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Sunday, 2 November 2008

Aida at the Teatro Massimo

The Teatro Massimo in Palermo it is the largest Theatre in Italy and one of the largest of Europe (the third after the Opéra National de Paris and Staatsoper in Vienna), and is world renowned for its perfect acoustics.

The Teatro Massimo was dedicated to King Victor Emanuel II and inaugurated on 16th May 1897 with a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff. Although you will be more likely to recognise Massimo not for its glorious past but for the final scene of the Godfather Part III : The climactic and gripping opera scene shot right on the staircase of this majestic theatre.

Italy is Opera's ancestral home, so why not experience a must see event in one of the most fascinating theatres of the world.

Teatro Massimo offers visitors a rich choice of operatic seasons throughout most of the year.

Aida will be performed from November 26th to December 7th 08. Bookings are essential!

Sicilians DO dress up for Opera - expect some glamour...

Monday, 15 September 2008

Bike Riding in the Sicilian Aeolian Islands

This post is for those of you who are passionate about the joys and benefits of truly experiencing a new place by way of riding a bike. The Travel Mag, International Living, has a Special Report on their choice for "The World's 10 Best Travel Adventures", with an adventurous biking adventure in the two most remote islands of the volcanic Aeolian Islands making the list.

Sicily and the Aeolian Islands for Hike or Bike
The seven small islands sprinkling the waters just north of Sicily contain some of the most picturesque living you can imagine. The smallest and western-most of the islands, Alicudi, is covered by pink heather in the spring, and is mostly overlooked by tourists.
The western half of the island is completely uninhabited, and the steep cliffs drop straight into the blue waters beneath, while the eastern half is covered by steppes on which the village sprawls.
While Alicudi is covered in pink heather, the next island, Filicudi, is covered in green ferns. This rugged island has two small villages on a peninsula, and hardly any noise—the only usable road here is a path for mules. The largest island, Lipari, is an island ofbeautiful contrasts. White pumice-stones and pitch-black obsidian cover the coasts.
Volcanic peaks rise above long white beaches. And though there are 600 thermal springs, it only has four towns.
Four more islands, each a magnificent gem in the crown of the Mediterranean, covered in olive groves, fields of golden corn, and strawberry tree woods. The seven volcanic islands contain a spectrum of diverse landscapes from fields to beaches to mountains. And all of it free of smog, bright lights, and city noise.

And then there is Sicily itself. Olive groves, lava fields, and citrus orchards surround the great Mt Etna, while gorgeous beaches, stylish boutiques and chic cafes will leave you in want of nothing.
Walk and bike these fabulous islands for seven days for around $3,500. Bike Riders offers ready-to-go trips. You may want to throw in a few boat tours to see the beautiful island profiled against the aqua Mediterranean waters, which will be an additional (but worthy) cost. And, don’t forget to sample locally made marzipan and authentic cappuccinos along your adventure.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

For a Traditional Sicilian Experience ...

Via Carso 23

Nestled atop of a scenic mountain overlooking the sea and dominated by a 11th century castle, the mediaeval village of Carini is the perfect spot for those seeking a unique Sicilian holiday. A "real" Sicilian experience.

Siciliamo has just acquired the perfect house for a true romantic Sicilian getaway for those of you who want to immerse yourselves in all the beauty and abundance that Sicily has to offer. Located just minutes away from the Palermo Airport in the village of Carini, Via Carso 23
is an early 1900's building in a mediaeval cobbled-stoned alley, consisting of two floors. The house contains a dining room, one king side bedroom, a living area, a small study, fully equipped kitchen and two bathrooms.

The property is stylishly and tastefully furnished and is ideal for a couple who have an eye for quality and class and who want to enjoy the wine, food and ambiance of this magical land.

Rates are
80 per night or 400 per week. Each booking is entitled to a 20% discount on the "Dangerous Eating" Sicilian culinary experiences in Palermo. Also included is a welcome pack of Sicilian produce samples.

For all enquires, email Siciliamo at info@siciliamo.com, or go here.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

History of Sicily in one hundred seconds

This video is not only one of the funniest things about Sicily I have seen in a long time (which is really saying something as those who have driven in Palermo traffic can attest to) but it also provides a rich outline of one of the most diverse and ancient European civilisations - compacted into just 100 seconds! As the author, Turi Scandurra says, "blink and you may miss a whole century".

Script and Animation: Turi Scandurra
Screenplay: Nino Arcidiacono
Music: Peppe Gullotta

For those of you who want to know exactly what was said, here is the full transcript.

One hundred eighty millions years ago Tethys Ocean splits Pangaea
mountain ranges rise up among coral reeves
it’s hot
flora, fauna and dwarf elephants
the volcano Etna grows up by underwater eruptions
then five thousands years ago in Stentinello the first neolithic civilization
Sicanians get overpowered by Sicels
Pantalica is a necropolis for all the dead
phoenician sailors
sea urchins and swordfishes
here come the Greeks
Naxos and Syracuse
theaters carved in rocks or built on a hill like in Taormina
Polyphemus and mermaids
Archimedes and his burning mirrors
Scilla and Cariddi
first Punic War with Rome
Republic and Empire
corn and gladiators, then Vandals and Ostrogoths
Byzantines, Arabians and Muslims
tuna nets, orange and lemon trees
scimitars and sheiks
watering and architecture
ceramics and cassata cakes
Roger II and the Normans
heritage to Suebi
Frederick II and Poetry School
Ciullo d’Alcamo, the first parliament
Aragonese and Angevins
The Vespers when the French drove us mad
then peace of Caltabellotta
House of Hapsburg and Charles V
Bourbon dynasty
Garibaldi who got injuried
Piedmontese army Carabiniers
the Serval, puppetteers
unification of Italy
the Messina Earthquake
bandits and mafia
coppola and lupara
Giovanni Verga and Luigi Pirandello
emigration and First World War
allied landings, Lucky Luciano
the bandit Giuliano and laced coffee (Sicilian style)
Placido Rizzotto and Peppino Impastato
Tano Badalamenti and Marlon Brando as the godfather
Andreotti and the mafia
the disappearance of Mauro De Mauro
the strange case Mattei and a certain Sindona
lots of Christian Democracy and then Socialist Party
Pizza Connection
Falcone and the Maxi Trial
the Corleonesi and Totò Schillaci at World Cup
Buscetta and Dalla Chiesa
the mafia massacres of Capaci and via d’Amelio
money of Ciancimino, Totò Cuffaro and Raffaele Lombardo
the Strait Bridge and Franza ferryboats
and then, many things still have to happen
but in the end the island will be eaten by the sea.

Monday, 18 August 2008

South West on a Shoestring

Travelling on a budget?
No worries. Sicily is one of the few European destination where, if you know the right places, you can get a delicious meal for less than 20 euro and b&b accommodation on a picturesque rustic farm-house for just 30 euro.

