Tag Archive for: Italy food tours

The Short Version – History of Puglia

The History...

Puglia, also known as Apulia, is a region located in the southern part of Italy. Its history dates back to ancient times, with settlements by the Illyrians and Greeks in the 8th century BCE. The Romans also had a significant presence in the region, and many ruins from their civilization can still be found in Puglia today.

During the Middle Ages, the region was ruled by various powerful families and kingdoms, including the Normans, Hohenstaufens, and Angevins. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Puglia saw a large wave of emigration to the Americas and other parts of Italy as many people sought better economic opportunities. Today, Puglia is known for its beautiful coastline, historic towns and villages, and delicious traditional cuisine.

 

Puglia, located in the heel of the boot of Italy, has a rich and complex history dating back thousands of years. Here are some key historical highlights:

Prehistoric and ancient history: Puglia has been inhabited by humans since prehistoric times. The region was home to a number of ancient cultures, including the Messapii, an indigenous people who built fortified settlements and developed an advanced system of agriculture.

Roman period: Puglia was a key region for the Roman Empire, with the city of Bari becoming an important port and center of trade. The Romans built many monumental structures in Puglia, including the famous Trulli houses, which are still standing today.  The trulli are traditional conical-roofed houses made of limestone, which are found mainly in the region of Valle d’Itria.

Medieval period: Puglia was conquered by the Normans in the 11th century and then the Hohenstaufen in the 12th century. They left behind many beautiful examples of their architecture, such as the Cathedral of Otranto and the Castel del Monte.

Renaissance period: During the Renaissance, Puglia became an important center of art and culture, with artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael visiting the region. Many beautiful palaces and churches were built in Puglia during this time.

Modern history: Puglia was ruled by the Bourbon dynasty in the 19th century and later became part of the newly-formed Kingdom of Italy. The region has a long history of agriculture, particularly olive groves and vineyards, which continue to be the backbone of its economy today.

Puglia is also known for its Baroque architecture, with notable examples in cities like Lecce and Martina Franca.

Love what you have read and want to experience Puglia? Click here for details of my 12 Day Puglia Tour travelling in 2024

A Brief History of Sicily Starting with the Greeks

When Sicily was Greek

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and has a rich history dating back to ancient times. The island was originally inhabited by the Sicani and Siculi tribes, who were later conquered by the Greeks in the 8th century BC. During this time, Sicily became a major center of Greek culture and civilization, with cities such as Syracuse and Akragas thriving. In the 3rd century BC, Sicily was conquered by the Romans and became an important province of the Roman Empire.  After the fall of Rome, Sicily was ruled by a succession of different powers, including the Byzantine Empire, the Arabs, the Normans, the Swabians, the Angevins, the Aragonese, and the Bourbon monarchy.

In the 19th century, Sicily became a key center of the Italian Risorgimento and was eventually unified with the rest of Italy in 1861. Today, Sicily is an autonomous region of Italy with a unique culture and history.

The Greeks In Early Sicily

Sicily’s entwined history, culture and food is about settlers and invaders – 

650 B.C. – 850 200 years The Siculi – who the island is named after were in the East, the Sicani in the West, and the Elymi coming from Asia Minor and escaping from Troy are the first known inhabitants of Sicily.

·        Then came the Greeks – arriving on the fertile shores of Eastern Sicily establishing such popular provinces  such as Giardini Naxos and Taormina,  Siracusa , Catania and Agrigento which display some of the most noted and extraordinary Greek ruins out side of Greece.

·        the Greeks began what is now considered the first mass colonization of Sicily and becomes “Magna Graecia”  or “ the Greater greece”

·        Thanks to the Greek invasion  many of the great minds of antiquity that we normally associate with Greece were actually born on Sicilian soil and lived on the island most of their lives.

