As those of you who follow me on Instagram know, I’ve been in Italy recently, specifically Cinque Terre. A combination of work & family/friends visit, timed around the olive harvest. In past years I’ve eagerly assisted with the grape harvest, going as far as stomping the many buckets of grapes with my bare feet. What fun! But olives? I had never before taken part in the harvest, choosing instead to busy myself with work while my Italian labors in the land. This year however, I decided to find out exactly how this homegrown oil is created.
In my dozens of trips to Cinque Terre, I had never visited the town of Portovenere, until now. We boarded the tourist boat, filled with anticipatory visitors from around the world. For that afternoon, I became one of them. In just under an hour we arrived to a breathtaking sight. The Church of St Peter originates from the 5th century, both Gothic and Christian, with most recent additions in the 13th century, marked by black & white stripes. As our boat turned into the port of this tiny peninsula, a row of vibrant colors greeted us.
Portovenere, part of the Gulf of the Poets, is where the likes of Lord Byron (whose name was given to a now collapsed sea cave Grotta dell’Arpaia), George Sand and Alfred de Musset spent lengthy periods of time, writing, dreaming, swimming…
It was a summer afternoon steeped in history, and eagerly we returned to life on the sea.
Ever since my first visit to what I then called ‘paradise found’ during my year of travels, I fell in love with Monterosso al Mare. Little did I know that I would meet a man from this very land and come to call it my home. Recently we spent nearly two weeks living on the sea. Blissfully. Days began with yoga beneath a kiwi canopy and visits to the bakery for cappuccino and a fresh cannoli, followed by picking capers in the garden, or lemons in the grove (that task was left to my Italian). A family lunch followed a siesta beneath the shade of a beach umbrella. Evenings spent with friends. Every night I fell asleep to the lullaby of the sea, some nights it bellowed to us, other nights it whispered. I rose to the church bells.
As I wrote five years ago during my third visit, I have come more deeply to cherish this land where nature reigns and life is valued in the most basic and beautiful of ways.
Until we meet again… and life on the sea continues.
One week after the opening of the World Expo 2015, Feeding the Planet, we traveled to Milan to see what all the talk was about, the expo being a topic of much controversy.
In brief, Expo Milano 2015 is the Universal Exhibition that Milan, Italy, hosts from May 1 to October 31, 2015. Over this six-month period, Milan becomes a global showcase where more than 140 participating countries show the best of their technology that offers a concrete answer to a vital need: being able to guarantee healthy, safe and sufficient food for everyone, while respecting the Planet and its equilibrium. In addition to the exhibitor nations, the Expo also involves international organizations, and expects to welcome over 20 million visitors to its 1.1 million square meters of exhibition area.
Both my Italian and I were curious to see, learn, and taste, starting with the Sudan pavilion.
Our day ended with the Tree of Life, agreeing that the experience was one to remember.
Aside from the rich history and varied architecture, it was Sicily’s sweets that remain most in my memory. Being a sweet tooth, we made it a point to find and taste the best of the region. In Noto, we discovered what’s considered one of the best gelateria’s in Sicily, Caffé Sicilia. Here we stopped for lunch, and decided to make it a sweet one, starting with ice-cream, which was indeed delicious!
From there we moved on to the second course, and what became my favorite dessert in Sicily, the cassata, a cake covered with almond paste and candied fruit, and filled with ricotta cheese. Incredible! We accompanied this decadent cake with coffee and a glass of almond milk, Sicily being the land of almonds. For the third course (yes, there’s more), we tried the almond granita, an icy concoction of almond milk. WOW!
After the sugar high faded and we returned to a healthy meal of pasta and fish, we ventured to Modica’s famous confectionery, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, the oldest (and considered the best) chocolate factory in Sicily. Their chocolate, a legacy of their Spanish history, contains only cocoa beans and sugar. I tried many of their varied flavors, including the most famous, vanilla and cinnamon. But what really blew us away were the cannoli’s. They filled them on the spot, hazelnut and pistachio, the latter being the best Sicilian cannoli I’ve ever tasted!
A well-known tradition in Sicily is an almond paste known as pasta reale, made with ground almonds, sugar, corn syrup, and lemon juice. These fruit shaped sweets almost look too beautiful to eat. This too is one of my favorite sweets, having grown up eating marzipan.
Considering how much I love these sweets of Sicily, I can’t wait to return. Until then, detox.
Last weekend my Italian and I ventured to Italy’s most southern region, Sicily. This was my first trip and his second. I had no idea what to expect in this island rich in culture and cuisine. After taking a swim in the still warm waters of the Mediterranean, we headed to our first destination, the island of Ortygia in Syracuse. This charming city reveals baroque facades with Greek, Roman and Arab influences in it’s centuries old architecture. With Sicilian hospitality, we immediately felt at home.
One morning we spent at the archeological park where a massive Greek theater from 5th-century BC awaits it’s visitors. During the summer season it’s brought to life with classical concerts.
Being adventure seekers, we decided to drive to Noto. Destroyed by an earthquake in 1693, it was rebuilt to become the grandest baroque town in Sicily. Noto was recently added to Unesco’s list of world heritage sites, certainly worth a visit! And did I mention that Noto is known for it’s gelato? More on that later…
The next stop on our Sicilian adventures was Modica. This multi-layered medieval town is uniquely atmospheric with it’s high and low levels, allowing for an incredible view. Here too, you find the most delicious chocolate and confections. How could I resist?
Our last stop was Taormina, the chic, sophisticated town that seduced many an artist and writer in it’s day. Here was the capitol of Byzantine Sicily in the 9th century, and today it remains an international hotspot boasting views of a still active Mount Etna.
Four days spent beneath the Sicilian sun, learning about ancient history, discovering hidden beaches… dining on fresh pasta, fish and local sweets (the latter of which I’m devoting the next blog post to). A perfect holiday.