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Friday, 19 October 2007

Glamourama : Siciliamo's guide to the most exclusive "treats" in Sicily


Siciliamo introduces its first guide to the most exclusive Sicilian "treats" : Boutique Hotels, intimate restaurants, celebrity hot spots and all the components to those travellers seeking glamourous, luxurious and über-cool entertainment in Sicily.

Glamourama is for those who do not mind spending some extra money for a get-away in total bliss and intimacy.


This week in Glamourama, Siciliamo discovers Caol Ishka Hotel in Syracuse.


Caol Ishka is one of a kind. This boutique hidden gem only features 10 bedrooms to better spoil its guests, while the warm mix of materials, designer furniture and antique pieces have all been blended in a rustic environment.

The garden merges with the surrounding nature: a wide lawn beside the splendid swimming pool with Mediterranean plants and aromatic herbs gives way to bamboo, wild grass and spontaneous vegetation.

Rooms are stylishly designed and equipped with all modern comforts; bathrooms are spacious and comfortable, characterised by designer washbasins and large walk-in showers with Iroko decking and glass walls. Oversized doors have been crafted by local artisans with various finishes: bisazza mosaic, mirrors, fabrics, gold leaf.

For food lovers, the Zafferano Bistrot offers creative menus based on Sicilian traditional flavours. The chef only proposes recipes in harmony with seasonal and high quality local ingredients and flavours.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Not only tarantella


This post might be of interest to all those Italo-Americans or just those simply curious about Sicilian folklore and tradition.

Call me a perfectionist, but being Sicilian I like to make my traditions straight : Tarantella is indeed the most known Southern Italian dance, but not necessarily Sicilian.

In fact, in Sicily, Tarantella acquired special characteristics in different regions of the island, resulting in a wide range of colourful dances, steps and choreographies.

Some examples :

BALLO DELLA CORDELLA
The roots of this traditional dance stem from ties to Cerere (Ceres), goddess of agriculture and abundance, in gratitude for the harvest at year's end.
It is performed by 24 dancers divided in 12 couples representing 12 months of the year. Each dancer hands a coloured silk ribbon linked to a pole. They dance swirling around the pole and combining the ribbons choreographically in four figures that will represent the four phases of the seeding, the sprouting, the cropping and harvesting of wheat throughout the year.

LA MORESCA
It was brought to Sicily by the Moors. You can see the influence of the Moors in the use of the shawls (to cover the heads of the women), the small lady-like steps taken, and the use of bells to emphasis the beat. It is composed only of women with a focus on the elder of the group.

BALLO DEL TARATATA'
The Feast del Taratatà in Casteltermini (Agrigento) is probably less known but it’s a great event too, with Arab influences in terms of rhythms, costumes and scenes.
The dance is only performed by men that dance holding and clinging long swords to each other, without losing the rhythm of the beating drums.
Casteltermini (AG) - every last Sunday of May.

LA PEPPINELLA
Characterised by the rapid whirling of couples, this dance originated in the Agrigento area.
It is an exciting combination of graceful slow movements and peppy, quick steps.
The Tambourine is used.
TARANTELLA CATANESE
Includes a backward skipping step called the Saltarello. There are some flirtatious mannerisms found in this dance.
BALLO DI SAN CALOGERO
Another typical of 6/8 or 4/4 time dance originating in Agrigento and dances on the occasion of the feast of San Calogero (from 01/07/2007 to 08/07/2007).

Recipe : Cuccía



Cuccia is a traditional dessert, served only on Santa Lucia's day (December 13th) in Sicilian households.
All the mothers in every Sicilian neighborhood make cuccia, each in her own unique way. Some are sweeter, some have chocolate, some have citron, some had both. The mothers would prepare bowls of their cuccia for their neighbours and the children are asked to distribute the food.
Who can resist the fresh warm tastes of whole wheat kernels with honey and ricotta? At least, I could not. When my mother was preparing cuccia the night before St Lucia's day, I used to sneak in the kitchen in the middle of the night and eat a large part of the dessert even before it was ready.

As the legend goes, Lucia was a young Sicilian girl from Syracuse who vowed to live as a virgin in devotion to Christ. Her mother, however, arranged a marriage for her to a pagan suitor. To dissuade her mom by way of a miracle, Lucy prayed at the tomb of St. Agatha that her mother's hemorrhage would stop. When the miracle happened, her mother agreed to leave aside the topic of marriage. Lucy's suitor, however, had other ideas, and denounced Lucy as a Christian to the pagan authorities. The authorities went to arrest her, planning on forcing her into prostitution -- but they were unable to budge her, even after tying her to a team of oxen.


She was then tortured by having her eyes torn out. They'd planned on torturing her by fire, too, but the fires kept going out. She was then killed by being stabbed in the throat with a dagger.


Because of the above, St. Lucy is the patron of those with eye problems, and is often depicted carrying her eyes (often on a plate), being tied to a team of oxen, with St. Agatha, or before her judges.


Her remains lay in Syracuse for hundreds of years, were transported to Constantinople, and then to Venice where they were venerated at the Church of San Geremia. Her head was sent to Louis XII of France, and placed in the cathedral of Bourges.


Her name, "Lucia," means "Light," and light plays a role in the customs of her Feast Day.


In Sicily, torchlight processions and Sicily mark her day, and bowls of a cooked wheat porridge known as cuccia are eaten because, during a famine, the people of Syracuse invoked St. Lucy, who intervened by sending a ship laden with grain to the starving population.


Recipe :

1 cup (5 ounces) hard wheat kernels (wheat berries)
Water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups high-quality whole-milk ricotta (made without gelatin or stabilizers)
Honey to taste
1/2 cup currants or raisins
generous pinch cinnamon (optional)

1. Soak wheat in cold water to cover overnight in the refrigerator. Drain and place in a 3-quart saucepan along with the salt and enough water to cover by 2 to 3 inches. Cook at a slow simmer, partially covered, about 1 hour, or until tender. Kernels will open up slightly.
2. Drain the wheat and combine it with the ricotta. Blend in honey to taste, and the raisins or currants. Turn into a deep serving bowl and dust with cinnamon. Serve warm or at room temperature in small bowls.

Variations
Cuccia with Chocolate: Some Sicilians like warm Cuccia with ricotta, honey, and shaved semi-sweet chocolate to taste. We add, too, 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped candied orange rind.

Scenic drives: A salty journey


In proximity to Trapani, the saltpans are located a few kilometres to the south of the town and form part of the Riserva Naturale delle Saline, where panels of mirror-like water, held by thin strips of earth, synchronise to form an irregular and multicoloured scene.
At Paceco/Nubia the picturesque Museo del Sale can be found inside an old windmill overlooking the lagoon, (via delle Saline Tel. 0923/867442) detailing the history of the salt extracting industry. Although the importance of this local industry has waned since the 19th century, windmills are still used to supply the energy required to pump seawater from one basin to another.

Drive across the romantic "Strada del Sale" - Salt Way Road, that include a complex of brackish wetlands (Stagnone di Marsala), saltpans (Saline di Trapani) and islets (Isole dello Stagnone di Marsala) along the west coast of Sicily, south of the town of Trapani. Enjoy this scenic drive along citrus scented trails, swaying vines, and glistening salt pans.

This is a tricky road though and if you miss the right turn you might find yourself stuck into awful concrete towns and smoky industrial areas so you better bring a map or guide with you.


The Stagnone di Marsala is one of the last remaining lagoons in Sicily. It measures 10 km (north-south) by 3 km. It has an average depth of 1 m (maximum is only 2.5 m). where you will admire the contrasting bright white saltpans against the blue waters where pink flamingos, storks and grey herons bath among.

Part of the Stagnone Islands is Motya, (Mozia in Italian) an archaeological park occupies an entire island, where the 8th-century BC Phoenician and later, Carthaginian, city thrived. Dionysus I of Syracuse destroyed Motya in 398 BC, leaving ruins of intricate fortifications, docks, homes decorated with mosaic flooring, and other structures. The extensive archaeological collections of the Museo Whitaker - Open 9am–3pm (until 7pm Jun–Oct) - are displayed as Whitaker intended – the highlight is the outstanding Greek marble statue of a youth in a diaphanous pleated tunic (c.440 BC).

You can reach Motya with a short boat ride across the lagoon (10 minutes)


Our favourite drive :

Approx 29 km excursion between Trapani and Marsala along the SP 21: allow a whole day to include a visit to the Island of Mozia.

From Trapani, follow the coast road (SP 21) to Marsala which provides a succession of fine views over the saltpans of Trapani and those at Stagnone. The first stop is Nubia.
Nubia – The headquarters of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (138 Via Garibaldi) manages the Riserva Naturale Salma di Trapani e Paceco, a saltwater nature reserve habitat where 170 species of bird – resident and migratory – have been recorded. Indeed, it is not unusual to see migrating flamingos, storks, cranes and herons.

From Nubia, return to the main road and continue towards the Stagnone Lagoon, where the most spectacular saltpans are located. A sign indicates the way to the Ettore e Infersa saltworks.

There are many embarcaderos (small boat) to Mozia departing from different location along the Lagoon. After a visit to the island of Mozia you can get back to the coastal road that weaves its way to Marsala along a very pleasant route, which can be breathtakingly spectacular at sunset.


Sicilian item of the day : Balcony scene with a twist.


Every typical Sicilian house or villa often displays a harmonious blend of Sicilian ceramic decors, together with scented jasmine or coloured bougainvillea plants strategically placed on balconies, facades or backyards.

With a closer look, some of the pottery in display may reveal a strange series of brightly coloured hand-painted decorations resembling human heads.

Responding to all phases of Sicilian history, Sicilian ceramicists borrowed from the Spanish, the Moors, the Norman and the Baroque, but to the Moorish phase belongs the fascinating tale I am about to tell...

Some of you might have already noticed a coloured ornamental vase representing a dark mustached moor's head in white turbans and gold earrings, but few of you will be aware of the grotesque and bloody legend behind this ornamental Sicilian classic.


The story takes place in the heart of the Kalsa, the Arab quarter of Palermo around the year 1000. There lived a beautiful Sicilian young girl with long silky black hair and eyes that recalled the colour of Mediterranen sea.

As every honourable Sicilian girl was not allowed to walk alone in the streets, the girl spent great part of her days gardening the exotic plants and flowers of her luscious balcony.

The Balcony scene played a crucial role in every woman's social life at that times, as it was the only way of experiencing a tantalising glimpse of freedom, a furtive look toward an open theatre on every day's hustle and bustle of the flourishing Palermo.

One day, a young wealthy Moorish merchant was passing by the girl's balcony and could not help falling in love with such unbridled beauty.

With no hesitation the man decided to declare his love to the beautiful girl.

Impressed by the merchant wealth and flattered by his apparently sincere love, the girl gave herself and her "virtue" away cultivating not only her plants, but a passionate, intense relationship with the Moorish.

But with every passionate drama there is often a twist, the girl soon discovered an awful truth : The Moor was about to return to his country, where wife and children awaited him.

Her "virtue" had been deflowered, her honour lost forever and her heart broken. Things that to every Sicilian woman only recall one simple word : Revenge.

As the two lovers spent the last night of passion together, the girl sneaked into the kitchen, took out a butcher knife and cut the Moors throat, then carried on cutting off his whole head.

The morning after, the Moorish head was on display on the girl's balcony, using the skull as a vase where she planted some basil seeds.

With the passing of time, that basil plant grew so beautifully and scented, raising the envy of every other woman in town, which asked their artisans to have molded a terracotta vase just like the one of the beautiful girl...
So, in brief : Never mess with a Sicilian girl!

The "teste di Moro" - Moorish heads are quiet popular among Sicilian ceramists and make beautiful ornamental vases for gardens and balconies.

If you are planning to come to Sicily they are usually sold in every ceramics shop, but if you would like to buy one online, there is an artisan in Syracuse that also sells online.

Ceramiche La Faience has a wide range of beautifully hand-painted ceramics and "Teste di Moro" under the "Collection Pieces" link.

Little slice of sunshine in the UK


Homesick Sicilians, Sicilian wannabes, supporters and food adventurers, if you live in London you can now fulfill those stomach-rumbling, Sicilian cravings at a cozy Notting Hill Café, jam-packed with the flavours of Palermo on its shelves.
Arancina Cafe was created and founded by Carmelo Franchino together with the Mortari brothers, who as homesick Sicilian were tired of witnessing office workers being served rubbish masquerading as food at lunchtime.
And so they are on a Sicilian mission : Improving quality of life with a slice of sunshine in rainswept London. Their secret recipe? Arancina, of course : That grainy mouthful of Italian risotto with a tasty surprise at its heart!
Their pricing is also refreshingly fair: £1.50 for an arancina, 70p for an almond mignon. "I want the café to be an ambassador for modern Sicily: fresh, witty and stylish," says Carmelo.
Carmelo and his friends' desire is to make the arancina just as widespread in Britain. They hope that one day office workers on their lunch breaks will be scoffing warm risotto balls rather than cold sandwiches.
Tessa Boase writes in Telegraph.co.uk about helping these guys achieve such important gastronomic mission.

Arancina Café is at 19 Pembridge Road, London W11 (020 7221 7776)
http://www.arancina.co.uk/

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Glamourama : Panasia Beach & Lounge bar


Chill out on sofa beds, sip a cocktail at sunset or dance 'till dawn at PanAsia Beach & Lounge Bar in Taormina's Mazzarò beach.
This is one of the most glamorous and original seaside establishment , where Sicily meets the Montecarlo party-scene.
Panasia is chic and exotic at the same time. All the interiors (and exterior) design comes directly from outstanding Milan hottest designers.
Crowd at Panasia is hip and trendy and mainly youngish - Cool chic is the unofficial dress code for this place.

Via nazionale-spisone
Taormina (ME)

Glamourama : La Giara club and restaurant


Sexy and stylish, La Giara club and restaurants perfectly resembles all the essence of the Sicilian "Dolce Vita" in Taormina.

A piano bar supreme, where locals and well-to-do tourists dress in their best to order fine wines and dine al fresco.

It is an elegant classy yet electric place, with its stunning terrace overlooking Taormina's bay. La Giara is steeped in history with a clientele that has over the years included the many millionaires just passing by...

Booking essential

+39 0942 233 60

Vico Floresta 1 - Taormina (ME)

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Sicily among top 10 scrummy retreats


From the Guardian, another pressie highlights Sicily as a must-go destination.

Kevin Gould traveled from Sweden to France and the southern coast of Sicily, to discover a lovely home set in a olive farm : Azienda Fattoria Mose.


Everything you eat here tastes of the sun, and comes from the immediate vicinity - including the Agnellos' glorious bright, peppery olive oil (as sold at Fortnum and Mason, no less). Three nights from £466pp (sharing) including return flights from Gatwick and car hire. Sunvil Italy (020-8568 4499, sunvil.co.uk).


Sicilian Item of the day : Cucina Siciliana


Food is central to Sicilian life, and from the sizzling, mouth-watering street food in the capital of Palermo to the Siciliani and ice-cream eaten throughout the day in the small towns that pepper the island.

If you can’t afford the time or the airfare to go to Sicily though, why not dip into a new book compiled by well-travelled food writer, Clarissa Hyman, entitled Cucina Siciliana?
People and family homes are visited and experts, growers, millers and shop owners are interviewed. No Sicilian stone – or lentil – is left uncovered, to bring back the recipes, methods and ingredients used by locals.




Monday, 8 October 2007

Jamie Oliver does it again


There is nothing wrong with a visit to Florence, Venice, Rome or Cinque Terre. But soon you may find yourself looking for another Italy; a less touristy one that, though free of Caravaggios, is also welcomingly free of crowds.

A "real" place with "real" people, flavours and, above all, particulary addictive recipes!

Jamie Oliver's discerning eye spotted the delight of Sicily a long time ago and today he shares his discoveries with us! From msnbc.com


Jamie Oliver serves up a Sicilian specialty

For his next lesson in Italian cooking, the British culinary star shares tuna meatballs with tomato sauce. Check out the recipe.


Sicilian Tuna Meatballs


For the tomato sauce
• Olive oil
• 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
• 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano
• 2 14-oz. cans of good-quality plum tomatoes
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• red wine vinegar
• a small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and roughly chopped


For the meatballs
• 14 oz. tuna
• olive oil
• 2 oz. pinenuts
• 1 level teaspoon ground cinnamon
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano
• a handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
• 1 3/4 cups stale breadcrumbs
• 2 oz. freshly grated Parmesan
• 2 eggs
• zest and juice of 1 lemon


