Sicily – The Welge Report

 

Hello Fellow Travelers:

Welcome to our world of business information, museums, adventure, birding, botanical gardens, good eating and fine wines.  This newsletter provides you with The Welge Report for Sicily.

Please share it with your friends, customers and associates.  You can also access more than 100 cities on our website plus lots of other helpful travel tips at:  the welgereport.com

Recognition:  We extend special thanks to the people who manage and/or own the institutions, museums and restaurants featured in our guides.  In some instances we have relied on their descriptions and photos.

 

Sicily

 

Birding Opps:  Info for our birding friends.  Birding in Sicily is primarily done on your dinner plate next to your glass of Nero D’Avola.   However, in and near Sicily you can see these species: Pallas’s Gulls, Bonelli’s Eagles, Lanner Falcons, Sicilian rock Partridge and Long-tailed tit.

At Barrow Boy (barrowboy21.wordpress.com/2012/10/22/sicily-birding-a-bare-island/)  we find an interesting dialogue on Sicilian birding.

Eben Italia (ebnitalia.it/) provides info on what birds to see.

The Fat Birder (fatbirder.com/links_geo/europe/italy_sicily.html) has useful geographic birding info.

Grape Experience – According to legend, Dionysus (aka Bacchus) was the God who brought pleasure to mankind, and wine to Sicily.

Legend aside, it is certain that wine has been made in Sicily for millennia. There is evidence that Mycenaean traders cultivated grapes in the Aeolian Islands  as early at 1,500 BC.

When the Greeks began to settle in Sicily in the 8th century BC, they too were unable forgo their favorite libation, “oinos”, and introduced several varieties of vines.

Sicilian red wines include:

Nero D’Avola: Nero D’Avola is one of the oldest indigenous grapes and Sicilian wine-makers are justifiably proud of the recognition that this variety is now receiving.

Syrah: anyone familiar with the southern hemisphere wines (or indeed French wines) will have tasted plenty of Syrah and the climate and soil of Sicily are particularly suited to this tasty grape.

Etna Rosso: a blend of Nerello Mascalese (95%) and Nerello Mantellato (5%) this is the wine born on the rich, fertile volcanic slopes of Mount Etna.

Cerasuolo di Vittoria: a blend of Frappato (min 40%) and Nero d’Avola (max 60%) with the possible addition of some Grossonero or Nerello Mascalese, this is the most famous wine of the province of Ragusa.

Sicilian white wines include:

Bianco D’Alcamo: a blend of Cataratto (min 80%), Grecanico, Damaschino and Trebbiano, this excellent white can be found all over Sicily, but can only be produced in the rich area between Alcamo and Trapani.

Wines made from Grillo, Inzolia, Cataratto, Grecanico and Chardonnay are produced “in purezza” or blended together by all the big wine producers, and some are truly excellent.

Public Transportation:  This is your site for public transportation: (bestofsicily.com/transport.htm)

Business Information:  Here is help in regard to your business: (finditsicily.com/en/directory/maincategories/bycategory/3/name/asc/0/1/business.htm)

Exchange Rates (http://www.x-rates.com/)

Day One: We arrived in Palermo without our luggage, however, we were met by our guide, Francesca, who took us to our hotel where we promptly took a shower and a nap.

Then we went out to find an ATM, closely followed by finding a wine shop where we bought two bottles of local wine.

We saw lots of chic shops and enjoyed a beer at a sidewalk café named Ruvolo Rosario –  Via Bara All’Olivella, 121, 39 091 585919, on the Plaza Verdi.  At our orientation we learned about our forth coming journey through Sicily from Francesca, a Sicilian who was born in Ocean City, MD

In the evening we had a very festive welcoming dinner at Trattoria Primavera – L & D: Daily, Piazza Bologni, 4, 39 091 329408.

Several courses were served family style: eggplant caponata, stuffed sardines, bucatini with broccoli, pasta with swordfish, almond parfait and lemon sorbet and lots of local vino blanco and rosso.

After breakfast at our hotel we visited the Norman Cathedral of Monreale – Daily: 8-6, Piazza Vittorio Emanuele Monreale, 091 640 4413.

