I have just returned from a sensational trip to Sicily. I was 14 the first time I visited this region and perhaps not mature enough to appreciate the culture in all of its flavors. As a neighboring southerner from Puglia I had found many sites a little familiar and paid no particular attention. Today instead, 28 years later, I have been completely mesmerized by the beauty and geography of the territory, and above all, by its people. Sicily is a land of many flavors to be discovered and enjoyed through active, authentic experiences. It is for this reason that I visited this beautiful island to meet our Locals and learn more about their lives.
I flew into Catania and drove to Maletto where I was welcomed by Sara, one of our Locals in the region. We were treated royally wherever we went and by whomever we talked to. I quickly learned that it wasn’t just a special treatment I was receiving, Sicilians naturally give you their hearts, and providing for a guest is almost a duty.
Part of my visit to Sicily was to connect with our Locals, build new relationships, and put together amazing travel experiences for future clients to enjoy. On Saturday morning Sara and I were joined by the mayor of Maletto for a hike on the tallest active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna. I was lucky enough to enjoy breathtaking views and hear first hand knowledge about the territory not normally accessible to visitors. I will never forget the breakfast the mayor brought for us: A beautiful hand-weaved fruit basket overflowing with a variety of local goods which we enjoyed by a refuge looking at the mouth of the volcano at an altitude of 2,300 meters. An experience we are happy to now provide for anyone interested in discovering Sicily and getting in touch with its culture.
It also so happened that day was also the day of Saint Anthony, the patron saint of Maletto. In the evening I received the honor of being a guest alongside thousands of people who gathered in the town square to pick up homemade bread, a selection of sausages or local meats and a glass of wine. All of which were completely and absolutely free for all the citizens of Maletto. I was stunned by the generosity and appreciation, and by how welcome everyone made me feel.
The following day, my adventure continued to Bronte where I was introduced to the king of pistachios. We are not talking about any old pistachio, this was “Pistacchio di Bronte,” only harvested every other year to keep the quality high and renowned. Sicily is the only place in Italy that grows pistachios, and Bronte boasts the perfect climate and volcanic soil to produce the best in the world. I filled my mouth with anything and everything that was made with Pistacchio di Bronte, pasta, gelato, sausages, torrone, and pastries. They all left me wanting more.
My final stop was Taormina, where my friend and I took a splendid cooking class from Agata who taught us how to make spaghetti alla Norma and polpettone (an Italian style meatloaf stuffed with salami and cheese) alla Siciliana. We were invited to eat with her family while enjoying the most sensational view of Etna and the Mediterranean from her balcony. I wanted to do this first hand before creating this experience for our clients, it left me breathless and enchanted, anxious to deliver the same emotions to future clients. Above all, meeting Agata, interacting with her, and eating her food, left me longing to come back again and again.
The following morning, the light from the bedroom window enticed me to peek at the view only to be astonished by what I was seeing before me. Immediately I went on the balcony to see that the sun was rising in all of its glory, casting the most beautiful light over Mount Etna. I made coffee and stood on the balcony for an hour watching the light change at every minute and pondering about how lucky we were to be experiencing this moment.
After breakfast we walked downtown to take the Funivia (a cable car) down to the beach and relaxed for a few hours swimming in the amazingly clear and emerald green water of the Mediterranean. Before heading back to Puglia, Agata took us to a local bar to try the famous Granita Siciliana served with a light brioche which was a marvelous way to say “arrivederci Taormina.”
When it comes to vacations in Italy, I now know in my heart that I want to share these magical sensations with those who desire experiential travel to Sicily.
For more information on the regions and landscapes of Italy we encourage you to check out our Guide to Italy.