Monday, January 25, 2010
by Michael West
Much as I would love to, there is simply not enough time to visit all our Walk regions every year but, whenever I do get back, I am always reminded why we chose the area in the first place.
And so it was last November when I spent a week in Sicily as we needed to make some changes to our Walk itinerary. (Our new Sicily Itinerary is now posted on our website.) Everything about the island is stunning – no wonder the Greeks, Arabs, Romans and Bourbons fought over it for centuries and were so reluctant to leave, but they all left their mark on the food, the people and the architecture that form the modern Sicily.
THE FOOD: As an avid reader of Andrea Camilleri’s series of novels set in Sicily (see our Reading List), I was familiar with the culinary preferences of his hero, Inspector Montalbano, whose visits to the local restaurants are described in mouth-watering detail. To read these beautifully-written crime stories is, as much as anything, a gourmet guide to Sicilian cuisine; the simple arancini, fried rice balls coated with breadcrumbs, a recipe said to have originated in the 10th century, and filled with meat and tomato sauce, mozzarella and peas; pizza as good as any you will find in its birthplace, Naples, across the water; all manner of seafood, especially tuna, swordfish and sardines, fresh from the Mediterranean, never more than a few kilometers from our Walk; the luscious cannoli, crusty tubes of pastry filled with ricotta cream; and the array of fruit and vegetables….and the cheese….and the wine….all products of the lush verdant countryside through which we walk. Oh, and the famous Modica chocolate is not to be missed!
THE ARCHITECTURE: In Siracusa the great Duomo forms one side of, arguably, the finest piazza in Italy; the Greek theatres, Parco Archaeologico and the catacombs are all memorable. The church of San Giorgio in Ragusa Ibla, the baroque opulence of Noto and the unbelievable Teatro Greco (Greek Theatre) in Taormina with its stunning views to Mt Etna and the sea are but a taste of the architectural feast on offer.
THE PEOPLE: Everywhere we walk, we encounter an amazing hospitality from the locals we meet – the contadino picking his olives, tending his vines, minding his crops, herding his sheep; the old ladies gossiping in the shade; the street vendors offering fish, fresh fruit, ice cream; all are happy to greet us with a wide smile and chat to us in their local dialect – with a little help from our Walk Leader; but there is no mistaking the sincerity of the welcome.
THE HOTELS: On Sunday and Monday, we are returning to an old favourite, the Eremo della Giubiliana, a family-owned former convent set in its own estate near Ragusa. The surrounding farm supplies most of the ingredients of the cuisine for which the hotel is renowned. I really love this hotel – the rooms, the country views down to the sea, the swimming pool; there is even a necropolis in the garden!
I discovered a lovely boutique hotel in Siracusa, so new it’s not even in the guide-books. I came across the Hotel Algila as I wandered the streets of the old town and was immediately taken by its mix of casual old-fashioned charm and modern chic and comfort. It’s on the sea and yet right in the centre of town. I knew immediately it was an hotel perfect for Wayfarers and we will stay there on Tuesday and Wednesday.
And so to Taormina. What can I say about the Hotel Monte Tauro? I know I am given to hyperbole but this location has everything, high on the cliffs with sweeping views of the Mediterranean – magnificent! Did you know that DH Lawrence lived in Taormina for three years?
THE WALKING: The landscape through which we journey has infinite variety. We will walk on the slopes and foothills of Mt Etna, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. We stroll along the sandy seaside footpaths of the Vendicari Nature Reserve, home to thousands of migrating birds, and relax on the walls of a former tuna fishery as the waves lap gently at our feet. We hike through the gorge of Ispica, where the silence is broken only by the bleating of sheep and the clanging of their bells, and we visit the fascinating troglodyte dwellings. And every day we walk in verdant countryside – through vineyards and lush farmland whose produce we will savour at our dinner table.
This week in Sicily is walking, seeing, enjoying, eating: the sheer joy of appreciating and being enveloped by an ancient culture, its monuments and its legacy. This is as good as it gets!
• This new itinerary differs from that shown in our 2010 brochure. The Walk is now six nights and is scheduled for 16th – 22nd May and 3rd – 9th October 2010. US$3995 per person (US$495 Single Room Supplement).
• Full details on our website – www.thewayfarers.com