonello da Messina with his slightly sneering smile. 
 

Duomo 

A must see. The cathedral was founded in 1131 by the Norman king Roger II, and it is a synthesis of several cultures. The interior is dominated by the image of Christ Pantocrator in the apse, surrounded on the side-walls byother mosaics from the late-1200s depicting prophets, the saints and the patriarchs. 
 

There is a long flight of steps upto the main entrance from the square in front of the Duomo and then an awkward step into the building itself. However, on leaving, we discovered another way – this is a little complicated, but it will make sense on the site and the best way to describe it is in reverse: deposit yourself in the square in front of the duomo, despatch your companion to stand with their back to the front of the Duomo, to their left, they will see a roughish path which leads at an angle across the area in front of the Duomo, following this path leads to a ramp to the street. There are steps were this street meets the square. So your companion will need to cross the street, walk along the narrow side street in front of them (there is a church on the left), turn right at the first intersection and then by turning right again, work their way back to you in the square. Either that, or they pull you up about a dozen steps. 
 

Il lavatoio 

This is a medieval washing place on the left hand side of Via Vittorio Emanuele as you go towards the Duomo – the steps down to it prevent wheelchair access but if you can walk and are interested in medieval washing arrangements – this is the place for you. 
 

PALERMO 

One of the least friendly places for driving with a medieval complex of narrow, twisting, one way streets without direction signs and street names. We spent one day exploring, returning the following day for some more but gave up in increasing despair  and rambled off outside the town. You have been warned! 
 

Palazzo dei Normanni 

The famous chapel with its mosaics is currently closed during building operations. We found this out when we got there. That was a fact which we could do nothing about. However, don’t believe everything else you may be told. 
 

The ticket seller advised us that there were three flights of stairs inside the building to get to the royal apartments we wanted to see. Well, there was a ramp upto the main entrance which helped and having got to the top, I was about to disembark from my chair preparatory to my husband carrying it up three floors when a guard pointed out that there was a lift to floor we wanted. Why didn’t the ticket mention this? Don’t know. Go into the main court and turn right – it’s in the corner – in front of the disabled WC which is in a small yard behind it. 
 

This took us up to the state rooms on the second floor – there are some steps as you go round – which are a spectacular mixture of mosaics and chinoiserie. You will be escorted by a guard in small groups so you may have to wait. 
 

Duomo 

A fully accessible building with a splendid entrance – the tombs of the Norman Kings of Sicily on the lefthand side as you enter are only open for visitors in the morning (there is a very confusing sign). These were the main reason for our visiting the Duomo and my husband spent some time lying on the floor of the nave trying to photograph the tombs under a screen. 
 

Palazzo Mirto Museum 

This is a rare example of a noble palace that has preserved its original structure and furnishings practically intact – dating from the seventeenth century when the Palace became the property of the Filangeri family. It contains a range of wonderful rooms and furnishings over two floors. 

It does not have a lift and there are long staircases between the floors. I was helped by two charming gentlemen because I had trouble with the rope balustrades. I think we were the only visitors – it is a gem and deserves to be wider known. 

There is a WC in the courtyard but it involves some steps. 
 

S. Maria dell'Ammiraglio 

Built in 1142 by the admiral George of Antiochia, then it was ceded to the Eloisa "Martorana" convent. Norman construction with a quadrangular structure, wich make it similar to Byzantine Churches, was modified with Baroque elements. The splendid Byzantine mosaics of the inside decorate the church together with frescos and Baroque marbles. It is accessible only up a steep flight of steps – if you can make it, do so, for it is flat once you get inside the church – the mosaics are wonderful. 
 

Monte Pellegrino 

A drive to the top of the mountain overlooking Palermo and the coast to the east was a pleasant way of spending an hour. After you have wound your way through woodlands to an area of souvenir shops and cafes, keep on going, bearing to the right, and the road will bring you to a belvedere which gives you a stupendous view. 
 