·        Archimedes, the greatest scientific mind of antiquity

·        Gorgias of Lentini – a master of public speaking who brought the art of public speaking to Rome

·        Empedocles, naturalist, philosopher, orator, poet, physician, scientist and first volcanologist. He fell or jumped into Mt. Etna, was swallowed by the volcano, and legend has it that the mountain expelled one of his sandals intact. and regarded as a god to the people of Agrigento

·        Sicilians contributed substantial innovations to Greek theatre in the ruins of Segeste, Taormina and Siracusa elevating Greek comedy to a high level of drama

·       They introduced mime, laws , they developed poetry and treating mythological and epic Tales in a lyrical way

·        Most importantly was Archestratus – a famous Sicilian Cook credited for the first cook book “ The Sweet Taste” who later travelled to Greece giving lessons on cooking to the greeks.

·        The colonists introduced grapes, figs, pomegranates, wheat, walnuts, and hazelnuts. They planted vineyards, building a considerable reputation for Sicilian wines. Native bees were making honey that the Greeks used as offerings to their goddess Aphrodite. Fresh Fruit , dried figs and Honey

·        The Greeks sponsored the rearing of cattle to increase the manufacturing of dairy products.

·        They planted olive trees – Kalamata were the earliest domesticated olives and they produced some of the best olive oil preferring the Sicilian Olive oil to their own

·        They introduced horti: vegetable gardens fenced in with stone walls that were the predecessor of the present day kitchen gardens called orti. From here the local Sicilians employed by the wealthy aristocrat Greeks took the place of slaves in the kitchen and the ‘cook” was born – They made pickled vegetables, adding capers, olives, honey, spices and fried artichokes thus producing an archaic version of caponata.  

·        Writings from this period document sweets called dulcis in fundo, made of honey, nuts, milk, and flour, served with baskets of fresh fruit and sweet wine at the end of a meal.

·        The Greeks made a very sweet wine called Malvasia using dried and fresh grapes crushed together. They also made custard of ricotta; honey and eggs called tyropatinum, a sweet version of the modern Greek cheese pie known as tyropita. 

To be continued…

Love what you have read and want to experience Sicily? Click here for details of my 14 Day Sicilian Tour travelling in 2024

Understanding the Hand Gestures of Italians

The Other Italian Language

Sicily is known for its unique culture and traditions, and one aspect of this culture is the use of hand gestures, or “gesture language,” in communication. The Italian language is not only renowned for its melodic words but also for the hand gestures that accompany them. About 250 hand gestures have been identified and are used by Italians on a daily basis. Sicily is known for its unique culture and traditions, and one aspect of this culture is the use of hand gestures, or “gesture language,” in communication. Naturally, the question arises: where does this unique custom come from?

Theories suggest that the iconic hand gestures are a result of a long history of Italy being invaded by many nations that imposed their languages, cultures and mannerisms. From the Ancient Greek colonization along the Mediterranean coast to subsequent invasions by the Carolingians, Normans, Visigoths, Arabs and Germans, these hand gestures developed as a means of communication among people with no common language – and have stuck around ever since.

There is a vast variety of hand gestures, but here are the top 8 recommendations which may come in handy when you want to add emphasis to what you are communicating in Italian. Some of the most commonly used Sicilian hand gestures include:

“THE CORNUTO” (also known as the “malocchio”):It is used to ward off the “evil eye” or as an insult meaning “cuckold.”

ACTION – This gesture involves forming a fist with the thumb sticking out between the index and middle fingers. 

 

NUN SINNI PARRA –  It can not be done

Literally  it translates as ‘don’t even mention it’, something that absolutely can not be considered. When a Sicilian is not quite willing to do something, the issue should not be mentioned in front of him, or the reactions can be unpredictable. It is something that totally upsets the person who is listening.

ACTION – The Sicilian shows this mood by putting the high part of the  hand folded between the chin and the neck and then moving it forward.

 

TANTICCHIA – A BIT 

 Generally the gesture is accompanied by a sad expression, in order to emphasize the contrast between the lack and the desire of abundance.

