Jane's Delicious Garden Blog

The Secrets of Brassicas

Posted in Grow Your Own Veg! Tips & Techniques by Administrator on the February 10th, 2016

pics Feb 2016

For many years I only grew herbs and greens in my vegetable garden during winter. Summer veggies seemed more fun and winter became a time of dormancy for me and my garden. That all changed after I planted broccoli for the first time. It quickly grew into a luscious bed of edible heads. But the best surprise was how long they lasted. As long as I kept snipping off the newly developed side shoots before they flowered, we ate nutritious broccoli for months. Since then I have grown many members of the Brassica family and along the way learned a few things about this prolific and interesting family.

Secrets of Brassicas
Kale, mustard, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and more are all Brassicas. Probably the only other vegetable family with a wider diversity of shapes and sizes is the Cucurbit or squash family.

As Brassicas are heavy feeders, enrich the soil with compost and add a slow release, balanced fertiliser before planting.
All Brassicas prefer more alkaline soil and benefit from some lime being added before planting. This also helps prevent club root disease, a fungal disease affecting the Brassica family. Rhubarb leaves, which are very high in oxalic acid, help to prevent club root. Water the ground with a rhubarb drench (see below) before sowing seeds or transplanting seedlings.
Crop rotation also reduces chances of club root developing. Brassicas should not follow one another in the same spot for at least two years. When Brassicas have finished bearing, pull the entire plant out, roots and all, and compost it. Leaving the stumps in the ground encourages club root.
Companions: All Brassicas love growing alongside aromatic and flowering plants such as rosemary and sage.

The Four Stages of Growth

Some Brassicas, such as kale and mustard, are leafy greens and can be grown as such. Others – particularly broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage – require a little more care. These vegetables all develop buds, either a large single one like cabbage, or a mass of them, like broccoli. These Brassicas have four stages of growth.

In the early stages they concentrate on developing their roots and leaves.
During the second stage, the outer leaves develop.
The third stage is the most important, as this is when the plant builds up nutrients in the outer leaves. The third stage is the time that Brassicas most appreciate being fed some extra food.
Once sufficient nutrients are stored, the plant transfers them from the older outer leaves to the internal buds, which develop very quickly during the fourth stage. Feeding Brassicas during the fourth stage won’t make much difference as the growth is too fast for the roots to keep pumping nutrients to the heads. All the growth is drawn from the outer leaves.

So we need to feed our Brassicas with a balanced diet before the heads start developing. They require a balanced organic fertiliser, such as Talborne Vita-Fruit Flower (3:1:5), as this will help build large, healthy heads and buds.


Cabbage is one of the easiest Brassicas to grow, as it is not too fussy about climate or soil. It comes in a variety of colours and shapes, from compact red ones to large frilly green ones. Although it prefers cooler weather, it can be grown almost throughout the year. Avoid cabbages maturing in midsummer or sowing seeds in midwinter. Although cabbages consist of a mass of green leaves, don’t make the mistake of thinking they need a nitrogen-rich soil. Too much nitrogen makes the inner leaves grow too quickly and causes the heads to split.

Cabbages like full sun and consistent moisture throughout their growing period. A good way to protect cabbages from leaf-eating bugs is to sprinkle of tansy, feverfew, artemisia or pyrethrum in amongst their leaves. More than most vegetables, cabbages benefit from polyculture plantings instead of monoculture. Interplanting with dill, coriander, anise, oregano, borage, nasturtium, sage and thyme will repel leaf-eating insects and camouflage the distinctive shape of the cabbage.


Kale is a quick-growing leafy vegetable. It is very similar to cabbage except it doesn’t form a head in the middle. It is also hardy, easy to grow and is subject to very few pest attacks or diseases. It prefers growing during the cooler months and likes moist conditions.

Kale is easily grown from seed and isn’t too fussy about its soil. It prefers full sun, except during the hotter months, when it benefits from some shade. It needs consistent watering and well-mulched soil. Kale grows well with strong-flavoured herbs such as basil, parsley and sage.

Kale is not a delicate green, like spinach, which only needs to be cooked for a short time. Kale benefits from being thoroughly cooked, particularly the tougher, curly-leafed varieties.

Purple broccoli (1)

Broccoli is a superhero when it comes to packing a nutritional punch. It contains high levels of vitamins, calcium, beta-carotene, potassium and iron. When buying seedlings, choose compact ones rather than tall leggy ones, as these will transplant more smoothly. If you crowd the plants closer, the heads will be smaller. Keep an eye out for leaf-eating bugs which can damage the central growing point, especially when the seedlings are small.

