When the level of suffocation and stuffiness of this island reaches a threshold I find peace and solace in long bike rides in Sicily. Here one can find long country roads full of gold and green with rarely a soul in sight. Just what I need for a system reboot!

I booked the catamaran tickets quite early on since May is a popular month for travelling. I planned an easy route on Google maps, trying to keep the elevation as low as possible. This was going to be a relaxed ride and not a sufferfest. The plan was to visit the South East coast of Sicily, particularly the town of Pachino and Marzamemi, and view as much countryside and scenery as possible on the way. I would travel light: a jacket, spare tubes, a CO2 regulator and cartridges, two small towels, credit card, some cash, ID card, a bottle of water and some cereal bars. My plan was to stop en- route every twenty kilometres or so for coffee, snacks and lunch.

The day arrived. The weather forecast was warm and sunny. I left Mosta at 5a.m. and arrived at the Valletta Terminal in half an hour. I took the shortest route which involved mostly bypasses. It was still dark and my lights were on, but I cycled as cautiously as possible, sticking to the inner lane even though the roads were empty. As soon as I arrived at the terminal I was shown my way through the passenger lounge by very courteous Virtu Ferries staff, and proceeded to the catamaran’s garage where I locked my bike on the side. I proceeded to the lounge, found a seat and slept for most of the way.

We disembarked at Pozzallo at 8.24a.m. to a hot sunny day and I proceeded out of the terminal and took an easternly route towards the village of Pozzallo.

Pozzallo is a lovely little village that is something of a cross between Marsaxlokk and Sliema. Its coast is lined with boats and restaurants; its centre is lined with fashion boutiques, piazzas and palaces. I stopped at one of the cafeterias for a coffee and croissant – fuel for my ride and a feast of splendid sea and sand for my eyes. I always wonder about how many shades of blue one can find on our planet.

Just out of Pozzallo and I encounter the first hiccup – a flat tire. After the initial disbelief and anger at the sheer bad luck I resolved to replace the tube and after half an hour of sweat running into my eyes the bike was up and running. Now the towels came in handy. I found a seaside restaurant that was just opening up for the day and used their bathroom to wash my greasy hands and freshen up.

After that I proceeded to cycle along a beautiful coastal road with a sandy beach to my right and a light breeze blowing inland. I reached Santa Maria del Foccallo but avoided the centre of the village and kept to the coast. The sight of the clean white sand and varying-shades- of-blue sea was too beautiful to replace with limestone and mortar. This is precisely what I needed, to feel the fresh air on my face, to look far away to the horizon without obstructions of buildings, tower cranes and cars. I needed nature.

At Granelli I had to leave the coast and turn inland towards Strada Provinciale 44 and then S.P. 22 which leads directly to the central piazza of Pacchino; Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. This route was very green with plenty of olive groves lining the sides and a little lake with some white birds.

The piazza was not impressive at all, except for one thing; the amount of idle men lying around on benches. At one point I asked a local whether it was a public holiday but it was
not. These people were the ‘disoccupati’ or unemployed of Pachino.

Being the outsider, I felt a little uneasy at first, but then relaxed after I realised that I was not drawing any particular attention. I had a coffee and snack at the Cafetteria Maltese, which was named thus because it was the surname of the owner.

A garden shop with the goods displayed on the pavement and an old gentleman guarding the entrance caught my eye. This reminded me so much of Malta in the seventies when I was a little boy and shops used to put their wares on the pavement. In some Maltese villages some shops still do.

It was now midday and I was already lobster red from the sun’s fierce rays. I made a mental note to bring sun-cream with me for the next trip, and make sure to wear a long-sleeved cycling jersey.

At around 1.00pm I left Pachino for Marzamemi, about 7km away, easy cycling all the way.

Marzamemi is an enchanting fishing village and my photography does not do it justice. It is based around a tuna fishery and factory that was constructed by the Arabs in the 11th century and then was taken over in 1630 by the Prince of Villadorata, who constructed the fishery and houses we can still see to this day. The main piazza, called Piazza Regina Margherita, consists of two churches both dedicated to San Francesco di Paola, surrounded with the prince’s palace and fishermen’s tiny houses all around the perimeter.