Solunto 

Located 17 kilometers east of Palermo overlooking the coast just outside Santa Flavia, Solunto is situated on the slopes of Mount Catalfamo, This town was built on the site of a Phoenician village founded around 700 BC but expanded by the Greeks, who conquered it in 396 BC. By 254 BC, during the First Punic War, it had fallen into Roman hands. The ruins of Solunto were rediscovered in the sixteenth century and excavations have continued since then. Unfortunately, the access road to the site is closed and there were no indications as to when it would open again.  
 

MONREALE 

We found it by accident the first time (we were actually trying to drive to Segesta on side roads but gave up when we realised how long it would take) and had immense problems finding it when we wanted to go there. Monreale is signed from the ring road around Palermo. Unfortunately, the signs disappear fairly quickly and we found ourselves rambling around so very attractive countryside but with no sign of the town. Enquiries put us on the right road and we approached Monreale from a completely unexpected direction. 
 

Bearing in mind that we were travelling in early March, we had little trouble in finding places to park. There are disabled spaces outside the town hall which is on the square outside the cathedral. The cloister: one of the finest Italian cloisters both for size and beauty of detail now extant. 216 columns in all, which were alternately plain and decorated by bands of patterns in gold and colors, arranged either spirally or vertically from end to end of each shaft. The marble caps are each richly carved with figures and foliage executed with skill and fertility of invention, each is unique. Access is difficult – there are seven steps down from the shop where the entrance is to the cloister itself but once you are in the cloister, the surface is level and easy to move round on. We were fortunate – there was hardly anyone else there on the day we visited and it was remarkably peaceful with glimpses of the mountains and cathedral tower .

The cathedral: Monreale is world-renowned for its cathedral, a dazzling mixture of Arab, Byzantine and Norman artistic styles framed by traditional Romanesque architecture, all combined in a perfect blend of the best that both the Christian and Muslim worlds of the 12th century had to offer. The beautiful mosaics in Monreale Cathedral are said to be one of the world's largest displays of this art and cover 6,340 square metres of the duomo's interior surface, more than those of the splendid church of Saint Mark in Venice.

Access is by a couple of steps and inside, the floor is generally level. The treasury which is up some steps is worth a visit if you can manage it – in particular, the image of Jonah and the Whale set into the floor is charming.

On practical points, the public WC near the Cathedral is down a slight of steps. However, there is a café opposite the entrance into the cloister on the opposite side of the square. It does not have a disabled WC but it is possible to access the general facility on the level if you enter via the righthand side of the café – you will see that it is split into two units – the lefthand side has steps. 

SEGESTA 

One of our biggest surprises on disabled access! A Greek temple and theatre dating from around 400BC, the former one of the best preserved Greek sites anywhere and the latter perched on the top of a mountain 1200 ft above sea level – and it’s possible to go around both in a wheelchair. 
 

There is one car park for both sites and it is well sign posted from the autostrada between Palermo and Trapani. We parked in the car park and then went into the ticket office which is down a slope. One of the staff explained that we should drive round from the car park to the site entrance – only a few yards – and from there we would be able to drive upto a further car park just behind the ruins of the Greek theatre on the top of the adjacent hill. The theatre site is also served by a bus so it’s a good albeit twisty road to the top. You do have to wait for the bus to not be in transit as the road is too narrow for vehicles to pass. This is great: it is only a short push over fairly even ground to the theatre and its views across the countryside to the distant sea. 
 

On our return down to the car park – there are WCs just be the ticket office – we drove across to the other side where a small hut guards the path upto the temple. This path is strewn with steps. However, the guardian if he sees your disabled badge will open a barrier behind his hut and let you drive up a track to the temple. This track is extremely rough and can only be taken slowly to avoid spreading intimate parts of your vehicle over the countryside. However, it lets you park within a few yards of the temple, the ground is reasonable flat in front of the temple and on the side away from the side where you have parked, there is a ramp leading up to the interior. There is not much more you can ask in the circumstances.
 

SELINUNTE 

Another must see sight of ruined temples – and again, you can see a great deal from a wheelchair. 

There is a large parking area at the entrance into the site which is signposted from Castelvetrano which is the nearest town. By the entrance to the car park are some souvenir shops, a café (surprisingly good panini) and WCs, including disabled facilities. 
 

