Vendicari – among nature, culture and paradise beaches.
Today we go south. We are on the latitude of Tunisia.
Vendicari (Riserva Orientata Oasi Faunistica di Vendicari) – a nature reserve located in the province of Syracuse, covers an area of 1335 hectares and extends along the coast for 8 kilometers. There are 5 entrances to the reserve: Eloro, Marianelli, Calamosche, Torre Vendicari (main entrance) and Citadella. Each of them allows us to reach original and unique areas.
You will not be able to visit the reserve in half a day. I think that in order to fully understand a place like Vendicari, one must forget about the clock and listen to the sound of the sea. Watching the uncontaminated nature, imagine how this area looked a few centuries ago.
It is difficult to understand and appreciate certain places without knowing their history. History of Vendicari, as well as the rest of Sicily, is very complex and interesting. In this text I will highlight only the most important facts, without going into details. We will definitely return to Vendicari on the Trails fo Sicily.
Before I tell you about the distant past, I will just mention that in the 1970s, the oil refinery was supposed to be build in the territory of the current reserve! Yes, the refinery! Another idea at the turn of the 70s was to drain and dry all the area and to construct a huge tourist complex. Fortunately, activists of local ecological and naturalist organizations have found the strength and courage to oppose the industrial, political and mafia interests of those times. In 1984 the Vendicari area became an official nature reserve.
The first signs of human presence in the Vendicari are from the 7th – 6th century BC. In the northern part of the reserve (Eloro area) we find remnants of numerous quarries (it. latomie), from which the Greek colonists extracted material for the construction of Eloro. Imagine, for a moment, the lives of slaves who, under the Sicilian sun, plundered the stone walls with primitive tools to transport the extracted material to the construction site of the new polis.
In the northern part of the reserve we find remnants of the ancient Greek road – Via Elorina, which connects Syracuse and Eloro. We also see a Hellenistic column called the Colonna Pizzuta, which is most likely to commemorate some important event of the Greek domination.
In the southern part of the reserve there are traces of man from Byzantine times – Citadella archaeological zone. Here you can see the rests of the settlement of 5th – 6th cenury BC. The most significant remnant of this era is the church called Trigona or Cuba, distinguished by its characteristic form (with three apses and a dome-shaped roof). In the zone of Citadella there are also many bizantine necropolises: catacombs and remains of graves lit in the rocks.
Trail Tonnara – Calamosche
Today I invite you to visit the part of the reserve, where is located Tonnara di Vendicari e Torre Sveva (Swabian Tower). And if you find strength, I will take you to the paradise beach of Calamosche.
The length of the trail one way is around 4 kilometers.
We reach the main entrance of the reserve (Torre Vendicari), which is located at Contrada Vendicari, Noto, SR.
You can come here by car only; public buses do not arrive in this place. We leave the car in the parking lot or directly at the side of the road. Parking charge is of around 2-3 euros per day, entrance to the reserve – free.
You can not bring any animals into the park, you can not bring balls, rockets, radios, tents and anything else that could disturb the animals in the nature reserve. Access to the park on bike is also forbidden.
And very well! In this way, not only the local fauna and flora are protected, but also the type of visitors who in groups are making camps, grilling, shouting as if they were on their private beach are discouraged. This is, unfortunately, the typical behavior of some Sicilians. If you’ve been to any public beach in Sicily, you know what I’m talking about. Here we stay in peace.
We remember to bring water with us. The park does not have any shops, kiosks, etc. In the summer it is really terribly hot in here.
At the beginning of the trail we go down the road between eucalyptus and other splendid trees. After ten minutes we reach the shallow marsh area. At this point, some are a bit shocked by the smell of rotting water. Yes, it just stinks. These lakes, called in italian pantano, are shallow and muddy and high Sicilian temperatures favor further decomposition processes in their murky waters. However, these murshes are of great importance to the local fauna. Imagine that birds migrating from Africa to Europe find here the first oportune place they can rest after flying over the Mediterranean Sea without any stop. For some species this is just a rest point, for others permanent residence.
Pantano zone is a paradise for bird watching enthusiasts. Personally, I would not have the patience to stand for hours with binoculars and watch birds, but I must admit that in the Vendicari even an ignorant, like me, has lots of fun. There are black cormorants, spoonbill, various species of ducks and herons, swans, gulls and flamingos.
Water in the lakes is mixed with seawater, which promotes the development of many species of fish, crustaceans and molluscs, plants and algae that provide food for resident or visiting birds.