The fishermen’s lodgings have now been converted into souvenir shops and colourful seafood restaurants. I would be a fool to miss the opportunity for a platter of pasta made with the famous pomodorini di Pachino and local seafood.

I sat down in the shade of an umbrella on a table with white chairs and a colourful table cloth. The food did not disappoint. It went down really well, helped also by the picturesque settings of the piazza and its one-storey buildings surrounding me.
After the obligatory espresso I commenced my hunt for a gelato artiginale – the homemade Italian ice-cream. I was spoilt for choice and I chose a place with the most shade, the coldest beer, and with delicious Italian ice-cream.

I stretched the beer and ice-cream as much as decency would let me. Although it was still early May, the temperature was approaching 30 degrees, it was early afternoon and I was in no condition to cycle with a full belly. I was squirming from the thought of sitting on that hot black seat.

After enjoying my beer and ice cream I had to make a move. I started pedalling slowly out of Marzamemi going North and keeping to the coast, first of all to enjoy the afternoon breeze blowing inland, and secondly because coast roads tend to be mostly flat, and I was in no position to confront any hills!

I passed one village after another full of pretty summer houses. All were closed and boarded up with not a soul in sight. The sun’s heat started to decrease as the afternoon progressed gently and peacefully into early evening. I cycled on to the Riserva Naturale di Vendicari but for some reason I missed the road leading to the entrance, so I cycled Westward and away from the coast to a change of scenery and to start the journey back to Pozzallo.

I cycled through one long country road after another in peace and quiet with no mishaps, except for one minor detour that I took while following the route suggested by Google Maps. I made a mental note that, when Google Maps suggests a route through a road and I see that it is not tarmacked, I ignore it and follow the road signs. In Sicily there are roads that have been certified as completed and paid for by the state, but the work was never completed.

With one pedal stroke after another I arrived at around 5p.m. in the village of Pozzallo. I had completed exactly 100 km in one day. It was too early for the ferry, which would leave at 9p.m., and quite early for dinner, so I went searching for a pasticceria to buy some Sicilian delights. I had a tip from a friend to look for Pasticceria Fratelli Sciuto in Via Mazzini. I found it easily using Google Maps and bought some fresh Sicilian Cannoli and Rum Babas. Dessert was sorted. Now to look for a restaurant with a decent toilet for a little wash-in-the-sink, and then dinner. I found a seaside restaurant called Bar Trattoria da Franco, which served me with a nice plate of Linguine alla Tarantina and an espresso. As the evening progressed I cycled along the coast until I found a quiet bench where I watched the sun set and slowly enjoyed a cannolo and a rum baba. Then I cycled slowly to the port to board the ferry.

On the catamaran I met a fellow cyclist – a Russian teacher from Moscow who had just cycled all round the coast of Sicily on his road bike, with his credit card and just one tiny bike bag. I was surprised that he did not smell. Probably he had just had a wash in a Sicilian sink just like me.
We spent the two-hour trip back talking about cycling (obviously, what else?). He showed me the Russian version of Google Maps, Facebook and Messenger. He told me that he was a 31-year old maths teacher who spent his summer holidays touring various countries on his bike. He started out with his parents when he was 16 years old. They ignited in him the passion for bicycle touring, and ever since then he has been doing bike tours every Summer. He was going to Malta to tour the two islands in 3 days.

In Valletta I gave him directions to his hotel and we parted ways. He was an inspiration. I planned to do more bike tours – at least one every year. The route back home was uneventful. The cold night air kept me sufficiently awake and I arrived safely home in half an hour. Total kilometres cycled since I left home was 113km.
As I put my head on my pillow I could feel a little soreness in my sit bones and knees. I slept like a baby and dreamt of winding roads lined with cannoli hedges and trees filled with hanging rum babas.