I’ve had a wonderful start to the new year in Sicily, hiking up Mount Etna in Catania and then a week of sport-climbing in San Vito lo Capo. San Vito was easily my favourite part of my trip to Italy, and definitely a place I want to come back to in the future.
We stayed at El Bahira campsite in a mobile home, though camping in tents is also a possibility. It was a really nice mobile home, with a kitchenette, shower and toilet. We could order (really fresh and awesome) bread at reception for the next morning (a 0.5kg loaf cost €1.20; a panini cost €0.50) and a guy came knocking on our door once in a while asking if we would like some fish (fresh off the boat).
It’s quite a climber’s accommodation, with a communal cooking/dining climbers corner equipped with stoves, fridges and lots of left-behind food (we saw at least 3kg of salt). A section of the wall (Campeggio) was also within the compound itself, and was lit up at night with powerful floodlights (though not as many when we were there, as I guess there wasn’t that much demand). It was a really nice location to be based at for climbing in the vicinity (right in the middle of a long limestone cliff), my only complain is probably the terrible wifi connection that was only available at the reception. Took ages to connect (if it did). As I always say, I’d rather have no wifi at all than be provided with bad wifi 😛
There is also plenty of accommodation (B&Bs, and hotels) within the village of San Vito itself (about 2km away from El Bahira), including another camping ground La Pineta. There is a little supermarket within El Bahira but was only operational in the summer months, so we walked to San Vito for our groceries. Unfortunately, we went at lunch time which is a bad idea as everything closes for three-hour lunch breaks, except for a minimart located on the main street (Via Savoia). Apparently though, the minimart (run by a really nice Italian couple who unfortunately for us don’t speak English) is cheaper (and unsurprisingly fresher) than the supermarkets.
It was wonderful. Nice, warm (~16˚C in the day) weather for the winter, though the weather forecast was completely off (it was supposed to storm but thankfully never really did, though there were strong winds especially at night). It was typically sunny in the mornings, and cloudy in the afternoons, though it did occasionally drizzle. It was almost like British summers, only the locals went around in down jackets. It can get quite windy, especially along the coast, but it’s not impossible to climb in a t-shirt.
Beautiful limestone cliffs. They were apparently Cretaceous seabed that got shoved up over the past 50 million years as Africa crashed into Europe (crudely put. Can’t find the original website where I looked up that really simple picture, but here’s a paper if you’re really interested). Limestone = really sharp rocks (on slabs and verticals) but also very nice jugs (climbing jargon), though some crags were quite nice on the hands.
I started out with a bunch of easy easy climbs, especially since I was climbing with friends who’ve only been climbing about a year or so. A bunch of 4s and 5s, but it’s only with the 20-30m long 6a/+ that the climbing got fun and enjoyable. I tried to recall my very first outdoor climbing trip to Krabi back in 2010, which was also on limestone, but unfortunately could not remember even how much I enjoyed the climbs then, to contrast with San Vito. I definitely led a lot more climbs this time though (didn’t have much choice), and am definitely more experienced with climbing outdoors now as compared to then.
I used the 4th edition of Di Roccia di Sole – Climbing in Sicily guidebook, but there is a Sicily Rock guidebook specific to San Vito that has slightly more informative comments. The guidebooks are all available to buy from the reception at El Bahira.
Climbing outdoors is so different from indoor gym climbing. I feel like sometimes people who hopped onto the climbing bandwagon more recently and only climb indoors (with no intention of going outdoors) are more complacent, and have little idea of safety (see 50 ways to flail). I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to climb outdoors with friends who are qualified climbing instructors, so I could pick up the necessary skills. I did my first traditional lead climb last Summer in Australia, learning technical skills that would be useful when outdoors. Trad climbing wasn’t just about pushing oneself physically and mentally to the limits to make the moves, but also about understanding the physics of climbing and falling and how to place protective gear etc. There are some trad climbs in San Vito, but I was sport climbing when I was there.
I followed the advice of several websites and brought a 70m rope and at least 18 quickdraws, though I didn’t do any climbs longer than 30m and didn’t really need that many.
San Vito in general
San Vito isn’t just great for climbing (both sport and trad), but also for hikes, dives, mountain biking etc. There’s a wonderful climbing community with great vibes, based physically at the YMCA Climbing House, along the main street. Cool place to hang out, have a coffee or a beer, make friends with other climbers etc. I was climbing with my friends, and also made friends with several new climbing buddies, Mani, Peter (who owns a climbing school in Germany) and Marco (who’s also an outdoor film maker).