As many times as we have been to Italy, we had never explored Sicily--it was new and uncharted
ground for us. And some would say an entirely different country--a not unwarranted thought. Sicily
is not like the rest of Italy, where even though there is great diversity in many things, there
remains a sense that each region is part of the whole. Sicily lets you know it is special and Sicilians
exude independence and confidence. It and they are different! It is as if the very spirit of the
mountain has formed the people, imbuing them with a special wildness and zest for life. It is a
country of community and camaraderie. Born from the mafia? From the fear of the mafia? From a
stormy and violent history? Who knows, but the outsider can feel it.
|In the short time we were there, 17 days, we learned that while Sicily is Italian, it is also many other things,
both historically and now. Given its uniqueness, quirkiness and personality, it is appropriate that the Italian
government granted the island regional authority far broader than that given to the other 4
semi-autonomous regions within Italy.
Sicily has its own legislative body known as the Sicilian Regional Assembly which acts, more or less, as a
decentralized local government. There is a President of the Region and a cabinet (council) which oversees
the various departments of the government. And, until just recently, the unfortunate fact was that this
government was, if not synonymous with, at least in bed with the mafia. It is only in this 4-year-old century
that this is changing. The sad legacy of this is an island which has not preserved its history and historical
treasures as well as the mainland. Graft, corruption, organized crime and fear have left their
mark--particularly in Palermo and its surroundings. But---personality it does have!!
We flew into Catania from Rome on Volareweb (now a defunct airline). Although we had worried about being over the weight limit--luggage, not us--it didn't
seem to be a problem for those who checked us in--also true of Ryan Air when we left. Had I known how loosely the restrictions were enforced, we would have
brought home more pottery--that along with olive oil and cutting boards being my primary weakness in Italy-forget shoes, leather and wine! Picking up our car,
we were soon on our way to our week at the Villa Praiola.
There are some sights so awesome and overwhelming that they
stay in our visual memories forever--so becomes Mt. Etna rising
majestically over its kingdom. The day was wonderfully bright
and clear as we were introduced to a brooding, moody mountain
presiding over this island--clouds and smoke encircling its top.
When we found that our villa faced the volcano and that all we
need do was gaze through the French windows or throw them
open and step onto the encompassing veranda, we knew that this
was a place we would not want to leave. The wonder increased a
million fold that night when, in the darkness, we watched red hot
lava flow in rivulets, branching out like little webs as it traveled
down the mountain.
But that was not all that was glorious. The other side of the veranda, not to be outshone, had its own treat to give. Lemon trees stretched out before us until they
reached the Ionian Sea, glowing like gold in the morning sun and then becoming mysterious and ethereal in the afternoon shadows. Truly, I melt into the scene
as I picture it now.
Villa Praiola, a 17th-18th century villa, is lovely and just the right size for the four of us (although several more would be quite
comfortable there.) It is furnished perfectly--attractive, colorful, in great taste but very comfortable and livable. Each of the three
bedrooms on the main floor is color-coordinated with its own private bath, including fluffy bathrobes and linens--a blue suite, a
yellow suite and a green suite. On the third floor is a semi-suite which would be perfect for older children and teenagers.
The kitchen is beautiful--new,
high-end appliances and equipped
with any utensil, pan, dish you
might want (including an
American style auto-drip coffee
pot)--if being inclined to cook. It
is also stocked with spices, herbs,
pastas, sauces, pastries, coffee,
etc. leaving the guest to purchase
only the perishables wanted for
cooking. Throughout the villa
were bouquets of fresh flowers.
The ground floor is the caretakers'
home--Nino, Cettina and Lucio, who
soon became Casey's good buddy.
And---Cettina is a wonderful cook who
will prepare great Sicilian dinners for
the guests if requested. We took
advantage of her skills twice. It was fun
to eat in "our own" villa, not having to
prepare the meal or clean up
Underneath the villa--next to the caretakers'
quarters, are the remains of an old traditional villa
winery--idle for many decades. The rooms and cellar
have been left just as they were the day of the last
press. Baskets hang from rafters, ropes dangle,
wooden and clay equipment and troughs lie as they
were abandoned, spider webs and dust invade. It is a
great window into the past of Sicily and estate life.
The villa's pool was due to be
closed the week before we
arrived, but, the weather was
so wonderful that Vera and
Francisco, the owners, kept it
open for us--which we learned
was typical of their kindness
and care. They are super
caring people whom we
appreciated very much. They
made certain that every need
we had was met for the entire
week. They don't live on the
property but in Acireale,
several kms away.
It was at the villa that we finally began our metamorphoses into true Italianos--forget the wine, the
pasta, the sign language, gelato, porcini, etc.--we hung our laundry on the ropes stretched over the
balcony railings. Of course, this was in back so our participation in Italian lifestyle was not seen from
the road in front of the villa--but then, we are so proud of this!
We rented the villa through
Ville in Italia which we
wholeheartedly recommend for
the following reasons: 1.They
deliver as promised; 2. They
exercise integrity and want to
serve clients well. 3. Their
prices are less for the same
properties offered by other
agencies; 4. They follow
through well. We would rent
from them again in a
Villa Praiola is very well situated for exploring the east coast of Sicily--you can easily take day trips to
Taormina, Mt. Etna, Piazza Armerina, Catania, Syracuse and as far north as Messina (not a place one
really needs to go!) We particularly enjoyed exploring the teeny fishing villages along the coast
between Catania and Riposto. These little villages are pure Sicilian--not yet catering to tourists and so
they are "real" where you can quietly,unobtrusively observe the daily pace of life and activities of the
residents. We were very happy and content to have stayed a week in this area--and would do it again. If
you travel for more than monuments and history, then this part of Sicily is a real source of awareness
When we first arrived Vera took us to see an agriturismo that serves lunch and dinner on the
weekends. She was very definite in recommending it to us--so we made reservations and went back for
lunch as soon as we had unpacked and settled ourselves into Our Villa. There were no menus--food in
abundance just kept showing up at the table (we found that this was not an unusual pattern in Sicilian
eateries.) It all was delicious. The atmosphere was delightful as were the multi-generational family
members that waited on us. There were local people eating here and celebrating life events. All in all,
this was a great introduction to the simplicity of Sicily and its people when away from the tourist
areas. If you can find this place (hard to do but worth the effort), I absolutely suggest you treat yourself
to a meal here. Directions in box at the left.
|Azienda Agricola Corridori--Ristorazione tipica. Open
Friday/Saturday for lunch and Sunday for dinner. tel:
0959-64249 Cell: 347-1734459 Via Pio XII n. 112,
Carruba di Giarre. If you see signs for S. Leonardello,
follow them and when you get to this little place in the
road, stop and ask someone how to go the rest of the
way--and have your "be patient" hat on!
Our first day, after throwing open all the French doors along all
sides of the villa and taking time to drink in the awesome views
from the veranda, we chose to leisurely drive the shore line, taking
small winding roads down to sleepy little fishing villages. As it was
Sunday, people were strolling, sitting at outside tables of small
family restaurants, sunning on the rocks, old men sat in clusters
talking about whatever was on their minds, children played and life
was good. In Pozzillo, one small village, people gathered together
filling water jugs from the well spring--gossiping and catching up on
each other's latest news. Fishermen's small sheds held the morning
catch--dining on anything less than that day's catch is considered
sacrilege along this coast. This was Sicilian life without tourists.
One of the reasons to come to Sicily is to thoroughly feast on seafood--except for Marc, Casey's tutor/minder who
doesn't like fish--strange lad that he is. Vera gave us a list of local restaurants to sample. Some were good, others not so
good. But, the hands down best was La Bettola dei Marinai in the charming village of Santa Tecla--just watch for the
turn off sign as you meander down the winding road along the gorgeous Limoni (Catania) coast.
What a super experience this was--again, the occasional tourist is tolerated but life would be fine without us. English is not a second language in Sicily and so, unless
you speak fairly tolerable Italian, sign language and pointing is the means of communication once you move away from the island's tourist areas--this was totally the
case at this restaurant and the others in the villages along this coast. We enjoyed relaxing with our wine as we sat and observed life going on around us--large and
small celebrations, festivities, laughter, children running around from table to table--always hugged and visibly enjoyed, waiters hustling, food being relished and
every bite being enjoyed. Again, there was no real menu. Our waiter sort of asked what we would like and we said "si", not exactly knowing to what we had agreed.
We were then escorted to the iced fresh fish cabinet so that we could point out what we wanted in that category. Of course, we didn't recognize many of the options and
it was certain that we would not understand the explanation if we asked so we acted (probably not very convincingly) as if we knew what we were doing, smiled and
pointed at our selection. From then on, we just sat as food came--all kinds of sea food, in great quantity, all of it good-a true Sicilian seafood feast.
This is another place worth finding and enjoying. Not gourmet, not fancy--just good, Sicilian seafood in an authentic environment. Be sure to say "si" to the seafood