Updated: Oct 4, 2018
Although only three kilometres off the coast of Italy, Sicily is a world away from Italy in landscape, atmosphere and culture. A hybrid dialect is spoken here and many place names ring with the Arabic influence and heritage.
The history of Sicily is as fascinating as it is violent. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans and Bourbon Spaniards, as well as the Germans and the Allies have invaded this island influencing every aspect of Sicilian life.
1. The Layers of History
From the teeming markets in Palermo to the Greek temples of Selinunte and Agrigento. Interestingly the Greeks (750 – 215 BC) were here long before the Romans (218 BC – 468 AD) and their mark is still present with plenty of excavated ruins to explore.
When the Romans arrived they cleared the forests for shipbuilding and the resulting fields became “The Granary of Rome” or “the nurse at whose breast the Roman people is fed”. They sacked a lot of the Greek temples but built plenty of villas. Many still remain, like well-preserved Villa Romana del Casale, which has been excavated and is well worth a visit.
When the Arabs arrived they made Palermo one of the most populous and cosmopolitan centres in the world. Part of their legacy is the rows of citrus trees.
2. The Food
There is an old Sicilian culinary saying, ‘what grows together goes together’, and this helps to bring together the distinct cuisines of all the conquering nations that are represented in Sicily. Think tomatoes, aubergines, garlic and basil or blood orange and fennel. The Moorish-influenced fish couscous is another example and it replaces the risotto of mainland Italy.
Fresh produce abounds, most notable are all kinds of citrus, olives, pistachios, almonds and figs. You can’t forget the spectacular seafood – the markets teem with it, as do the restaurant menus.
Another thing Sicilians are good at is sweets like cannoli, deep-fried pastry tubes piped full of creamy ricotta. Or granita con brioche, a frozen sweet granita-filled brioche bun eaten for breakfast.
On our Essential Sicily Tour, you will take a fun and informative tour of the markets and try the famous street food in Palermo (think arancini) and learn to cook some of the local specialties in a cooking school that overlooks coastal vineyards and the sea beyond.
3. The Wine
From the volcanic slopes of Mt Etna to the fortified sweet wines of Marsala, Sicily is the fastest growing grape area in Europe. The consistent sunshine, reliable rainfall and cold nights are perfect growing conditions for grapes. The dry coastal winds mean there is very little rot and mildew and, therefore, few chemical sprays are needed.
On our Essential Sicily Tour you will have plenty of chances to sample the local wines and have at least one tutored tasting.
4. The Diverse Landscapes
From aquatic cliffs, nature reserves and beautiful beaches to the mountainous interior covered in wild flowers blowing in the wind, and the striking, often smoking form of Mt Etna – there is much to explore.
There are villages precariously perched on hillsides overlooking plains of agricultural land and other villages that stretch out into the sea.
There are plenty of smaller islands to explore such as the Egadi Islands and also, the beautiful Aeolian Islands off Sicily’s northern coast.
5. The People
Sicily is one of the most densely populated islands in the Mediterranean and the people are as diverse as the landscape with pale 'gingers' from the Normans to the dark descendants of the Tunisian fishermen.
What they do have in common, however, is their hospitable, kind and generous nature. Many of them cannot speak much English but if you use even a little Italian (or Sicilian) they will be happy to communicate with you, often with a lot of gesticulation to make themselves understood.
Do you feel like exploring ancient Greek temples and varied landscapes; sampling and learning about the food and wine with an experienced guide and some wonderful locals?
Join us on The Active Gourmet Essential Sicily Tour
29 April to 16 May, 2019
Call us on 0800 023 663 or email Gail at email@example.com
For information on our other 2019 tours click here.
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