ACTION – The thumb and middle finger touch each other to express a serious lack of something.

 

SI TI PIGGHIU! – If I catch you!

During your trip to Sicily you will often hear a mother screaming this sentence to his son suggesting dire consequences. Literally it translates as ‘If I catch you’, and it is a sort of reaction to something negative that has been committed by someone and has to be punished somehow.

ACTION – To represent the threat, Sicilians place the entire hand, inside the mouth,  between the teeth, after finishing the sentence.

 

ACCURA –   BEWARE / OCCHIO (“WATCH OUT”)

Literally translated as ‘beware’, in the sense of ‘keep your eyes open’, This is a warning gesture, meaning ‘STAI ATTENTO’, “beware” or “watch out”. It is a real invitation to pay special attention, as an apparently peaceful situation could turn into something bad or because something could turn out to be disadvantageous.

ACTION –  It is performed by lightly placing the index tip on the cheekbone under the eye and pulling slightly to open up the eye a little wider.

 

BONU – APPETIZING

 With this gesture Sicilians indicate that something is appetizing in terms of taste or sight.

ACTION – The index is at the center of the cheek and makes some swinging movements, pushing on the skin.

 

‘NZE/ NONZI – NO

And finally here is one of the most popular features in the world, the way in which the Sicilians raise their heads upwards, producing a sound that may be transcribed with ‘nze’ to say no to something.

 

NON MI INTERESSA (“I DON’T CARE”)

One of the most famous gestures, the so-called “chin flick” means “Non mi interessa!” – I don’t care.

ACTION – This is formed by flicking the back of one’s fingers under the chin.

 

L’OMBRELLO (“ABSOLUTELY NOT!”)

L’ombrello (“the umbrella”) is a common gesture  which mimics hanging an umbrella on a hook. This is a “colourful” (and rather rude) way to tell people to get lost if they ask for huge favours, like borrowing money. Considered uncouth.

 

COSÌ COSÌ (SO AND SO)

This gesture is used to communicate when something hasn’t quite hit the mark. If you are asked whether you like a meal, a movie or anything else, and you are quite unimpressed this is  a great non-verbal way to express it.

ACTION – It is performed by alternatively turning the hand palm up and palm down. 

 

MA VA VA (“GET LOST”)

 It’s commonly used, and once  the irony of the gesture is mastered,  feel free to deploy it at will! But be warned, it can turn nasty – particularly  when the swinging arm looks as if it’s about to turn into a slap.

ACTION – This usually involves an outstretched arm that is chopped up and down, the message is unequivocal: “Get lost.”

SI VABBE’! (“YEAH, RIGHT!”)

This mocking gesture is used to express mistrust in someone who is exaggerating or making up a story.

ACTION – It involves the movement of the forearm in circles accompanied by raised eyebrows and bottom jaw slightly pulled down.

MI STAI QUI (“I CAN’T STAND YOU”)

 It simply means: “I can’t stand you.”

ACTION – While this gesture involves a forearm held horizontally against the stomach, it’s neither a gesture expressing hunger nor an invitation to lunch.

CHE CAPOLAVORO! (“WHAT A MASTERPIECE!”)

Last but not least is the gesture which has become the symbol of Italian-level quality. This is the best way to show appreciation when words aren’t enough. Usually used in relation to food, it can be used in any context expressing appreciation for a true masterpiece, or as the Italians would say – UN VERO CAPOLAVORO!

ACTION -When someone puts their 5 fingertips together and brings them to their mouth for a symbolic kiss you know you have outdone yourself.  

Check out the videos below for more on Italian Hand gestures and their meanings.

