SICILY: A Taste Tour! And lots of swimming...
I will never get over Sicily. It is no place like anywhere else in Italy, let alone the rest of the world, and until I go back, its vivid flavors and colors will linger and haunt my senses like that kind of lover you can never shake.
If I could, I would alternate my time between the volcano and the sea, swimming when the soul required it in that cobalt, salty dream and getting my boots dirty on the slopes of Etna.
In Siracusa, I drank 4 cappuccini a day and peppered in a healthy dose of 3-12 cannoli in between. There was the deli we discovered, where Pino would toss endless samples of local cheeses and meats over the counter, to all of which I said "Si! un mezzo chilo! Si! quattro etti!" More of everything. While we sampled and stocked up on everything, two glasses of Frascati appeared out of nowhere, delivered on Pino's command.
Many after lunch swims at our platform, one impromptu thunderstorm (which was equally enjoyable as the swims), and rock jumping off of giant boulders we scaled to stare down the clearest, bluest water I've laid eyes on. Jumping off of rocks in Fontane Bianche - diving even! - is programed into my being for life, and I'll be doing it in my dreams until we return.
We quickly honed in on a favorite restaurant and our regular after-dinner wine bar where we'd order another and then go for third and fourth and twelfth cannoli runs to complete our evenings. Our hearts, bellies, and glasses were at capacity.
My appetite for things on two and four wheels was also increased on the island even though our Smart Car rides were cramped and unstylish. But Italian driving is admirably aggressive and I was inspired to learn how to drive a manual. I'll just say I (we) survived, but I may or may not have popped the clutch, stalled out, and panicked once or twice at a crucial moment. Starting the lesson in Italy it was a right of passage, but after two tries, I had to retire to snapping pictures of Aprilias, Paris Dakars, and Defenders so that I didn't cause injury to myself, my passenger, or anyone's emotional well-being.
We rode the train around the volcano, accelerating around turns on the tiny Circumetnea, sticking our heads outside and breathing in the volcanic, mountain air. Intoxicating is the only word that comes to mind.
We discovered a wine bar that was just for locals, half way up the volcano in Randazzo, where Sandro took the utmost care of us, walking us into the cave and selecting our wine for us. In Italy, a good waiter tells you what to eat and drink, and if you order the wrong thing, they tell you no, you're not having that. Have this. It was a kind of aspirational service.
We drank bottles I'd never seen before. Tasted olive oil that wasn't even in the states yet. Missed our train back to Giarda to get the Smart Car, and ended up walking through the streets of Catania eating the best wood-cooked pizza I've ever had, drinking wine in plastic cups. I butchered the Italian language brokering a taxi driver to take us the 40 minute journey back to our car, and he butchered it worse when he responded in Sicilian dialect that would be indecipherable to any cultured Milanese or Roman. Un gatto attaccato ai maroni!
And the wine. I visited stunning producers, including Occhipinti, Passopisciaro, and Calabretta. Each iconic, but if I may say, meeting Arianna at Occhipiniti was like meeting the Pope. Except that I'm more interested in Arianna. She's a pioneer. A total rockstar. Getting to talk to her was just, well, ridiculously inspiring (for an actual taste of Sicily, you can grab yourself a limited run of the exclusive Sicily box and some Occhipiniti olive oil!).
Below is a snapshot* of all of the above; it's just a tiny peek into the profound trip I can't stop thinking about, one that's very much stuck to my soul. After you indulge your eyes, take a look below for my hit list of where to go if you got bit by the travel bug and booked your flight already. I'm looking for return tickets myself...
*not pictured: Graucho, our parking attendant who had the tightest gluteals but also the biggest belly full of cannoli - it made no sense! We couldn't photograph him because he'd have certainly killed us immediately, but I believe he wore a special set of pants, which he would take off and hook up to a machine so that they did their own squats while he sat on a crate and ate cannoli. Glute-pants + cannoli belly = very impressive driving and parking skills...
Circumetnea: This old school train takes you up Mt. Etna and accelerates on the curves! Gorgeous way to see the volcano.
Siracusa: We stayed in the most beautiful little sea town on the coast of the Ionian. White marble piazza, cannoli filled to order, and the most charming everything.
Enoteca Solaria: Our wine bar, where I climbed up the shelves and helped myself to bottles we took home or drank on the patio, after dinner bottles, before dinner bottles, midday lunch bottles.
Granita: Forget icy, watery, slushy shaved ice. Granita is a magical Sicilian - not Italian - treat that you cannot find anywhere else. It's made from the milk of pistachio or almond, and is so creamy that it tastes like ice cream! Cipriani is the best on the island.
Fontane Bianche: I miss it so much. This is where I perfected my dive. I have never seen water so blue and clear!
Cave Ox: Hands down the best wine bar on the island. It's like a winemaker hangout on the side of a volcano. I'm sure every local would be pissed I'm revealing this secret place, but you deserve to know! Things must be shared! Just don't act like a brainless loud American - enjoy the food and wine and ask for Sandro.
Randazzo: Charming little town filled with churches (one made from lava stone entirely!), about midway up the volcano, delicious hidden gem called San Gregorio di Drago - so good!
Taormina: I was excited to return to this beach after nearly 10 years - it's beautiful and a must swim! And a must foot massage - lounge-chair-beachside-spritz-in-hand kind of foot massage!
Fratelli Burgo: The best 'street food' in Sicily: salumi served by weight and sliced to order, same for formaggi, and a bustling Italian only kind of energy that just inspires you to keep eating meat and cheese!
Homemade video peek: