The lights on the mountains dips in and out of view as our van winds its way along the northern coast of Sicily long after sunset. It was much more undulating than I’d expected, making me reconsider if cycling across the island was a good idea.
“We had such a hot summer last year, you picked a good time to come—if you don’t mind a bit of rain,” says Giovanni, one of the creators of The Sicily Divide bike trail. “In Palermo, it hit 40 degrees [Celsius] some days. The buses were sinking into the melting streets. We all need to be more mindful about what we do.”
I’ve always tried to travel mindfully, but this bike trip is my first conscientious experience with regenerative tourism. And aside from the obvious pressures of climate change, Sicily is also battling a huge depopulation problem. It’s estimated that the population has declined by 200,888 since 2011, a drop of four percent. An aging population and low birth rates play a part, but many young people leave for better work opportunities in northern Italy and abroad. Those who stay risk being part of the 37.5 percent of young Sicilians not in work, education or training.