Welcome to Siciliamo blog, the liveliest weblog on Europe's most fascinating island. Browse though amazing pictures or explore our videos. And don't forget to check our website out!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Egadi Islands Scores with The Telegraph

It seems that almost with every top 10 or top 20 list of places to travel to, be they lists focusing on exotic, out of the way, food orientated, historical, sunny and beachy or just plain beautiful, and you will see Sicily's name prominently added to the list.

This time it is the Egadi Islands to the west of Sicily, previously covered by this blog.  The Egadi Islands (Aegadian Islands in traditional English) are often unfairly overlooked in comparison to the very funky Aeolian Islands, or the quasi-African Lampedusa, or the mystical Pantelleria (with the magical healing properties of Lake Venus' Mirror or lago specchio di venere, mentioned recently by Siciliamo).

The Egadi Islands do have an amazing amount to offer a traveller and it is no surprise that they were awarded an entry in The Telegraph's Holiday Destinations for 2011.  The Egadi islands include Favignana, famous for its tuna and the traditional way it is fished using an ancient Arab technique known as tonnara, Marettimo, and Levanzo with its Neolithic and Palaeolithic remains.

Favignana's beaches and swim spots are also world famous with a number of calcerinite rock caves by the water creating a turquoise blue, swimming pool clear, type of water to swim in, such as in the majestic Cala Rossa.  In addition to the natural beauty found here, Favignana also shares Sicily's history of being a popular attraction for conquering civilisations with remains found from Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spanish and so on.

Just a short ferry away is the province and city of Trapani, known as the bread basket of Italy for its amazing variety of food and produce.  You will not go hungry here.  Also close to Trapani is an incredible array of ancient Greek and Hellenic temples and structures located in places such as Selinunte, Segesta and Agrigento (not to mention the archaeological treasure that is Mozia).  If you are a follower of this blog, you will be aware that due to its number of intact temples and structures from Greek and classical times, we consider Sicily to truly be, Magna Gracia.

The Egadi Islands - enjoy.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The Fountain of Youth does exist - Lago Specchio di Venere

Nothing prepared me for what I witnessed on the sun drenched southern Sicilian Island of Pantelleria.

Pantelleria - more Africa than Europe, more East than West, more tropical than temperate, but above all, more mythical than real.  Not only is Pantelleria jam packed with some of the most picturesque beaches in Europe but it also guards many secrets, some of which are only recently starting to reveal themselves, such as the ancient mysterious civilisation known as the Sesi with their Neolithic burial mounds.  Others may never be explained.

It is the latter that this post is about.

As your plane descends into Pantelleria's airport, the last few seconds sees you only metres above a beautiful spherical lake carved out of the caldera of an extinct volcano.  The water has a strange - unnatural-like, almost surreal torquise colour.  It is surreal, yet hypnotisingly beautiful, almost as if it were designed that way.  The lake, which incorporates a thermal spring arising from the lava activity of the ancient volcano, is called Lago Specchio di Venere, which translates to Lake Venus' Mirror.  We mentioned this lake briefly in a previous post on Spa Heaven.

Like so much of Sicily, Lago di Venere is the site of an ancient classical Greek legend (I am beginning to see that a good proportion of the Pantheon of Gods made Sicily their home at one point - who can blame them?).  The legend behind this place is that as the water was so strikingly blue and clear in its colour, it was used as the vanity mirror by the goddess of love, Venus.  She especially liked to compare the beauty of her reflection in the lake with that of her rival Psyche.  At no time is the mirror effect more profound than close to sunrise or sunset.

People bathe in the lake and sometimes exfoliate themselves with the thermal mud as a beauty treatment while others swear by the healing powers of the lake.  My experience amazingly corresponded with this.  A week earlier I had a minor motor scooter accident on another Sicilian island, Ustica, off the coast of Palermo.  While I was largely unhurt, the accident left deep gashes and cuts to my leg.  I immersed myself in Lake Venus the day I arrived in Pantelleria and covered my skin with the volcanic mud that is to be found on one side of the shore.  After an hour or so, I stood up to walk further into the lake in order to wash off the mud.  When I returned to shore I noticed the scars and the deep cuts on my leg had almost healed.  Where there had once been a deep scar and crusty surface before, now there was a small mark that resembled an old wound that had almost healed.  It was almost as if my accident had occurred three months earlier and my scar had all but healed.

