I knew I was going to love this place. What’s not to love about a place where it’s totally acceptable to eat ice cream for breakfast? Better yet, ice cream stuffed into a tender brioche bun. Could I have arrived in heaven?
I recently had an amazing opportunity to spend some time in Sicily thanks to the fine folks at Colavita Olive Oil. Back in the spring I won their Better Than Butter contest by creating a recipe that replaced the butter in it with their delicious olive oil. The prize was a trip to Italy. I’ve had some amazing contest experiences but this one was extraordinary. From the car service that met us at the airport to the return trip, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect holiday. And, I had a year’s supply of olive oil waiting for me when I got home from the trip! Colavita is a class act and I’m a fan for life.
Someone asked me the other day why I like Italy so much. I’m not sure exactly what answer I stuttered out but I’ve thought about it a lot ever since and finally came up with an answer: Simply put, it feels like home to me. I’m not Italian but I’m fairly certain I was in a former life. It’s a place that resonates deeply with all my senses. I think that’s why I had a difficult time assembling the photos for this post. Seeing them in a one dimensional form is no substitute for the experience of actually being there and I’m afraid the photographs don’t do my experience justice. But if photographs proved to be a substitute, no one would ever travel. Right?
On our drive from the airport to the hotel, this was the view and I knew this place was going to be something special.
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. If the mainland of Italy is shaped like a boot, Sicily is located off of the tip of the boot’s toe. We based ourselves out of Palermo, Sicily’s capital city. It’s one of those places that you can pretend to be one of the locals and get lost in the beautiful streets and residential neighborhoods. There didn’t seem to be a lot of tourists and I loved that. And, fewer people spoke English than in other foreign cities I’ve visited which made me love it even more because it made me try harder to communicate. It’s amazing that a smile and a few words of Italian work like magic.
And even though my Italian is limited, I certainly didn’t go hungry. In fact in about 90% of the pictures of me, I’m
stuffing my face with some amazing deliciousness eating something.
Some of the greatest scenes in Sicily unfold just as the sun rises over the city. Sicily is known for their amazing open air markets and they did not disappoint.
The markets are a bustling maze of energetic chaos. In one stall you might see a fish monger carving up a 300-pound swordfish into neat little steaks and in another, perfect eggplants wait to be inspected by the locals looking for the best deal.
The city of Segesta is located in the northwestern part of Sicily and was the political center of the Elymian people, one of three indigenous ethnic groups of Sicily. On a beautiful hillside just outside Segesta lies an unusually well preserved Doric temple that was built in the late 5th century BC.
Marsala is a lovely seaport city located in the province of Trapani. It’s located on westernmost point of the island and is best known for the famed Marsala wine. We had the pleasure of being treated to a tour and tasting at the stunning Florio Vineyards. They credit the mineral-rich soil, abundance of golden sunshine, and ocean-kissed breezes for the amazing quality of the products they offer.
Upon leaving Marsala, we got to explore some of the oldest salt marshes in Europe. There we saw the windmills that were once used to drain water from the basins. Large pools are carved into the sea bed that allow the sea water of the lagoon to enter. The water is then pumped into shallower and shallower beds, and with each placement it is allowed to evaporate, leaving a residue of salt in an mineral-rich environment. When the salt has reached its shallowest bed and the evaporation is complete, it is collected by salt workers, in the same way for centuries.
Monreale is a town and commune in the province of Palermo. It’s located on Monte Caputo which overlooks the very fertile valley called La Conca d’oro or “the golden shell,” famed for its orange, olive, and almond trees. The 12th-century architecture of Palermo Cathedral boasts incredible mosaics that represent a complete cycle of the Old and New Testaments.
We visited the picturesque fishing village of Cefalù on our last day on the island. It’s probably a good thing that we waited until the end because we probably would have just stayed there. Our time there was far too brief and I am already looking forward to returning.
One thing I remember most besides the amazing gastronomic pleasures and stunning sights was the people. I would find myself watching and wondering. The pace seemed slower. More relaxed. Hospitable. Unpretentious.
This is but a glimpse of our time there. We also took a cooking class in Corleone, explored one of the world’s oldest botanical gardens, ate pistachio pesto and lots of caponata, and strolled along the streets like a local. If you ever get the chance to visit this part of the world, I highly recommend it. Who knows, you might just find me back there again in the near future eating a gelato and practicing my Italian!