I’m thrilled about my first ‘Weekend Escape to…’ contribution mostly because it’s about Sicily, Etna to be more precise. Although I call Rome my home, a piece of my heart lies both in Campania and in Sicily where my maternal and paternal grandparents were born. Quick getaways to these regions are dreamy, reinvigorating and packed with wine and food stops.
This weekend is based near Linguaglossa, which is a rural, simple, charming town found on the north side of Etna, offering many conveniences–coffee bars, pizzerias and wine shops–all within a 10 minute walk of your hotel. If you’d like to unplug with style, stay at a boutique hotel that offers yoga, an outdoor pool and top notch dining.
Ready to spend a 48-hour weekend around Etna?
5:00 p.m. – Welcome to Catania!
Arrive at the Catania Fontanarossa Airport. Gaze at the towering palm trees as you walk toward the rental car lot. Pick up your zippy Fiat 500 car rental and via! Enjoy the scenery as you speed toward the snow-capped Mount Etna. One hour later, check into your hotel, take a quick shower and head out to dinner.
9:00 p.m. – Wining & Dining
Park your car in front of Cave Ox in Solicchiata. When I spend a weekend around Etna, the first place that I want to drink and eat is Cave Ox. Greeted by owners Sandro and Lucia you’ll feel at home from the instant you walk in. Frequented by locals, searched out by wine lovers from near and far, Cave Ox is a place where winemakers and wine lovers meet all year long. Well known for both its cuisine and wine list, start with an antipasto of local cheese, cured meats and vegetables before digging into a plate of pasta. I order whichever creation Lucia is cooking that day like home made pasta with wild asparagus. Be sure to order one of her delicious desserts: the tiramisu is otherworldly! Enjoy a local white, rose or red wine with your meal.
7:00 a.m. – Pre-Trek Breakfast
Shower, throw on your hiking clothes and knock back a cappuccino at your hotel.
8:30 a.m. – Brekkie Take 2
Slide up to the narrow bar or grab a seat at Caffè Simpaty for the caffeinated bevy of your choice – caffè macchiato for me – with a cornetto in winter months or a brioche and granita during the summer season. Caffè Simpaty also has delicious, savory arancini (rice balls).
9:00 a.m. – Volcanic Hike
Meet your guide to select sandwiches and provisions at Macelleria Salumeria Pennisi for a 1/2 day hike of Etna. While the summit is nearly 11,000 feet high, anyone who is fit enough to walk the main path can partake in a private hike. I know for sure as I hiked it with my 80 year old cousin. Trekking the main trail to the peak requires no technical climbing gear other than good shoes.
3:00 p.m. – Relax, Re-energize & Rejuvenate
After a morning hike relax, re-energize and rejuvenate at the Shalai Resort spa with a sauna, jacuzzi and turkish bath circuit. Treat yourself to the Shalai signature gentle full body massage or a hot stone massage, then a facial or scrub. Why not all three? Be sure to book ahead of time at this intimate haven.
7:00 p.m. – Passeggiata & Aperitivo
As evening approaches and the sun sets, dress in your evening attire and partake in the passeggiata along the main street and piazzas of Linguaglossa. This stroll is an evening ritual that still takes place in many Italian cities and towns usually on weekend nights. It’s a time to catch up with family and friends and to strut your stuff before dinner. Older gents sit on a bench or at an outdoor table sipping on a prosecco, Campari soda, Aperol spritz or a glass of wine. People of all ages join in.
9:00 p.m. – Michelin Star
Put yourselves in the hands of Chef Giovanni Santoro and the staff at the Shalai Resort. I’m thrilled that the young and innovative chef earned a Michelin star in December 2015. I had the pleasure of meeting Giovanni and speaking to him about his philosophy and dishes. While his cuisine is aesthetically beautiful and elegant, the flavors are pure Sicilian. He spent much of his childhood learning from his nonni and he’s incorporated these food memories from his grandparents into his creations. It’s my kind of food, which is not too fussy, makes my heart sing and mouth water. I can’t wait to visit again. We chose the seafood-based tasting menu with wine pairings which included succulent red prawns served over stracciatella cheese and a tomato puree then Mediterranean red tuna encrusted in seeds with a pomegranate sauce. Be sure to book in advance.
My favorite time to taste wine is early morning when my taste buds and body are well rested and the morning light is shining. If you’re a natural wine lover like me you’ll be in heaven. Visits range from a walk in the vineyard followed by a simple tasting, to meeting the wine producer and having a wine tasting paired with local cheese, cured meats and more. There are an endless number of vineyards to visit around Etna from small and family run to larger producers. You’d need months to experience the diversity and richness of Etna but a good start is at Cantina Benanti, Azienda Agricola Biondi, I Vigneri (pictured below) and Calabretta. Email or call to schedule your visit in advance.
1:00 p.m. – Sunday lunch
Sunday wouldn’t be complete without a grandiose feast at Trattoria San Giorgio e Il Drago, in Randazzo. Chef Paola pours her heart into every dish and it shows. Pastas with le sparacogne (wild asparagus), porcini mushrooms or other seasonal sauces followed by sausages with greens or braised rabbit and a wine list that features local Etna wines will make you smile. Open for lunch and dinner, Wednesday – Monday 12:30 – 2:30 pm and 7:30 – 10:30 pm.
4:30 p.m. – Arrivederci Sicilia
With a satiated tummy, tear-filled eyes and rosy cheeks, it’s time to bid farewell to Sicily. As I drove to the airport, I calculated when my next trip would be. The pull of the people, the island and the volcano are powerful. I’m willing to bet you’ll feel it too. Ciao for now!
The Best Time to Visit
April, May, June, September and most of October are my favorite months to visit Etna. July and August days can be super hot though it tends to cool off in the evening. In the early spring, late summer, early autumn, powder blue skies prevail, the air is refreshing and a swim usually can be enjoyed. The low season is best for travel deals including lower prices for hotel, airfare and car rental too. Restaurants and shops are also less crowded.
Where to stay
Shalai Resort – Boutique hotel tucked away on a quiet street in the town of Linguaglossa with a spa, outdoor dining and excellent tasting menu.
Monaci delle Terre Nere – Designer hotel immersed in the nature of Etna offering yoga lessons, an outdoor pool and organic…
Zash – Country boutique hotel (pictured above) surrounded by orange groves and olive and fruit trees with an outdoor swimming pool.
Where to eat
San Giorgio e il Drago – Piazza San Giorgio 28, Randazzo, Tel. +39 095 923972
Ristorante Pizzeria Antonio – Via San Nicola, Linguaglossa, Tel. +39 095 647756
Food & Wine Stores
Contact us for more info on custom food and wine experiences, hiking excursions, day trips and other bespoke activities in and around Etna.