Forget group tours: rent a car (possibly with GPS), drive around and explore this fantastic island in all your freedom.
If you are after great Greek temples and ruins, a stunning coastal drive and some serious wine tasting, head toward South West. You can sleep at the pretty Baglio Pocoroba near Segesta , This large archaeological zone, with its magnificent Doric temple, ranks as one of the best-preserved Greek architectural sites to be found anywhere! Tickets to the archaeological park cost less than 10 euro.
From Segesta you can drive along the scenic Strada del Sale (Salt Road) with the backdrop of the islets of Mozia, Isola Longa, Santa Maria and Isola della Schola, forming an archipelago inside the Stagnone, the largest lagoon in Sicily.
You can lunch or dine at the beautiful Duca di Castelmonte an 18th century Sicilian country house for 22 euro and sample delicious Sicilian produce. You can either spend the night at Duca di Castelmonte's for 40 euros including breakfast or reach Marsala for a very interesting guided tour of the famous cellar and some wine-tasting at the stunning and historic Cantine Florio, the place where the Marsala wine variety was first produced.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Sicilian Item of the Day: The Duke of Magic

With clients like Greta Garbo and Coco Chanel, Palermo born Fulco di Verdura was the most famous of Sicily's jewellery designers.

From ruby hearts wrapped with braided gold rope to scallop shells studded with precious stones.The exquisite creations of Fulco di Verdura (1898-1978) are noted for their glorious exuberance and refined glamour.

Ashley Rudd looked gorgeous in them in the movie, DeLovely. Katherine Hepburn wore them in The Philadelphia Story. They were favourites of many other movie stars, such as Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, and celebrities, such as the Duchess of Windsor, of whom the photographer, Horst, said that, "Verdura alone knew how to make her a Duchess." Often whimsical and playful, but still elegant, Fulco di Verdura's exquisite jewels made a huge impression on 'high society' in the 1930's.

Verdura was inspired by military themes, Byzantine themes and images from his beloved Sicily. He made jewellery in the shapes of pomegranates, eggplants and prickly pears (otherwise known as fichi d'india in Italian), and violet posies, for example. "I am more Sicilian than a prickly pear," he remarked!

He was called "The Duke of Magic", as Rainer Sigel writes for Solitaire Magazine

A contemporary Sicilian Jewellery designer that draw inspiration from Fulco di Verdura is Claudio Fiorentino.
An interesting book about Verdura's masteripeces can be found online here.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Sicilian Item of the day : Cucunci

Nobody knew how good it tasted, until Sicilians revealed one of their best kept culinary secrets : Cucunci.

Cucunci is not quiet a caper. It is even more: like a caterpillar that turns into a butterfly, so too, do caper buds - if not picked - turn into a beautiful. And in my opinion, the most beautiful flower ever.

When a bud flowers, you typically lose the fruit...but with Cucunci, right after the flower buds, magically another fruit grows, even tastier than the humble caper that originally was.

Reputed to kindle the appetite, lower blood pressure, mitigate toothache, lower cholesterol and increase ones libido, capers are ubiquitous and plentiful on the beautiful volcanic Aeolian islands off the coast of Sicily. They turn up in antipasti, in salads, with pasta, meat, fish or as snacks and they’re preserved either with dry salt, in brine, wine vinegar or sott’olio (in olive oil).

Yes, capers and cucunci are really big in Sicily and even have own little festival : La sagra del Cappero (Caper Festival).
This bizzarre festival takes place in Pollara, in the island of Salina, part of the Aeolian archipelago. It is a fiesta of food, music and street games in the main square, all in honour of the humble caper. La sagra del Cappero is celebrated every year, on the first weekend of June.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Culinary crimes

Sicilians can't handle order or rules from anyone ... except in the kitchen :

.....No cappuccinos after noon,
.....no cheese on seafood risottos
.....no butter on bread
.....(the list is endless)...

Despite this, there are a few rules that seem to have been broken in Sicilian cuisine, for very tasty reasons of course ;)

We (Sicilians) can tolerate cheese on certain seafood dishes, but a cappuccino after lunch is still a big no-no. It is almost considered a crime.

Siciliamo loved how Robert Trachtenberg's from New York Times Sunday Magazine broke all the culinary rules he could, leaving the Italians indignant and with very funny facial expressions.

Trachtenberg knows it's against the culinary rules to ask for grated cheese on seafood risotto, as traditional Italian chefs claim it masks the delicate seafood flavour. But he's not buying it - he likes it that way. Chefs chastise him, waiters serve him in secret, whispering that they fear for their jobs......

For the New York Times, Robert Trachtenber writes :

Sneer all you want, but I like cheese on seafood pasta. For years I even managed to escape the wrath of the Italian people for this supposed transgression. And then I went to Milan.

The waiter didn’t yell at me exactly.

Rather, he turned to the nearest table and started screaming at them — something about ruining his food, the culture, the country, but then I lost the thread.

That was the beginning of the end. In Venice, I was chastised for putting cheese on shrimp rigatoni.

In Los Angeles, an Italian waiter looked around anxiously as he shredded some Parmesan onto my plate. “I could lose my job for this,” he said. In New York, the menu at Da Silvano stated in no uncertain terms, “No cheese served on seafood at any time.”

From Palermo to Palos Verdes, the more outraged and belligerent they became, the more I stood my ground. Don’t put cheese on your seafood, don’t order a cappuccino after noon, keep your bread right side up — the rules never stopped. Was I in my own culinary Siberia? Where did this no-cheese ordinance originate, and could I find a reputable Italian chef willing to break rank with me?
As I broached the topic with chefs and cookbook authors from around the world, I duly noted the wide range of opinions: “It is a very difficult thing for me to accept.” “When I think of this, my mouth does not water.” “Not in our culture. No. Never.” Which all basically boiled down to this: Sprinkling cheese on any seafood will stamp out the subtle flavor of the fish.

Still, it seemed less an informed decision than a mantra. “It’s just a blanket rule they’ve imposed on themselves,” says David Pasternack, the chef at the Italian seafood restaurant Esca in New York. “They don’t want to try anything new.” According to Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, the issue is also a regional one. “Mare e monte — mountain and sea.” she says. “It wasn’t until I went south that I had even heard it was possible to work cheese into a recipe at the sauce level.” A little research, however, turned up the oldest surviving Sicilian recipe — from around 400 B.C. — for fish: “Gut. Discard the head, rinse, slice; add cheese and oil.”

“I just don’t buy it,” says Nancy Harmon Jenkins, the author of “Cucina del Sole.” “A tablespoon of grated cheese is not going to cancel out the flavor; it’s going to enhance it. So many fish-pasta dishes have tomato, usually from a can, and you can tame the acidity with a little cheese. But use an aged pecorino, never a pecorino Romano, which is too sharp.”

To further support my cause, I called the venerable Quinzi & Gabrieli in Rome, having heard a rumor about a certain pasta with lobster topped with pecorino on the menu. At first they denied it, but then the chef, Magdi Nabil, admitted to a pasta all’ Amatriciana with a twist. “We take an old Roman dish and substitute the pancetta with white fish,” he says.
“I decided that the delicate taste of the pecorino di fossa energetically supports the fish and creates gastronomical equilibrium.”