Love what you have read and want to experience Sicily? Click here for details of my 14 Day Sicilian Tour travelling in 2024

The Gastronomic Traditions of Puglia

The Gastronomic Tradition of Puglia

The Apulian cuisine is a simple cuisine linked above all to the work of the land, which has been able to elaborate typical dishes with many flavors and aromas. There are four main ingredients in this gastronomy: oil, wheat, vegetables and fish. From the numerous olive groves we obtain that oil which represents about a third of the total Italian production. Durum wheat is also grown in Puglia, which is the origin of innumerable types of pasta and the tasty Apulian bread. Very widespread and of high quality are the fruit and vegetable productions, the basis of very original dishes. In fact, Apulian cuisine boasts a rich variety of vegetables and products grown in the lands overlooking the sea or in those in the interior of the region. Finally, overlooking the waters of the Adriatic Sea on one side and the Ionian Sea on the other one, the region can enjoy freshly caught fish and seafood that is always available.

Rich in flavors and aromas, Apulian cuisine is renowned throughout the world for its special authenticity. It is a cuisine made of love and passion, of tradition and wisdom handed down from mother to daughter. Flavors and colors blend on the table, but a contribution to the flavor and its success is provided by the raw material: from the Polignano carrot to the Torre Guaceto or Lucera tomato, from the Galatina chicory to the white one from Otranto, up to the renowned red onion of Acquaviva, there are several vegetables and fruits characteristic of the cultivations in the region.

Simple dishes coming mostly from the poor and peasant tradition. Each season is characterized by its aromas and its typical recipes. Starting with the beloved orecchiette with turnip tops, or orecchiette with horsemeat sauce. Walking through the narrow streets of some cities such as Polignano a Mare, Ostuni, Lecce or Gallipoli, it is possible to meet housewives at work dedicated to the preparation of cavatelli, strascinati, troccoli and orecchiette. In Puglia, handmade pasta is seasoned above all with vegetables: pasta and broccoli florets, pasta and cabbage, macaroni and aubergines, pasta and broad bean purée, spaghetti and chicory. In addition to the delicious first courses, Puglia is renowned throughout Italy for its special products such as bread from Altamura, or the tasty focaccia from Bari, vegetables in batter and many other delicacies with an unforgettable flavour.

Cheeses also play an important role: they have strong flavors such as cacioricotta, canestrato, ricotta, or some typical regional dairy products such as mozzarella, stracciatella or burrata.
And the meat? As in all of southern Italy, beef is scarce, even if the Sunday dish of brasciole with sauce excels; on the other hand, game, poultry, pork, wild rabbit and above all sheep meat are widely used, where the region is in third place in national production, after Sardinia and Lazio.

 

Let’s not forget that fish is very abundant on the entire Apulian, Adriatic and Ionian coast. From Bari octopus, to anchovies that are eaten raw; from seafood to oysters cultivated according to a custom that dates back many centuries; from the mussels of Taranto, which are often cooked “arracanate” (that is, covered with breadcrumbs and parsley, with garlic, oil, oregano and tomato), to the rock mullets of Polignano.

 

Let’s see in particular some of these dishes of the Apulian culinary tradition:

Orecchiette are the typical Apulian dish and symbol of traditional pasta. They are a true icon of Apulian cuisine and are now renowned throughout the world. Made with fresh handmade pasta with flour, water and salt, their small ear shape goes perfectly with any type of sauce. The most famous are orecchiette with turnip greens and anchovies, orecchiette with meat sauce and orecchiette with tomato, ricotta and basil. Orecchiette are typical of Bari, but their historical origins are uncertain: some claim they were introduced during the Middle Ages, others trace them back to the Jewish community residing in the area during the Norman-Swabian domination. The fact is that even today this pasta is among the most appreciated Apulian first courses both by the local population and by visitors and can be found cooked with different seasonings. Of course, the most classic is orecchiette accompanied by turnip tops, oil, salt and anchovy fillets.

Broad beans and chicory is another dish of traditional Apulian cuisine, certainly the most representative dish of Apulian peasant culture. It is    smoothly blended broad beans combined with olive oil and seasoning and chicory, served with croutons. Perfect combination of legumes and wild vegetables, simple but nutritious ingredients, with a really tasty result.
 
Bombette, another Apulian dish, is a meat-based specialty born and widespread throughout the Itria Valley.
Made from thin slices of pork neck which enclose a filling of abundant caciocavallo cheese, bacon and spices. Typically cooked on a skewer / spit in a wood oven, they are eaten in one bite. A unique culinary experience, which can also become cultural if you eat them during the village festivals.

Pancotto is a simple and poor winter dish that arises from the need to use stale bread in a peasant civilization that could not and did not want to waste bread that was no longer fresh. A dish seasoned with a mixture of wild vegetables, called “ammischk”. A dish that is  typically Apulian with small variations from town to town.

Octopus “alla pignata” is also among the specialties of Apulian food.  In Salento, octopus alla pignata is an original dish that has its roots in popular tradition. It is prepared with the addition of potatoes, tomato, onion and celery to enhance the flavor of the octopus. The cooking of the octopus in the pignata, a terracotta container with very thick walls, which makes it ideal for slow cooking, is not accidental.
 

Among the most loved typical Apulian foods there is certainly the Tiella, a sort of Apulian paella that takes its name from the pot in which it is traditionally cooked. It is precisely in the tiella that rice, potatoes and mussels are placed to be mixed with onion, tomatoes, garlic, parsley and breadcrumbs and finally baked. It was once enjoyed on holidays while today it is one of the most consumed recipes both hot in the cooler seasons and in summer as a cold and complete dish.

Stuffed aubergines are a dish that the Apulians love madly. They are incredibly tasty, especially when filled with minced meat or pasta and bread.

Brasciole are horsemeat rolls cooked in the sauce, which must be tasted. Widespread especially between the provinces of Bari and Brindisi, brasciole are a preparation considered among the poor but incredibly succulent dishes, from whose slow cooking a thick and delicious sauce is also obtained, perfect for seasoning pasta.

 

For street food lovers, the Panzerotto can be found in the stalls and rotisseries of every alley in Puglia. It is the classic mezzaluna made with pizza dough and generally filled with mozzarella and tomato. It’s fried and crunchy on the outside and soft and gooey on the inside. This delicious food dates back to the seventeenth century and was also born thanks to the diffusion of tomatoes imported from America.

The Rustico, typically found in the city of Lecce is a round-shaped savory, flakey pastry filled with béchamel sauce, a little bit of tomato sauce, and mozzarella, although the latter does not always make an appearance.

After delicious first courses and very tasty second courses, it is impossible not to mention some of the best traditional Apulian sweets: Cartellate (or “carteddate” in the local dialect) are puff pastry pancakes sprinkled with vincotto, honey, spices and almonds, which are typical of days of celebration and enrich the Apulian tables especially at Christmas. Their particular shape is said to recall the halo of the Child Jesus or the crown of thorns of the Jesus on the cross. 

The Apulian sweets then reserve the same great surprises with dishes of extraordinary goodness including Casatiello, Zeppole, Rosata of almonds, Boconotti, Pasticciotto Leccese, taralli with vincotto and many other delicacies.

Love what you have read and want to experience Gastronomic Puglia?  Click here for details of my Gastronomic Discover Puglia Tour travelling in 2024

What’s so special about “Minni Di Virgini” from Catania

What are “Minni Di Virgini”

Minni di virgini, cassata di Sant’Agata, or minni di Sant’Agata typically are made of a round marzipan shell moulded into a smooth half sphere. Looking like the shape of a small breast they are often served with white porcelain sheen icing topped with candied cherries. There are a couple of varieties you will find particularly in Catania where they are celebrated on the 5th of February for St Agatha’s saint day. According to experts, there are a couple of versions of these little cakes most of them have an outer layer of short crust pastry but their fillings change, one is filled with pastry cream or a type of vanilla custard, covered in pink icing and topped with a candied cherry, the other is traditionally filled with sweet sheeps milk ricotta cheese, chocolate, and candied citron or candied squash. Not to be confused with the “Sicilian cassata” with is of a similar combination although using sponge cake and covered with marzipan. The other Minni di Virgini you will find is filled with a type of cream filling flavored with chocolate and candied orange peel. 