First make your sauce. Place a large pan on the heat, add a good glug of olive oil, your onion and garlic, and fry slowly for 10 or so minutes, until soft. Add your oregano, the tomatoes, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes or so, then blend until smooth. Taste, it might need a tiny swig of red wine vinegar or some extra seasoning.
While the tomatoes are simmering, chop the tuna up into 1-inch dice. Pour a good couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a large frying pan and place on the heat. Add the tuna to the pan with the pinenuts and cinnamon. Season lightly with salt and pepper and fry for a minute or so to cook the tuna on all sides and toast the pinenuts. Remove from the heat and put the mixture into a bowl. Allow to cool down for 5 minutes, then add the oregano, parsley, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, eggs, lemon zest, and juice to the bowl. Using your hands, really scrunch and mix the flavors into the tuna, then divide the mixture and squeeze it into meatballs slightly smaller than a golf ball. If you dip one of your hands in water while shaping, you’ll get a nice smooth surface on the meatball. If the mixture’s very sticky, add a few more breadcrumbs. Keep the meatballs around the same size and place them on an oiled tray, then put them in the fridge for an hour to let them rest.
Put the pan you fried the tuna in back on the heat with a little olive oil. Add your meatballs to the pan and jiggle them about until they’re golden brown all over. You might want to do them in batches- when they’re done, add them to the tomato sauce, divide between your plates, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and drizzle with good olive oil. Great served with spaghetti or linguine.

Glamourama : Hotel Quartara


Exclusive, prestigious boutique hotel, on the smallest island of the celebrities' favourite Aeolian archipelago : Panarea.
Hotel Quartara features a stunning Cromotherapy Jacuzzi and a "fine dining" restaurant.
There are 13 rooms, four of which overlook the sea and have a balcony. All rooms are decorated with handcrafted teak wood furniture, with each one a different style: colonial, minimalist, Chinese, etc.
In Broccia Restaurant a special dimension has been created for special people, where sensations, emotions and rhythms come together to captivate and hold the essence of life, of a way of being.
Chef Francesco Mansani is inspired by the creative kitchen, exalting fresh ingredients of the island.

Info and Reservations

Not the ordinary bread


The small town of Salemi (photogallery) enjoys a lovely position surrounded by the vineyards that are so typical a feature of the Trapani region. The older parts of Salemi bear the indelible imprint of Arab influences, its narrow cobbled streets wind their way to the top of the hill crowned with the ubiquitous Sicilian Castle.

But what makes this little town special is its bread.

Some years ago "bread" was the most important element in the eating habits of people from all walks of life: princes, children and common people. In fact for a long time it was considered a sacred element. There are many important religious and folkloristic feast in which bread plays a very important role, the one of St Biagio has to be mentioned.

According to the Christian religion. St Biagio is a protector of the throat. His celebration is characterised by two typical shapes of bread: "li cuddureddi"

Originally this feast was a propitiatory rite later adapted to the catholic faith.

Bread also plays a significant part in the celebrations of St. Josephs day (19 March), when special large votive loaves are baked in the shape of angels, garlands, flowers, animals and work-tools so as to represent every aspect of daily life.

This is an event that cannot be missed!

On March 19th the streets of Salemi are decorated with "altars" made of wood and covered with coloured fabrics, lights, laurel and myrtle, oranges, lemons and breads in the shape of angels, Virgins, Jesus, St Joseph, flowers and every other possible decorative shape: You won't believe you very eyes!

The tradition dictates that those "devotees" who organize a votive altar must also gather a banquet (La cena) consisting of 101 recipes based on cereals, vegetables, fruits, fish and cakes.

After setting a long banquet table and blessing the breads, the food is first offered to the children (representing the holy family) and then all the visitors.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Glamourama : Baglio della Luna


The natural elegance of Sicily is evident in the rural setting offered by Hotel Baglio della Luna, a rare example of ancient Sicilian memory at the doors of the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. A courtyard circumscribed by high walls, guest quarters, and an old tower immersed in a natural and exuberant landscape evoking a Greek and Arabic past, places that invite one for an authentic experience.


The respectful restoration has salvaged the ancient structures dating from the 13th century which are set in a very green garden, full of Mediterranean plants. Here you will find the wellness corner with the relaxing hydro-massage pool and a very comfortable sauna.

"Dehors" is the refined and elegant restaurant of the Hotel, open to guests and the public at large and renowned throughout Italy for a cuisine that goes from the traditional to the most innovative, always featuring Sicilian elements and offering a carefully selected wine list showcasing Sicilian Greats, the best Italian as well as French and International wines.


Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Siciliamo visits the Cous Cous Fest


The "10th International Festival of Mediterranean Culture, Food and Wine", otherwise known as the Cous Cous Fest of San Vito, (photogallery) is a gastronomic exhibition (usually held mid to late September) that attracts the attention of the Mediterranean and International gastronomic community to the idyllic seaside Sicilian Village of San Vito Lo Capo. San Vito Lo Capo is located on the North West of the Island midway between Palermo and Trapani. Chefs from the Mediterranean basin, Africa and Brazil compete for the prize of the best preparation and presentation of the traditional dish of Cous Cous, as well as for newer, more modern versions of this dish. Traditional Sicilian couscous with fish soup and chunks of swordfish is a must!
The festival celebrates 3000 years of Cous Cous, with a lively mix of world music, Mediterranean colours and, of course, food and wine tasting.

This year Siciliamo eagerly attended the Cous Cous Fest is San Vito in order to participate in the many interesting gastronomic workshops and seminars fronted by some of the best cous cous chefs in the world as well as those from the Sicilian school of cous cous, showing what Sicilian cuisine is all about...

While San Vito's history as the centre of Sicilian cous cous was enough reason in itself to attend the festival, white sand beaches and clear blue water such as this also helps a little! And don't forget, San Vito is part of the Province of Trapani, otherwise known as the "Bread Basket" of Italy and contains some of the best produce and the cutest agriturismi farm stays you will find.

The following video features my mum making the Moroccan version of lamb couscous with the traditional tajine pot. Enjoy!
video

Monday, 1 October 2007

Another victim of Sicilian Ma...gnificence

Sicily has a serious plague.

This island claims a number of victims every summer: It is a cruel land with no mercy, even for the bravest visitor. It is the syndrome that afflicts the entire island. You know what I am talking about. The syndrome of Sicilian Ma...gnificence, that leaves every tourist stunned by the breathtaking scenery, delicious meals and a heavy dose of history.

July Besonen from the NY Daily News is the latest victim today.

Sicily made me fall in love with Italy all over again. Though I'd heard raves about the food, every meal - indeed, every morsel I ate - exceeded my expectations.
The island's fat, green and brown olives burst with juice. Sweet, plump oranges are sold with leaves and twigs still attached. I've had fish on the coastlines of four continents, but I've never tasted pesce spada (swordfish) or dentice (sea bream) as fresh as this, almost leaping from the sea onto my plate.
It's hard to think of more distinctive pasta, such as those I sampled at a restaurant called Lo Scudiero on Via Turati in Palermo. Two dishes that are emblematic of Sicily are pasta alla Norma with tomato, eggplant, ricotta and basil, and pasta con le sarde, a tangle of fresh sardines, raisins, pine nuts, olive oil, wild fennel and bread crumbs.
Then there's the wine. In recent years, Sicilian wine has been the island's greatest ambassador. The reds, such as earthy and ripe Nero d'Avola, and the whites, like Grillo, are bright, floral and citrus-y. Many of them cost less than $10.
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and has more land planted with vines than any other Italian region. To give you an idea of how much wine it makes, consider that Sicily alone produces nearly as much as all of Australia.
One of the biggest wineries in the region, Feudo Arancio, is open to the public. To get to the winery's vast, hilly holdings in southwestern Sambuca di Sicilia, we drove past orange, lemon and olive groves and fields of artichokes. A backdrop of craggy mountains, palm trees and prickly pear cactuses made me think of the American Southwest.
Winemaker Calogero Statella, 29, was on hand to lead us through a complimentary tasting of his wonderful Nero d'Avola and Grillo wines, as well as Hecate, a honeyed dessert wine. He also makes fine international varieties like Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
After visiting the vineyards and state-of-the-art winemaking facility, we drove a short distance to the Temples of Selinunte, a nearly 2,700-year-old archeological park perched on the sea. The colossal acropolis rivals the one in Athens.
In 409 B.C., Hannibal and his Carthaginian warriors sacked Selinunte. Earthquakes smashed up the rest. Excavations have been underway since the 1950s, but there's a long way to go before the eight Doric temples are rebuilt. The ruins are nevertheless stunningly beautiful.
Other than food, wine and archeological digs, Sicily is famous as the birthplace of the Mafia. It's said La Cosa Nostra isn't what it used to be, except perhaps in rural areas. But for a "Godfather" fix, visit Palermo's ornate Teatro Massimo opera house, where Sofia Coppola, as Michael Corleone's daughter, was slain on the steps in "The Godfather: Part III."
At first glance, Palermo seems lawless and treacherous. Drivers pay little attention to traffic lanes or stop signs. You have to hold on tight when you careen in a car from the airport through downtown, passing small trucks hauling artichokes and speeding brigades of Vespas. Curiously, I saw no accidents.
During a walking tour, we saw Baroque and Middle Eastern architectural influences. This melting pot of cultures was occupied by Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Normans, and later conquered by the French, Spanish and Italians.
We also shopped at outdoor markets brimming with long-stalked artichokes, heaps of vivid spices, grassy-green olive oil, almond liqueur, capers packed in salt, magnificent oranges and briny olives. For snacks, buy arancini (deep-fried risotto balls) and fresh Bronte pistachios wherever you see them.
In the middle of all these tastes, smells and sounds of hectic traffic, we came upon a giant crater roped off like a construction site.
"What happened here?" I asked our guide, thinking an earthquake had recently struck.
"It was bombed," she said.
"By who?"
"The Americans," she said.
"Sorry," I said, remembering that Italy was not our ally in World War II.
She shrugged, not holding it against us. Americans don't seem to be holding any grudges against Italy, either. My flight out of New York to Milan was packed with Americans, many of whom told me they were making connections to Palermo. Perhaps because Sicily seems more exotic and undiscovered than other parts of Italy, tourism is up.
Other than their driving habits, it's the most relaxed society I've come across. Clusters of friends and family sit and talk and laugh on street corners, in no rush to get back to work or chores.
Sicily is Old World Italy, a place bent on tradition. Take the chocolate, for instance. In Modica, a southeastern town whose Baroque stone dwellings cling perilously to a mountaintop, the chocolate-making method hasn't changed in centuries. Cocoa and sugar aren't melted so much as beaten into submission, leaving a bar that looks smooth but has a crunchy, granulated, powdery texture that melts on the tongue. No butter or milk is added.
Hotels are more up to date, though, often offering free Internet service in the lobby. In Palermo, I loved the shabby-chic Excelsior Palace (http://www.excelsiorpalermo.it/ ) for its Belle Époque elegance and swan-necked Murano chandeliers.
In the gorgeously Baroque southeastern town of Ragusa, we stayed at the enchanting Locanda Don Serafino in the historic Ibla district.
Rooms are like lavish, white-walled caves. The hotel's stylish restaurant is housed in old horse stables, serving specialties like lasagnette with cocoa and ricotta, or rabbit with bacon and Bronte pistachios.
I spent less than a week in Sicily and wished I had a month. After driving around the island, I flew out of the Catania airport and overheard fellow travelers rhapsodizing about the volcanic splendor of Mount Etna, the temples at Agrigento, and the towns of Messina, Noto, Syracuse and Cefalù.
At the Alitalia ticket counter, Italians were shouting and waving, jostling for position. I finally fought my way to the front and presented my passport, afraid flights were canceled.
"What's wrong?" I asked the ticket clerk, gesturing at the chaos.
"It's nothing," she said with a shrug, with a nonchalance typical of Sicily.

Wear Sicily!


Some time ago, we wrote about how Armani was going to present his brand new collection entirely inspired on Sicily, where the designer owns a stunning villa in the island of Pantelleria.

Today we tell you what actually has been presented in recent Milano Fashion Week for Armani's latest spring-summer 2008 collection.

The beach and the beautiful blue Mediterranean found in the colours of designer's latest offerings - Daniela Petroff writes from Milan


Showing Giorgio Armani on the first day of Milan fashion week is like serving a Sicilian dessert before the main course. After such a treat, is there room for more?

Head scarves, netted shawls, flared skirts and knickerbockers gathered at the knee like a beachcomber's rolled up pants are underlined by a palette of sandy beige, shrub green and sea blue. Together, they combine to evoke Mediterranean lore.


The plunging necklines of Armani's evening wear, however, tell a more contemporary tale. Although now a dying breed, many women in Sicily up until a few years ago were still shrouded in black.
The new Armani jacket dubbed "petite," which is closer to a bolero than a spencer, barely covers the demurely flared blouse underneath, and is worn with a softly pleated skirt or the flared knickers. There is not a man-tailored pantsuit -- the designer's trademark -- in sight.

High heels accompany the beach-inspired daywear, and flat sandals are paired with the ultralight, richly embroidered gowns.

To underline the Sicilian's sea theme of his collection, Armani adds fish-shaped brooches, and boxy handbags in the shape of a miniature treasure chest.