A call to da Fiore in Venice yielded a pennette with sea scallops, broccoli florets and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. And on and on it went in recipes both historic and contemporary: vermicelli alla Siciliana, crostata alle acciughe, not to mention dozens of seafood risottos finished off with cheese. When I pointed these out, even the most hard-line chefs started to backpedal: “Ah! But this is O.K.” As Jenkins says: “One of the great things about Italy is they love making rules. And they obey very few.”

I can’t think of a more subjective art form than cooking; after sloughing through all the chemical reactions that have to occur and the memories that cloud your judgement (your mother’s kitchen, that little diner you loved, what you were eating when the restraining order was lifted), you’re left facing some iron edict of the Italian people that just doesn’t hold up.
While visions of Lucy Ricardo ordering escargot and ketchup dance in your head, I want to mention the one Sicilian dish I feel never needs any embellishment: pasta con le sarde, served at Gusto in Greenwich Village. It’s a perfectly balanced combination of sardines, fennel, currants and bread crumbs (often called “the peasant’s cheese”). Of course, if you want to put cheese on it, go ahead. But it’s an outrage.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Sagra del Cappero - The Caper Festival

Anyone who’s seen the movie Il Postino (The Postman), shot on the Sicilian island of Salina, will be familiar with the magnificent beach at Pollara. Thankfully, nothing much has changed since this piece of paradise was captured on film. The best time to come to Pollara beach is at the end of the day to swim under the overhanging cliffs and to later, watch the sunset.

Pollara is not only famous for being the location of the house of Pablo Neruda (Philip Noiret) in the movie "Il Postino", but it also hosts an exuberant annual caper festival, celebrating tondina (or nocellara), the main variety cultivated on the island.

La Sagra del Cappero is held in the village square with plenty of dancing and drinking. There are stalls serving classic caper dishes such as cheeses stuffed with capers, spaghetti with capers and tomato and caper salad.

When : first Sunday of June
Where : Piazza di Pollara, Salina (Aeolian Islands)
Tickets : free

The festival takes place in the square in front of the church of Saint Onofrio, it includes sports events, street games, folklore and musical shows, but the main performer is the caper. This little ingredient seems to delightfully stun visitors who taste the Virgona family salads and crostini, and Michelle’s pasta dishes and many of the other traditional dishes prepared by restaurants and local residents. Gennaro Contaldo, the man who taught Jamie Oliver about Italian food, speaks passionately, not only about cooking with capers, but of the memories of his Southern Italian childhood that their flavours invoke.

Salina is one of the best bases for Aeolian Island hopping. The second largest, lushest and arguably the prettiest of the islands, it has several fine hotels and good connections for day-trips to the other islands. Head for the village of Malfa, on a fertile plain filled with vines and caper bushes, where you’ll find the charismatic Hotel Signum – a great place to stay and day-trip to the other islands.

Renowned Hotel Signum chef Michele Caruso is your ticket to the most amazing culinary experience during your stay : Try the likes of sea urchin (ricci) crostini; palamita e cocomero crudo (marinated bonito and watermelon); pasta with sardines and wild fennel; or simply grilled fish such as mupa (gilthead bream) or ricciola (amberjack) with onion sauce.

...and don't miss the sweet Malvasia dessert wine, made from grapes cultivated in Salina's sun kissed vineyards.

Siciliamo also recommends :

Da Alfredo for the Aeolians’ best refreshing homemade granitas and regarded by some as the best granitas found anywhere! Piazza Marina Garibaldi, Lingua, Salina, +39 090 984 3075.

Cosi Duci: Superb homemade Aeolian pastries, biscuits, jams and honey. Via San Lorenzo, 9, Malfa, Salina, +39 090 9844 358.

For some great travel articles on Salina and the beautiful Aeolian Islands off the coast of Sicily, look here, here and here. You can also read what the EasyJet inflight magazine says about The Caper Festival. The Isole Eolie are my personal favourite for sailing, swimming, eating, and just enjoying life. They are stunning...and the capers are world class too!

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Sicilian artichokes

Catherine de Medici introduced artichokes to France when she wed Henri II.
Sicilian immigrants planted California's first artichoke farm near Half Moon Bay in the late 1800s and Marilyn Monroe was crowned California's first artichoke queen in 1948.

A theory suggests that artichokes actually originated in Sicily and were introduced to the rest of Europe around the 12th century. In fact, records show artichokes being grown in Sicily as early as 287 BC, and were a favourite of the Romans in Sicily. They were "re-introduced" again to Sicily by the Moors in the 9th Century. Since then, they always been a staple in Sicilian cuisine: The delicacy and sweetness of Sicilian artichokes contain hidden flavours and fragrances just waiting to explode.

Sicilian artichokes not only are delicious but a good source of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), niacin, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, phosphorus, calcium and fibre. The substance cynarin is thought to benefit digestion, while the juice of the leaves is used in skin cosmetics.
An artichoke liqueur, part of the Campari group, bears the name Cynar and is made with artichokes from Sicily. Its distinctive flavour is enriched from an infusion of 13 herbs and plants, making it a completely natural drink.

As Capers, Sausages, Ricotta, Cous Cous, Oranges, Pistacchi and other Sicilian delicacies feature their own personal sagre (festivals) around Sicily, even the humble carciofo has a sagra of his own, taking place in Cerda every 25 April, only 58 km from Palermo.
The artichoke is celebrated every year with a festival that mixes art exhibits and other artichoke-themed entertainment with live traditional bands and parades through the town.
Apr 2009 (annual)
Opening Hours:
Parades and bands start at 9am
Tasting starts at 12pm
Contact Details
+39 091 899 10 03

As you approach downtown Cerda, the enormous statue of an artichoke will remind you of what will be the "king dish" on the menu (the photo, above, is of the "Big Artichoke" sculpture in the main piazza of Cerda).
But whether you will want to visit Cerda or not, if you are on your way to Sicily don't forget to sample some Sicilian carciofi at the restaurant.
These are a must try :
Carciofi Ammuttunati - or ripieni (artichokes stuffed with breadcrumbs, raising, parmigian and herbs)
Carciofi alla Villanella -
Carciofi in pastella (deep fried artichokes)

If this tantalises your taste buds, try this recipe.

For those wanting to purchase authentic Cerda artichokes direct from the source, go here.

And here is a nice article in praise of Sicilian Artichokes.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

The Secret Tunnels Under Palermo

From Robin Hood to the Illuminati, to the Knight Templars : Conspiracy theories are always fascinating.

