Happy Anniversary to Us!
4 years ago was the happiest day of my life.
Tanti auguri amore mio!
October at its Best
October can be an “iffy” month. You really don’t know what you’ll get in terms of weather. It’s been cool, almost blustery for days. Then today arrived.
Warm sun beating down from a clear blue sky. Crystal clear and calm water glistening and inviting boat lovers to enjoy its beauty and serenity. The local bars filled with Italians enjoying their “cappucci” and a little sun on their faces. Clothes that dry within a day!
Truly October at its best. Hope it lasts for a while...
(an oasis in a not so lovely desert)...
We had been told that the southern part of Sicily, west of Vittoria, was a rather sad and dangerous part of the island. In fact, most of these warnings came from people who had themselves grown up in the area. Still, I have to admit I was surprised by just how bad (and yes, sad) it became around Gela and extending all the way to Agrigento. Mamma mia.
Busloads of tourists flock to Agrigento for one purpose. To visit the incredible Valley of the Temples that sit strangely out of place in front of the hillside concrete jungle that makes up the city. The “Valley” is the remains of a greek settlement dating back to the 5th century b.c., including 7 temples built out of the tufa rock below them. It is an amazing site and a must if you are spending a good amount of time in Sicily.
The big problem is where to stay. Villa Athena, recently re-opened 5-star hotel is located about 200 meters from the main entrance of the Valley and had amazing views of it. Not bad for a quickie one-night stay, see the Temples and then "get out of dodge".
But for a truly pleasant and relaxing experience, just a sort 1/2 hour drive away is the very lovely Mandranova agriturismo. In located in the midst of hactares upon hectares of olive trees (olive oil is there main product), you will find a high-end bed and breakfast with 12 rooms and suites, all decorated differently with a touch of class. The owners, Giuseppe and Silvia, are warm and welcoming hosts, who love to show you around the property, telling you fun stories of its evolution as well as the history of the surrounding area. Dinner is served nightly by Silvia who, in my opinion, makes the best cassata in all of Sicily. Two huge pieces were necessary to make that statement! :)
It may not be located in the greatest of areas (and there is some noise from the superstrada nearby), but between the gardens, walks through the olive tree farm, two wonderful hosts, a divine kitchen and lovely rooms, it gets my vote as the place to stay when visiting Agrigento.
An add-on to your stay in the area, can be a visit to the Morgante winery featuring some of Sicily’s most excellent Nero d’Avola wine. It’s not a fancy place, but the Morgante brothers are thrilled to have visitors and teach them the wine making process, and of course, give you an opportunity to enjoy the “fruits of their labor” ~ Cin, cin!
Contrada Racalmare, 92020 Grotte
Tel: 0922 945 579
Riserva di Venidcari
Where you say? So did I, until I did my homework. There is patch of paradise waiting to be discovered. Go to the very southeast corner of Sicily and you will find Vendicari. Not only is the area beautiful but there are several interesting day trips/excursions from the area. Riserva di Vendicari is just that, a nature reserve on with an abandoned tonnara (tuna factory), faro (lighthouse), marshland filled with exotic birds and kilometers of open, empty beach.
Our base was Terre di Vendicari a new, very peaceful and very chic “agriturismo” with over 70 hectares of olive trees and panoramic views. The property dates back to the 14th century and has been restored with the utmost detail and taste.
From our accommodations we were able to make visits to:
Marzamemi, an old tonnara turned fabulous “dining village”. It a wonderful place to visit and enjoy a seafood meal in the main piazza (we had a wonderful lunch at Taverna La Ciocloma). I imagine it’s quite lively in the summertime and on weekends.
The gorgeous baroque town of Noto and it’s impressive cathedral and not to mention some of the best cannoli and granite on the island at Caffe Sicilia.
It is also easy to visit Ragusa, Siracusa, Caltagirone, the deserted beaches of Capo Passero.
Vendicari is located only a 75 minute drive from the Catania Airport. Put it on your list of places to visit in Sicily!
Salina: Simply Special...
We’ve been home for 5 days now, but between the catch-up work and both of us getting sick, the time passes and our trip to Sicily seems weeks ago. I can’t express enough my love and fascination for this island (and those little ones around it). It never seizes to amaze me: the history, architecture, culture, folklore, the FOOD and of course the wine.
We covered a lot of ground over our 10 days. From the island of paradise known as Salina to Taormina, from the nature reserve of Vendicari to the incredible ruins at the Valley of the Temples, from the not-so-lovely Mazara del Vallo to the surprising lovely countryside near Menfi and eventually to Palermo, a city I have learned to really appreciate over the past few years.
I might as well start with our first (and favorite) stop which was really our only real vacation time of the trip, Salina (just the name makes it sound beautiful).
Salina is a part of the Aeolian Islands off the northeast coast of Sicily (daily ferries and hydrofoils run from Milazzo). It is easily recognized by its two high peaks (once volcanoes), separated one from the other by a valley. The island is surprisingly verdant and fertile in comparison to the other rather stark Aeolian Islands and it well-covered by chestnut trees, fig-cactus, capers (for which the island might be most famous) and terraced vines of malvasia grapes, fruit and olive trees. There are several quaint villages including its main town of Santa Marina, cliffside Malfa and Pollara (where “Il Postino” was filmed), as well as seaside villages Lingua and Rinella. In the valley between the two volcanoes lies Leni.
We had the pleasure of staying at the lovely Hotel Signum in Malfa. A family run, 4-star hotel with pool, spa, excellent restaurant, 100% class and 0% snobbery. In fact, it’s been a long time since I had seen a complete staff seem in unison and genuinely happy to be working. By the end of our stay, we felt like family. There are rooms of all type and budget with plenty of outdoor space and gorgeous views to enjoy without a sense of having to share it with anyone else. The hotel is a gem.
There might not be tons to do on the island for those looking for ruins, museums and shopping (although a little of that can be found in Santa Marina). But if you like the sea, sea activities, hiking, fabulous food and wine, and just being at peace with nature (“me to a tee”), then Salina just might be the perfect get-away for you. I personally cannot wait to return.