The story behind these pastries is that they were inspired by Saint Agatha,  who is embraced as the patron saint of Catania.  St. Agatha had her breasts cut off in martydom and is depicted forever carrying them on a plate.  The pastries called ‘virgin’s breasts’ were created in her honor by the sisters of the Monastero della Vergine in Palermo and later adapted by the Catalians who, in the interest of anatomical correctness, added the cherry on top.  For reasons of modesty, minni di virgini were called cassatine by the nuns.  At one time, minni di virgini were baked in monasteries, now they are available in the pasticcerie or pastry shops though out Sicily but particularly in Catania.

The Story of St Agatha

St. Agatha, also known as Agatha of Sicily, is one of the most highly venerated virgin martyrs of the Catholic Church. It is believed that she was born around 231 in either Catania or Palermo, Sicily to a rich and noble family.

From her very early years, the notably beautiful Agatha dedicated her life to God. She was living as a Christian in Catania during a period of intense religious persecution, she became a consecrated virgin, a state in life where young women choose to remain celibate and give themselves wholly to the Church in a life of prayer and service. That did not stop men from desiring her and making unwanted advances toward her.

One of the men who desired Agatha was Quintianus, a high diplomatic. He thought he could force her to turn away from her vow and force her to marry. His persistent proposals were consistently spurned by Agatha, so Quintianus, knowing she was a Christian during the persecution of Decius, had her arrested and brought before the judge. He was the Judge.

He expected her to give in to his demands when she was faced with torture and possible death, but she simply reaffirmed her belief in God by praying.

To force her to change her mind, Quintianus had her imprisoned in a brothel. Agatha never lost her confidence in God, even though she suffered a month of assaults and efforts to get her to abandon her vow to God and go against her virtue. Quintianus heard of her calm strength and ordered that she be brought before him once again. During her interrogation, she told him that to be a servant of Jesus Christ was her true freedom.

Enraged, Quintianus sent her off to prison instead of back to the brothel a move intended to make her even more afraid, but it was probably a great relief to her. Agatha continued to proclaim Jesus as her Savior, Lord, Life and Hope. Quintianus ordered her to be tortured. He had her stretched on a rack to be torn with iron hooks, burned with torches, and whipped. Noticing Agatha was enduring all the torture with a sense of cheer, he commanded she be subjected to a worse form of torture, that her breasts be cut off with pincers – often seen with her in painting and religious images of the saint.

He then sent her back to prison with an order of no food or medical attention. But the Lord gave her all the care she needed. He was her Sacred Physician and protector. Agatha had a vision of the apostle, St. Peter, who comforted her and healed her wounds through his prayers.

After four days, Quintianus ignored the miraculous cure of her wounds. He had her stripped naked and rolled over naked over hot coals and fragments of broken pottery. When she was returned to prison, Agatha prayed, tradition has it that, although her breasts were miraculously restored by Saint Peter, she died on February 5, 251,

She is commonly featured in religious art with shears, tongs, or breasts on a plate.

The History of the Nuns and Sicilian Sweets

Minni di virgini have been a specialty of Sicilian convents for hundreds of years, but in recent history, they’ve become associated with Catania’s celebrations. It might seem odd that convents or Catholic festivities would embrace breast-shaped cakes. In Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s 1958 novel The Leopard, the narrator recoils in horror as he beholds minni di virgini, which he calls “a profane caricature of St. Agatha.”

