Good morning, I return today to speak with a travel itinerary in my land, even in the areas that I belong, and I wanted to call "between Etna and Nebrodi": this to me is a sort of journey of the heart, When I tried to merge the views, the culture and cuisine of some of the most beautiful areas of eastern Sicily. A journey that in just three days you can retrace the ancient road which joins the Gulf of Milazzo, crosses the rugged valleys between Peloritani and Nebrodi, reaches the villages of Etna North to then climb on the Nebrodi and plunge into the Gulf of Patti and Capo d'Orlando. A journey of the heart because these are the areas where as a child I carried my parents. And I propose as well, as I thought and lived. It is a route that runs quietly and smoothly drive and that I recommend you do it slowly, because it contains several surprises all to taste.
The first is Novara di Sicilia, at the foot of the spectacular Rocca Salvatesta peak, what many call the "Matterhorn of Sicily". A quaint mountain village from the very strong traditions (even art), where it is worth walking through the small streets of the old town to visit the old churches and see in the distance the outline of the Aeolian Islands as luminous buoys floating on the sea. I had to try the sweets as "jiditu of apòsturu" (the finger of the Apostle), a dessert that legend has it was born by the devotees of Saint Thomas, to remember the gesture of the Saint who put his finger in the side of Christ because he did not believe in his resurrection. From the sacred to the profane: It's a pastry cream filling cannoli with ricotta and coated with two types of icing. Check them out at St Nicholas pastries, in the Centre of the village, where the sweets are prepared yet as our grandmothers used to. More sweet to try: the fried ravioli with ricotta, sublime. Accompany them, as I did, with a glass of iced tea mixed with a tablespoon of lemon granita, all strictly homemade.
Leaving Novara di Sicilia, take the State Road 185 towards Catania. You will pass through woods and rock walls till, After crossing the junction to the village of Fondachelli Fantina, suddenly, After a series of twists and turns you will see ' Him ', as we call Sicilian, the volcano Etna. Here the picture is a must. The view on this immense mountain, bubbling and smoking continuously, over 3,300 meters (does not show because it has a very wide base, but Etna is really high) and the valley below is postcard. Between August and September found time to collect some wild blackberries to munch on during the journey and continue, crossing valleys and rivers dried caches where grew the trees, towards Francavilla di Sicilia. The medieval district of the country, dominated by the ruins of the ancient castle, worth a visit.
In and around Francavilla can enjoy gurne dell'alcantara, natural pools carved in basalt from the Alcantara river, one of the few in Sicily are flowing all year. You can find them easily by car from Francavilla in Castiglione di Sicilia: stop after the bridge over the river Alcantara in car parks set up by Alcantara River Park and get ready to experience a thrill. Over thousands of years this watercourse dug lava stone creating waterfalls and natural pools (are around 16, some reachable through easy routes that can deal with children). In some places the gurne arrive at a depth of ten meters. In some, paying close attention, You can swim, but you should know that the water is very cold. Around there is lush vegetation and plenty of fish: the almost lunar landscape.
As you know, Etna is a land of great wines and wineries who wanted to take root. One of these is Firriato, company that has its headquarters in the Trapani and Etna recently recovered and renovated a beautiful House that cherishes two antique millstones: the name, Cavanera, Lets imagine the color of this fertile black earth. At an altitude of 600 metres in height, the company run by Salvatore Di Gaetano and his wife Vinzia Novara, Lady of Sicilian wine, covers about 16 hectares. The resort, opened in may 2015, with the intention of offering guests a #Firriatoexperience, It shows up among the green of the vines and the top of the volcano. From here you can take different routes by bike or on foot through the grapes, now matures in the rows. Particularly impressive what leads to the century old vineyard, where you can still find the vineyards survived the phylloxera, a disease that destroyed almost all the Italian vineyards in the late 19th century. Watching breakfast Etna, fruit and desserts, will be one of the highlights of the stay that you will remember. Always among the vineyards are held tastings of five organic labels, Cavanera brand, including a spumante metodo classico, two whites and two reds (like good Bramble of Coturnie). The resort will be built within a pool, While already is now available – for the most willing – a nice fitness area right in the middle of the vineyard, made of wood and clear glass walls: In short, If you like to work out, You can enjoy the rare pleasure of running on a treadmill watching the bunches of grapes and Etna.
There is one country on Etna that represents one of the symbols of the culture of the territory. And that, with its austere colors, Dark, basalt, seems to admonish and enchant the visitor. This country, Unlike other, Despite being very close to the crater of the volcano has never been touched by a lava flow. I'm used’ Randazzo, where I suggest you take a break of a few hours: visit first its two main churches, that of St. Nicholas with the nearby via degli Archi (one of the best preserved streets where you will find wonderful Gothic arches in a small alley) and Clarentano Palace, the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta with its distinctive Bell Tower. Don't miss, Finally, the historical houses in the most central streets and the Town Hall. And stop off for an amazing Sicilian cannoli (Obviously filled on time) or a fresh watermelon slush or India fig pastry Musumeci, just in front of the Basilica.