Harvest the central head while compact, even if it’s quite small. If it starts looking loose, cut it immediately otherwise the buds will open and flower. Cut it about 10 cm below the head. As the weather becomes cooler it will continue producing side shoots. Harvest them before they flower, otherwise the plant will stop producing any more shoots.


Cauliflower, unlike broccoli which continues to produce side heads after the first harvest, is a once-off deal. Despite this, it is worth planting a few in a small vegetable garden as freshly picked cauliflower has a flavour and crunchiness far surpassing your average supermarket offering. Choose from snowy white, purple, to the spiral Romanesque (pictured).

Cauliflower needs constant moisture, rich soil and just the right temperatures to form a good head. Different varieties have differing lengths of maturity, head sizes and resistance to warmer weather. They must be transplanted very gently with as little disturbance to the roots as possible. They produce better heads if grown in a firm soil.

When the heads are a good size (6.5–10 cm in diameter) cover them with some bigger outer leaves to keep them white. Either tie the leaves together over the top or break the leaves and fold them over. Check every few days after doing this to see if they are ready. Heads should be cut when they are compact and firm. Don’t let them become loose or develop individual florets.


Rhubarb Drench

500 g rhubarb leaves, chopped
1 ℓ of water
Boil leaves in 1 ℓ of water for 30 minutes. Cool and strain. Can keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

A Delicious Launch

Posted in Garden Diary by Administrator on the October 17th, 2015

What a great turnout at Love Books for the launch of Jane’s Delicious Urban Gardening. I was interviewed by Jenny Crwys-Williams and she was so enthusiastic about the book. Great welcome home!


Delicious Launch at Love Books 

Posted in Garden Diary by Administrator on the October 17th, 2015

What a great turnout at Love Books for the launch of Jane’s Delicious Urban Gardening!  




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What to do with venison mince and fresh cabbage?

Posted in Garden Diary by Administrator on the August 28th, 2015

My friend Guy is a hunter. And I am  a conscious carnivore – if I am going to eat meat I try and source it from an animal that has lived a natural life. (I used to say ‘a happy life’ but who am I to define an animal’s level of happiness?) Last weekend Guy gave me a bag of blesbok min. Tender, high in protein and low in fat, it is ideal for a bolognaise. But it can be quite rich. To leaven it I added mushrooms and creamy roast eggplant but then came the magic ingredient to add a fresh crunch to rich bolognaise: thinly sliced cabbage from the garden. After  placing the hot spaghetti in a bowl, I scattered the cabbage on top and then added the bolognaise sauce. A sprinkle of grated parmegiano and voila. A fantastic mix.  


Down Pmb memory lanes

Posted in Garden Diary by Administrator on the August 24th, 2015

I grew up in Pietermaritzburg. My Dad’s pharmacy (Stephenson & Griffiths) was in Longmarket street, providing easy access to the warren of lanes between Longmarket and Church streets. Their names – Timber street, Theatre lane, Buchanan Street – bring back floods of memories.

Entertainment venues came and went. The Laager ice rink ran for a few years and we all became skating fanatics until it closed. I remember family outings to the Putt Putt course near the Bird Sanctuary and the Drive Inn, out past Epworth School. The Royal Show was a highlight. In those days we had the fairground, with its Big Dipper and Swings, that accompanied the show jumping, cattle arena and The Fudge Lady. The annual Azalea Festival, with its parade of floats and drummies through the city centre, and Shrove Tuesday Pancake Race were also never missed. We went to movies at the Grand Cinema (with its red velvet curtains and upstairs balcony) and the 20th Century, both long gone. Weekends were spent riding ponies in Winterskloof, sailing at Midmar or hiking up to World’s View, stopping for a picnic in the pine forest.

In my teen years many a Saturday night was spent at the infamous Lord John disco at The Imp, as the Imperial Hotel was known. The ice rink was converted to the Electric Ballroom, which lasted for about two seconds, however, The Polo Tavern and its great folk music, entertained us for years. Twiggy’s Pie Cart, Bimbos and The Owl’s Nest were late night (or early morning) post party eateries.

