Sicily In A 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio - Review By Larry Nutson
SICILY in a Stelvio
Driving an Alfa Romeo in Italy
By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor and Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel
The third stop in a two-week visit to Southern Europe took my wife and me to Sicily. We had just spent the first week in Corsica and Sardinia.
As a refresher, these two islands are different in cultures as Corsica is part of France and Sardinia is part of Italy. We had a rental car in northeast Corsica and our travels took us along many two-lane roads carved into the mountainsides with steep drops below. Many were barely wide enough for two compact cars to pass each other.
European roads tend to be quite narrow in comparison to what we customarily experience in the U.S. I’m often amazed by the locals who, when they see a clear stretch of road, pass multiple vehicles at one time using the oncoming lane and quickly dart back in to their lane when opposing traffic presents itself.
Through the courtesy of Alfa Romeo we would be driving a new Stelvio around Sicily. Upon arrival at the airport we made our way to the Motor Village Palermo to meet our contact, Antonio, and the Stelvio.
Another couple, friends from the states, would be joining us. The four of us would head eastward across Sicily to the little town of Garre, a bit north of Catania. Our destination and home for the next four days was the Zash Country Hotel that sits on the land between the shore of the Mediterranean Sea and the ever-active Mt. Etna volcano.
With the Stelvio’s rear compartment loaded with our luggage, we headed out from Palermo. Little did we know that our expected two and a half hour drive was about to turn in to four hours. With the GPS set we were directed by navigation to not use one of the autostrada routes due to construction. As darkness settled we traveled a cross-country main road, or so it was called. If I were driving in the U.S. I would have characterized it as a poorly maintained country road. We climbed hills, ascending to near 2,500 ft., rounded switchbacks, and more than a few times braked hard for poor road conditions.
The Stelvio, diesel powered by the way, performed admirably. The automatic high beam feature was in operation for the entire drive illuminating the very dark roads while dimming the lights for oncoming vehicles. After reconnecting to the autostrada with its 100 km/h speed limit we moved quickly. I joined in with the locals who seem to practice the same 10-over rule as we have in the States.
Belonging to the Maugeri family since the 1930s, Zash is a former winery transformed into a boutique hotel and sits surrounded by acres of citrus groves. With just nine rooms, a lovely outside patio where we breakfasted each morning, a swimming pool and a gourmet restaurant housed within the lower floors of the former winery, our base for the next few days left nothing wanting. Acres of lime and orange trees made for pleasant morning walks and we pondered the scene when harvest time would arrive.
In recent years Sicily has experienced significant growth in agritourism. Zash is one of those working farms that also provides guest accommodations.
A Sunday morning took us to the nearby town of Riposto were we walked the rocky beach front and took in the scene as locals bought fresh fish at the pescheria for their evening meals.
Taormina sits perched on a cliff, about 1000 ft up, overlooking the Ionian Sea about an hour or so to the north. The town, drapped in bougainvillea, was founded in 304 BC by Greeks. From slightly above the sea we accessed Taormina by a 5-minute ride on a funicular cable car. Over the years Romans, Arabs, Normans and Spanish have occupied the town. Ruins of a Greek Theater built by the Greeks in the 3rd century BC and refurbished by the Romans in the 1st century AD remains today for visitors.
Our hotel arranged for an afternoon climb to the elevations of Mt Etna. An active volcano, Etna has been continuously erupting and spewing steam and gases for years. Our guide Paolo, a trained geologist, with his SUV outfitted with suitable off-road tires, took six of us up to about 7,500 ft elevation. Air temperature dropped from the seaside 85ºF to 63ºF. Mt. Etna has numerous craters and access to the near 10,000 ft summit is not possible for safety reasons. We viewed massive lava fields from eruptions that took place around 1669 as well as around 1886. A 2001-2002 eruption destroyed the ski resort where we stopped. Along the climb up we were guided by foot into a cave created by flowing lava that had solidified at the surface but continued to flow beneath it thus leaving a tunnel.
Departing northeast Sicily we headed south to Palma di Montechiaro, a bit east of Agrigento. Along the way we stopped and toured the Villa Romano del Casale at Piazza Armerina. This lavish vila was constructed over a period of 50 years in the late 3rd century to the early 4th century AD. We again retained a guide which has proven valuable in learning lots of detail about a place of interest.
As the hunting lodge of an important Roman official, the villa is decorated with what is now the best preserved and most extensive set of Roman mosaics in the world. The mosaics are so well preserved because the house was buried under a mudslide in the 12th century and only discovered in the early 1900s. Archeologists began working on the site in the 1930s and, interrupted by WW II, continued in the late 1940s.
Our travel day across Sicily brought us to our next “home” for a few days. Mandranova is a resort as well as a working almond growing and small-batch olive oil producer—another agriturismo property. Situated on about 500 acres, olive trees surround the hotel building. Mandranova has been in the same family for five generations. The lower floor of what is now the hotel was built in the early 1800s as a farm building for implements and a stable for horses. Upper levels were added in the early 1900s. Today, after extensive renovation about a dozen rooms provide comfort for guests from around the world.
Nearby in Agrigento sits the Valley of Temples. Dating back to 5th century BC the town had a population of about 30,000 Greeks who constructed temples to its gods, many of which took 20 years to complete. The town was taken by the Romans in 261 BC. Our guide shared many details and theories about daily life over 2,000 years ago as well as answered our many questions.
We spent a day at our Mandranova hotel to take a cooking class. The restaurant is where co-owner Silvia serves up traditional Sicilian dishes. We not only learned a bit about Mediterranean style cooking but we actually prepared our own lunch along with a number of dishes that would be served at dinner that evening.
While standing in the courtyard I struck up a conversation with co-owner Giuseppe and discovered his passion for vintage cars. Off we went to a storage building where I was presented with a race-prepped 1957 Fiat 1100 Millecento sedan, an Abarth coupe, a Lancia Fulvia Zagato—the first of just twenty that were built, and a Lancia Aurelia. Without hesitation Giuseppe offered a ride in the Fiat and off we went out the gate barreling through the Sicilian hillsides. No seatbelts, open exhaust, firm suspension, I crossed my fingers hoping I was in good hands. And, I was. What a surprise and what fun.
We wrapped up our Sicily visit leaving by air from Catania. Our Alfa Romeo Stelvio with 154kW (207 HP) diesel power performed admirably. Most of the time we were four adults touring the country side. On our longer transition drives the rear compartment was additionally loaded with four roll-aboard suitcases and four smaller carry-ons. Many of the roads in Sicily are posted at 100 kmh (62 mph) speed limit. Often times we were going with the flow at 120 - 130 kmh. Local roads are slower at 70 kmh and in towns it’s 50 kmh.
We were averaging 6.8 Liters per 100 km or about 34.6 mpg. On our last leg to Catania, with just my wife and me on board, less luggage and more consistent autostrada speeds the Stelvio averaged 6.1 L/100 km, or 38.6 mpg. We did one tank fill-up with diesel costing Euro 1.55 per liter or the rough equivalent of $6.86 per gallon. Diesel fuel is about Euro 10 cents lower priced than 95-octane gasoline. Note that all of Europe uses this higher 95-octane gasoline which makes for more more efficient engines, even though the gasoline costs more.
European roads can be demanding with many twists and turns, ups and downs, and little opportunity to overtake slower vehicles. In the end, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio delivered as it should with top-notch handling as well as very responsive acceleration and passing power, even when heavily loaded. The Stelvio proved to be an excellent mode of transport over the course of about 850 Km of driving.
Named after the Stelvio Pass in the Italian Alps, arguably one of the greatest driving roads in the world, our Sicily in a Stelvio trip was greatly enhanced by this Alfa Romeo.
As a bit of an epilogue note to our trip, our entry and exit in Europe was via Paris. On our final weekend we experienced a Parisian Sunday with no cars. It was the fourth time this summer that Paris prohibited the use of all vehicles, excepting taxis, buses, and emergency vehicles (all limited to a speed of 30 kmh) from 11am to 6pm for the day. It was interesting to observe and experience all the walkers, bicycles, electric scooters, and skate boarders on the streets. I wondered in what U.S. city will we see this happen soon?
In-Depth Alfa Romeo Research
- Alfa Romeo Buyers Guide | Specs, Prices, Expert Reviews and Comparisons 2018-2016
- Find Your Perfect Car Match
- Alfa Romeo Reviews From The Auto Channel (2018-Present)
- The Auto Channel's Alfa Romeo Brand Archives; News, Press Releases, Reviews, Specifications, Prices, Video, Images (13,767 Annotations)
© 2018 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy