Our Sicilian Summer – Culture and Conquest

palermo- by Diego Mutinelli

Our Sicilian Road trip had begun!

With our car windows down the warm evening air whistled past us. Hubby was focused on navigating the zippy car rental whilst I google-mapped him to the B&B at our first destination.

It had just turned 10 pm as we made our way from Comiso airport to Ragusa. This was the start of an 8 day journey crossing the Sicilian landscape to discover the best of what this treasured Italian island had to offer.

Ragusa: Bloat-free Baroque

Razed to the ground by the devastating earthquake of 1693, the city was rebuilt in the Baroque architectural and artistic style of the time. Today, Ragusa is cited as the capital of Baroque with historic centres recognised as UNESCO world heritage sites.

Amongst breath-taking Duomo and fragments of pre-1600 ancient buildings, treasure troves of gastronomic delight can also be found. We discovered award winning Konza, an exquisite Ragusa restaurant embedded in the heart of Via Roma. So pleased were we with the cuisine, that we dined there twice, enjoying a fresh and beautifully presented array of pastas, seafood and desserts to die for!

Sicilian Dessert Photo by Ateesha Calvin-Smith

Sicilian Dessert Photo by Ateesha Calvin-Smith

The restaurant delighted in showing us their inner store displaying local produce from local producers. The Slow Food accredited honey from the Sicilian Black Bee was a particularly scintillating find. Monica and Saro spoke of their traditional pizza base made with an ancient blend of grain; great for the health and in aiding digestion. This Pizza Grani Antichi was delicious and allowed us to leave the dinner table full satisfied and happily bloat-free.

Modica: We like ‘em rich and sweet

Modica has been in the business of chocolate making since the 16th century sticking to ancient Aztec production methods. Just to be clear though, the Aztecs never found their way to Sicily; the Spanish did. Spain had adopted the chocolate making technique from the Inca’s of Mexico and introduced it to Modica during the period when Southern Italy and the New World were under Spanish rule. We enjoyed chocolate in its truest form from one of the oldest families producing Cioccolato Modicano in Modica; the Bonajuto. This family’s chocolate shop occupies the same spot since 1880. They ensure a purer composition of the cocoa is enjoyed and as the added sugar does not melt, the final product has a delightful grainy texture. Of the more traditional flavours from their organic chocolates, we loved Nonna’s milk ginger and the chilli pepper. They definitely left us with a ‘zing’ on our palates.

Avola: Delightful Old Nut

Our dear friend Sebastiano knew the region and its produce like the back of his hand. “You couldn’t have arrived at a better time,” he said. We had come during the almond season, and Avola made being nutty its business; desiccated, blanched, powdered, crushed, toasted, creamed, salted. Granita, a drink enjoyed across southern Italy made with crushed ice and the syrup of various flavours, also benefits for the joys of almond season. Latte di Mandorla, delicious concentrate of squeezed, compressed and milked almonds, gave a delightful twist to this Sicilian beverage. How pleased were we to take home a bottle of this creamy nectar to enjoy on our return to Blighty.

Sicily Photo by Ateesha Calvin-Smith

Agrigento: It’s all Greek to me

Resting on a plateau and gazing into the sea, Agrigento displayed its rich archaeological legacy and its ancient Greek ruins in the Valley of the Temples. The Seven Greek temples excavated and partially restored here were originally constructed in 5th century BC. We walked alongside these gargantuan monuments and could understand how they achieved their title as the largest and best preserved Greek buildings outside of Greece.

Olives, almonds and citrus fruits grow in abundance in this area. We were fortunate enough to stay on beautiful grounds of Ulivi di Athena – Athena’s olive trees surrounded by a rich variety of citrus fruits, vegetables, olive and nut trees.

Sicily Photo by Ateesha Calvin-Smith

Our delightful host Alfonso was of regal lineage with his family lands and property being developed and cultivated there for hundreds of years. Not to mention he was a bloody good cook and made us the best baked aubergine I have ever tasted in my life. All his produce came straight from the grounds. Tucked away behind the orange grove and the prickle pear cacti he showed us olive trees that were more than a thousand years old, standing strong and proudly bearing fruit.

Sicily Photo by Ateesha Calvin-Smith

Palermo: Tiles and Titles

A recommendation brought us to our final stop in Sicily’s capital Palermo. The Stanze al Genio. It is an appointment only ceramic specialty museum that doubles as a hotel. This multi-storied building is home to a breath-taking collection of ancient Neapolitan and Sicilian tiles. A private tour of the collection by Davide Sansone; extremely knowledgeable about the ceramics and their origins. And so he should be as he had painstakingly worked on their restoration and the overall look and feel of the property.

The city’s squares are filled with ancient eateries and Antica Focacceria S. Francesco is definitely a hotspot to try out. When we went the place was full and we could only order ‘to-go’. The place has been going strong since 1834 when the Prince of Cattolica donated his palace chapel to his court chefs; the Alaimo brothers. Since then the Focacceria has mastered extraordinary selection of panini, focaccia, arancini and other Sicilian staples. With an adventurous partner stepping up to try the spleen focaccia (yes, I said spleen) he was not disappointed. ‘Very tender meat encased in a deliciously crisp bread’ he said. Hmm, I’ll have to take his word for it.

Sicily Photo by Ateesha Calvin-Smith

Ciao Sicilia

With hubby as brown as a seasonal almond, and me with my fair dose of vitamin D, our time in Sicilia drew to a close. Even though we had experienced so much of the rich cultural, agricultural and gastronomic joys of Sicily we knew that we had only just scratched the surface. Any plans for next summer darling?

 

Ateesha Calvin-Smith is a London based lover of Italy. With a background in communication, she also writes blogs and articles about discovering Italian food and culture for the Made in Italy App. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Concierge tip: Do you fancy a road trip similar to the one above but in northern Italy and in a Ferrari? Baglioni Hotels makes your dream come true with its Ferrari Tour package which includes a 6-night stay in Rome, Florence and Milan and a visit to the Ferrari Gallery in Maranello.

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