As part of our 3-month trip around the Mediterranean last Fall, after Barcelona and Antibes, we took the train along the water to Genoa, then flew to the largest island in the Mediterranean: SICILY. I was excited to practice my rusty study-abroad Italian and visit a part of Italy I'd never been to. And I was eager to get some Sicilian recipe inspiration for my next book, #ForestFeastMediterranean!
Sicily is wild and beautiful. Amazing ocean vistas, ancient seaside villages, citrus orchards, olive groves, vineyards, vibrant bougainvillea vines and stunning beaches. To me, its beauty lies in the fact that it's not super developed or polished. It's lush but also a little rough around the edges, with rich history and agriculture embedded into the landscape and culture.
We flew into Catania and out of Palermo and explored the north-eastern side of the island during our stay. Renting a car seemed to be the best way to get around (although driving was not always easy). We stayed first near Catania in Acireale, where I found a unique Airbnb apartment inside an 18th century villa. The villa was walled and took up what felt like a whole city block, with persimmon and fig trees in the garden, an expansive patio and a tiled outdoor kitchen. Although a decent hub for day trips, I don't think we'd stay in Acireale again. It has a stunning historic downtown area, but it's much larger than we realized and difficult to drive in an out of.
One of my favorite days in Sicily (and potentially of the entire trip) started and ended at the ocean, but midday, we were freezing atop the volcano of Mt. Etna. We started our drive near Catania and wandered through the rugged and rural countryside, past vineyards and dilapidated stone farmhouses. We saw orange trees spilling out everywhere and chestnuts for sale on the side of the road. We passed through the town of Bronte, known for its pistachios. And Zafferana Etnea, known for its honey. We did a honey tasting at Oro di Etna and brought home some pistachio flavored honey that was delicious with cheese. Near Pedara, we pulled over to what we thought was a small convenient-type store and found that it was actually a wine cellar. Locals were lined up with big plastic water bottles to fill and take home. As we drove higher and higher, it was fascinating to see the landscape change and turn to snow. We barely made it up the mountain without chains, but finally parked and took a cable car to the peak which was FREEZING but offered a stunning view of the island and surrounding ocean. And, of course, they had more honey to taste at the lodge.
We also took a daytrip to the idyllic hillside town of Taormina, where we strolled the cobblestone main drag (with great shopping) and visited the ancient theater with a stunning ocean view. I ate Pasta alla Norma there which I am recreating for the book. The town is so pretty, it's a must-see.
Next we headed to Cefalu, where we stayed in an oceanview Airbnb full of antique furniture for 4 days. I loved Cefalu. We could walk to the beach and the downtown area and although it was December, it didn't keep us from playing on the beach and even swimming in the ocean. I loved wandering the narrow cobblestone streets of the historic area that runs along the water. Stay in this area if you can. I'd recommend a drink or lunch (mainly for the view, the food is fairly basic) perched over the sand at Il Covo del Pirata. We really enjoyed our meal in the pretty garden at Galleria Restaurant. I thought their dishes were tasty and had interesting flavor combinations and presentation.
On a daytrip from Cefalu, we explored country roads in the mountains and even had to stop once for a herd of goats! We LOVED the nearby town of Castelbuono. The town itself is adorable and has a beautiful castle to to visit. Just outside of town, we had a memorable lunch by the fireplace at a farm/hotel called Agritourismo Bergi. We were the only guests and they cooked just for us with ingredients almost entirely produced onsite. After lunch we strolled through the citrus groves and saw the animals.
Even though the winter weather is mild, I'd love to go back to Sicily in Summer, and explore more of the island.
After Cefalu, we flew out of Palermo to Lisbon. Stories from Portugal coming soon!