The black-hooded, Robin Hood-like, Beati Paoli waged a secret yet revolutionary struggle against the power of both the Catholic Church and the reactionary authorities. Located in Palermo and named after "Beato Paola," Saint Francis of Paolo, the Beati Paoli are a group of hooded "avengers" who (supposedly) defend the common people against the Inquisition, its spies, and the government.
In 1071 feudalism was introduced in Sicily by the conquering Norman lord, Roger II de Hauteville [2]. As the nobles exploited their feudal rights in the centuries to come, so to did the Church, as it enforced its authority on the people via the tool of terror known as the Inquisition. Any action by the commoners that could be interpreted by the State or the Church as acts of treason or heresy was punishable by death. Such actions could be unauthorised assemblies or the formation of societies with goals that were divergent to those of the state/church regime at the time. In this environment, several secret orders and sects came to existence. One of the most famous, The Beati Paoli, was allegedly conceived to oppose both the church and the state, defending the commoners from the infringement of basic human rights by a tyrannical regime.
The Beati Paoli were a fraternity of secret knights head-quartered in the Capo district of Palermo; they use a vast array of tunnels, sewers and hidden passageways to secretly navigate the city. Due to the sensitive and dangerous nature of their work, they protected their identities by wearing black hooded cloaks and operated only at night. When they caught a suspect, they would bring him back to their underground refuge beneath the city of Palermo, where they would conduct a trial and execute their sentence.
History records that the Beati Paoli eventually faded from power as they failed to achieve their goals. But this is not so. The truth is that the Beati Paoli were but one manifestation of an ongoing struggle between conspirators in Sicily and the government, one which spanned not decades but centuries.
Since they were a secret society by definition, the Beati Paoli would not have sought publicity or left documentary proof of their existence.
In 1909 the writer Luigi Natoli gathered all the oral legends and the informations , and created a famous novel I Beati Paoli.
It is very difficult to establish the historical truth of this sect, but the setting is real: the old Palermo; mainly the area of "il Capo" market and its underground tunnels.

The famous "Grotta dei Beati Paoli" is an underground cave near the church of Santa Maria di Gesù, called S. Maruzza, where, as the story goes, the sect of the black hoods established its court. It was linked to several other underground tunnels being part of the compound of early Christian catacombs, still existing near the ancient Porta D'Ossuna. Do not attempt to find these places, it will be impossible to make your way through the labyrinths of Il Capo, besides, it is not the safest place to wander around without an experienced guide.

Whether or not the Beati Paoli really existed, we do know one thing as fact. That is, the existence of various underground tunnels and mysterious places, as large as the entire city of Palermo, have been built in the form of a huge qanat system constructed during the Arab period (827-1072). Many of the qanats are now mapped and some can be even visited today!

A walking tour of the Beati Paoli secret places is available each Sunday at 9:45am starting from Palermo's Cattedral. I am not sure if this tour is available in English, but considering the minimum cost of 6 euros, it might be worth checking it out! Booking is essential. Call Cooperativa Cagliostro tel.091 583218 - 091 334277

Underground Palermo - The Cooperativa Solidarietà, in collaboration with the local section of Club Alpino Italiano, organises guided visits to the qanats, or underground water channels of Palermo. The Qanat is an ancient piping system used for the draining and the transport of drinking water. It is an engineering technique introduced into Europe by the Arabs. You can tour both the Qanat Gesuitico alto (Fondo Micciulla) and the Qanat Gesuitico basso (Vignicella). Both offer amazing, recently discovered, paths though channels and underground tunnels. They can be contacted on +39 0916520067 or +39 091580433 or here. A walking tour of the Beati Paoli places is also available.

For those who feel inspired by our story, why not to indulge your palate at Ristorante Beati Paoli. Although not part of the alleged Beati Paoli underground tunnels, this restaurant is entirely inspired by this mysterious brotherhood. Inside, the dark stone walls create a faintly rustic atmosphere, but outdoor seating is also available most of the year.

A good article on the Beati Paoli can be found here.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Review: Spaghetteria Andrea e Marianna - Sferracavallo, Palermo

Spaghetteria Andrea e Marianna - Sferracavallo, Palermo
Piazza A. Beccadelli - Sferracavallo (PA)
+39 329 002 7030 / +39 392 560 0285

2 out of 3 Stars
Dinner: 3 course meal,
typical Sicilian ; 20 euro per person including wine

Near the foreshore of the Palermo beach-side suburb of Sferracavallo, there exists what appears to be some makeshift buildings, half covered in a tarpaulin. They invoke the image of the temporary structures of a street festival or fare, with each serving their own specialities that are usually only found locally at that place.

The difference at Sferracavallo is that these buildings, while having the look of being temporary, are actually permanent dwellings containing permanent restaurants serving exactly the type of delicious fare you would expect in a festival. Except, this is no festival. These restaurants are open - day in day out.

The cute thing at these selection of five or so restaurants is that each has a spruiker out the front grabbing your attention and imploring you to come inside to try their wares. This again adds to the carnival atmosphere and provides a kind of oriental feel to it. Each restaurant specialises in something peculiarly Sicilian or Palermitan, like typically Palermitan street food (such as Jamie Oliver's favourite, Pane e Panelle) served as a restaurant dish, or freshly caught seafood like octopus, boiled or grilled, with copious amounts of lemon and herbs added.

One of the restaurants, Spaghetteria Andrea e Marianna, is in one of these structures and it's speciality is freshly caught sea-food. The catch of the day usually consists of fresh octopus, squid, mussels and sea urchin (ricci). Adding to the oriental feel again is the fact that the menus have photos so the diner can see how the dish will look when ordered.

While the quality is high, the prices are not. A whole octopus will set you back no more than 6 euro while a pasta dish, such as spaghetti con i ricci, is no more than 4 euro.

Sorry but these are ridiculously cheap prices and are typical of the traditional restaurants that are to be found in Sicily, where the food is always of the freshest and highest quality.

Well recommended.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Tindari and the Story of the Black Madonna and Medusa

In mediaeval times the legend of the Black Madonna was augmented in France by some especially "esoteric" popular religious sects, common amongst them were the Knights Templars and Cathars. One of the central excuses the French monarchy issued in the persecution and destruction of the Knights Templars was the fact that they had adopted the Maure and had several "Baphomets" in their monasteries. The Templars had brought back with them the devotion to the Black Madonna from the Crusades.
The snake-haired Gorgon triplet Medusa is also a female Maure : And the only country with Medusa's Head on its flag is Sicily. The oldest surviving design of a Medusan Trinicria is in the mosaic in Tindari depicting the head of Medusa, in a geometrically circular black face.

Tindari is a cape that sits 10 kilometres east of the city of Patti on the northern coast of Sicily. Not on your usual tour itinerary, but Tindari, one of the many Greek / Roman sites in Sicily, spectacularly positioned on the island's North coast, is in yet another beautiful high altitude setting. Inside the huge purpose built 1950s Basilica located here, is the much revered Black Madonna - a larger than life iconic figure "from the East" dating back to the second half of the first millenium.

The mystery of the Sicilian Black Madonna , an image, a countenance which like the sunlight came as a gift to this land, via pathways still fraught with mystery from the Christian East sometime during the 7th Century. For hundreds of years it has patiently withstood raids by Saracens and pirates, conquerors and raiders, old and new, exhibiting the elegant sign of a continuity which recent restoration work has revealed in all its dignified beauty.