But the lanes were a constant, with antique shops and hippies selling funky hand-made leather shoes, Gents’ Outfitters, second-hand book stores and delicious bakeries. Geoff, a flamboyant hair dresser from London, set up his salon here and shocked Pmb by introducing pink and purple hair dyes. Hey Jude, a record lending library, was always full of great music and people, and George’s coffee shop were Saturday morning hang out spots. Today, the lanes are still there, but the magical shops of my youth are gone. For Pmb children of today, the single lane of Liberty Mall is the one they prefer.

So the question today is: Are you feeling LUCKY???
I am thrilled to see that the annual Witness Garden Show is such a great success.

I have FREE TICKETS to give away to 12 lucky people – simply send an email to
info@janesdeliciousgarden.com with the subject line Witness Garden Show

The first 12 people to respond will receive them.

This year my fabulously green fingered friend, Tanya Visser and her team from The Gardener Magazine have taken over its management. Some of the new attractions include:
• A Gourmet Food Hall
• A Go Green Hall of eco-friendly products and services
• A bigger, better Kids Zone
• More, improved garden designs
• A greater selection of plants from more plant growers and nurseries
• Demos on gardening, cooking, flower arranging and more.
• Ready, Steady, Plant with Tanya Visser
• Competitions to win fabulous prizes

Pic for FB

Cauliflower crunch

Posted in Garden Diary by Administrator on the August 19th, 2015

I picked one of the last cauliflowers today, along with collard greens and coriander.  

I also had some baby eggplants and all these ingredients suggested an Asian dish. (I never quite know what I’m going to make for dinner until I start cooking. These ingredients could just as easily have turned into an Italian soup.)

First:  slice the baby eggplants in half, toss them with olive oil, diced garlic and ginger. Roast at 220C for 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, fold the collard green leaves and slice the stems off. Dice stems and chop the leaves separately.  

Heat peanut oil in a wok or pan and stir fry chopped cashew nuts and diced dry chilli for 30 seconds or so. Add the cauliflower florets and collard stems and cook for a few minutes. Add the collard green leaves and a good few squirts of Black Magic (a YUM  mixture of salty, sweet and sour*). Turn the heat down, cover and cook until the collards are tender but the cauliflower still crunchy. 

Mix the eggplants (plus all the crispy garlic and ginger) with the cauliflower mixture, give it a final squirt of Black Magic and serve with egg noodles and fresh coriander. 

 *(If you can’t find Black Magic then mix two tablespoons soy sauce, two teaspoons fish sauce, two teaspoons mirin and juice of one lime.)

Singing the boerewors blues

Posted in Garden Diary by Administrator on the August 18th, 2015

Whenever I go through Pietermaritzburg I buy some Greenfields meat.  From a farm near Mooi River, their  free range, grass fed beef is superb. Usually I go for a whole fillet and spoil my Kzn family.   On my last visit I spied some boerewors. Now, I am not a great fan of boerewors, most often finding it over spiced. For me a little goes a long way. But the Greenfields’ boerie was different. Simply cooked over some hot coals, with a dash of mustard, it was superb. So on my way back through Pmb after a week at the coast, I stocked up on more. Last night I made my version of boerie rolls: 

Grilled boerewors topped with onions (cooked with crème fraîche and thyme) on crispy garlicky ciabatta rolls. Served with a salad of lettuce, rocket, tomatoes and feta. 

Ciabatta rolls (Cut in half and brush with olive oil mixed with finely diced garlic. Place on hot griddle pan cut side down til browned.)

Onions: (Slice and cook in olive oil until just softened and beginning to brown. Add fresh thyme and cook few minutes more. Add a few dollops of crème fraîche and stir through. Thin with milk and season with salt and pepper.)

Using the leftovers (I always cook too much) tonight I made an Italian style peasant salad: chickpeas with sliced boerie, tomatoes, feta, mizuna buds and flowers, lettuce, sorrel and rocket plus cubes of the day old garlic ciabatta. (Slightly stale bread is best for these salads, giving them a crunch and soaking up the dressing). The dressing was simply olive oil,  fresh lime juice, roughly chopped parsley, salt, pepper and a dash of red pepper flakes.  


Chasing away the winter lurgies

Posted in Garden Diary by Administrator on the July 16th, 2015

It is that time of the year when lurgies abound. Everyone is coughing, sniffing and sneezing. To avoid catching a winter bug, try using some of the herbs from your garden or on your pantry shelf.