After buying your ticket, you pass through to the eastern section of the site. This is a very big site and in addition to the temples and ruins on this side of the valley, there is the Acropolis and other temples on the far side. A track leads between the two. It is a long push and is steep – so tried to avoid it. However, there is a shuttle service of electric vehicles between the two areas and this is far more civilised although it does pre-suppose that you can climb up onto the seat – my wheelchair was jammed into a holder on the back of the vehicle. This was a much better way of getting about – the driver stopped at one point to show some pillars which still bore traces of the colours that had been put on them more than 2000 years ago.  
 

We were able to get around the eastern side of the site without too much trouble – disturbing the lizards which were enjoying the early sun.  

The Acropolis side of the site is rougher under wheel than the eastern side, but I could still get around a great deal of it. It also has its own disabled WC on that side. 
 

AGRIGENTO 

The valley of the temples is something of a misnomer because these actually stretch along a high ridge of about two miles between the town and the sea. 
 

There are two car parks for the sites – a small park near to the temple of Juno Lacinia and a much larger park near the Temple of Hercules with souvenir shops and toilets. We parked in the latter – the slopes in this area mean that there will be some pushing uphill wherever you park so it doesn’t really matter. It does involve the payment of 2€ to the guardian who hovers around the park. 
 

The Temples of Hercules, Concordia and Juno Lacinia are through a gate on the opposite side of the road from the car park and the service road which runs up to them while having a rough surface is easier to manage on its left hand side where there have been some repairs. The road is steep – but is relieved by a café with disabled WC opposite the Temple of Concordia. The WC is listed as being free – a small tip to the guardian sitting in the foyer is welcomed.

 

So far as the Temple of Juno Lacinia is concerned, there is a very steep path with runs up and around the eastern side of the Temple. It is manageable, but only with care and some strength. 
 

The Temple of Concordia is more accessible with a smoother track leading upto the western side of the building and then down to the road again. 
 

The Temple of Hercules is accessed by a timber ramp from the service road. 
 

From the car park another route runs to the remains of the Temple of Jove  – there are steps and very uneven areas which caused me to get out but it is possible to get round part of that area. One of the statues – or telemon - which supported the temple rests on the ground here  - under a tent while restoration takes place. We were invited in to have a look at the work which is being done. From the entrance to this part of the site another track branches off to the right, leading down to the Temple of Castor and Pollux. 
 

The museum is well worth a visit –  drive to it as it is about 800m from the main site and is up hill - coming to it from the south which is what you will do if you have visited the open air sites first – ignore the first turning into the museum which looks like a major turning and has chains and a gate but go on a few more yards and a less impressive turning opens on the left – this is one of the ways into the car park. 

The entrance into the museum complex is from the car park. When we visited, it was pelting down with rain so we were interested in the quickest way into the building and getting under cover. This involved quite a few flights of steps. However, if from the way in from the car park you go across the garden in front of the museum, pass the café on your left and leave the garden at the far side, turning then to your right. This will lead by a back route to the entrance to the museum avoiding steps.  
 

Once inside, there are stairlifts between the levels and it is necessary to find a guardian to operate them. The lavatories are in the basement, accessed by stairlifts – for once we can’t comment on them. We can advise however that the facilities outside the museum by the café were locked.  
 

The displays in the museum extend from the most delicate of pottery, a repositioned telemon so you can get an idea as to their original purpose and loads of artefacts – the most touching item is the sarcophagus of a Roman child – carvings of the grieving family around the death bed and on one end a carving of parents with the child in a small chariot pulled by a goat. 
 

FINAL 

Yes, it was difficult getting around Sicily but the challenges were outweighed by the benefits. It’s a beautiful island with so much to see and we saw far more than we thought we would. I hope this persuades you that you too should have a closer look.

 

 Don't miss Mark & Margaret Edward's other journeys to these destinations:
 

Madrid '07

Amsterdam '07

Bologna '07
Milan '06

Venice '06

Vienna '07
Granada
 

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