The Black Madonnas are associated with the earth, with darkness, mystery, and most importantly, with miracles. Many have theorised that these images and statues hearken back to the worship of the ancient Goddesses Isis and Demeter; indeed, some of the statues themselves are believed to be pre-Christian.

Many writers seeking to interpret the Black Madonnas suggest some combination of the following elements:

  • Black Madonnas have grown out of a pre-Christian Earth Goddess tradition. Their dark skin may be associated with ancient images of these goddesses, and with the colour of fertile earth (such as around the volcanic Etna).
  • Black Madonnas derive from the Egyptian goddess Isis. The dark skin may echo an African archetypal mother figure.
  • Black Madonnas portrayed the original skin tone of the Virgin Mary, thus placing the figures in apt historical contexts, as Jesus' family was more likely than not to have Semitic colours and features.
Another beautiful legend arising from Tindari is the story of the Lagoon of Tindari. The story tells how a woman pilgrim refused to pray to the Madonna because she was black. The woman accidentally dropped her baby in the sea but the Black Madonna raised the sand in order to save the baby and demonstrate her compassion. The shape of the sands of the lagoon now show an image representing the profile of the Madonna (see photo).

If all of this intrigues you, why not consider a stop over in Patti, only a short stroll from Tindari. You can sleep at the picturesque farm-stay accommodation,
Villa Rica surrounded by centuries old olive trees, lemon groves, fruit orchards and the particular Mediterranean vegetation.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Restoration Alert: Villa Romana del Casale

Where: Villa Romana del Casale
Piazza Armerina (Enna)

Restoration estimated time : Two years (expected to finish, early 2010)

There is a Restoration Alert on what experts credit as the most well preserved Roman Villa of its type, Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina, dating back 330 AD. The Villa Romana del Casale is world famous for its well preserved and evocatively beautiful mosaics that decorate the floors and walls of this grand villa. The mosaics were developed by master craftsmen of the time and provide the viewer a snapshot of life as a noble in Sicily during this period. It is a mystery as to who originally owned the Villa but such is the size and sheer beauty and craftsmanship that we are lead to believe that it was built for someone of Roman Senatorial class, some even speculate that it was a possession of the Imperial family, or the Emperor himself.

In 1997, the Villa Romana del Casale became a UNESCO World Heritage site where it's mosaics were declared as "the finest in situ in the Roman world".

The Villa Romana del Casale was constructed on the remains of an older villa in the early part of the fourth century, probably as the centre of a huge latifundium covering the entire surrounding area. How long the villa kept this role is not known, maybe for less that 150 years, but the complex remained inhabited and a village grew around it, named Platia, derived from palatium. It was damaged, maybe destroyed during the domination of the Vandals and the Visigoths, but the buildings remained in use, at least in part, during the Byzantine and Arab period. The site was finally abandoned for good when a landslide covered the villa in the 12th century CE, and remaining inhabitants moved to the current location of Piazza Armerina.

While parts of the building are still open to the public, restoration work is happening on the best section of the house containing two of the most popular rooms, the Great Hunting Room (which depicts the hunting and capture of wild animals in North Africa for transportation to Sicily) and the Room of the Ten Maidens (depicting incredibly well preserved mosaics of what appears to be the first ever pictorial recording of the bikini swimming costume).

A visit is only recommended for the most enthusiastic traveller but with the knowledge that only a small selection of the mosaics and the Villa is open to the public.

On the bright side, entry costs are only 3 euro during Restoration period or free during Sicilian Culture Week, 30 March to 7 April 2008.

For a great 3D tour, go to here.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

The Castle of Carini

Constructed by Ruggero II between 1075 and 1090, the Castle of Carini is superbly positioned atop the highest rock of the hill. Stately and unconquered from the North side, while looking down on a strong and imaginary enemy already defeated, it is outlined against the blue sky during the day as if it were at the outer limits of the universe, while its silhouette against the dark night sky makes one shiver with fear as if it were a Shakespearean Castle.
It was here, in this Castle, on one clear morning of December 1563, in contrast to the beauty of that day, the limpidity of the sky, the green of the hills and the mountains, that the Baroness of Carini fell victim to the murderous fury of her father, to the blind rage of a father cruel and inhumane. This is according to the story that the unknown poet tells us throughout his poem.
This deed of blood spilt would have been lost in the darkness of time, if this poet, had not romanticised that tragedy of the Talamanca-La Grua family, giving us, at the same time, one of the most beautiful poems of the Sicilian literature.

"The fine lily, that spreads its scent, immersed in its own leafage, it wants to soothe the worries of love... and it doesn't answer these cares; but inside powerful ardours blaze. She goes dreamy and all confused...and always that the reason has no value, that so love rules everybody" Read more

A poem full of humanity, compassion, true sorrow, and poetic beauty, making us forget that we really do not know the true story of the tragedy that hit the Talamanca-La Grua family in that distant year of 1563, and helps us in empathising with the pain of that great loss. One thing is certain, even if now we are in the most mature stage of the Humanism, no rights existed in the human and civil history of man.

The feudal system is in full flow and the people are subject to injustice and barbarism. These are endured not only by the subjects at large but impose themselves on every social rank to the point that the dreams of young people were exchanged as mere merchandise; in fact weddings were arranged by families based on political motives, keeping in sight the social rank and power together with the price (how much they owned) of the candidates, without any regard at all to the spiritual welfare nor the feelings of those candidates.

The news (of the death of the Baroness) caused reverberation all over Sicily: It caused astonishment, wonder, gossip and sorrow. It is in the intrinsic ties of pain with the Sicilian soul from whence rises the unknown voice that cries, threatens, condemns, and at last, takes vengeance over the brutality, haughtiness, insensibility and hypocrisy of the feudal system. It is the suppression of the individual liberty by the feudal tyranny and the bondage of the values held most dear to man that the voices rise up.

In the case of the "Baroness of Carini" it is the ineffable pain of the loss of the beautiful Castellana that makes the Sicilian language flourish in all its splendour. As the story goes, in 1563 the very beautiful daughter of Count Mussomeli, Laura Lanza, bride of Don Vincenzo La Grua, falls in love with Ludovico Vernagallo who reciprocates her affection. Her father, desiring to protect the honour of the family name, attempts to end to this dalliance, but it is the love which is between them that resists all attempts.

The count, Laura's father, was pitiless and murders them both in order to ensure that the honour of the family has been protected. In the passing of time the episode has assumed colours of legend and has become one of the most favourite subject of poets and ballad-singers.

With a splendid view of the coast, Carini leads along Corso Umberto I to the horseshoe-shaped stairs surrounding the mediaeval fountain of the abbey.
Having climbed the stairs and passed beneath the 12th century arch, you will come to the old hamlet and the Castle.

