Meet in Syracuse at 9.00 am. (Pre-tour night in Syracuse and 1-hour transfers from Catania airport can be arranged.) Morning visit with a local guide touring the archeological park and magnificent Greek theatre, still used for performances during theatre festivals. Then it’s on to the market, raucous and colorful, with a fabulous variety of fresh produce spilling into the streets. Explore the picturesque quarter of Ortygia, with the amazing Greek temple converted to a Baroque cathedral, and walk through mysterious underground passageways that tell the story of 3000 years of turbulent history. Optional walk along the ramparts of the ancient city. In the early evening, visit a local friend’s workshop, where traditional Sicilian puppets with elaborate costumes are still meticulously handcrafted one by one. Join the lively passeggiata to dinner in the piazza.
Head to the southeastern tip of Sicily, and stop at the newly opened site of Villa Tellaro, to view the stunning Roman mosaics. Continue to the protected coastal oasis of Vendicari, Italy’s most important stopping place for migratory birds, where the wetlands are graced by flamingoes and herons. Follow a path once used as a road by the ancient Greeks, with wild thyme and the magical mandrake plant blossoming above a turquoise sea. Lunch in a fishing village, where the cook greets us as one of her family, and we feast on her authentic style of Sicilian cooking, redolent with the aromatic flavors once brought by the Moors. Drive past almond and lemon groves to the town of Noto, built of soft golden stone that glows in the afternoon light, and visit the glorious cathedral, recently unveiled after an 11-year restoration. Continue to the town of Ragusa Ibla, a delight of picturesque winding streets and sumptuous Baroque churches. Dinner in town.
Today we take a 6-mile walk along an ancient pathway, passing bright green pastures framed in hand-chiseled stone walls, and through a deep, mysterious canyon, the prehistoric home of the cave-dwelling Sikels. Head up to the upper town of Ragusa for a lunch of savory arancini, then sample the creamiest cannoli in an historic pastry shop. Learn how the exquisite marzipan fruits are hand decorated by a master pastry chef, before we walk down the narrow stairways that bring us back to Ibla. This evening we gather for a dinner at Sicily’s only 2-star Michelin restaurant, Il Duomo, where chef Ciccio Sultano’s creations are paired with excellent Sicilian wines.
Transfer to a converted dairy farm, our cooking headquarters near Ragusa, where we’ll be greeted by our chefs. We’ll watch the preparation of cheese from the morning’s milk, and try our hand at shaping the traditional provola cheese. Prepare pasta from the locally grown hard wheat flour, and make fanciful San Giuseppe festival breads that we bake in a wood-burning oven. After lunch, we stroll by the seaside through a nature park to the mouth of the river where giant carp frolic at the water’s edge. Continue to the town of Modica, and follow the intricate stairways up to the stunning Baroque cathedral of San Giorgio, and through the old Arab quarter to our palazzo hotel. Home of the Sicilian nobility for centuries, our stylish rooms have many original features masterfully blended with modern comforts. Free evening for dinner.
For a Sicilian, a walk in the countryside inevitably focuses on food, and we’ll take you on a walk in the bucolic countryside surrounding our home, across the terraced fields of ancient olive and magnificent carob trees, where you learn to identify and gather edible wild greens, herbs and flowers, such as borage, fennel and chard, and how to use them in easy recipes that are at the heart of traditional Sicilian cooking. We’ll bring our finds to Emanuele in our home kitchen, and he’ll cook us a risotto or pasta dish based on our finds. Lunch together overlooking our Mediterranean herb garden, with over 300 aromatic plants scenting the air. In the afternoon, we take an excursion to an olive oil press and taste the fragrant extra virgin olive oil as it is being produced (autumn only). Then head through the narrow alleys of the town of Modica, famous for its dark chocolate, spiced with everything from orange peel to hot pepper, before we vote on the best! Visit the Atelier of designer Ottavia Failla before resting up for dinner. Our final night we’ll feast on the creative cuisine of 1- star Michelin restaurant La Gazza Ladra, in serenely elegant surroundings.
Take a last stroll through Modica before we head through the highest hills of the Monti Iblei and view the old neviere, the stone huts once used for gathering snow. Our winding drive descends through lush orange groves with glimpses of powerful Mt. Etna in the distance, until we arrive at a rustic farmhouse. Once part of a huge landholding of the Sicilian aristocracy, we are graciously greeted by the Contessa, who hosts us to a fabulous traditional lunch, with focaccia baked in a wood-fired oven. After our unforgettable lunch, continue to the Catania airport, where we drop you off by 4.00 pm. Arrivederci!
Complimentary pre-tour night in Syracuse.
(Valid on October 2009 departure only.)