I don't know what are the chemical properties that make up the thermal mud found in Lago Specchio di Venere, but I am sure that if a company had the rights to bottle and sell the mud, they would be sitting on the rights to "The Fountain of Youth".  I know I would buy a lifetime's supply - and maybe more!  In fact, I am sure there must be a natural cosmetic beauty company doing this now.  I will research and report back to the Blog.  Stay tuned future immortals.

With regard to accommodation there is an amazing place called Suite di Venere located half way up the volcanic wall overlooking the lake.  It has splendid views of the lake which allows you to take in the true beauty and colour of this phenomenon.  It is not for a light wallet unfortunately costing between €200 and €400 per night depending on season.  But where else can you take someone to a place that used to belong to the goddess Venus?

Lake Venus' Mirror - Magic does exist.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Review: Gigliotto - Piazza Armerina

Mount Etna, Sicily, topped in snowImage via Wikipedia
Gigliotto Agriturismo
SS 117 bis km 60 - Piazza Armerina (EN)
+39 0933 970898 / +39 0933 979092

1 out of 3 Stars
Accommodation: 100 euro per couple
Dinner: 3 course meal,
typical Sicilian ; 60 euro for two including wine

After being recommended in both the Lonely Planet Guide and the Touring Club of Italy - Guide to Sicily, both reputable and independent publications, one would assume that this agriturismo would come out trumps, especially as it was located in one of the most fertile areas of Sicily, being Piazza Armerina.

Gigliotto was described in glowing terms by both guides mentioned above.  One wonders if the authors actually stayed there.  The experience at Gigliotto can only be described as disappointing for the discerning traveller. The place itself, a converted monastery was simply beautiful and stylishly restored. The immaculate gardens and surrounds had a significant amount of work done on them. The extension of the guest rooms external to the original monastery itself, were built in the style of the monastery and thus structural harmony was retained. The unobstructed views of a snow capped Mount Etna in the distance were priceless, while the plantations consisting of rows of prickly pears (fichi d'india) and olive trees gave the visitor a warm and uniquely Sicilian feeling.

The sad thing is that although the owner has obviously exerted considerable effort and energy in restoring this place and in creating a splendid location it is unfortunately let down by the management and of the quality of the produce and meals.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by the front desk manager who barely lifted his eyes from his sporting newspaper in order to greet us. The usual feeling of warmth and genuine social contact you seem to expect from Sicilian agriturismi was missing. It is the people, the characters, the stories and the local charm that draws you back to Sicilian agriturismi. Instead, at Gigliotto, there was the feeling of being in a place without a soul.

The room we were given was quite comfortable, warm and cosy. Mind you this was only after being initially shown to a room half the size with one quarter the window. The dinner was served between 8:00pm and 9:30pm and was simply not up to the standard Sicilian quality.

The caponatta, usually delicious, was largely bereft of the unique flavours that make it such a typical Sicilian dish. The rest of the antipasti was as inedible as it was uninspiring.  The olives were great though. Then came the driest meat dishes I have ever been served in Sicily. The pork looked as though it had been cooked in the morning, refrigerated and then heated up that night (a practice that the staff admitted to doing for the veal). The lamb, while slightly more tasty still seemed like yesterday's leftovers. The only dish that was of any quality was the fresh aromatised, Sicilian sausages.

No dessert was served, instead we were "treated" with Oranges and Mandarines that were old, greying and dry. And this from the land of the Orange Groves!  How you can manage to serve such poor quality oranges in a land where even the oranges left in the gutter retain a beautiful deep orange glow of freshness, is totally beyond me. The staff's protestations that the oranges were picked from the estate confused me further.

And the cost of this dinner - 30 euro per person! Sicily is a place where you would expect no more than 22 euro per person for dinner at an agriturismo and still eat like a local King.