How to get there :
Only 20 km from Palermo, to reach Carini is very easy : Simply follows the A29 motorway toward Trapani-Mazzara del Vallo. Exit Carini. Then follow the SS113 and turn left to SP3 - A scenic drive will bring you up on a hill, where Carini is nestled.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Introduction of the "Restoration Alert"

Restoration work on significant historical monuments holds mixed feelings for many of us. On the positive side, it is warming to see that the local authorities are taking seriously their responsibilities as custodians of our history and heritage. The restoration of such monuments ensure that the pleasure and education that they give are provided for generations to come.

On the other hand, it is often a little disappointing to have travelled half way across the world on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to find out that that amazing cathedral you have always wanted to visit, or that baroque town, or that Greek temple, is under shrouds of tarpaulin for the next five years while painstaking restoration work is carried out on it. While this does not spoil the moment it does dampens your experience a little.

Sicily is an island with more than its fair share of historical monuments that link us to millenia and civilisations past. It too, has more than its fair share of restoration work. What we at Siciliamo would like to do, is to alert any travellers to Sicily where and when such restoration work is taking place in order to prevent anyone from coming to these shores disappointed.

I hope this service is of use and we welcome any input from fellow travellers and lovers of Sicily

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Palermo, a sporting city

Watching Palermo play at home, amidst a noisy sea of pink and black, is a memorable experience. US Città di Palermo is an Italian soccer team which currently plays in Serie A, the top level of Italian football.

The Stadium Renzo Barbera has one covered stand, with three uncovered areas framed by the huge hills behind the stadium. The stands are two tiered, with both end stands curving away from the pitch. The Curve Nord is where you'll see the flares and the choreographed Tifosi (Italian for hardcore fans). Away fans will be allocated 2,000 in the Curve Sud, undoubtedly surrounded significantly by the Carbonari.

The stadium is located around 5km north of the city centre, close to the A29 Autostrada in the San Lorenzo area. To get to the stadium from the Stazione Centrale, catch bus number 101 or 107. The nearest suburban station is the Imperatore Federico Stadio which is on the road of the same name just south of the stadium.

Tickets can be bought online around two weeks before the games at http://www.ticketone.it/. Tickets range in price from €27.50 for a Curva Sud ticket to €72 for a top of the range Tribuna Laterale ticket. Tickets can also be bought from a number of Snai outlets in Palermo. For the majority of matches this season, tickets will not be on sale on the day of the game.

Stadium Renzo Barbera

Viale del Fante 11, 90146 Palermo

Glamourama : Ristorante Charleston

Those who would like to try a little haute cuisine, (paying prices that are "haute" too!) should opt for one of the most elegant restaurants in Palermo, such as the Charleston in gorgeous Mondello (about 10 km from Palermo).

Picturesque setting with incredible views: of course you pay for the privilege, but it's worth it.

Charleston is a classy landmark on the Mondello lido since 1913. This former aristocratic haunt is now the domain of head chef Nino Tantillo. Its aristocratic structure dominates the beach on a pier of its own. The speciality today, as it was back in 1913 is pesce spada (swordfish), simply and wonderfully prepared. Desserts are delicious, in particular cassata and semifreddo; an almond ice-cream cake drizzled with hot chocolate sauce. Again, it's pricy... but memorable.

Closed Wednesday in winter.
Viale Regina Elena, Mondello
Tel: (091) 455 851 or 450 171.
advanced booking is essential

Sicily, not only seafood

With Kofi Annan, Burt Lancaster and even Pope John Paul II as previous guests, it’s worth taking a 20 minutes taxi journey from Palermo to Monreale to this rustic, highly renowned restaurant tucked away in the Sicilian countryside.

La Botte (The barrel) was a traditional trattoria when first opened in 1929, eventually "La Botte 1962" was revamped into a top-class restaurant in the year in question by Celebrities' Chef Maurizio Cascino. The accent is on local specialities embellished with simple, fresh herbs, washed down with well chosen Sicilian wines.

Set in an ancient wine cellar, La Botte is a destination for demanding gourmet diners and offers typical Sicilian cuisine and a well-stocked wine list.

Specialities: gnocchi potato dumplings "alla bava" and wild boar with red wine...

"La Botte 1962"
C.da Lenzitti, 20 (S.S. 186, Km. 10)
Monreale (Palermo)
tel. +39 091 414051
Booking required

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Long live the lentils..and Salvatore!

Known all over the world as Italy’s first natural marine reserve, it is called the ‘black pearl’ or ‘solitaire’ of the Tyrrhenian sea : Ustica, is a special island that brings back eternal memories of my childhood. Ustica is an island that has never changed from that sleepy, beautifully preserved feeling, a timeless island not only because of its old geological age, but because of its people...

Signor Salvatore born in Ustica 75 years ago personifies for me the ancient, long-lasting - eternal feel of this tiny volcanic island.

I coincidentally ran into his stone-built house on my last trip to the island as I was looking for some Lenticchie di Ustica (Ustica's lentils) to buy. I found Salvatore still sitting under the ancient olive tree where I had left him some years ago. He was still weaving baskets of reed and cane with his gnarled hands. His wide-brimmed straw hat (which he wears while trotting along on his donkey, transporting vegetables) was on the ground beside him.

I walked across the road to the wall where Salvatore's baskets hold the produce they sell to summer visitors: eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, onions, capers, fava beans and the famous, delicious ustica lentils.

The crickets seemed to perform their never ending chirping tribute to a beautiful mid-summer sunset and I, once again fall in love with the colour of Ustica : pristine white and pastels of the stuccoed houses, black of the volcanic rock walls dividing the fields, red and purple bougainvillea and red, white, pink hibiscus bursting in flashes of colour, here and there. White-flowered caper vines grow from crevices in the the black rock walls and crawl along the cliffs which drop to the aquamarine sea.

As Salvatore keeps weaving his baskets, I ask him about the secret of his long life. A life of hard work in the fields, cultivating the land with his bare hands under the strong Sicilian sun.

"It must be the lentils" he smiled. "I always eat a plate of our lenticchie for dinner"

Cultivated on the lava rich soil of Ustica, local lentils are seeded in January and picked in the first half of June.
The little plants are left in the field to dry, then they are uprooted and collected in bunches in the stables in order to be struck.

Salvatore and his family still harvest the lentils in the traditional way : dividing the straw from the lentils trampling on the little plants with big stones dragged by donkeys and then throwing them in the air.

Ustica lentils Lentils are considered legumes with high nutritional value and contain about 25% of proteins, 53% of carbohydrates and 2% of vegetable oils. They are also rich in phosphor, iron and vitamins of the B group. According to a nutritional point of view, 100 grams of lentils are equal to 215 grams of meat. Lentils - just like all the other legumes - are characterised by a high quantity of proteins, a good quantity of carbohydrates and a low quantity of fats.

Ustica lentils are also rich in vitamins, mineral salts and fibres, in particular phosphor and potassium. Lentils are a food suited for the prevention of arteriosclerosis because the low quantity of fats contained in them are of the unsaturated type.
The richness in fibres make lentils very useful for the proper functioning of the bowel system and they are also useful in lowering cholesterol. Lentils are considered - thanks to the good quantity of proteins they contain - a highly nutritional food, especially when consumed together with cereals (such as rice, pasta and bread), are very digestible and have no cholesterol. They also contain "isoflavones", substances which clean the organism, as well as iron, calcium and vitamin B.

