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As with many ‘fam trips’ (familiarisation trips!) in the travel industry, the invitation from our trade partners Typically Italian Holidays came at late notice, with our November calendar already full of conferences and travel events! But as we had already sent clients to Sicily many times (including Elene Marsden who we booked on a tour of the island last summer with Typically) I thought it best to check it out personally!
So, in early December, a small group of agents assembled at Southend Airport, where we received our itinerary at the check in! In the following four days we certainly packed a lot in …..
Delicious Sicily – as we already knew, the Sicilian people are rightly proud of their ‘foodie’ reputation and believe me you will never go hungry here - it's the perfect choice for a food and drink holiday!
As we landed into Catania airport we could see the snowy peak of Mount Etna shining in the sun above the city. Met by local agents Platz Travel we boarded our mini bus and immediately fell in love with our gorgeous tour guide, Olga! All of the local guides and drivers we met in Sicily were delightful and truly passionate about their homeland and history.
Once checked into the Romano Palace Hotel and a quick change, we were taken into Catania city centre with Olga and our local guide who showed us around. Many of the Baroque buildings have UNESCO World Heritage status with the main sites of interest including Via dei Crociferi, Via Etnea, Piazza Stesicoro & the Roman Theatre. Catania has been re-built many times following earthquakes and eruptions from Mount Etna, but it’s certainly a resilient city!
Being December Christmas craft markets were in full swing and the unique artisan goods on sale made a refreshing change from the predictable offerings in the UK!
Our introduction to Sicilian food that night was at Me Cumpari Turiddu Restaurant, listed in the 2019 Michelin Guide and situated in an historic building with high ceilings and fascinating art work. As with all our meals on the trip, this was a set menu with a different wine to pair with each course. The homemade breads with the starter were delicious but the jury was out on the ‘appetiser’ of beef, pork and ‘donkey’ meat ….. I'll pass on that one!
Next morning, we headed for the slopes of Mount Etna, Europe's highest active volcano – unfortunately the clouds were low and as we drove up in 4x4 vehicles through the little mountainside villages the mist and drizzle descended around us so we didn’t make it near to the top.
We stopped at one of the points where the lava flow from the last huge eruption ended – an incredible site, just like a ‘wall’ of lava in the middle of the road! After a coffee break in a mountain cabin café, we entered one of the caves and the local guides told us about the geology of the mountain.
Etna has flowed over the centuries into the surrounding valleys, providing ideal growing conditions for vineyards. Our lunch stop was Tenuta Cottanera which is pioneering in its approach to paring wine and food. The vineyards grow over lava stone 700 metres above the sea on the northern slopes of Etna. Lunch included some gorgeous home cooked traditional foods and amazing olive oil!
After lunch we continued a short distance to the pretty medieval town of Randazzo … where we seriously thought our driver would get the vehicle stuck in the tiny narrow alleyways they call roads! Randazzo has a history dating to Byzantine times and its heritage involves Greek, Latin and Lombardi.
That evening, back in the centre of Catania, we were told we would be taken to the Red Light District … which turned out to be a fabulous, trendy bar area which has been turned into an Arts district (it used to be the Red Light area!) Followed by a fabulous meal at Ciciulena Sicilian Restaurant (below). (The home made ‘crisps’ served at the bar with arrival fizz were out of this world!).
SIRACUSA & ORTIGIA
Next day we were driven south which took nearly two hours (these are always ‘learning’ trips for planning and timings!) to the historic site of Siracusa, where our local guide for this area, Elisa, very eloquently explained the importance of Siracusa, which was founded by ancient Greek Corinthians and Teneans and equalled Athens in size during the 5th century BC.
Nearby is the island of Ortigia which is linked to the mainland by a short bridge and has a beautiful harbour setting, this would be an ideal place to be based for exploring south east Sicily and there is a lovely hotel on the edge of the harbour – ask us for a quote!
Next stop was Noto, a perfect baroque town which is now a UNESCO Heritage site. It was destroyed by the terrible 1693 earthquake and rebuilt on a new site about 10 km from the old centre. Another very filling Michelin star lunch was enjoyed at Crocifisso Restaurant in Notto with chef Marco Balieri (below).
‘Waddling’ out of the restaurant late afternoon we walked down many steps into the town centre as the sunset over the roof tops and hundreds of starlings (below) took to the air – we hoped for a ‘murmuration’ but didn’t get to see it!
Back in the bus, a long drive back to Catania, very quick change and off to the other side of the city to Acireale the ‘city of one hundred churches’ where we had dinner at Frammento Restaurant.
Déjà vu the next day as we were back in the bus retracing our steps south! Picking up lovely Elisa again we headed to the quaint town of Scicli best known as the fictional town of Vigata in the filming of Inspector Montalbano. The town is surrounded by wooded hills giving it a lovely setting, having been rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake and keeping its original medieval layout.
RAGUSA was our next stop, again having been rebuilt in baroque style and now a world heritage site. Ragusa is one of the prettiest towns in Sicily and here we had our final and probably most spectacular lunch in two Michelin starred Locanda Don Serafino. (Below) The restaurant is set inside a ‘tower’ like building on the side of the cliff giving the feeling of sitting in a very large, light cave!
Eventually leaving in the late afternoon we were taken to Modica, the home of fine chocolate, processed in the same way the Aztecs had done at the time of the Spanish conquistadors, defined as ‘cold’ chocolate which is grainy and crumbly. Unfortunately for us, Modica chose that day to host a ‘chocolate festival’ and the town was heaving! We walked off our lunch in the darkening light of early evening, passing through a large street market to Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, where some brave members of the group managed to squeeze in some chocolate tasting to our ever expanding waistlines! (below)
Back to the hotel, we were looking forward to eating in on our last night before packing for a very early departure, but it was not to be! Our lovely hosts decided to surprise us with a trip to a pizza restaurant! … A lovely thought but we all wished it had been on a previous evening as not only were we still full to bursting, we really had had enough of being in the bus! However, the restaurant FAB was good fun and we enjoyed a more relaxed and traditional Sicilian food tasting!!
Finally back to our hotel rooms about 11 pm it was just time to pack and set the alarm for a 4 am start homeward bound…
Thank you to Typically Italian, the Sicilian Tourist Board and Platz Travel for hosting us and showcasing the best of Sicily’s delicious food and wine!
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