The cost of the accommodation - 50 euro per person.

Overpriced for sure - and such a shame given the beauty of the location.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Review: La Piazzette - Caltagirone

La Piazzetta
Via Vespri, 20/A - Caltagirone (CT)
+39 0933 24178

3 out of 3 Stars
Dinner: 3 course meal,
typical Sicilian ; 45 euro for two including wine

Don't be put off by the name. La Piazzetta is not a pizzeria. Instead it is one of those typical restaurants found in country Sicilian towns that cannot but help serve only the most earthy, mouth watering and honest dishes.

La Piazetta is located in the home of traditional Sicilian ceramic art, Caltagirone, and is found a mere 150 metres or so from the famous Scala di Santa Maria del Monte (Staircase of Saint Maria), with its unique hand decorated ceramic features.  Although there were one or two signs indicating where to find La Piazzetta near the base of the Scala di Santa Maria it was not how we found this jewell. Instead we took the best option available whenever you find yourself hungry in a Sicilian village. You look for a group of three old men chatting in the street and you ask them where you can find the best "real local" (in Italian "dove si mangia bene qui vicino?")

Their first response will be at their home with their wife, who no doubt cooks better than anyone else in Sicily, but when you politely decline their invitation they will invariably tell you where the best local produce is cooked. As with any Sicilian village and town, there will always be innumerable places to eat well, but the personal approach will always have the locals directing you to the place that is closest on foot.

La Piazetta serves dishes derived from mainly local ingredients (would you want anything else in Sicily)...and generous servings at that. Upon being seated for a Sunday lunch, our order is taken by the chef and owner, a Sicilian with the great name, Brillantino. There was no use choosing anything from the menu because every dish looked tantalising, ranging from local wild boar to charcoaled artichokes. Instead we took the best option in this type of restaurant, and that was to ask the advice of Chef Brillantino who suggested for starters, the traditional bruschetta (heavy use of cherry tomotoes and only a hint of garlic for taste) and antipasto rustico (freshly made ricotta, lightly grilled, egg flour pieces with prosciutto and rosemary, local olives). From the first taste we knew that only the freshest ingredients were being used.

Knowing how large the main course would be, Brillantino suggested one plate of pasta to share between the two of us and understanding that we are big fans of the wild fennel found in Sicily, we were provided with a gnocchetti (actually a local pasta variety that was very similar) with ragu made from sausage (salsiccia) and wild fennel (finocchietto salvatico). To say that this was one of tha tastiest pasta dishes I have ever had would not be too far from the truth.

For main we had a roast pork leg (maialino arrosto) seasoned with rosemary and local herbs and lamb (aniello arrosto). Both dishes resembled the tremendous delicacy usually only found in dishes that are slow cooked. How they arrived at such a way is a local secret.  Both dishes were totally memorable with the roast pork making me think that while the Bavarians may have perfected roast pork, but the Sicilians added their own inimitable flair.

Even the carafe of house red was a good drop and complemented the hearty dishes on offer.

Antipasti were around 5 euro. Pasta was 7 euro and main was 8 euro. Total meal, including drinks and the refreshing home made limoncello to top it all off at the end of the session came to 42 euro for two. And this, my friends, is considered expensive in this part of the world.

Well recommended and a definite lunch or dinner stop while in Caltagirone, if not only to view the photos of Brillantino with various Italian models and showgirls on the wall.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Surfing? Sicily? You better believe it

The calm seas of the Mediterranean do sometimes give way to the awesome swells of surf ... in some places ... including parts of Sicily.

Dream of Italy� - Italy Travel News Blog: Surf's Up in Italy

Sunday, 2 May 2010

2,500 year "Homer" Ship Found off Coast of Sicily - A Treasure Hunter's Delight

Sicily has many more treasures to give up yet. Recently, a ship dating back to 500 BC was salvaged off the coast of Gela, Sicily. The ship was believed to be sailing from Greece to Gela, a Greek colony, transporting various materials. The 21-metre long vessel, is the largest of its type ever discovered, but what is the most amazing thing to me, is that the ship was constructed using a particular obscure method, of pine planks ''sewn'' together with plant fibre, described in beautiful detail by the legendary classical writer, Homer, in his epic, The Iliad.