William II ordered the construction of the cathedral and it was built by Arabic, Byzantine and Norman craftsmen in 1174-1182 “creating a fascinating fusion of architectural styles, artistic tradition and religious symbolism.”

The undisputed highlight of Monreale Cathedral is it’s richly mosaic interior.

Lunch was at Spinnato – B,L,D: Daily, Via Principe di Belmonte, 111, 39 091 329220.

Wonderful outdoor dining for great people watching.  It’s set among several high fashion boutiques.

We shared the braciola (cured beef slices) served on a bed of fresh endive and arugula, with slices of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and seasoned with olive oil and lemon and a cheeseless Sicilian pizza.

The ’10 Principe di Corleone was a perfect match.

 

Then we toured Teatro di Massimo (Opera House) – Tu-Su: 9:30-5, Piazza Verdi, 00262030828.

Teatro di Massimo was designed by Giovanni Battista Filippo Basile and it is the largest teatro in Italy.   It was dedicated to King Victor Emanuel II.

While we were touring there was a rehearsal in progress providing us an appreciation of the wonderful acoustics.

 

After the opera tour we went to a puppet makers den Puppet Theater of Palermo – Via Bara All’Olivella, 95, 39 091 323400.

The puppets were a minimum of one meter tall dressed in historic costumes and created in great detail.

We were treated to a performance featuring Sicily’s history showing the struggle between good and evil in the 16th century.

 

For dinner we went to Ristoranate Buon Gusto – Via C Columbo 27 Porto Empedocle, 535 037 0922.

For starters we shared the antipasto with charcuterie, cheese and olives.  Dee had the risotto di mare and I had the tortellini with veal.

We enjoyed a bottle of the ’10 Nanfro Frappato.

 

After breakfast we visited the Oratorio del Rosario di Santa Zia – M-Sa: 9-6, Via Valverde, 3, 39 091 332779.

The oratory was built in the 16th century in gratitude for the Virgin’s miraculous intervention at the Battle of Lepanto (1571) against the Turks.

The stucco relief decoration is the work of Giacomo Serpotta who made 3 dimensional screens in stucco covered with liquid porcelain.

The stucco panel on the rear wall depicts the Battle of Lepanto, and other reliefs show scenes from the New Testament. All are portrayed with extravagant realism.

 

Lunch was at the Antica Focacceria San Francesco – L & D: Daily, Via Alessandro Paternostro, 58, 39 091 320264.

Dee had the sardines filled with fennel, saffron, raisins and pine nuts.   I had the buccatini and broccoli with pine nuts and cauliflower.  Then we shared a salad of mixed lettuce, cherry tomatoes, bufala mozzarella and smoked swordfish.

A ’10 Corvo Bianco hit the spot.

 

On to Cefalu, a famed seaside resort and important cultural center due to The Cathedral-Basilica of Cefalù - Piazza del Duomo, 39 0921 922021.

The Cathedral of Cefalu’s origins was in part from Romanesque northern Europe and imported by the Augustinian monks in Sicily, but the design was completed according to Islamic architecture and influenced by Byzantine liturgical needs.

The Cathedral has Romanesque sculptures that are the work of two different artists plus other artistic works of the Norman era such as the baptismal font decorated with four lions.

The interior is illuminated by 42 stained glass windows depicting the themes of ‘ Esamerone , of the ‘ Book of the Gospels and of the ‘ Apocalypse of John, made by the artist Michele Canzoneri Palermo between 1985 and 2001.

 

We stopped at the Museum Mandralisca – Daily: 9-7, Via Mandralisca, 13, 39 0921 421547.

The museums holdings include an archaeological collection, furniture and precious objects.  The most notable work of art here is the Portrait of a Man by Antonella Ga Messiana circa 15th century.

Lunch was at the museum which was quite good amidst their very interesting modern art.  We had pasta with swordfish and rockfish in an orange sauce with their house wine

Then we walked along the sea and had a beer at a small café overlooking the Med where Dee put her feet in the sea.  On the way back to the bus we bought a funky puppet waiter.

 

We decided to visit the Galleria d’Arte Moderna di PalermoTu-Su: 9:30-6:30, Via Sant’Anna, 21, 39 091 843 1605.