One of the easiest ways to access the saint is by eating minni di Sant’Agata, especially since they’re available year-round in Catania. It’s impossible to pinpoint when, exactly, these anatomical cakes went from pagan treat to saintly sweet, but Sicilian nuns are credited with popularizing them. Before they became associated with Agatha, early versions of the cakes were simply known as minni di virgini, which may imply that they were a specialty of the nuns of the Monastero di Vergini in Palermo.

Plato, plumbing, and pastry might not be around today if not for Italian monks and nuns, who are credited with saving Western culture in the tumultuous centuries known as the Dark Ages. As barbarian hordes conquered and reshaped western Europe, monasteries and convents became safe havens. Classical literature was protected, studied, and translated by scholar monks.

They preserved medicinal knowledge from the ancient world and used Roman plumbing systems to pull water through their cloister fountains. Nuns took in orphans and raised them. (Esposito, meaning “exposed,” is a common Italian surname given to babies left on the doorsteps of convents.) They also baked elaborate, labor-intensive pastries from ancient recipes that they sold to the public to support themselves.

Not only were the convents bastions of tradition; they were (and are, where they remain) the most authentic source for classic Sicilian sweets. Some monastries still producing sweets are monastery of Sant’Andrea in Palermo making cannoli. In Agrigento, the Santo Spirito monastery of cloistered Cistercian nuns, famed for the sweet couscous with crushed pistachios that’s made there. But perhaps the most famous baker is Maria Grammatico, in the mountain peak town of Erice. Grammatico’s life story has been recounted in the book Bitter Almonds, which she coauthored with Mary Taylor Simeti (William Morrow & Co., 1994). She was raised in an orphanage run by Franciscan sisters, where she helped in the preparation of sweets. Deciding against the nun’s life, Grammatico opened a modest pasticceria, which has since grown into one of the largest pastry businesses in Sicily.

Grammatico, who is now 70, makes an amazing assortment of traditional cookies and small pastries, but her true talent lies in frutta di Martorana (marzipan fruit, named after the Palermo convent where they originated) shaped from almonds she grinds into a paste daily and paints in realistic colors.

St Agatha. Her tomb was originally in Sicily in a cave, but then her body was taken to Constantinople for about nine years, before being brought back to Catania in 1126. It now rests in the Cathedral here in Catania The Cathedral also houses the tomb of Catania’s famous opera composer, Bellini.

     

Catania La Pescherio Markets Dominique Rizzo

Catania and “La Pescheria” Markets

One of my favourite Sicilian tours takes in the region of Eastern Sicily, the rich lands surrounding the famous Mount Etna, the provinces of Catania, Syracusa and Ragusa, the towns of chocolate-loving Modica and the island of Ortigia and the alluring Aeolian Islands. We welcome you to charming, lively Catania which is, after Palermo, the second-largest city in Sicily.

Western Sicily for Food Wine and Culture

Tour Western Sicily, personally guided by Dominique Rizzo to take an in-depth look at of Sicily’s most historic cities and sights.

trips to Sicily - Dominique Rizzo

On your trips to Sicily, Caltagirone is a must-do

Perched on a hilltop like many hidden treasures is the town of Caltagirone, the town of ceramics.

A place which always takes my breath away on my trips to Sicily, is Caltagirone.

Trips to Sicily - Dominique Rizzo

A long time ago, the soil here was perfect for making the original terracotta pots used by the Greeks. The original designs were usually yellows and browns with geometric patterns. Influences from the Arabs brought the art of firing. Pottery also became highly decorative with the introduction of colours such as blues and yellows. Designs became more intricate.

The ceramic stairs

On your trips to Sicily, you will find a major interest in this tiny town with it’s wonderful staircase studded with decorated tiles. Colourful hand painted tiles line each of the 142 stairs. They entice you to journey to the top where the views of the town are magnificent. During the festival of the Madonna, the locals will line the stairs beautifully with tubs of flowers precisely placed. They form a floral design when you view the staircase from the bottom or top. In the evening they line the stairs with candles. This makes for an amazing photo and unique visiting experience.

