Tag Archive for: the best of sicily

Discover the Beauty of Sicily in June

Five reasons why June is the best month to Visit Sicily

“Are you looking for a vacation destination that combines stunning beaches, delicious food, rich culture, and beautiful weather?” Look no further than Sicily in June! The island of Sicily, located in the Mediterranean Sea, is a treasure trove of history, art, and natural beauty. June is the perfect month to visit as the weather is warm and sunny, the crowds are smaller, and the island is bursting with vibrant colours and flavours. From the ancient ruins of Agrigento to the crystal-clear waters of the Aeolian Islands, there is something for everyone in Sicily. So, pack your bags and get ready for an unforgettable June vacation in the heart of the Mediterranean! 

Here are 5 reasons why June is the best month to experience all that Sicily has to offer:

The weather is perfect for outdoor activities:

With temperatures averaging between 25-30°C, June is the perfect time to take advantage of the warm weather and explore this breathtaking island . Whether you’re looking to hike through the island’s natural beauty, visit the many historical sites, swim in its crystal-clear waters, or lounge on its beaches, June is the ideal time to experience the beauty and diversity of Sicily.

Enjoy longer days

June is the start of the summer solstice, which means the days are at their longest. You’ll have more time to explore the island’s many sights and attractions. From the ancient ruins at the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, to the sandy beaches of Cefalu, or the stunning baroque architecture of Noto and Modica, there is something for everyone.

 

Festivals and events:

June is a month packed with festivals and events celebrating Sicily’s rich cultural heritage. To name a few, there is the famous “Infiorata” flower festival in Noto, or the “Fiera di San Giovanni” market in Trapani featuring a colourful parade of floats and fireworks, or the vibrant markets in the capital Palermo. These are just some of the opportunities available to experience traditional Sicilian life and culture.

 Low crowds:

As June is considered the shoulder season, there are fewer crowds in Sicily compared to July and August. This means you can explore the island’s many historical and cultural sites at a more leisurely pace. It’s the ideal time to visit Sicily’s famed active volcano Mt Etna, which is a popular destination with travellers during peak times.

Local Cuisine:

No list is complete without mentioning the culinary delights on offer!

The favourable weather conditions mean June is peak season for local produce. There is an abundance of the tastiest seasonal fruits and vegetables, and of course locally caught seafood. Enjoy Sicily’s traditional dishes such as arancini or caponata, made with the freshest ingredients or sample mouth-watering seafood, there is no doubt that Sicily’s food will be the highlight of your visit.

 

Whether you are fascinated by Sicily’s rich and varied history, are wanting a gastronomic experience like no other, or simply looking for a relaxing beach vacation, June is the ideal time to experience the beauty and culture of Sicily. Don’t miss out on this amazing destination – plan your trip now and discover for yourself why June is the best month to visit this Mediterranean paradise.

Why not join me on my Savouring Sicily – A Tour for the Senses Travelling in June. For more information and to view the itinerary visit  https://dominiquerizzo.com/sicily-food-tour/

Don’t Go It Alone: Why Organized Tours are Perfect for Solo Travelers

Don't Go It Alone: Why Organized Tours are Perfect for Solo Travelers

Traveling on your own can be an exhilarating and liberating experience. The freedom to go where you want, when you want, and do what you want. As much as we may love the idea of solo travel, it also comes with its own set of challenges.

What if I told you that there’s a way to enjoy the best of both worlds?

The answer is simple: book an organized tour!

Here is 8 reasons why booking an organised tour will save you more

and ensure a more enjoyable trip for solo travellers. 

 

You’ll feel safe and secure:

Organized tours prioritize the safety of their guests. We have established protocols in place to ensure that you feel secure throughout your trip.

You’ll save time and energy:

Let the tour operator/me handle the logistics of transportation and accommodation, while you relax and enjoy your trip. With our local knowledge and connections, we can help you make the most of your time in a new destination.

You’ll have a stress-free itinerary:

Planning an itinerary can be a daunting task, but booking into an organized tour means all the details and every details can be organised for you. Enjoy a comprehensive itinerary that highlights the best of your destination without having to worry about where to go or what to see.

You’ll save money:

Organized tours often offer an all-in-one package at a lower cost than if you were to plan everything independently.

You’ll make new friends:

Traveling with a group of like-minded individuals on an organized tour is a great way to make new friends and create lasting memories.

You’ll make the most of your time:

Organized tours are ideal for those with limited time who want to see and do as much as possible. With a pre-arranged itinerary, you can make the most of your trip.

You’ll gain a unique local perspective:

Local guides often accompany organized tours. They provide a unique and valuable perspective on your destination. They will take you to places that you may not have discovered on your own and give you a deeper understanding of the local culture.

You’ll have peace of mind:

With an organized tour, you can rely on the tour operator/me to fix any issues that may arise, ensuring you have peace of mind throughout your trip.

So, if you’re considering traveling on your own, then booking an organized tour is a great way to make the most of your solo travel experience.  With all the details taken care of, you can focus on what really matters – enjoying your well-deserved time off! I would love for you join me on one (or more) of my bespoke Food and Wine Tours.

Head over to  https://dominiquerizzo.com/food-tours/ for more information.

You can select an itinerary and immerse yourself in the experience. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at info@dominquerizzo.com.

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

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.

Sicily your perfect holiday - Dominique Rizzo

What’s So Special About Sicily Anyway?

Is it the food? Is it the people? Is it the culture? Is it the history?

Yes, it is all of these things in that wonderful interaction of the slow way of Sicilian life, where little old nonnas (grandmothers) sit outside their front door of the house they have lived in for 50 years; where older men gather in the afternoon to play bocce in the town square;  where the traditional ways of slow cooking are passed on from family to family.

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.

piazza-armerina-villa-romana-di-casale

Historical Sicily – Piazza Armerina, Villa Romana di Casale, Caltagirone

Learn all about Historical Sicily at Piazza Armerina, Villa Romana di Casale and Caltagirone on Dominique Rizzo’s Sicilian tours.

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!