The mar is down the road, left past the church, and then down 100 steps or so, the hotel owner said in Pollara, Sicily. In fact it was 162 steps, and they were not single-step steps; nor was she including those chiseled out of the side of the rock that led uninterrupted into the water.
Before going further, this is my idea of a beach, as can be found in the US. The proprietor’s word choice was telling, of course. Her directions were to the sea.
While “beaches” do exist in Sicily they by no means abound. This does not, of course, dampen Sicilians’ enjoyment in going to the sea, swimming in the sea, sunning by the sea, talking by the sea. They do all those beach things that the rest of us do – perhaps with even more vigor – but they do them on cliffs, jagged outcroppings, severe slants, and volcanic remnants. For example, at one particular mar in Zingaro, there is no other way to get into the water than to jump a couple of meters. A graceful scramble up wet rocks is required to get out of the water. (Scramble is accurate, graceful is not.)
It’s certainly a change of scene from the beaches along Spain’s Mediterranean, where sun umbrellas populate wide stretches of calm, white sand.
Not that Sicilians don’t use beach umbrellas. They also bring along towels, lunch, and reading material. But, every Sicilian sea-goer also has a few other items on hand: water shoes – to climb over jagged rocks and wear into the water (because smooth sand does not magically appear once you are submerged), a mat to soften the rock surface under the towel, and goggles for water sightseeing. And not much more, because it’s best to only bring what you can carry in one hand — overhead while swimming or clambering around wet rocks.
It’s an altogether different experience, going for a swim in Sicily; and the locals partake in its entirety with an admirable nonchalance. No matter that going to the beach is not as simple as pulling into a parking spot; no problem that a 20 minute trek might end in no comfortable spot to lay the towel, that you might slip into the water at any moment or get stung by a jelly fish. It is all part of the package. Going to the sea in Sicily is more about enjoyment than leisure — and there is much to learn from that distinction.