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  1. 1. fresh escapes Gods, Gangsters and Gnocchi For any foodie, a trip to Sicily is a must. Renowned for its fabulous ingredients and idyllic climate, Nikki Haynes goes and falls head over heels! M ENTION Sicily to any foodie and you’ll probably get the same reaction as a child will have to a bar of chocolate; the eyes widen, the mouth waters and the heart rate quickens. For a long time it’s been regarded as a Mecca for foodies because of its incredibly fresh food and lush vegetation: its fertile, mineral- rich volcanic soil makes it a place where you can grow pretty much anything. Apart from its fabulous food, Sicily is also famed for its pleasant climate, beautiful scenery 42
  2. 2. travel − sicily 43
  3. 3. fresh escapes and as a place steeped with history, with Greek myths and legends of gods and monsters. And so it makes for a perfect foodie fresh escape . . . Mixing with the Mafia Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, located at the tip of the “toe” end of Italy’s “foot”, it’s also very close to Africa and Greece, and thus has many cultural influences. Although officially it’s part of Italy, there is a rivalry between the island and the mainland, so if you visit Sicily, don’t be foolish enough to call the locals Italian, they’re Sicilian. It won’t go down too well, and with the island’s connection with the Mafia, you don’t really want to risk making that tourist mistake to just anyone! There has been talk of building the world’s largest suspension bridge over the Straight of Messina for many years (plans date back to the IMAGES CLASSIC COLLECTION Romans), connecting mainland Italy with Sicily, but it’s never gone ahead as many are divided about it. Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is currently pushing it forward so watch this space. I visited Sicily for a few days in April, which is a wonderful time to go, it was a little chilly at times but when the sun was out it was glorious. It was my first trip to the island and to be honest I out, then you must sit outside on the terrace Aeolian islands hadn’t expected it to be quite so large (the island overlooking the azure blue Mediterranean bay. These nine islands take their name from Aeolus, has a land area of 25, 708 sq km), so on this short It’ll set you up for the day, which is what you god of the winds, they’re a short cruise away trip I only saw a glimpse, but it was enough to need as there is plenty to do around the area. from Taormina and worth a visit purely for the leave me hungry for more. We were staying in the captain’s tales of Greek myths of gods, monsters “ We had to have wine small but affluent tourist town of Taormina on and star-crossed lovers over the boat’s loud the east coast of the island, staying at the Grand speaker. Each island has its own characteristics, Hotel Mazzaro Sea Palace in Taormina Mare (the with everything we ate . . . it for example Stromboli is one of the most active ” town itself is on a large hill whereas a lot of the volcanos in the world, it can be counted upon hotels are located at the bottom of the hill next helps the digestion! to have fiery, volcanic outbursts frequently day- to the sea), and is situated in a small bay between to-day; some of the other islands are known for two cliffs. All the rooms face towards the sea so you get a wonderful view of the Mediterranean Travel Essentials being quiet, or good for hiking and swimming and others are famed for their thermal mud and the hotel has its own private beach and pool. Insider information baths or fanghi. Our cruise took us for a tour On our first night we had dinner at the hotel in around Vulcano and stopped at Lipari. Our tour their grand, marble-decorated dining room with How to get tHere guide, the fiery Sicilian Christi, seemed to know lots of plush fabric and patterns, which reminded Air Malta flies up to five times a week everyone in Sicily and everything there was ever me of Gianni Versace’s ’90s designs. The food from London Gatwick to Catania from to know about the island. He was Francis Ford here is rich and plentiful, with four large courses £99 return including taxes and charges. Coppola’s guide when he made the Godfather every night you won’t be going to bed on an Visit for details. films so you know you’re in good hands, empty stomach. We dined on white and green although, some of his stories need to be taken asparagus cream with fried cuttlefish, courgette wHere to stay with a pinch of salt; at his insistence we had to flowers with ricotta and prawn tartar, egg pasta Classic Collection Holidays (www. have wine with everything we ate because “it with vegetables brunoise and prawn butter and or call 0800 helps with digestion!” I of course shook my head waffles with ricotta mouse and citrus fruits. 294 9315) offers 7 nights at the Grand in agreement and may even adopt this myself in Just a stone’s throw its sister hotel Grand Hotel Mazzaro Sea Palace from £1173 per the future. Atlantis Bay. It has a very different atmosphere person this April (3 nights from £813 per Next, we were taken on a tour around the to the Sea Palace, the design is more modern person) based on 2 adults sharing a sea- narrow cobbled streets, the castle, tall Venetian- in comparison and seems much grander. view twin/double room on a bed and style buildings that are within spitting distance It’s a beautiful looking hotel but with this it breakfast basis. Price includes return Air of one another and all with delicious displays loses what makes the Sea Palace so special; a Malta flights and private transfers. of brightly coloured flowers growing over the smaller, friendlier, more personal service and buildings. Make sure you stop for a Sicilian lemon atmosphere. Breakfast at Mazzaro Sea Palace wHat to eat granite (crushed ice with sweet Sicilian lemon deserves a mention, the buffet-style affair had Almonds, capers, lemon granite, pasta, juice squeezed over), it’s very refreshing. everything you could want, and you can eat in pork and fish (especially swordfish). Lipari is an archaeological site and there the decadent, marble restaurant or, if the sun’s are many interesting ancient places to visit: 44
  4. 4. Food − Fairtrade Coffee Travel − Thailand Christi takes us on a guided walk of Taormina, the popular upmarket town up the hill from Taormina Mare. Either take a 10–15 minute walk up the steps or the five-minute cable car ride: both will give you some gorgeous views. You’ll find some wonderful boutiques selling antiques, Sicilian delis and ice cream vendors, as well as cafés, restaurants and designer stores such as Dolce & Gabbana and Armani. Close to the main shopping area is the Greek theatre and medieval palace; quite a sight as the Greek amphitheatre has stunning panoramic views of the bay of Naxos and Mount Etna. Another ancient site that is a must-see, and it’s still making history, is Mount Etna. The active volcano dominates the scenery of this area and you can’t help but look up in awe. The ideal mid-week meal! When we visited in April we departed Taormina in the sunshine, ascended Etna (in a large moon- Spaghetti with Spicy Tomato, type buggy) where it turned to a very chilly -10˚C! Bacon & Mushroom Sauce There was lots of snow and viewing conditions were not good, but it was an amazing experience. Serves 4 On a good day you’re supposed to be able to see Prep 5 minutes vast coastal views, alpine vegetation and inland Cook 20–25 minutes valleys that are spectacularly diverse. 350g / 12oz spaghetti the Cathedral of St Bartolomeo, the Eoliano Sustenance and a siesta 1tbsp olive oil Archeological Museum, the Church of St Coming back down Etna we stopped at Rifugio 150g / 5oz smoked streaky bacon, sliced Giuseppe, the Church of the Anime del Ragabo for lunch, where we were greeted by 250g pack white closed cup mushrooms, sliced Purgatorio, the Acropoli, the Church of the log fires and some delicious Sicilian food that 400g can chopped tomatoes with garlic Addolorata and the Church of the Immacolata. incorporated some of the island’s most famous ½tsp dried chilli flakes (according to taste) After our tour of the island we headed back ingredients: the lemons, capers and almonds A pinch of caster sugar to the port and passed one of Christi’s friends that the Arabs brought from North Africa and Salt and freshly ground black pepper selling his home-grown capers. The old man let which are are still used in a lot of dishes today. 3tbsp chopped fresh flat parsley me taste these tiny delights with some fresh, Fish plays a very big part of the diet of course,, Parmesan, to serve crusty bread and they were juicy, salty and especially swordfish, as well as lots of pork, both moreish: with a glass of the island’s Malvasia wine I would have been very content for the rest of the day. However Christi had other ideas and fresh and cured. A few hours later with a siesta in between, we were ready to eat again! We went to a beach 1 Cook the spaghetti in a large pan of boiling salted water for 10 mins or according to packet instructions. wanted us to have lunch at Vincenzino, a family- run restaurant that is popular with tourists. The food there is simple, abundant and delicious, and restaurant in Letojanni, which was a short drive from the hotel but certainly worth it. Ristorante da Nino is an inconspicuous family- 2 Meanwhile, heat a non-stick frying pan and add the oil and bacon, then sauté for 3-4 mins. Add the mushrooms and cook for a further made using family recipes. run restaurant, pictures of friends and family 5 mins or until the bacon and mushrooms are Closer to the port you’ll be hard pressed down the years adorn its walls. In fact some softened and golden. to miss the sulphuric mud baths; one of the reasons people flock to this island. They’re thought to have healing properties such as of the restaurant’s residents reminded me of the island’s most infamous family – but that’s just speculation, I don’t want to put people off 3 Add the chopped tomatoes and chilli and simmer over a high heat for 3-4 mins or until the sauce has reduced. Remove from the heat, curing skin disorders and arthritis. But because it really is a place to visit, I couldn’t stir in the sugar and season to taste. beware: no matter how much you shower afterwards you will be stinking of rotten eggs for at least three days! Although it was tempting to recommend it highly enough, and I really don’t want to wake up tomorrow with a horse’s head in my bed! Being on the beach they specialise in 4 Drain the spaghetti in a colander and return to the pan, add the spaghetti to the sauce and toss well to mix. Finally add the parsley and try this experience I had to think of my fellow fish and if that’s something that you love then Parmesan and serve. tube passengers in London so passed on the you should definitely try their fried baby squid offer of a sulphurous dip! or one of their impressive variety of ceviche. We This version of the classic Italian enjoyed ourselves so much that at one point, recipe, spaghetti Amatriciana is a Back on the mainland after a few glasses of wine (to help digest our perfect example of fast food as it should Throughout the island’s history just about every food, naturally) our group dared one of our be - whilst the pasta cooks the sauce is superpower has set its sights on conquering guides to sing a rendition of Nessun Dorma. Of prepared all ready to eat in less than 15 Sicily, and throughout the island there are course he obliged and the whole restaurant then mins! What’s more any leftovers can be reminders of relics and architecture that they’ve joined in in full throaty voice! I’m not sure if this served cold the next day as a pasta salad in left behind: classical temples, mosaic-filled happens on a regular basis, but if you’re there, a packed lunch box. churches and ornate piazzas. On our last day give it a go. 45