The museum has three floors with sculptures as well as paintings by Sicilian artists from the 19th and 20th centuries.  They also show special exhibits.

 

Lunch was nearby at the Il Maestro del Brodo – L: Tu-Su, D: F,Sa, Via Vittorio Emanuele 175, 39 091 321655.

Another couple was looking at the menu and we convinced them to try it.  They ended up taking the table of our choice, but we got a nice table and a great waitress.

We shared the calamari and Dee had the tortellini with veal ragout and I had the risotto de mare that was filled with tiny seafood specialties in the shell.  Don’t miss Brodo.

 

The next day we were on the bus to visit Corleone to learn about the mafia or Cosa Nostra.

We had a very interesting lecture about the mafia by Gino Felicetti who was educated in England but his parents were from Corleone.

Gino gave us a thumbnail picture of the Mafia from 1800 to present including the assassinations of local Judges Falcone and Borsselino who were prosecuting the family.

Falcone had gone to the US to learn how we used witness protection and the RICO act to bring down the New York City mafia.

When in New York he stayed with Rudy Giuliani whose family was from Sicily near Corleone.  Rudy helped Falcone put together a plan to dismantle the Mafia.  They were partially successful.

One important event occurred that changed the world of terrorism.  Falcone was killed by the Mafia who used a car bomb for the first time in history.

 

Then we had lunch at Al Capriccio – Via S. Agostino, 39,  Corleone,  0918467938.

We had bruschetta, local ricotta, ravioli, chickpea wafers, a salad, pasta and homemade wine.

 

The next stop on our docket was Agrigento – known as the bread basket of Italy and more importantly the Valley of the Temples.

Our tour leader gave us an after dinner surprise.  We boarded our bus and drove back to the Temple area where we got off to see a splendid lighted view of the Temple of Concordia as she poured a limoncello for each of us.

The next morning we visited the Valley of the Temples that were built by the Greeks in the 6th Century BC.  The site high above the sea is breathtaking.

Our local guide Enzo took us on a Greek journey that included contemporary statues by Igor which were there as a special temporary exhibit.

This is a UNESCO world heritage site.  There were many temples with the best preserved being Concordia.  Its longevity is credited to having been converted to a Christian Church in the 6th century.

The largest temple here was Zeus which had been cannibalized to build the harbor.

Our next stop was Giardini-Naxos where we had a fun dinner at Café Sikelia – Via Jannuzzo 12,  0039094254208.

Our waiter Alfred Zappala was from Boston.  Alfred was involved in a language project to get Sicilian kids more proficient in English to become competitive in the world market.

I started with the bruschetta and Dee had tomatoes and mozzarella (salad capese), then we had a chicken cutlet with a mixed salad.

We were supposed to get one glass of wine but Alfred lost count.  The dessert plate was lovely, gelato, fruit and cake.

Giardini-Naxos was the first Greek colony in Sicily.  Francesca took us to the spot where the first Greek landing took place and provided us with cookies and wine for the occasion.

Following this event we motored along the seaside going through several small towns and enjoying a magnificent view of Mt Etna before reaching Taormina.

To enter Taormina we took a lift up 7 stories.  Taormina is a walled town that is described as Sicily’s center of international tourism.  I think that means that it has the prerequisite number of shops, cafes and churches.

 

We had lunch at one of those cafes named La Botte – L & D: Daily, Piazza Santa Domenica, 4, 39 0942 24198.

We shared an excellent calamari fritti and a pizza Della Napolitano and a bottle of the house Nero D’Avola.

 

Our next stop was Naxos where Francesca treated us to a gelato.  After a short rest at our hotel we drove back to Taormina for dinner at La Piazzetta – D: Nightly, C. PALADINI 5/7, 0942 626317.

Our dinner was a fixed meal consisting of a timbale of mozzarella in zucchini flowers, a risotto with pumpkin and smoked cheese and the grilled entrecote bordelaise.

Our wine was the Donna Fugata Cataratto and dessert was the semifreddo with orange.

After dinner I walked outside while our group was finishing dinner and a live jazz band was playing featuring a dynamite vocalist.  For ardent jazz fans, like Dee and me, this was quite a topper.