The lakes from the Middle Ages to the beginning of the twentieth century were used to grow sea salt. The ruins that we see on the lake called Pantano Grande are the home of salina workers. Please, stop here for the moment of reflection. What was the life of the people living in this house? Imprisoned on a islet surrounded by salt pans, working in the heat to cultivate the precious salt. We can only imagine.
We are about to reach the sea. Behind the dunes there is a view of blue water, but here awaits us an unpleasant surprise. The beach is full of seaweed! And we perceive a nasty smell, as well. In the water, just off the shore, the dark islands of dead sea grass float. How to swim here! It is true that in these conditions the bath is not very pleasant, but we must know that the plant on the beach is the Neptun grass (Posidonia oceanica), which is fundamental to protect the coast and dun from the sea waves. In addition, through the process of photosynthesis, it oxigenates water, encouraging the development of countless species of animals and marine plants. It is also an ecological indicator because it only grows in clean waters. Fortunately, there is a section of the coast nearby which is free from Neptun grass and where you can swim in transparent water.
We come to a place called Tonnara di Vendicari or Tonnara di Bafutu – tuna factory. Here is the spot where red tuna (Thunnus thynnus) was cleaned and preserved. Fish worked in tonnara was caught in the traditional way (so called mattanza) in local waters. To conserve the tuna, salt from nearby salt pans was used. The earliest historical references to the tonnara date back to the 17th century.
With interruptions, it was active until 1944. Here you can see a short movie that shows how mattanza looked like. We move into the past for several decades…
The Swabian Tower – Torre Sveva, which stands near the tonnara, was probably built on the request of Frederick II of Swabia, king of Sicily in first half of the 13th century, and later reconstructed many times. The tower was designed to protect against pirates. In this point, there was an important commercial port from which the grain and other goods from the fertile Noto Valley (Val di Noto) were transported.
The blue-painted building was once home to the tuna factory workers. Today it guests a small museum where we can see the model of fishing nets, fishing tools and exposition of animals living in the reserve.
Just behind the museum there is a small beach, which is usually free of Neptun grass. You can refresh here in a clear water.
Passing the museum and walking along the coast, after a few tens of meters we encounter stone tunks carved in the rock. These holes, derived from the period of Greek domination, were most likely to have been used to make a garum, a traditional rotten fish sauce. The crushed fish was watered with salty sea water and mixed with wooden sticks. The resulting paste was very valuable and nutritious; could have been conserved for a long time.
Near the garum tanks the water is crystal. Here you can definately enjoy a bath. Watch your feet though because the stones are slippery and sharp. Better put on special plastic swimming shoes. The water here is full of fish, so it’s worth to swim with a snorkeling mask.
Follow the road towards Calamosche and you will find another lake (Pantano Piccolo) and a bird watching point. The way in front of us is the ancient Elorin Way (Via Elorina). Here you can still see stone fragments of Greek pavements.
Along the way we encounter small palms (palma nana – Chamaeropus humilis), which are the only species of palms naturally growing in Europe. We also pass the abandoned plantation of prickly pear. From under our feet escape lizards and crickets. There are also few species of snakes living in the area. Of course not poisonous. Unfortunately I have never had luck to see any of them.
All the area is exposed to the sun. Forget about the shadow. In summer, this trail can be quite tiring. The coast is high and rocky and you can not go down to the wate.
Fortunately, after about 20 minutes of marching there is a prize waiting for us. We can finaly see the paradise beach Calamosche. Just a few dozen meters down and we immerse ourselves in the blue of Sicilian waters.
- Take with you the water supplies and sunscreen (cream, hat, etc.).
- Take a snorkel mask and water shoes to protect your feet. In many places the coast is rocky and it’s easy to cut your foot.
- Trail from the entrance marked Torre Vendicari to Calamosche Beach is just over 4 kilometers long one way. The road is flat, but in summer it can be quite tiresome.
- Wear sneakers or sports sandals. The road is rocky and full of protruding roots. It is very easy to hit or hurt your feet.
- If you just want to take a bath and relax on the sandy beach, go straight to Calamosche Beach (alternative entrance to the Vendicari Reserve). The road from the car park to the beach is about one kilometer long. In the car park area you will find a shower and a small restaurant.
If you would like to book a guided tour, please call 0039/3284375138 or write on firstname.lastname@example.org or find Szlakami Sycylii – Trails od Sicily on Facebook.
Pick up from the hotel is possible.