Making a tincture using herbs is so easy – put the herbs in a bottle and cover with vodka. Leave to steep for four or five days, shaking gently every day and then strain the tincture into a dark bottle.
Tense tummy tincture  (4)

One of my “go to” tinctures in winter is Jane’s Delicious Dragon Breath, so-called because if the tincture doesn’t kill the germs on the way in – the breath will kill them on the way out!
I start taking ¼ – ½ teaspoon twice a day as soon as I feel the slightest signs of a cold. For a sore throat it helps if you hold it in the back of your throat for a while and then slowly let it trickle down. Diluting it slightly with water and gargling also helps prevent a cold developing.
The main ingredients in the tincture are:

Thyme: an effective natural antibiotic, particularly good for any throat and lung problems.
Garlic: as an all round cure all.
Ginger: a great cleanser, helping rid the body of toxins.
Echinacea: strengthens the body’s immune system.
Cayenne pepper: promotes sweating and treats sore throats.
T & T tonsil spray (11)

There are plenty of other herbs that can be added to help fight winter colds and flu : basil, elder berries and flowers, cancer bush, goldenrod flowers, oregano, mustard seeds and tea tree.

(Please note that any information published on this blog is done so solely for educational purposes. It does not constitute any medical advice whatsoever, and nor does it replace medical attention or diagnosis. Consult a qualified healthcare practitioner for the diagnosis and treatment of any disease, ailment or medical condition.)

Romancing Amalfi

Posted in Travels by Administrator on the May 16th, 2015

When my delightfully quixotic friend Karen was planning her wedding, she wanted something ultra romantic. And I can’t imagine a more romantic spot than her choice of the dramatic Italian Amalfi Coast, south of Naples. For centuries, painters, poets and writers have been inspired by this magnificent coastline. Stretching from Sorrento to Salerno, it is a twisting succession of bays carved steeply into rugged cliff faces. Small towns cling precariously to sheer mountainside rising above the sparkling turquoise Mediterranean. This was going to be a wedding to remember.

Arriving in Naples we are ready for some Italian food. We meet a Brazilian couple on their way to eat at L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michel, which they had heard makes “the best pizzas in Italy”. We check our guidebook and sure enough, there it is with this bold claim. After bumbling around narrow, busy streets we find the restaurant, a tiny hole-in-the-wall spot with a huge crowd outside. We are given ticket number 73 with 40 people ahead of us. A couple of beers later and we are in. The first surprise is the choice – they only serve two varieties of pizza! The second surprise is just how delicious they are. I was expecting them to be good, but they are superb. The secret is the locally grown Napoli tomatoes. And the locally made buffalo mozzarella cheese. And the freshly made pizza dough. It is our first taste of how great this region’s food is.


This is a fertile land. Dominating the bay of Naples is Mount Vesuvius, the yin yang giver of fruitful soil and active taker of life. This imposing volcano is an omnipresent reminder of how quickly life can be cut short with a violent act of nature. The inhabitants have absorbed this lesson and the fiery Neapolitans exuberantly live life to the full as they have since Roman times.

The city of Naples is best explored starting from the centro storico, the historic heart of the old town, where the main streets still follow the old Roman roads.

Open-air fish markets display their fresh catch.

Farmers park three wheeler trucks and loudly sell fruit and vegetables to elegantly dressed woman on their way home to cook dinner.

From this bawdy and energetic centre, with narrow cobbled streets and buildings strung with washing, the city sprawls outward. IMG_2302
Al fresco diners eat in spacious piazzas, overlooking elegant 18th century architecture. Up a steep street paved with shiny black lava stones, we window shop at Prada, Gucci and Armani.

Nearby we sample ice cream made with the freshest ingredients from a gelateria dating back a hundred years.

Heading south from Naples, we climb to the top of Mount Vesuvius, smell the sulphur and stare in awe into the slowly steaming crater. From the summit there are sweeping views of the bay and it is just possible to make out the ruins of Pompeii far below.

We spend a day exploring the maze of ancient streets, transported back to a way of life frozen in time from 2000 years ago. In 79AD the volcano erupted, smothering the city and its inhabitants with its deathly pyroclastic flow. Since excavations began in 1758 the city, from lofty temples and sumptuous villas to prosaic bakeries and brothels, has re-emerged intact. Plaster casts of people and animals overwhelmed by the flow, their bodies and mouths petrified in a rictus of terror, show just how quickly the volcano dealt its deadly blow.





