Sicily often gets forgotten when planning a trip to Italy. It’s true it isn’t quite as famous as Rome or Venice, but you’ll want to consider a trip to discover everything this island has to offer.
You’ll pass vineyards, olive trees, and lots of sheep as you travel into Ragusa, but it’s Ragusa Ibla (old Ragusa) that you must explore. From the Medieval Don Serafina Hotel, with its winding staircase and stone walls, to the cobblestone streets lined with cafes, this town beckons the visitor. Stop for wine infused gelato and gaze at some of the 53 Catholic churches in town. Try to get reservations at Locanda Don Serafino Restaurant if you are looking for something extra special.
Ragaleali is the picture postcard you want of Sicily. Getting there is not easy, you’ll need an experienced driver to get you through the winding dirt road that goes up a mountain (you may have to stop a few times to let sheep cross), but once you arrive you’ll see it was well worth it. This is a place where you walk a mile to get fresh goat cheese, then eat it while you admire the rolling hills below.
While Marsala wine is pretty much reserved these days for chicken and veal dishes, the town of Marsala is very much alive. Piazza della Republica, the center of town, includes a must-see 17th century cathedral which was completed with works of Antonello Gagini. You’ll also find plenty of downtown shopping, an archaeological museum, and a beach nearby. Opt for a room at Hotel Carmine and a casual authentic Sicilian meal at Bucanieri.
Enjoy the Wine
The wine of Sicily is much more diverse than one would expect. From the grape varietals, to the varying climates and vine locations, you’ll find unique characteristics in every vintage.
Valle Dell’Acate contains a small museum that is a tribute to the beginnings of Sicilian wine, but make no mistake, this winery is 21st century, down to the solar panels used for energy. You’ll definitely want to have the Zagra, a blend of grillo and insolia for a semi-dry, easy drinking wine, but you’ll find some excellent chardonnay here too.
Although the main location is in Ragaleali, Tasca D’Almerita has a total of five wineries across Sicily, giving them a tremendous selection of wines. The Ragaleali location alone has 50 different varietals. They are most famous for their moscato and grillo, though they were the first to produce cabernet sauvignon in the region. Tasca D’Almerita also has a Rosso del Conte red wine which has been a consistent award winner for years.
Donnafugata, a family-owned winery for nearly 200 years, has wineries in the Sicily areas of Contessa Entellina, Pantelleria, and Marsala. They have branched out in distribution and you’ll have no problem finding some of their wines, such as the light and lemon-filled Anthilipa and their number one selling Anthilia (with more tropical notes), in Europe as well as the U.S. The Moscato de Alexandria, grown on a vineyard resting on volcanic soil and then made from hand-picked grapes, is another you must try.
Learn About the Food
It’s no secret that Italians love to eat and you won’t have a hard time finding a memorable meal in Sicily. You’ll find the food in this region of Italy has a bit of influence from the Spanish and Greeks. The climate and location lends itself to an abundance of fresh vegetables and seafood. The dishes therefore tend to take on a lighter touch than in other parts of Italy.
The best way to learn more about Sicilian cooking is by experiencing it firsthand. The Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School not only offers classes, but allows you to stay in a beautiful villa on the premises while you learn. Fabrizia Lanza, whose mother started the school, is the head chef and teacher. She has an enormous garden that grows every herb, fruit, and vegetable imaginable. You will also never go thirsty here as Lanza’s family owns the Tasca d’Almerita Winery down the road.
A trip to Sicily is not complete without a visit to the breathtaking island of Pantelleria, in the Mediterranean Sea, not far from Tunisia. Exploring this island is not only about the picturesque backdrop that Giorgio Armani calls home, you’ll also find some surprises. For one, Pantelleria is one of the largest suppliers of capers in the world. It’s also filled with ancient Arab architecture and thermal pools, including one inside a cave. Leave some time for a long, relaxing stop at Venus Lake (Lago di Venere), which has its own natural baths, and a look at Elephant Arch.
Getting To Sicily
Palermo has the largest airport in Sicily (Falcone–Borsellino). From there you can get anywhere in the region in a few hours. Flights to Palermo are available from throughout Europe. If you are coming from the United States, you’ll want to fly to Rome and then on to Palermo.
Since Pantelleria is a separate island, you’ll need to take a ferry from Trapani (Sicily), or fly to the small airport. Flights are available in season to Pantelleria from Palermo, Trapani, Rome, Milan, and Venice.
By Marcia Frost. This post first appeared in the Winter 2015 Magazine . Check out our magazine archives for more great stories: http://www.insidersabroad.com/issues as well as posts on Sicily like " Top 5 Things to See in Sicily " and " Insider Tim’s Top 3 Tips for Sicily " .