WHAT TO SEE IN SICILIA-
Some of my clients feel one week is enough time to see “ALL” of Sicily. I am here to tell you it is not. You will miss a lot if you think that allocating only seven nights to see the entire island allows you to see it all . Sicily deserves more of your time. With more World Heritage Sites than other regions, Sicily needs to be seen and seen well. You should consider off islands such as the Egadis, Aeolian and Pantelleria as additional places to visit while you are in Sicily. It is easy for you to fly into to either Catania or Palermo Airports. There is also a smaller airport named Birgi located in Trapani, but Birgi is only served by secondar low cost airlines. Birgi is a good airport if you want to include a visit to Pantelleria. But you would need an extra 3 days to visit that islands.
I have just returned from three weeks in Italy. My travels began in Palermo early May where I immediately reserved dinner at one of my favorite places in Palermo, Osteria dei Vespri.
The Osteria dei Vespri is located adjacent to Palazzo Gangi, the famous palazzo where Gattopardo was filmed years ago and staredBurt Lancaster ( The movie is unfortunately S L O W). Osteria dei Vespri is listed in a booklet “Le Soste di Ulisse”" a small guide published by a collective grouping of Sicilian producers of fine wines, small hotels and ristorante. The criteria to be included is difficult and as far as I can tell is all about quality of product. We had a minestra di lenticche di Ustica which was surpurb. ( Lentils). Find the guide on line http://www.lesostediulisse.it/
On this particular trip, we toured Sicily counter clockwise. I am unsure how many times I have been to Sicily, as it is surely over twenty visitsby now. One of those visits I spend almost two months on Panarea in the Aeolians, what fun. Needless to say, I no longer need a map to navigate the island and have pre-selected my favorite places, to visit and dine in along the way. It is always a pleasure to return to Sicily. The gastronomy of the island is familiar to me, since they are flavours that were served in our home growing up in NJ. Wild fennel, almond paste, and pignoli nuts, raisins, sword, stratto( Tomato paste extract) , eggplant and tuna. As with all of Italy, one is never far from where the food is produced. Sicilian cuisine is one of my favorite regional cuisines in all of Italy.
Departing Palermo, we stopped at the Greek Temple of Segesta the theatre on Monte Barbaro`. Greek Doric in style and dating from 5th c, the temple sits in a valley fortunatelly undisturbed by man. Nearby is the Parco dello Zingaro, or park of the gypsy where hiking trails begin at the tonnara, and take you past stunning scenery of blue coves, and rocky coast.
We drove west to the Province of Trapani and based at a simple and comfortable B&B Finestra sulle Saline located overlooking the salt pans and the Egadis Islands. We took the barchetta over to the Island of Mozia /Mothia which was once a Phoenician naval base 600BC and was one of the most prosperous colonies at that time. There is an easy hike you can take around the island where you can see the sunken Roman road which was used to connect the island to the mainland millenia ago. The museum and island are owned by the Whitaker Foundation producers of Marsala wine.
Positioned near Trapani one can also visit medevil Erice. It is so easy to drive to eastern Trapani, and then take the funicular up hill so you do not have to drive the winding road which is similar to driving Aspen’s Independence Pass. Erice, has 360 degree views and one can see Monte Colfano and the plains surrounding the city and beyond. But for me the best part of Erice is the visit to Maria Grammatico for her desserts. Raised by the nuns, Maria wrote Bitter Almonds which tells of her life and the art of Sicilian marzipan, and luckily gives us her recipes ( my favorite biscotti della regina) which you can dunk into the passito from Pantelleria. The thought makes a girl want to get on a plane in Colorado and go.
Located on the island of Levanzo, one of the three Egadis Islands, is privately owned La Grotta del Genovese and is a site not to miss, though many do. Another of my favorite places to direct travelers to. You need to be in shape as the hike down and then back up hill to and from the grotto takes a bit of effort but you are rewarded when you get there. The grotto contains petroglyphs and pictographs which date from 12,000-7,000bc and attest to the time when the islands were connected to the Atlas mountains in Marocco and to Sicily proper. Spending the day on Levanzo time is suspended as you ponder exactly how much time 12,000 years ago really means.
Now here is where the speed travelers miss out, unless you have extra time, you will miss visiting The Greek colony of Selunite and the Cava di Cusa the stone quarries that supplied the Greek colony of Selunite with their stone. Selunite is situated on the shore line of the Mediterrean sea. The coast is untouched, and one can envision the landscape 2700 years ago when the Greek ships arrived and brought with them settlers to inhabit Magna Grecia.
Also near to Selunite is Planeta La Forestiera- a small contemporary inn owned by the Planeta winery. Good food, good drink and good views! http://www.planetaestate.it/lang/en/
But most speed travlers head directly over to Agrigento, Agrigento. The Provincial Archaeological museum in Agrigento is worth the visit and contains items that were found around the temples. The temples are a must but I suggest that you have a guide for 2 hours who will walk with you down hill past all three of them. The best place to stay in my opinionis the Hotel Villa Athena which is a pricey five star recently renovated and is the closest hotel with view of the temples. http://www.hotelvillaathena.it/ Baglio della Luna – 4 star is a good second best, but frankly I would not stay in Agrigento when Mandranova is near enough.
Mandranova is an olive producing farm that is award winning for their single varietal production of four types of olive oils. You will want to purchase a case or two. Giuseppe and Silvia are the owners and personally oversee all areas of their property. The hotel is an agriturismo with few rooms and lots of style. Meals can be taken on the property. Mandranova is a great base to explore this central part of Italy. Located only 30 minutes fromteh valley of the temples on one of Sicily’s better kept highways, it is easy to get to and worth the drive. http://www.mandranova.it/
Traveling east once again we arrive to the Province of Ragusa. This eastern part of Sicily was brutally damaged duringthe earthquake of 1693 and many building collapsed allowing for new construction to reflect the architectural style of the time namely Sicilian baroque. Noto, Scicli, Modica and Ragusa were all effected and each town proudly showcases their ornate duomo. Dining in these parts deserves your attention as numerous ristorante can be found with temptations to delight. Modica in particular is know for cioccolato modicana, made from carub and without fat. Tempting chocolates found in baroque candy shops can have additions such as agrumi ( citrus), and red pepper. http://www.bonajuto.it/
Not far from Modica is Vendicari, a beautiful park, unscathed which is an estuary for migrating birds flying from North Africa to Europe. Take a picnic lunch and wander the trails. http://www.oasivendicari.net/
But Siracusa feels like home. You cannot imagine the sense of history one feels when standing in the piazza across from Il Duomo di Siracusa which was once a Greek temple dedicated to Athena, constructed in the 8thc BC and whose colums are still visible inside the existing structure. Today the duomo is still in use of course as a catholic church. Wandering Ortygia one has a sense you have returned to a distant past. There are other fascinating sites on Ortygia and near Siracusa to visit, The castello of Euralio- Greek fortification, The Catacombs of San Giovanni, Pantallica necropolis which is wonderful for hiking, and the Archaeological park and Paolo Orsi museum.
As far as accomodations, Ortygia is the place to be if you ask me so that you can wander in the evenings. Accomodations can range from five star to simple and confortable hip three stars such as Gutowski located on the waters edge. And did I mention dining? Don Camillo would be my suggestion for classic sicilian fair or to celebrate a special occasion or classic seas food trattorie found near the harbour where the fish could not be fresher if it walked off the boat to your plate. http://www.ristorantedoncamillosiracusa.it/
Siracusa has a lively outdoor market everyday, bring your camera and don’t forget to record the sounds are as good as the colorful sites. I am able to report that for the second year in a row I was able to see the Classical Greek theatre in Siracusa held where else in the Greek Theatre. This year we were there for opening night for Filottete. Can you picture sitting on seats that were used 2600 years ago for the same purpose? Upholding tradition, theatre was held at dusk or dawn. Luckily the performance is at dusk in the 21st century. The performance begain with the Italian National Anthem sung by school children and brought tears to my eyes. Followed by the premier.
Heading north from Siracusa you will find Mt Etna and Taormina. Both are frequented by tourists on the Grand Tour. If you have time, it isa most memorable experience to take the funicular to the top of Etna and then go on the lunar mobile tour with the vulcanologist. You can rent a jacket before you go, yes it is cold up there. http://www.etnaexcursions.com/
Taormina is always crowded. Cruise ships leave loads of floral shirted, tourists to shop the chic store along Corso Umberto. The town is beautiful no doubt about it with imposing view of Mongibello ( Mt Etna) in the distance and tthe blue Mediterrean below. Their Greek/Roman Theatre is a venue for contemporary music held in teh summer months, in fact Andra Boccelli will be there July 2 this year. There are many many five star hotels and hotels in all categories. My favorites are San Domenico a converted convent and Villa Ducale which is above town and away from it all.
From here “volendo” willingly as they say, one could drive to Milazzo and take an aliscafo to the Aeolian Islands, ahhh but that is another story. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/908
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