From Sorrento we catch a bus to Amalfi. The narrow, winding road is sliced out of near perpendicular cliffs, the Mediterranean a stomach-swooping drop way below. The view across the shimmering sea, with the Isle of Capri sculpted on the horizon, is spectacular. Our bus driver, sporting cool mirror shades and hefty arm muscles, swings his passengers around corner after corner, sounding his musical hooter at oncoming traffic to warn them we are coming. Often there is no room for two vehicles and one has to reverse until there is an inch more space. We play ‘spot the car without a ding.’ On average only one in twenty is free of scrapes, scratches, dings or dents.





All along this coastline, in the smallest corner, on rooftops, on staggeringly steep terraces, vegetables are thriving. Huge bunches of vine-ripened tomatoes and shiny red chillies hang outside doorways.









This is the land of limoncello, a sweet, tart liqueur made from the peel of a lemon only grown in this section of Italy. Every little shop sells its version of limoncello. And every courtyard of every home has lemon trees. They are grown up trellised supports, so the fully-grown tree forms a shady canopy, with lemons hanging within easy picking reach. Free tastings of limoncello are offered from home distilleries along winding paths and alleyways. A shot of icy cold, fiery liqueur is one way to keep the legs moving up steep hills.




And so we gather for the wedding; friends and family from Spain, South Africa, England and Australia. Dressed in our finery we climb up steep pathways to the gardens of Villa Cimbrone, perched so high on a rocky cliff above Amalfi that there is no vehicular access.

Wagner wrote opera here, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was conceived here and Gore Vidal once said: “ . . the most beautiful place that I had ever seen in all my travels [was] view from the belvedere of the Villa Cimbrone on a bright winter’s day when the sky and the sea were each so vividly blue that it was not possible to tell one from the other.” Dating back to the eleventh century this villa’s history, which includes being the love nest of Greta Garbo and Leopold Stokowski, is as romantic as it gets.

And in her inimitable style, Karen makes her dream of the most romantic wedding ever, come true. Wearing full-length red silk, she is the picture perfect bride as she walks down the rose petal aisle to marry her love.

Afterwards we celebrate with champagne and walk along avenues of umbrella pines, past fragrant rose gardens and wisteria draped arches for photographs on the “Terrace of Infinity”. Lined with patrician marble busts it is suspended between sky and sea, floating above the scalloped coastline and vivid blue ocean.



The late afternoon storm, which has been threatening for hours, is starting to spatter. We run down the steep path but are soaked by the time we reach Palazzo Sasso for dinner. In true five star style, they greet us with large heated towels. It is a rather bedraggled wedding party that sits down to savour a ten course meal at the two Michelin starred Rossellini restaurant. And just before the final course, the valley below explodes in a pyrotechnic spectacle of colour. The fireworks display, the culmination of the local Ravello music festival, provides the final touch to the perfect wedding.

There are no direct flights to Naples from South Africa but there are many connecting hubs. If you fly in via Rome, an efficient rail service connects to Naples.
Purchase a Campania artecard which gives you free travel on public transport as well as free or reduced admission to a various museums, galleries and architectural sites. There is easy access from Naples to Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii and Herculaneum via the Circumvesuviano rail line, which runs to Sorrento.
Don’t be misled when ordering Pizza Marinara. In Naples it is not a seafood pizza. Its name originates from the sailors who would eat the traditional Neapolitan pizza comprising tomato, garlic and a couple of basil leaves, no cheese at all.
Don’t miss the Archeological Museum in Naples, filled with artifacts removed from Pompeii and Herculaneum, including an extensive mosaic collection.

Love Triangle

Posted in Travels by Administrator on the March 16th, 2015

The Mafia, ancient ruins and an active volcano make exploring the triangular isle of Sicily an adventurous road trip

The overnight ferry from Naples docked at the port in Palermo at dawn.