This is Salvatore's long-lived lentils soup recipe :

(about 6 servings)
1 pound (450 g) Ustica lentils
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic
Minced parsley
4 tomatoes, blanched, peeled and seeded
Salt and pepper to taste

Put the lentils in a pot with enough water to cover them to a depth of 3-4 fingers, and simmer them covered over a low flame for about 2 hours; keep more hot water handy should the lentils absorb all the cooking water. When they're close to being done, add the remaining ingredients. Cook for another half hour and serve.

Four-Legged Garbage Collectors Hit Sicilian Streets

Eco-friendly Sicilian village uses donkeys to help collect garbage

The hours aren't bad. They're strictly union: 7 a.m to 6 p.m., six days a week. And the job comes with benefits: a personal assistant, sunbaths in the park, photographs, generous maternity leave.
The job location is decidedly attractive, the peaceful and picturesque Sicilian town of Castelbuono, nestled in the hills just 10 miles from the Tyrrhenian Sea. The climate is Mediterranean.

Candidates for the position must be female, with a strong back and long ears.

...Long ears?

Yes, because the newest employees in Castelbuono are donkeys — Teresa, Valentina, Cosima and Damiana — to be specific. Since February, three of the donkeys (Damiana is presently on maternity leave) have been walking the narrow streets of the old town every morning, helping to collect garbage door-to-door.

"We are saving money," Mario Cicero, the mayor, proudly told ABC News. "The service is just as efficient, and the children love them!" The idea of using the donkeys came to Cicero, 45, late last year. "Yes, the idea was mine. It's patented!" he laughed.

Always seeking new ways to be more ecological and beautify his town, Castelbuono's environmentally conscious mayor has been at work for 10 years in various capacities to make this town of 10,000 residents a model of environmental respect. The town is listed among the top 11 in Italy for environmental quality by the Lega Ambiente, or Environmental League.

Recycling the garbage began in Castelbuono in 1996 and is so successful that the town now separates 42 percent of its waste. "We are one of the most virtuous towns in the country," Cicero exclaimed, with his Sicilian inflection. It was after he became mayor in 2002 that Cicero decided to remove all the ugly, malodorous garbage containers in the historic part of Castelbuono and replace them with door-to-door daily collection of differentiated waste.
The citizens of Castelbuono responded and started separating their garbage, putting it on their doorsteps every morning.

But that was not enough. "I thought about what went on in the historic center of town," recalled the mayor, "where the tourists come across these trucks spewing diesel fumes and stinking of garbage. They block the traffic, too. So I thought, why can't we use something traditional, like our donkeys?"
So now in the small streets of the old town the rhythmic sound of donkey hooves has replaced the rumble and smell of the trucks.

The day starts early for the donkeys as they get groomed and saddled in the little public park on the edge of town. Breakfast is stale bread, prepared for them by their caretaker, Vincenzo Mazzola, a local expert in all things equine. For the moment, the donkeys live in the park.
"I like to let them loose as much as possible," said Mazzola, so afternoons are often spent grazing on empty plots on the outskirts of town. The local agriculture school is preparing proper quarters for them.
"They are all Sicilian donkeys," explained the jovial Mazzola. "We only keep females, because they are generally more docile, and they produce milk and foals."
Donkey milk, it turns out, is a blessing for babies and young children who are allergic to cow's milk. "It's an excellent milk, very sweet, and good for nursing mothers and babies," said Mazzola.
The donkey venture was given a lot of thought. It is not just about charm. "It is educational for the kids, selling milk will provide money for the school, and it is a service to the community," explained the mayor.
At the park, each of the three donkeys is saddled with a leather and blanket affair, and big wooden boxes are tied on either side. The town first tried the more traditional baskets, but those were too deep to reach into. So it settled on boxes — the same kind that 50 years ago were used to transport sand, rocks and other building materials (the bottoms have a hinge and fall open).
At around 7:30 a.m., the three donkeys set out for their routes, each one accompanied by a garbage collector. The men who partner with the donkeys all volunteered and seem both amused and resigned to the task. "You are walking instead of driving," said Mario Citta, "but as long as I have a job …"

Dressed in his bright orange reflective jumpsuit, Citta leads a somewhat reluctant Valentina through the old narrow streets of Castelbuono, pulling her up the hills and stopping here and there to pick up the small bags of rubbish and throw them in the boxes, taking care to keep the weight even on both sides.
"Today we are collecting 'umido,'" Citta explained. "Umido" is what they call organic waste, which will eventually be composted in the planned compost plant. On other days, recycling and "undifferentiated" garbage is picked up. When the boxes were full, Citta stopped at a garbage container on the edge of town and emptied them out.

Women look out for the donkeys from their balconies, and lower their garbage on a string, which Citta dutifully unhooks and drops in the boxes. One woman called to her little boy to come out and see the donkey. "It's a good thing," the elderly Rosario Fiasconaro said, watching from the doorstep. "They come every morning and pick up the bags. It's better than the garbage cans."
But not all the residents of Castelbuono approve. "The townspeople were originally very skeptical," said local police officer Vincenzo Fiasconaro as he watched the donkeys being saddled. "But many people have changed their minds."
But not one resident, who sneered as a donkey passed by. He had a mule 50 years ago "out of necessity, but now there are cars! And the donkeys escape and could kick someone."
He predicted that if the city council changes (elections are May 14) the donkeys will go, "and I hope it changes," he said, as he handed out campaign stickers for the opposing candidate for mayor.
And a street sweeper grumbled that it is all just a publicity gimmick for the mayor, who is up for re-election. "The donkeys take twice as long to do the job," he said.
But Cicero insisted the donkeys are just as efficient and more economical as the "traditional" means of garbage collection. "Three donkeys and three men do the work of two small trucks with four men," he explained. A donkey costs around $1,600 to purchase, compared with $40,000 for a truck. And a truck lasts about five years. A donkey can work until it retires at age 24 or 25. The town is also saving $380 a month in diesel fuel.

But it is not only a question of saving money or improving the environment, as the mayor is very well aware. He has also found something to distinguish Castelbuono from other charming hill towns.
"I also think that if we want Castelbuono to become a tourist attraction, and we cannot compete with places like Palermo or Taormina, we have to have something that is both useful and unique, Cicero said. "In Palermo, you won't see donkeys collecting garbage, but at Castelbuono you will."

But like many public administration jobs in Italy, the fate of Castelbuono's donkeys depends on this Monday's elections. "If I am re-elected, they certainly stay," said Cicero. "I don't think a new administration would put the garbage cans back in the streets, and I doubt they would send the donkeys away. But I have no way of knowing."

