Visiting Sicily with Carmelina

Visiting Sicily with Carmelina

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Around Etna

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.

Taormina art studios

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.

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Etna’s flatulence

 

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Etna as seen from Santa Domenica Vittoria (ME)
©Rochelle Del Borrello 2013

 

The Mount Etna volcano is a dominant force on this island of Sicily and is a living part of the Sicilian landscape. 

 

Etna’s sixty by forty kilometre base is the heart of the island and its three thousand three hundred metre tall shadow has given birth to this fertile Sicilian land, rich in mythology. 

 

The volcano is different things to different people. For the ancient Greeks it was the forge of Vulcan, the god of earth and fire. It was the home of the Cyclopes who terrorised the island by throwing pieces of earth into the sky, their appetites subdued by regular animal sacrifices. It is the resting place of the giant Escalades, upon whom the god Jupiter placed the mountain. Each eruption is the motion of the giant trapped by Etna’s weight.

 

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Etna from the Nebrodi mountains in the province of Messina.
©Rochelle Del Borrello 2013

 

Occasionally we are graced by Etna’s spectacular little out bursts, whether they be full blown end of the world lava fountain eruptions or black clouds of ash that are dispersed generously throughout the whole island.

 

While I am safely far away from the actual volcano to be oblivious of big eruptions we can defiantly see when one is underway thanks to certain mushroom cloud formations along the horizon towards the direction of Catania. 

 

We were recently reminded of Etna’s presence thanks to one of these quick forming clouds which resemble those of an atom bomb explosion, who thank goodness disappear quickly and who I hope are not as harmful. I like to call these little formations Etna’s flatulence, she can be quite gassy at times.

 

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The smoke cloud from Etna.
©Rochelle Del Borrello 2013

 

 

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There she blows!
©Rochelle Del Borrello 2013

 

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Menacing gas from Etna.
©Rochelle Del Borrello 2013

 

I consider myself safe from being overwhelmed by lava but, the whole island of Sicily is one of the most seismically active areas in the world, jokingly referred to as the ‘terra ballerina’ or quite literally the ‘dancing land’ and not because Sicilian’s like to waltz.

 

So directly or indirectly Etna keeps us on our toes.

 

Unwilling Expat

On the theme of Mt Etna

One really can’t talk about Sicily without mentioning the Mt Etna volcano, here are some short pieces I’ve written about this strange monster that dominates this island, following along on the theme of earthquakes from yesterday.

 

‘Etna is a real monster, a living breathing part of the Sicilian landscape. Its sixty by forty kilometre base is the heart of the island and its three thousand three hundred meters tall shadow has given birth to the fertile Sicilian land, rich in mythology. The volcano is different things to different people. For the ancient Greeks, it was the forge of Vulcan, the god of earth and fire. It was the home of the Cyclopes who terrorised the island by throwing pieces of earth into the sky, their appetites subdued by regular animal sacrifices. It is the resting place of the giant Escalades, upon whom the god Jupiter placed the mountain. Each eruption signifies the motion of the giant trapped by Etna’s weight. 

 

Etna has forged Sicily after hundreds of thousands of years of activity and it still is the centre of the island’s evolution. Sicily is still developing and geologically it is relatively young and so the volcano will continue to reshape the island’s destiny. Etna is a living breathing force of nature which holds the terrain firmly in its grip.

 

Like Naples’ Mount Vesuvius which, lies above and below the city in a perpetually active state, Etna has the potential to create great damage. Early in the seventeenth century, it went through a period of hibernation only to erupt violently towards the end of the century. This eruption in the late sixteen hundreds caused powerful earthquakes. New mouths of the volcano were opened throughout the island, some hundreds of kilometres away. The main lava flow during this eruption lasted many years, destroying most of Catania and eventually reaching the Ionian sea.’

       

                            (A snow capped volcano in the middle of summer)

I have had the privilege of seeing Etna in her highest fury, from afar and at night time yet it was enough to inspire the following description that is included in my travel book, ‘Descent into Sicily.’

 

‘The sun having set I can now see the splendour of Etna’s eruptive heat. The opening at the head of Etna is spewing out diabolical black ash, a second opening can be seen about halfway down and it too is vomiting out smoke which flows up to combine with the fumes of the main opening.

 

From the new mouth, lava is rocketing up into the sky. There is a red-hot halo of heat around Etna’s summit. It is a colour unlike any other I’ve seen. It is a piece of steel being melted in a furnace, translucent, like the surface of the sun. The magma is spurting forth like a fountain and although we are hundreds of kilometres from Etna we can see the lava spewing out of its mouth as if it were only meters away.

 

Watching television when we return home, I hear that fifteen new mouths have opened up overnight and the residents of the towns below are terrified by massive explosions as lava explodes into the air above them.

 

In the weeks after its eruption, the ash from Etna is taken by the wind across to Catania where it covers the city in a fine grey film. The scirocco, a desert wind from Africa, moves the ash further north to Calabria. The breeze changes direction covering everyone with a fine blanket of ash.’

 

Tremors

    

      (A slightly smoking Mt Etna taken from the Nebrodi Mountains last year)

Italy has always been a place susceptible Sicily more so than other regions. I’ve never felt anything, that is until this summer when the Mt Etna volcano has been erupting. Etna has always been relatively active and is quite far away from us towards Catania.

 

In the past we’ve breathed in its ash over as few weeks but it seems to be very angry lately. We’ve been having a series of tremors since the beginning of summer but I didn’t feel anything until one night at around midnight as I was nodding off to sleep I felt a few seconds of pure fear.

 

The sound of it was what hit me the most; it was like a massive explosion, I thought the old abandoned house across the street had collapsed but then the movement of an 8 on the Richter scale earthquake hit.

 

It was like a bad disaster movie, every thing just shook and rocked and I couldn’t even moved, then within a flash it was over. We all ran outside, but there was no more movement. I was all over.

 

Those maybe 4 seconds were enough to make me a nervous wreck for the rest of the week when every little sound or movement made me jump out of my skin.

 

 Losing control of your movement and your surroundings I think if the most disempowering thing that can ever happen. In short it scared the s*** out of me!

 

My heart goes out to those poor people in the USA who experienced an earthquake just the other week, especially those in NY who justifiably thought the worst after the memories of S11 jumped back into the foreground. And then right after they had Hurricane Irene … talk about fodder for doomsday theorists!!

 

The earth’s motions here in Sicily have been justified by spectacular fireworks from Etna, with lava being thrown up several hundred meters in the air. One night I was even rewarded by a single Etna explosion which lit up the horizon for a few seconds like a red hot aurora borealis.

 

There’s nothing like a spectacular natural phenomenon to instil a feeling of awe and fear deep inside your soul.