Recently Sicily Inside and Out spoke to Carmelina Ricciardello, the founder of Sicilian Experience who offers personalized guided tours of the island, she gave us a wonderful list of things to see and do in Sicily.
Carmelina is a charming lady, a lover of Sicily and a true Sicilian who is dedicated to promoting her birth place to the world. And it’s my pleasure to introduce you to her and hear her tempting suggestions.
After emigrating to Australia at the age of 7 1/2, I returned to my roots here in Sicily more than 20 years ago. Since 2005 I have been setting up my sustainable tourism business based in the tiny village of Sant’Ambrogio on the north coast of the island, near Cefalù, and have been showing guests from all over the world some of the more authentic corners and curiosities of this multi-faceted island.
People are constantly asking me for advice on places to visit and here I have compiled a list of 10 activities which, in my opinion, give you a good insider look into the culture and beauty of Sicily. They are not in any order of importance as I grade them all equally. But I recommend them as they have been tried and tested many times and all have met with very positive feedback from my clients.
Of course, they are not, by any means, the only things to see on the island.
If you have any particular requests I would be more than happy to help you out.
On most of these trips I will accompany you personally.
Or if I should not be available I have my friend and assistant Marian, who is equally knowledgeable about all the places we visit.
I will start with those operating nearer to my home and office as the first 6 could all be done while making your base in the village of Sant’Ambrogio. For further details: www.sicilianexperience.com
1. COOKING WITH MIMMO
Mimmo is the dynamic and gregarious owner of our local restaurant Osteria Bacchus.
With his life-long experience of cooking Sicilian food all over Europe and now in his wife’s home village, he delights in giving guests cooking lessons from as brief as half a day or up to one week long. He will take you to local markets to buy the ingredients and then your hands-on lesson will be held in the kitchen of his restaurant. He also makes his own organic wine which, of course, you will be tasting from his wine cellar or at table with the results of your own cooking! Voted no.1 activity on TripAdvisor, it really is an all-round experience to remember.
2. TOUR OF THE MEDIEVAL VILLAGES OF THE MADONIE MOUNTAINS
The Madonie mountains are one of the ranges along the northern coast and this car tour takes you to some of the prettiest villages in the area. Pollina, Castelbuono, Petralia Soprano and Isnello all have something different for you to see. You can visit a castle, an amphitheatre, taste local delicacies or just sit back and admire the spectacular views as you are driven from one village to the next before stopping for lunch in a family run trattoria.
3. TREKKING WITH DONKEYS AND HORSERIDING IN THE MADONIE OR AROUND MT. ETNA
For equestrian lovers you have two choices. Trekking with donkeys in the nearby town of Castelbuono. Walk with the donkeys through the countryside stopping to observe flora and fauna. Proving to be very popular with children, the donkeys will carry your picnic and bags for you, and any tired kids too! Or take a one-week long horse riding trip to the foothills of Mt. Etna, Europe’s most active volcano.
Organised by two different local lads, both Mario of the donkeys and Alessandro our horseriding leader will point out all the local curiosities as well as letting you taste manna, a local product obtained from the ash trees growing in this area.
4. ATELIER HOTEL AND HALAESA
Just a few kilometres along the coast road is the town of Tusa Marina where you can visit the interesting Greco-Roman site of Halaesa which consists in excavations and an interesting museum. Combine the visit with a stop at the quirky Atelier Hotel down by the beach which has been turned into a living work of art. Artists from all over the world have been given carte blanche by the owner, a local benefactor, and every room has been transformed into a different art concept. A guided tour of a selection of rooms is fascinating, and not just for art lovers.
5. CHEESE MAKING AND FALCONRY
Giulio is our local shepherd who makes cheese and ricotta nearly every day from the milk of his 200 odd goats. Always happy to meet new people, he will take you through all the stages of cheese making to the end result which is his ricotta. Naturally, you are encouraged to taste all the stages from the junket, fresh cheese and ricotta, washed down with some local wine!
Mimmo, instead, is a falconer who practices this ancient art brought to Sicily by the Arabs in the 9th century. He delights in displaying his Lanner falcons and telling you all about the history of them.
6. INSPECTOR MONTALBANO TOUR
A bit further afield and for lovers of the incredibly popular tv series based on the tales of Inspector Montalbano, Sicily’s very own police inspector, this tour takes you to the area where the series was filmed. From his house in Punta Secca (Marinella) where he sets off for his early morning swim at the beginning of the programme, through the towns of Scicli, Ragusa Ibla and the castle of Donnafugata, all gems of Sicilian Baroque which are to be found over on the south-east side of the island. Taste some of his favourite foods like the arancini (Sicilian rice ball filled with ragù or ham and mozzarella). Eat fresh fish at one of the many sea front trattorias in the area, or taste chocolate made from the original Aztec recipe in Modica.
7. MOZIA AND THE SALT PANS
On the west side of the island near Marsala, which gives its name to the famous dessert wine, there is a vast area of salt pans which are still operational and date back to Phoenician times in the 8th century BC. At certain times of the year you can even help shovel the salt out of the pans and enjoy some beauty/health treatment at extra cost. Also from here you can visit the tiny island of Mozia where the Whitaker foundation has an extremely interesting museum full of artefacts. Joseph Whitaker was one of the Anglo/Sicilian families who produced Marsala wine here in the 19th century.
8. WALKING ON MT. ETNA, LUNCH, WINE TASTING AND VISIT THE VINEYARD OF AN ARISTOCRATIC MANOR HOUSE
This is a particularly pleasurable visit as I take you walking on Mt. Etna over fairly recent lava flows and visit my friend’s aristocratic 18th century manor house. Chiara and her mother will indulge you in some delicious local products and let you taste some of her excellent red house wine produced on the estate. Chiara will take you around the estate visiting the old wine press, the private chapel and vineyard. Admire Mt. Etna from a distance and also see the 1981 lava flows stopped only 500m from the estate.
9. SICILIAN MARIONETTES AND PUPPET THEATRE IN PALERMO
Dating back to the Middle Ages this form of entertainment is still considered important folk culture. Especially for keeping the Sicilian dialect alive. The stories are loosely based on Orlando, one of the knights of Charlemagne, and the knights of Norman King Roger of Sicily who battled with the Moors and Baroque Paladins. There is a museum annexed to the puppet theatre but I recommend going to one of the puppet shows. You won’t understand the language but the performance is extremely entertaining, practically self-explanatory and if you have children, they will love it.
10. THE OPERA HOUSE – TEATRO MASSIMO
For those of you who appreciate good music, Teatro Massimo is a must.
Not just for the excellent operas and concerts they put on but also to visit the second largest opera house in Europe and admire the interior which has been painstakingly restored. Even if you don’t want to see a performance, it is still worth taking the guided visit of the inside. Tickets can be obtained on request.
If you want any more advice from Carmelina, be sure to contact her through the Sicilian Experience Web site.
Thanks ever so much to Carmelina Ricciardello for the guest post, no doubt her suggestions will add to everyone’s Sicilian bucket lists.