It is the best-preserved example in the world of a Greek ship built using this technique, and therefore has earned the title of the "Homer" ship. In fact, according to this article from National Geographic, the ship is, "something of a missing link in the evolution of naval engineering".

Sicily's regional councillor for culture, Antonello Antinoro, went even further in typical Italian flourishing style by claiming that, ''Gela's ancient ship is the patrimony not only of Sicily but of all humanity.''

Go here for an amazing video of the submerged vessel. This significance of this discovery kind of makes you want to get into the diving business as a treasure hunter.

Footnote: Sicily, as readers of this blog will recall, was the site of a number of flourishing Greek city states, such as Gela and Naxos, and including the Daddy of them all, the great Syracusa, which rivalled Athens for dominance in the Hellenic world.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The "Bloody Handprint" 447 years on

Those of you who follow this blog (on all that is fascinating and useful about Sicily) will know that we are big fans of the legend of the Baroness of Carini. This is partly because it is based on a poem written in old-Sicilian that is regarded as one of the most beautiful poems written in Italy (even Dante claimed that the only true poets in his era were from Sicily), and partly because it is set in an incredible 11 Century castle with awe-inspiring views of the Mediterranean.

The legend states that the Baroness of Carini was murdered by her enraged father as an "honour-killing" when he found out about an affair that she was having. The murder was so brutal and shocking that the legend states that once a year, a bloody hand-print appears on the wall of the castle in the room where the murder took place.

So you think this is all just a legend and a good bedtime story? Think again, 447 years after the alleged crime, Italian police are re-opening the case with the help of some 21 Century science. The lesson being that in Italy, crime does not pay - the police will eventually get to you, even if it is a few centuries later.

Read on ...

P.S. What really spooks me the most about this article on the Castle is the following;
"Several years ago we tested areas of the castle we knew the Baroness lived in with electromagnetic field meters, and the results were very strange," ... "In certain rooms it was as if there were ghosts in the castle, as if the murdered Baroness lives on."

Monday, 20 July 2009

Top 10 Food Experiences In Sicily

A US blogger has enshrined their Top 10 Food Experiences in Sicily. I have listed them here and added my own comments for further information.

  1. Fresh Ricotta. It is a well known secret that the Sicilian shepherds keep the best ricotta for themselves. Break into this inner circle and your taste buds will thank you.
  2. Cassata. And not like any cassata you haver tasted before. This is the real stuff.
  3. Gelato. Sicilians basically invented the stuff.
  4. Gelato in Brioche (sweet bread bun). Strange but incredibly addictive. After this you realise that this is the way gelato is supposed to be eaten.
  5. Watermelon Pudding. Only Sicily and North India share this exotic dessert in common. a relic from the ancient spice trade.
  6. Fragoline. Tiny, sweet, delicious strawberries.
  7. Arancine. Need I say more?
  8. Fruta di Mattorana. Actually made from real fruit...and are actually quite delicious.
  9. Seafood. In particular Tuna and Swordfish.
  10. Wine by the Carafe. Vini di Paesi or Vini Locale. Either will be good.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Sicily: Contrasts at a Meditteranean crossroads

Another interesting pressie about my magnificent island..
GIOVANNA DELL'ORTO writes For The Associated Press

MONREALE, Italy—I am inside one of the most glittering monuments to Christianity—the mosaic-filled cathedral of Monreale - talking to a conservator, whose apron is covered in Arabic script, about President Obama.
As our chat about possible new American policies in the Middle East interrupts his excruciatingly slow restoration of the Duomo's 900-year-old floor mosaic, I can't help thinking, only in Sicily.
Throughout its 2.5 millennia of history, this jarringly gorgeous Mediterranean island has been at the crossroads of drastically different cultures. Miraculously, it has managed to fuse those contrasts in a peaceful dialogue. The fruits of that fusion make Sicily one of the most intriguing regions of Europe.