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Upcoming event : Dance of the Devils

To participate in the large number of feasts that take place during the Holy Week in Sicily is not an easy task, but it is certainly a touching experience. Every town, village and country-side becomes the stage of solemn ceremonies, all of these characterised by the slow steps of processions, by the silence or the funerary or joyful notes of the bands. Every situation show his own particularity of remarkable interest. The people religious participation is the expression of an ancient ritualism which represents the heritage of the Spanish colonization and of Jesuits' great power.

Unique in Italy, a grotesque Dance of the Devils (Il Ballo dei Diavoli) is a must-see and it takes place on Easter in this medieval town, a 2-hour drive south of Palermo, deep in the Sicilian interior.
The cosmic struggle between good and evil rages in the remote village of Prizzi, in the picturesque heart of Sicily, spilling out into the streets every Easter. The Dance of the Devils is performed by villagers wearing large and terrifying iron masks. The men of the town dress up in colourful costumes with tied-on tails, hide their faces with red masks and stick out long leather tongues, blaring on trumpets and jangling chains from the early morning, with the sole purpose of disturbing all religious activity. The locals' behaviour represents the saturnalia of evil forces who are indulging in bad behaviour after Christ's crucifixion. Death and the devils rampage through the village to collect their dues: the souls of the passers-by. Having attempted in vain to prevent the meeting of the resurrected Christ and the Virgin Mary, however, the devils are defeated in the afternoon, and order is restored.

When: 16 - 23 Mar 2008 (annual)
Where: Prizzi

Getting there : Prizzi is 78 kilometres from Palermo. Buses run from Palermo's Central Station, though not on Sundays.By Car: take the fast route to Agrigento, turning off at Lercara, then follow the signs.
Cost: Free

Goblets of Stars. Wine tasting at night

Tours and guided tastings on the starry night of San Lorenzo.

Overview : A visit to one of Sicily’s most beautiful and best-tended vineyards by moonlight. Guided tour of the vinification cellar and photovoltaic installation for solar energy, a renewable and non-polluting power source. Video of grape harvesting and wine making at the Donnafugata estates in Contessa Entellina and on Pantelleria (duration: about 10 minutes). There will be a special selection of Donnafugata wines for tasting during the evening.

As usual, August 10 is the date for the “Calici di Stelle” (“Goblets of Stars”), an event held in the splendid setting of the Donnafugata Estate (at the 60 kilometer stone on the Palermo-Sciacca limited-access Highway 624).
This program, a nationwide event organized by the Wine Tourism Movement and now in its 6th edition at Donnafugata, has become one eagerly awaited by lovers of fine wine.
It will be an important event for the estate staff, too, who during the evening will be able to meet and talk with the numerous and knowledgeable wine lovers arriving from all over Italy and abroad. Last year about a thousand people attended the most glamorous wine event in Sicily.
The “La Fuga” Chardonnay vineyards, lit up for the occasion, will be the setting for the first leg of the guided tour, where the technical staff will illustrate how vineyards are tended and the vines are grown and pruned. As they walk through the vineyard, visitors may even taste some grapes from this premium vines.
The tour then continues to the estate’s vinification cellar where technology and innovation are mixed with systems to protect and defend the territory, values always espoused at Donnafugata, which manages to cover more than 30% of the cellar’s energy needs with a photovoltaic installation inaugurated in 2001.
Afterward visitors can watch an extremely brief film, “Donnafugata on Pantelleria,” the island of Ben Ryé, to learn about this Sicilian winery’s commitment, values and important endeavors.
The height of the evening and the moment wine lovers look forward to most will be the tasting of a special selection of Donnafugata wines, including some authentic gems: Sherazade 2006, a new red made from Nero d’Avola and Syrah, Chiarandà del Merlo 2000, Mille e una Notte 1998. And of course, the sweetest are sampled last, Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria.

When: Friday, August 10, 2008 - from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Price : The price of the tasting is € 5 to be paid at the entrance. In addition we ask that you leave a € 5 security deposit for the wine glass, which will be given back when the wine glass is returned.
Booking : Reservations required at the phone number +39 0923 724245 or via e-mail at info@donnafugata.it. Just give a last name and the number of people in your group.

Friday, 7 March 2008

The "Real" Magna Graecia

There is a saying : if you want to see Greece-go to Sicily.

How true : The best preserved temples are in Sicily and not in Greece, hence if you will visit Greek temples in Greece after having visited the Sicilian ones, you will be truly disappointed.
Sicily was a highly regarded part of Magna Graecia, with the great Roman philosopher and orator, Cicero, describing Siracusa (Syracuse), as "the greatest and most beautiful city of Ancient Greece". In fact, by 300 BC, Siracusa was the most populous Greek city in the world and rivalled even Athens for political and military power, and at once stage defeating the mighty Athenian army in 413 BC during the Hellenic Peloponnesian Wars.

Agrigento and its Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples) features the largest collection of classical Greek ruins in the world. It is a must-see!

Dramatically perched along a long rocky scarp, among the extensive grounds are many well preserved temples, monuments and other buildings which create a truly surreal atmosphere. The temples are even more impressive at night when they are lit up by massive lights.

Other equally marvellous temples and amphiteathres are to be found in Segesta, (where each Summer, a series of classical Greek dramas are performed in Italian), Selinunte and Syracuse. But there are several, smaller-scale Greek ruins scattered everywhere all around the island, like in Akrai, Himera, Megara Hyblaea. By far the most breathtaking Greek Theatre of them all is located in the incredibly well preserved mediaeval city of Taormina, where you can enjoy sweeping views of the Mediterranean under the backdrop of the imposing volcano, Mount Etna.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

The Villa of Monsters

Gnomes, dragons, jesters, musicians and symbols of a mysterious esoteric language are all part of what has been defined as "the most original villa in the world and famous throughout Europe".

Villa Palagonia's construction began in 1715, on behalf of Don Ferdinando Gravina and Crujllas, 5th Prince of Palagonia, Peer of the Realm, Knight of Toson d'Oro, a prestigious honour bestowed by the king of Spain. Sicilians never figured it out whether the prince was a bit nuts or simply possessed a very creative mind, but Villa Palagonia has a strong appeal for everyone.

The decorations atop the stables that surround the Villa are indeed the best part. Here you will notice that the statues seems to fall over one another as they prance around. Was this another weird decorative idea that went too far or was the Prince trying to tell us something? Some experts believe the surreal statues were commissioned to represent the lovers of the Prince's faithless wife...

Villa Palagonia is in Bagheria, a coastal town only a short drive from Palermo. Bagheria is not a particulary attractive town per se, but like a pearl in an oyster, the villa reveals itself...

In 1885 the villa was acquired by the Castronovo family, which thanks to its heirs, still today make it possible to visit one of the most extraordinary monuments of European baroque, created in the land of Sicily.

Open to the public every day from 9:00 to 13:00 and from 15:30 to 17:30 (from 1st November - 31st March)
from 9:00 to 13:00 and from 16:00 to 19:00(from 1st April - 31st October)

Piazza Garibaldi, 3 - 90011 Bagheria (PA) Tel.091/932088 - Fax 091/922118