 

After breakfast we drove along the coast to Messina located between Sicily and the Italian peninsula.  Lots of photo opportunities.   We drove into Messina to visit the Cathedral of Messina - Piazza Duomo, 39 090 774895.

One of their attractions is reliquaries, but the main attraction is the bell tower presentation at noon.  The bell tower was built by two brothers from Strasbourg.

 

Lunch was at Anselmo -  L & D: Daily, Via Palazzo 2, 39 090321674.

This is a very good fish and seafood restaurant.  Dee had the seafood risotto and I had the swordfish steak.

Our wine was the ’09 Inzoliz Arancio.  The site is near the proposed bridge from Sicily to Calabria.

At our hotel we were treated to an informative lecture on Mt. Etna by Dr. Boris.  His photos of underwater volcanic eruptions were spectacular as was the recent activity on Mt. Etna.

Our next excursion took us to Siracusa where our local guide Rosa led us through the Archealogical Park.  Here we saw the 2nd largest Greek theater in the world hewn from the mountain.  It seated 11,400 which was only 1000 fewer than the largest Greek theater.

At the site we entered an artificial cave called the ear of Dionysius known for its excellent acoustics.

Rosa did a demo singing “Amazing Grace” while explaining there is a competition among the guides for singing there.

 

We then went by bus and taxi to the Island of Ortiga where we visited the church of Santa Lucia made famous by the recent return of Caravaggio’s painting “The Burial of Santa Lucia” dated 1608.

We were told that Caravaggio was the first artist not to include angels because he said “I don’t know what they look like”.

His paintings were widely admired and accepted but he was never paid because of his angel stance.  He went to Malta and disappeared at age 39.

Rosa guided us to the Duomo, the earliest church in Western Christendom, built inside a Greek temple to Athena.  Its colorful history explains the hybrid style of its architecture.  Rosa made it really come alive for us.

 

Lunch was at Osteria La Gazza LadroaL & D: Daily, via Cavour 8, 39 340 0602428.

This is a great wine bar that also has velvety soups, caponata, charcuterie, homemade pastas and it’s very reasonable.

For a white wine we suggest the ’01 Feudo dei Fiori and for a red the Eloro.

 

On the way up Mt. Etna it’s a steep climb, fortunately we were in a bus and Valerio was doing the driving.

We went through several micro-climates and saw unusual terrain featuring thousands of years of lava layers, chestnut trees, vineyards, lemon trees and then the moonscape.  Suddenly there was a big temperature drop and strong winds.

Mt. Etna hasn’t given up smoking and it has a formidable presence.   We saw one person riding a bike near the summit and several other people who made the long climb.  We were content to look over the souvenir shops and have tea at the chalet.

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Giardini Naxos and would consider returning.  It’s a tourist town for sure, but it was the end of their season.  The merchants seemed happy to be winding down and some had closed.

Café Sikelia became our commissary and Roberto took good care of us.  We were told that one of the bar/cafes nearby had an opera singer but not the night we were there, however, the owner and his right hand man did a few songs for us.

Our balcony overlooked the Med and we saw several fishermen in their boats looking for their next meal.

Our last excursion was to Savoca, where the wedding scene from the Godfather was filmed.  Valerio did a great job driving around the switchbacks and we loved the fabulous views.

We walked about Savoca and met the mother of the bride in the Godfather who brought out photos of the event.

We visited the church where the wedding was filmed and another older church where they recently discovered two Byzantine frescoes.

Coppola financed a lot of infrastructure for the town and the Bar Vitelli has a lot memorabilia.

After returning to our hotel Francesca had a farewell drink and some snacks for us.  Dee and I went across the street to Café Sikelia for our farewell dinner.

Roberto seated us at our table and suggested that we have a bottle of ’09 Terre de Trente, Nerello Mascalese, Rosso Sicily.

We shared the antipasti and Dee had fish and I had Bolognese ziti.  Francesca came in and joined us stating that we were having her favorite wine.  It was a nice evening to a great journey.  We highly recommend visiting Sicily.

 

Until next time, best wishes and happy travels,

Dick & Dee Welge

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