Twice over the last decade, I have done weeklong tours of the island, marveling at everything from Catholic chapels bejeweled by Muslim artists to the everyday heroism of anti-Mafia businesses. A visit to Sicily is a study in the unexpected fusion of times and cultures. And these are a few of my favorite pairings:
MULTICULTURAL DEVOTIONS: Bleary-eyed from the overnight ferry that took me from Naples to Palermo, Sicily's capital, I made a beeline for the Cappella Palatina, the chapel built in the early 1100s by the Norman king in his palace complex. At 8:30 a.m., I had it for myself for a blissful few minutes before the tourist buses arrived, enough to be transported by the glitters of gold chasing each other from the wall mosaics into the painted kaleidoscope that is the carved wooden ceiling.

Under the patronage of Sicily's first Catholic king, Muslim artists executed the ceiling, complete with Kufic inscriptions, while Greek artists created mosaics representing Christ and New Testament scenes in the Byzantine tradition. Straight from the era of the crusades comes the most dazzling artistic and cultural synthesis of the medieval Mediterranean world. Nobody knows exactly how this harmony came about, but it's both inspiring and humbling to feel they had figured out a way to live symbiotically despite differences we are still struggling with 900 years later.

Other can't-miss glories of the Palermo area from the time of the Normans are the fortress-looking churches that hide eerily realistic golden mosaics: The Monreale Duomo, perched high on a barren, prickly-pear studded mountain; the Martorana church in Palermo, across from the mosque-looking, red-domed church of San Cataldo; and the Cathedral at Cefalu, standing sentinel over the medieval fishing village.

ANTIQUITY ALIVE: Ancient Greek colonizers snapped up the best vistas in Sicily. I can't decide if the most scenic archeological site in the Mediterranean is Segesta in its splendid valley isolation among pines and honey-scented wildflowers; Selinunte, framed by eucalypti on its Africa-facing sandy shores; the Taormina theater opening over the sea and the volcano, Mount Etna; or Agrigento's Valley of Temples, by sheer size the most stunning of them all. I like the latter best in the late afternoon, when the wind-eroded stone of its two best-preserved 450 B.C. Greek temples - the nearly intact Tempio della Concordia and the Tempio di Giunone up the ridge - turn strawberry gold in the dusk and then are floodlit among the dark silhouettes of olive trees and agave plants.

Much criticism has been aimed at the ugly concrete buildings from modern Agrigento looming over the next hillcrest, but I find the contrast can't possibly spoil this view. At most, I find it shames our modern cookie-cutter architecture juxtaposed to the hushed, solemn perfection of these temples.

REVITALIZING HIDDEN TREASURES: If Sicilians 2,500 years ago stunned by vistas, those who built palaces and piazzas in the Baroque era astonished by intricacies. Noto, Ragusa Ibla and my favorite, the Ortigia island neighborhood of Siracusa, are full of churches and palaces exuberantly carved with mythical figures and floral arrangements. Once literally crumbling in decay, they have been scrubbed to a shine like aristocratic drawing rooms. Subtler and more sumptuous at the same time are the palaces of the Sicilian nobility, those haunted by Burt Lancaster in the 1963 film "The Leopard."

Take two palaces where you can arrange to stay: The countryside villa of Baron Luigi Bordonaro di Chiaramonte, built in the 13th century inland from Agrigento, and the gorgeously frescoed Palazzo Ajutamicristo of the Barons Calefati di Canalotti in Palermo's historic center. Both young owners are gambling that tourism will help their historical treasures stay vital.
Maria Calefati said hers is one of five or six families who are staying in their ancestral palaces, revitalizing the still dangerously neglected core of Palermo. Bordonaro says of the villa and surrounding olive groves that have been in his family for 300 years: "It's my home, it's my commitment."

ATTRACTIONS: Most attractions listed have an admission fee, usually between $5-9 (4-7 euros). A car is necessary as distances are considerable; it's about 250 miles from Noto in the southeast to Segesta in the northwest. But don't drive in downtown Palermo, where congestion, scarce parking and the local driving style are difficult to cope with.

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.