Castiglione di Sicilia (the ancient Castrileonis of the year one thousand) is a place of great views and spectacular views of Mount Etna and the entire Valley of Alcantara, due to its altitude of over 600 meters above sea level. Enjoy a leisurely pace, by car given the steepness of the streets that climb the Hill, the road leading to the castle of Lauria, of Norman origin (twelfth century): You'll pass a 17th-century churches like the brotherhood of mercy, in piazza Sant'Antonio, the heart of the ancient quarter called of Palaia, There are beautiful baroque palaces while in front of you open picture-postcard views of the valley below and Mount Etna. A few kilometres from the historical centre, in the direction of Randazzo and Moio Alcantara, Don't miss a short stop-over to Cuba Santa Domenica: located in open countryside, is an example of Byzantine Church in Sicily, dating back to the sixth century.
Shalai Resort: in Linguaglossa, La porta dell'Etna, There is a very special hotel housed in a 19th century renovated. In Sicilian dialect, Shalai means “I feel satisfied”, and this is precisely the purpose of Leonardo and Luciano, that together run with passion the structure. Completely satisfy the customer is their goal. In the hotel are balanced the minimalist décor and the opulence of the nineteenth-century decorations. Just 13 rooms, a Wellness Center, Sicilian cuisine revisited. The family Pennisi, who owns the hotel, includes a quality butcher (where can you find the mythical “sausage strain”) and a pastry bar, from which I recommend spending to buy gourmet hazelnut pastes as a souvenir, almonds and pistachios, enjoying a snow cone ai gelsi, crops in season every morning in the fields around the village. For hikers, from Linguaglossa you can depart to reach the various mountain huts and the famous Piano provenzana (at 1,800 metres above sea level). On the way I suggest a stop at Refuge Ragabo, where you must try the macaroni and grilled meat.
In my wanderings through typical products, I wanted to dedicate to the delights of the Earth. Starting with the peaches of Etna: When in Sicily we speak of peaches peaches that are inevitably speaking grown in the fertile hills of Mojo Alcantara, where dozens of companies treating peach orchards and sell these delicious fruits on site (a cassette with a score of peaches cost about five dollars). I wanted to go a step further Mojo, as far as the border with the municipality of Roccella Valdemone, a country a little’ most scenic. And I chose to visit lfarm Lane, in contrada Bonvassallo, where John (more than 80 years but does not show really) each day opens the door and stands before the view of the volcano surrounded by fruit trees. In this company, of more than ten hectares, There is a little’ of all: peaches in Mojo, “Pere thighs” Etna, figs, cauliflower. All cultivated with passion and humility in a daily work hard and tiring, with the knowledge that life is becoming increasingly difficult for farmers.
WHERE TO EAT: Good eats ' a little’ everywhere. The cuisine is traditional, made with local products. Inevitable starters, which usually are varied and abundant, and the classic grilled meat with kid or lamb, the piglet Nebrodi and Sicilian rolls. The restaurants that I recommend are the ones I know always, where I go to eat because I know who make an honest kitchen etnea. Almost all of them are located in Randazzo: in the city you will find the restaurant Saint George and the Dragon, While along the scenic access roads to Etna there are Parco Statella and Etna Quota Mille. The latter two are actually more structured farm houses, with beautiful rooms where you can also stay: take the complete appetizer (cold cuts, cheese, caponata, Ratatouille, cous cous, Parmigiana, olives, Pickles & pickle, fried bread and vegetables and much more) and then decide whether to opt for the macaroni with ragu of pork roast or grill or Nebrodi. If you want to try a slightly revised and creative cuisine, but always with Sicilian products of excellence, then try the restaurant of Shalai Resort: I recommend the tempura Piacentinu ennese with orange sauce and risotto with fish stew of rock and pink shrimp tartare. Finally, on the panoramic road from Montalbano leads to Floresta, stop for lunch at a rustic restaurant but of ' substance ': Don Santo. Even here I recommend the mixed starters, to enjoy the Provolone del Casale, La ricotta, the pickles made by hand and an excellent mixed grilled meat.
Finally, on the way back, passing through olive groves and Hazel, I stopped to Montalbano Elicona. For three good reasons: the bread of Montalbano, the provola di Montalbano Elicona and visit to the town appointed Italy's most beautiful village in 2015. We went to the Farm Grattazzo where you can have lunch and enjoy the excellent cheese made, as tradition, using the ancient tools of the dairyman. Provolone browse (that is produced primarily in Montalbano, Basicò and Floresta, all countries of the Nebrodi district), you get with raw cows ' milk in the months between March and October (better if made in June): the process is long and complex: the curd, obtained from milk and from animal rennet, is broken by adding hot water, handmade, cottage cheese mixed with serum and bleed. The tuma, thus obtained, whey ricotta is mixed, wrapped in cotton sheeting and allowed to ripen, even for 24 hours. At this point we proceed to spinning: the tuma is thinly sliced, worked in wooden vats with the hot whey ricotta and, Thanks to the skilful hands of cheesemaker, take the classic pear shape. The ages range from about ten days for fresh produce, up to 15 months for large seasoning. The taste can be sweet till slightly spicy.
At the end of the tour I treated myself to a step into modernity and I visited a young and emerging brewery in the province of Messina. It's called Epic Brewery, is located in Sala, and is run by three local youths (Helium, Carmelo and Piero) with a passion for the art of beer and good food. I like share with them a taste of the latest labels produced. The philosophy that inspires them is one: in a land like Sicily, particularly suited to the production of, There is also a place for products like beer. What else to say? After stopping at Sala is back to Messina, admiring another beauty: the Strait of Sicily. But that's another story.