Our first Sicilian meal was a strong cappuccino and croissant at a hole-in-the-wall café in the port, surrounded by swarthy dockworkers coming off overnight shifts. It kick started our day and we were ready to negotiate with a taxi driver. As we wound through Byzantine one-way streets, narrowly missing cars wedged in snarling morning traffic, I wondered how wise we were to hire a car for our Sicilian sojourn.
Palermo's horrific traffic

For a relatively small island, Sicily’s had a huge impact on the world around it. Fertile and strategically placed on the Mediterranean trade routes, it has repeatedly been fought over, conquered and colonised as a much-desired possession through the ages. The resulting legacy provides a smorgasbord of choices for the traveller – from Greek temples, Roman aqueducts and villas, to Baroque cathedrals and Arab Norman architecture. Throw in an active volcano, sinister mafia, alluringly azure sea and a cuisine making the most of fresh Mediterranean ingredients and you have all the elements for a stimulating trip.
Sicily's symbol Trinacria (meaning triangle)

The heart of Palermo is Quattro Canti, the four-corner intersection marking the city’s center. The traffic was still having a seizure so we stayed on foot to take in some of the city’s offerings nearby: The grand Duomo, a Norman Cathedral with hundreds of uniquely sculpted gargoyles peering down on visitors and supplicants and the Chiesa di San Cataldo church with red Islamic domes. Next door is the La Martorana, a medieval church with a beautifully preserved Byzantine mosaic interior. This brilliantly illuminated walk-in jewel box is no stuffy museum but a living entity, as we discovered when we wandered into the tail end of a wedding.
Monreale Cathedral (4)

Mosaics, Palatine Chapel, Norman Palace, Palermo (01)

Mosaics, Palatine Chapel, Norman Palace, Palermo (9)

Palermo's Duomo  gargoyles

Palermo's Duomo (1)

Palermo's Duomo (5)

Palermo's Duomo (6)

Palermo's Duomo (14)

Palermo's Duomo (17)

Palermo's La Martorana (2)

Palermo's La Martorana (4)

Palermo's La Martorana (7)

Palermo Chiesa di San Giovanni degli Eremiti, Palermo, Arab Norman architecture

We rambled through the Capo, a maze of streets and alleys, bustling with shoppers looking for the freshest catch of the day or selecting from a rainbow variety of vegetables, fruit, oils and dates.
Palermo street vendor

Palermo's Capo street market (4)

Palermo's Capo street market (6)

Palermo's Capo street market (12)

Palermo's Capo street market (13)

Palermo's Capo street market (16)

Palermo's Capo street market (19)

Palermo's Capo street market (21)

We picked up our compact Panda and its rate doubled, as we were scare-mongered into taking full insurance. Having seen the ubiquitous dents and dings on Italian cars, we thought it a wise move. Leaving Palermo, we drove into the hills above, to the Cathedral of Monreale. The exterior is a well-preserved Norman cathedral but when we entered we realised why this was one of the wonders of the medieval world. The interior is covered with glittering mosaic tableaus on a background of more than 2,200 kilograms of gold tiles. We timed our visit well, as another wedding was happening. The Italian habit of breaking into loud applause after the “I pronounce you man and wife” seemed inappropriate in this magnificent place of worship.
Monreale Cathedral (3)

Monreale Cathedral (4)

Sicily lived up to its tempestuous reputation by lashing us with an intense storm as we left Monreale. Roads turned to rivers and the hand written map to our next destination was drenched. Without the map we missed the freeway entirely and drove across the island on back roads, whipped by rain and wind. We arrived in Selinunte well after dark. But the next day was clear and we could explore the magnificent ruins.
Selinunte ruins (20)

Selinunte ruins (17)

Selinunte ruins (7)

We zigzagged across the island, through dramatic Sicilain countryside,exploring a succession of ancient sites.
Sicilian countryside (6)

Sicilian countryside (5)

Sicilian countryside (4)

Sicilian countryside (1)

The 2,500-year-old temple of Segesta is one of the best-preserved and most beautiful Greek ruins in the Mediterranean. The Greeks chose temple sites well, with commanding views of the countryside echoing the Olympian heights of the Gods they celebrated. Another storm swept in, with a relentless wind whipping our umbrellas into useless floppy spikes. In five minutes it cleared, leaving glistening reflections on the ancient rock of the semi-circular amphitheatre. We gazed from the mountaintop to the Doric temple on the opposite hill, its soaring columns dramatic against dark clouds and a wild sky.
Segesta amphitheatre (10)

Segesta amphitheatre (11)

Segesta Doric Temple (1)

Segesta Doric Temple (3)

Segesta Doric Temple (9)

Segesta Doric Temple (10)

Segesta Doric Temple (14)

On the southern coast of the triangular island is the Valley of The Temples. Despite its name, the remains of the seven magnificent temples are not in a valley. Spread out on a ridge below the city of Agrigento, these partially restored ruins are a World Heritage Site. Our umbrellas, useless in the wind, became handy sunshades as the storms gave way to scorching midday sun.
Agrigento's Valley of the Temples (1)