 

 

They are often studded with the iconic ceramic pine cones that feature in many ceramic shops throughout Sicily.   The road leading into Caltagirione is lined with vases and glorious coloured cones.

trips to Sicily - Dominique Rizzo Food Tour

They remind you that this is the town of the vases. While browsing the many stores, you will notice that the ceramics come in many designs. With traditional and artisan patterns, some historically original and others unique to each artist. You can often find artists hand painting the ceramics as you enter in the stores.

 

  Dominique Rizzo Food Tours trips to Sicily - Dominique Rizzo Food Tourstrips to Sicily - Dominique Rizzo Food Tours

 

The ceramics are not only a sight to behold in Caltagirone, they are a fantastic experience of Sicilian culture that you can enjoy on my Sicilian Tours.

For the latest news on trips to Italy, go to Dom’s travels to Italy and Sicily, and her next tour dates

Any questions? Contact me.

Italian cheese - Dominique Rizzo Italy Food Tours

All About Italian Cheese

Italians and Sicilians in particular do cheese so well, that’s why I love to incorporate cheese as part of my Sicilian food tours!

Dominique Rizzo - Italy tour

Why I personally would choose an escorted organised tour

 

As a businesswoman who wants to travel, have time to relax and be part of unique food wine and cultural experiences this is why I personally would choose an escorted organised tour.

 

Why I personally would choose an escorted organised tour - by Tom Barrett Unsplash

Image by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

I recently organised my own research trip flying into Rome, then onto Naples, the Amalfi coast, Puglia and Malta.

why I would personally choose an escorted organised tour. - Map of Puglia Dominique Rizzo Tour

I am then heading to Sicily, meeting two tour groups to host a couple of my Sicilian Food Tours.

As a businesswoman, running my restaurant/cooking school, co-owner of a Wine Bar and organising my own Food Tour Business, I found the whole process of also having to organise this tour for myself exhausting and extremely time-consuming.

Why I personally would choose an escorted organised tour -. by Matthew Henry on UnsplashImage by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

As I am not 100% confident with driving around Europe nor did I really want to, trying to coordinate all of the times for trains, buses, boats and planes to arrive, depart and transfer me around, plus the extra expense and tedious task of organising the transfers and taxis to get myself and my luggage to the trains, buses, boats and planes on time took much more planning and a chunk out of my budget than I had anticipated.

The domino effect of my precision planning for my travel itinerary relied heavily upon the timing and therefore I felt anxious that one missed train, delayed flight or cancelled boat and the whole trip would collapse. This was all before I had even started to look at hotels.

Next was researching the best areas to stay in each city, to then work out a ground itinerary to visit all of the main sights, attractions and places of interest. Firstly, I had to book the hotels, confirm, pay the deposits and ensure that these had all gone through successfully, calling or emailing each hotel individually to again confirm that the booking was there.

 why I would personally choose an escorted organised tour. image by Fancycrave on Unsplash

What next? Of course, I could buy a travel book and follow their written lead….who wants to walk around by themselves with their head in a book…not me…   I would miss everything. I also had the added thought, how am I going to know what to see, where to go and the best of the best of each place I am visiting? Another couple of weeks of organising and costly bookings for day tours, private guides and ticket prices passed.

After my months of planning I had become quite stressed and anxious about it all and I had not even started to organise most importantly where I was going to eat, what activities or speciality unique experiences I wanted to see and be part of or how was I going to get to see behind the touristy side of each of these locations and get into the real culture.

Why I personally would choose an escorted organised tour - Simson Petrol on UnsplashImage by Simson Petrol on Unsplash

After I had accumulated a kilo of paperwork for confirmed hotel bookings, tickets, vouchers and transfer details, I then thought…this is precisely why I would choose to do an escorted tour.