“To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s quote is spot on. All roads may begin and end in Rome but Sicily is overflowing with history, tales to tell and generous people.
I have loved Italy forever, Siracusa in Sicily and Naples in Campania specifically, close to where my grandparents were born. Although I was raised north of Boston and spent most of my adult life studying and working in NYC and London, Italy called me. I answered her call in 2007. I packed two suitcases and boarded a plane for Rome.
15 years later, I hang my hat in Rome but a part of my heart lives in Sicily. It’s in my blood. I visit as often as possible. Lucky for me she’s only an hour plane ride away. As I disembark from the plane, whether in Palermo, Catania or Ragusa, my shoulders relax, my smile grows and I feel elated. What can I say? I am in one of my happy places. It just makes sense.
Given my personal bias toward Sicily, I thought maybe I am loopy to swoon for this island of contradictions, contrasts and extremes but I stand in good company. I happily watch friends, family and clients become hooked after just one visit. Give her a chance and she’ll charm you too. Whether you choose to relax on the pristine beaches of the Vendicari Natural Reserve, visit the ancient temples of Segesta, Selinunte, and Agrigento (just to name a few), hike Mount Etna, visit the food markets of Palermo, Catania or Ortigia, or wine taste your way around the island, the choices are never-ending. She has something for everyone.
Sicily is a museum unto itself. Wherever one ventures there is no escaping Sicily’s 3,000 years of history as a strategic crossroad and entryway to Europe. Footprints of the Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, Arabs, Normans, French, Germans, Spanish and Italians are evident in the monuments and archaeological sites and inextricably intertwined in the people, food, culture and traditions; she is a melting pot of past Mediterranean civilizations.
With its unique story and variety of geological features, Sicily is home to seven UNESCO World Sites which pepper the island. From walking around Noto, Modica and Scicli, where late Baroque art and architecture reign and taking in Palermo’s Arab-Norman architecture to climbing Europe’s highest active volcano, these are places and sites that I carry with me. I hope that you will have a chance to visit them too.
Although I could write volumes about her historical sites, I’ll leave that for the experts. The warm, passionate and generous people and Sicilian food and wine are what bring me back time and time again. My most cherished memories are the times I’ve spent with locals who have become friends. I’ve been invited into homes, kitchens and to countless meals. They have won my heart.
What started as an informal lunchtime cooking lesson near Siracusa with Paolo and his family turned into turned into full day extravaganza with family, kids and friends coming and going. In Ragusa, with Alessandra and Angela, I made sfincione from scratch and sauteed sausages in Nero D’Avolo.
Near Palermo with Francesco, I learned about Centopassi, the winemaking branch of the social cooperative Libera Terra which cultivates land seized from the mafia. They produce wine on what was tainted land and educate visitors to a brutal but changing reality. I admire their courage and perseverance.
With Giulia in Ortigia, we traded stories about our grandfathers who were both fishermen. Perhaps the story that sums up Sicilian hospitality best for me is when one Sunday, I was enjoying lunch at a trattoria with friends from Boston. A winemaker who I met once previously happened to be there. He invited us to his farm and home. We spent hours strolling through his gardens and vineyards with Mount Etna in the distance eating fresh figs off the trees. I translated for my friends. Years later my friends recall this day as the best day of their vacation.
Sicilians love for Sicily is contagious. I caught the bug. I hope that you will too.