Hiking in Zingaro National Park, tasting natural wines, grubbing on cured tuna sandwich.
Before I left for Europe this summer I told myself that each time I left a country I would think of a word to describe it. One single word which I believed could encapsulate every sight, smell, taste, and sound. One world to describe every experience I had in that place.
Upon flying into the Rome airport I realized that I had set the expectation too low, well too low for Italy at least. I instantly knew my word, movement. While I have been to Italy twice before, I was much younger and I noticed different things. Then I was more preoccupied by all of the Kinder Bueno’s that I could buy, rather this trip I was mesmerized by the people. I was struck by the lines within which they were constantly moving, with their feet, with their hands, with their mouths. The underlying hum of sound that became a white noise which I expected to hear in every room. The airport alone had opened my eyes to this idea of life in motion.
Now with every new place that you travel there is a certain amount of adjustment. Of course when flying into a new city the sounds you hear, scents you smell, colors you see are all amplified. They are new to you and therefore they shock you, hence the phrase “culture shock.” Yet in Italy I found that this sense of extraordinary experience never seemed to fade, rather than adjusting I was engulfed, this movement, this culture was so powerful it literally swallowed me whole and really…never spit me out.
In fact upon leaving Italy, this pit emerged deep deep inside my stomach. The kind of hole or weight you feel when saying goodbye to someone close to you and knowing you won’t see them in awhile. I could not find the words for this feeling in English, but I would later find the word in Portugal, saldar – a sweet longing, a fond memory of something beautiful that has past.
I spent most of my time in Italy in Sicily, with only a few days in Rome on both sides of the trip. First recommendation and stop was Fiumicino, Italy, a small seaside town just a ten-minute drive from the Fiumicino airport in Rome. This is a GREAT place to stay the night if you fly into Rome late or fly out early in the morning. Stay at Domus Lina, it’s a clean, quaint, very Italian hotel – located right across the street from a great local seafood restaurant. The town is actually a very popular weekend getaway for Romans, famous for its small beaches and fresh fish. Walk around the town especially near the harbor, then stop in at one of the many street cafes for an aperitif before chowing down on some seafood pasta.
After flying into Palermo early in the morning, we (my parents and I) headed directly for a small hill town by the name of Scopello. Here, this beautiful stone hill town looks more like something you would expect in Tuscany rather than Sicily. Wander the small cobblestone streets and grab a quick cured tuna sandwich from Pipo. Tuna is a local specialty and Pipo knows it best, if you have time, sit down and enjoy your food in his garden overlooking the water. If you want to stay longer in this area there is truly a hidden gem, the Tonnara di Scopello, a tuna fishery turned amazing hotel with its own private cove!
Next we headed out to San Vito Lo Capo. A small beach town, and huge favorite of many Sicilians for vacations as well. Here you will find stunning white sand beaches and turquoise water surrounded by massive volcanic mountains. Definitely check the weather before heading here – the tall mountains can sometimes attract rain clouds, sadly this is kind of what happened when I was there. However, don’t let the weather hold you back as the town is still quite pleasant even when it is a bit cloudy. While there is one main drag full of perfectly delicious food, the prices tend to be larger and the portions smaller. Have a drink at the lively cocktail bar located right next to the church square. They have an unlimited buffet of appetizers and an extensive cocktail menu. The place has a great atmosphere and perfect for people watching.
If you make your way out to San Vito, you must walk through Zingaro National Park. It takes about two hours to hike through one way. The single track trail winds through the coastal mountains and occasionally drops into private swimming holes. Gaze up at the mountains from the ocean – you will not believe your own eyes.
Despite being a fairly small island, Sicily is very geographically diverse. The coastline is particularly stunning, however, the mountain regions are known for having exquisite wines and farm fresh food. Stop at Agriturismo Bergi – the homemade ricotta cheese and honey selection at the breakfast bar will blow your mind. If you’re into the agriturismo ~style~ you MUST stay at Baglio Occhipinti Resort. Started by a family of organic winemakers and architects, this place is an aesthetic dream. Quite literally drop off the face of the earth for a few days and hide within the restored stone walls of an ancient winery – every morning will start with fresh eggs and orange juice, and every afternoon will start with a bottle of their SP68 wine by the pool.
I won’t say much about this place because it is already established as a must-see of Sicily. If your looking for luxury look no further than Hotel Le Calette – channel your inner 007 and enjoy a cocktail in their private cove. If you can bring yourself to take a break from the resort life one night, make the short trek to Osteria Bacchus. Our experience here was indescribable – lost somewhere between the extensive amounts of artisanal food and the endless supply of Moonshine-esque wine. Go here, you won’t forget it.
Actually a very very small island off of Siracusa, this city feels as though it has been frozen in time. Comparable to the streets of Cuba but with a strong influence from its Greek bones. We stayed at an adorable hotel called Hotel Gutkowski great location and a rooftop and a very reasonable price. We enjoyed the homemade biscuits and expansive breakfast each morning! I would highly recommend staying in Ortigia, even if you want to explore Siracusa as well. Ortigia is much more quaint and only a short walk across the bridge to see Siracusa!
Don’t miss: Just get lost and wander the streets. There are a couple of natural wine bars.
Another well-known town on the island. I recommend splitting up your stay. Half in the upper town and half down at the cove of Isola Bella. Each room at Hotel Isola Bella has a view of the island itself, a breakfast buffet that quite literally is like your own private bakery, and its own beach club. Highly recommend – especially because the upper town of Taormina is swarmed by local and foreign tourists nearly every day. The scene along the main promenade is fun to watch for a day or two, but exhausting if you are planning to stay for longer.
Don’t miss: Bar Turisi in Castelmola, old greek theater, Michelin recommended restaurants, walk the main street and people watch.
This mountain is truly not what meets the eye…especially from the streets of Taormina. An active volcano, the crater appears to be barren and snow capped, yet the rich volcanic soil leaves the base extremely fertile. The landscape is unlike anything I have ever seen before, you will be shocked by the stark contrast between the vast expanses of lava rock, highlighter yellow flowers and lush green forests. There are many unique ways to experience the landscape, however we opted for a particularly unique and rather challenging venture.
An Airbnb experience gone rouge is the best way to describe it. Led by Alessandro – truly an eccentric Italian daredevil – all in all the experience was indescribable. We rode bikes through forests and lava expanses comparable to only to the landscape that you would imagine on Mars. The adventure took nearly eight hours and at times felt like it would never end, but don’t get me wrong I say this in the best way possible. Ending at a small local cafe we feasted on stuffed pizza and ice cold Chinos (San Pellegrino’s version of Coca Cola and a local favorite). Alessandro was one of those people who you meet while traveling and in only a few hours feel as though you will be lifelong friends. He truly opened the gates to a place that he so clearly holds very close to his heart. His passion for this mountain shines through him in every way, and by the end of the experience – I cherished the mountain as if it was my own childhood home.
Don’t miss: A town famous for honey, and wineries.
This city was our last stop of the trip. To be honest many people told us to avoid the city at all costs. In many ways this city is as people describe it – a crumbling ruin of what was a great city. Yet our stay there was absolutely phenomenal. Stay at Porta di Castro, the owner has such a passion for design and a unique eye. Built in what was once an old church, the entire hotel consisting of only about five rooms, is filled with antiques. The nostalgic antiques which fill each room from floor to ceiling are cleverly contrasted with sleek modern architectural design. This hotel is a gem and paradise within the chaotic city.
Don’t miss: The harbor, the market, the antique shops, just walk around, there are a couple of cool parks.
Bella spent a summer in Europe, including Italy.