Agrigento's Valley of the Temples (2)

Agrigento's Valley of the Temples (3)

Agrigento's Valley of the Temples (4)

Heading inland, we passed walled medieval towns, strategically perched on hilltops to protect them from attack. The terrain is rugged and rocky above fertile valleys. Winding through the productive farmlands, with vineyards, olive groves, artichokes, tomatoes, fig and citrus trees, we realised why the food tastes so good. Sicilians seldom eat food that hasn’t been reared, grown or produced within a few miles. Added to the rich choice of homegrown products are sharp pecorino cheeses, smooth ricotta and fresh seafood – every Sicilian has their secret recipe for sardines. Sicily’s diverse cultural heritage has left a rich legacy with the Greeks bringing knowledge of olives, grapes and wine making, the Romans; their pasta and grains, the Normans their northern methods of salting, drying and cooking, the French adding an aristocratic twist and the Arabs bringing everything from almonds, apricots and artichokes to couscous, cinnamon and saffron. The Arabs also sweetened the Sicilian tooth, introducing ice cream and granitas. We fell in love with the famed cannoli: pastry encased tubes of sweet ricotta, found all over Italy but with the original and best in Sicily.
Natural spring water (1)

Natural spring water (2)

Olive groves in foothills of Mt Etna (1)

Piazza Armerina (1)

Sicily's famed delicacy cannoli

Street scene, one of the medieval villages

More recently, Sicilian history has included the blood stained stories of the Mafia, inspiring Mario Puzo’s quintessential Mafia Don; Vito Corleone. Today, if you want to “sleep with the fishes” you can. Many of the estates, once owned by powerful real life Dons like Toto Riina, have been seized by Italian authorities and turned into bed and breakfasts, or agritourism vineyards and olive estates.

We headed east and wound up steep, coastal roads to reach Taormina, an historic resort town on the slopes of Monte Tauro. Our waking view was of Mount Etna, smoking on the horizon. At 3,323 meters it is Europe’s largest active volcano and the destination for the day.
Mt Etna from Taormina (2)

First we visited the town of Castelmola, clinging incredibly to the hillside high above Taormina, with sweeping views to the sparkling sea below. The beach beckoned us down the mountain and we hopped across hot pebbles to dive in for a refreshing dip.
Ionian coastline below Taormina (1)

Ionian coastline below Taormina (2)

Ionian coastline below Taormina (3)

Ionian coastline below Taormina (4)

Ionian coastline below Taormina (6)

Mount Etna’s summit was further away than it looked and we endlessly climbed her conical slopes, tunneling through a brooding pine forest. We finally popped out into a lava lunar landscape, the remains of an eruption which destroyed a ski resort in 2002. Massive tree trunks, bony and white against the black basalt, were a stark reminder of the fierce power beneath us. It was primal, humbling and unsettling. It was surprisingly cold on the volcano, with clear views to the beaches and harbour far below. The large yacht that had pulled in while we were eating breakfast many hours earlier was now a dinky toy in a tiny bay.
Lava fields on Mt Etna, result of eruption 2002 (2)

Lava fields on Mt Etna, result of eruption 2002 accessed by rebuilt road (1)

Lava fields on Mt Etna, result of eruption 2002 accessed by rebuilt road (2)

The sun was setting and when we reached the bottom it was dark, bad timing, as we had to negotiate one of the hilliest regions to reach Cefalù, our last stop before returning to Palermo. Cefalù is a charming fishing town, nestled under a rocky promontory on Sicily’s north coast. With sheltered sandy beaches, medieval streets and excellent restaurants, it is a popular summer resort and was the perfect place to end our Sicilian sojourn.
Cefalu (1)

Cefalu (3)

Cefalu (5)

Cefalu street scenes (1)

Cefalu fishing boats (2)

Travel Tips
South African passport holders require a Schengen visa for Sicily. For information, visit www. italy.visahq.com/embassy/South-Africa/

Credit cards are widely accepted and you can access your SA account through Cirrus or Maestro ATMs for euro cash withdrawals. Remember to notify your bank of your itinerary. Traveller’s cheques are difficult to cash and attract up to 10% commission.

Hired cars save time getting to many of Sicily’s treasures, which are scattered widely across the island.

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