Arriving in Sicily felt like returning home, back to wishing everyone a buona sera (only after two in the afternoon), ordering cappuccino (only before eleven in the morning), taking pleasure in an afternoon nap and late dinners (always after eight in the evening) all whilst serving up a gleeful ciao to everyone we meet.
It felt even better because we were going to be spending the next five days with Moo’s family, which meant plenty of activities,
good great food and getting to know the area in general. First stop: Taormina.
In my absolute and complete honesty, Taormina was the kind of place we had been avoiding in our previous travels through mainland Italy. The sheer volume of tourists and tourist focused activities made it hard to get into the spirit of the place and more importantly, get back on Italian time (late mornings, late lunches, late dinners with plenty of rest and relaxation in between.) In our travels, we soon learnt that all Italian’s are in pursuit of pleasure and you can bet, without hesitation, that includes all aspects of their diets.
I will say this, Taormina’s food scene was next level, we didn’t have a bad meal once and this alone meant we enjoyed the place much more than we thought we would. And while we’re at it, having Mount Etna as a backdrop is pretty special.
Down on the beaches, you can find lines and lines of beach beds, serviced by two or more ‘lidos’ offering to take you in for respite, to me, they look more like an army ready to take on the tide (or in reality, take on the weight of its beholder.)
Things to do in Taormina: jump off the rock at Mazzarò beach, (it’s the rock in the right hand corner of the first photo), visit the old town (via cable car) and get lost in it’s intricate alleyways off the beaten path, awe at the Ancient Greek theatre (above), let your imagination run wild on Isola Bella, snorkel right up to it if you’re that way inclined and please: eat, eat, eat!
From there we decided to see a little of the Sicilian countryside (most visitors will tend to stick to the coastal areas of Sicily) and just like that we were off to San Piero Patti. Quaint, quiet and actually quite odd at times.
Here we were able to find the cheapest gelato in all of Italy (two euro), the most delicious ragu stuffed arancini and the longest (free) wine tour we’ve ever been on.
The three hour wine tour served only red varietals (only three), we only got to sample one of them, and by that, I mean: drink the whole bottle – not to worry – there was plenty to eat too, remember, Italian’s don’t really drink to get drunk, they enjoy it for it’s craft. With our bottle we ate fresh bread (we’d stopped on the way to pick it up), a salted ricotta, a salad with capsicum, capers, olive oil, rosemary and breadcrumbs and jalapenos soaked in oil. That was it – that was the tasting!
Here’s where Italians have it right: Where was the cheese from? I ask, the response is simple. The neighbour gives it to him for free in return for letting his sheep graze in his field. His vegetable patch is tendered by a local man, for free – in return he is allowed to take whatever fruits he needs from the trees. A total cashless economy in a circular fashion. Something that has been working for centuries, that really should come back. The faith in it all, the trust and it just simply works. That’s the thing about Sicily, it’s unequivocally communal.
There wasn’t all that much to “do” in San Piero Patti, but we sure did appreciate some time to relax, read and digest. I will say this though, the silence at night is deafening.
After a minor dispute with our airbnb owner, (resulting in a pretty bad review for Moo), we scurried as fast as we could to the coast. We deposited our hire car and made a beeline straight for the ferry wharf in Milazzo. From here we were headed straight to the Aeolian islands, first stop: Salina.
First of all, there are seven Aeolian islands, and deciding which to visit was actually pretty hard, but we landed on the two we thought would suit us most (good food and fewer people). I know I must sound like a broken record by disliking other people – but – if I’m to live like a true Italian, I must take pleasure much more seriously, and I simply couldn’t take pleasure in being surrounded by (too many) others.
So, where was I? Ah yes, Salina!
It was heavenly for so many reasons. Firstly and most importantly (for me), all the beaches were incredibly picturesque, the water was so warm and oh so clear. Other things to do: travel to the foothills of Valdichiesa to summit the Monte Fossa delle Felci, explore the beaches: Pollara, Rinella or Malfa (our favourite) where you can hire a camping mattress for six dollars to laze on the rocks and/or float around on them.
The most unexpected part was how great the public transport was, we bussed about the island paying two euros each direction and once we’d figured it out, it was much easier than the hassle of a rental. Plus, there was nowhere else to go other than where to buses where going. Simple!
We stayed right in the heart of Malfa, where we were close to the supermarket, bakery and the abundance of restaurants and cafes – wifi was extremely limited or non-existent. The perfect place to digi-detox should one find oneself needing one.
Three nights later and we’re sadly departing Salina on our way to an even smaller island, Filicudi. In all honesty, I know I dislike crowds – but – this place was probably a little too quiet and unfortunately we were staying way out of town, without reliable transport (or a cafe, gasp!!). So, we needed to hire a scooter, which we did so immediately – after lunch of course. #foodcomesfirst
Again we find ourselves in the nosebleed section – although unlike the Amalfi, there is nothing to take refuge from. There is so little happening even if we were in the busiest part of town. Of two there are: Pecorini Mare or the Porto. The Porto seems to be where all the business takes place – the lack lustre cornetti proof that business comes first – the comings and goings, the scooter hire, the boat hire and the biggest hotel on the island (tiny by normal standards, there are seven rooms).
Pecorini Mare on the other side seems to be all about pleasure. If the cornetti are anything to go by – you can tell they take pleasure very seriously (they’re mouth wateringly good). It hosts the islands only Lido (twenty euro per day for a bed among the grass – the pebbles are too unforgiving to lay near), a dive centre, boat hire and the hippest bars (the Saloon and La Siera bar and restaurant) that’s it. Just two places to aperitive. Why would you need more when peak hour combines with happy hour and the rest of the day you can relax with ease.
Before we knew it, it was time to head back to reality aka: civilisation. We caught the early ferry to Palermo for a few nights. A city that is a little dirty but with a LOT of charm. Plenty to “buy” in Palermo but I personally recommend spending time walking the streets and I highly recommend a tour of the opera house.
a quick word on the food in Sicily:
The food you can expect in Sicily: arancini (all day, everyday), granite and brioche (for breakfast), gelato in brioche (a great snack), pistachio flavoured everything, caponata (a healthy side dish), cannoli (divine), chickpea (flour) fritters, capers and as much fresh seafood as you can stomach. View the gallery below for a few of my favourite foods!
Before leaving the island, I had to get just one more beach day in… so I jumped on a bus and found myself at Mondello beach half an hour later. It was simply gorgeous.
And so, there you have it! Our first taste of Sicily. Exceptional food, at times, questionable wine and at the epicentre of everything: masters in the pursuit of pleasure.
Tune in next week, as I’m almost up to speed: all about Cape Town.
Until then xo