Traveling to Sicily can be easily done independently. However, if you want to experience the island adding a personal and luxury touch, a travel planner can help a lot in making the best of your days.
We have interviewed Vita, Luxury Travel Advisor at Sicily Lifestyle, and we have asked her what a Travel Advisor does, what she suggests to travelers that want to experience Sicily in a short visit, and what are the secrets for making a trip to Sicily an unforgettable one.

At Sicily Lifestyle, we are a team of Sicily experts. We specialize in crafting exclusive travel itineraries and ensuring our guests get to experience the very best that Sicily has to offer.

We know that as travelers, our clients have their own ideas as to what makes a ‘luxury’ travel. We work with our clients to understand their needs and to tailor our suggestions accordingly.

Knowing the island inside out, we can work closely with you to ensure your experience of Sicily is truly unforgettable. But what really does a Luxury Travel Advisor? What are her/his duties? How can the support given by a luxury travel planner make the difference?

To these and many other questions, we have asked our expert Sicily travel planner, Vita. She tells us what a luxury travel planner really does, and why if you are traveling to Sicily you might want to consider one.

Over to Vita…

Vita Travel Advisor Sicily Lifestyle

What does it mean being a luxury travel advisor?

Traveling has never been so valuable as in these post-pandemic times. People have been waiting so long to be able to travel again and have been dreaming about new adventures.

Being a luxury travel advisor and planner means now more than ever, to give shape to a dream and actually hand the key to doors. Our deep and first-hand knowledge of the destination makes these authentic experiences possible.

What are the duties of a luxury travel advisor?

A local luxury travel advisor must work on two main factors:

  • The knowledge of the destination
  • The knowledge of the client

Every client has a different vision for their trip. The planning starts with understanding from the client as much as as possible about their needs and wishes. This is absolutely essential when it comes to designing a tailor-made itinerary.

Behind a perfectly crafted itinerary, there is a huge work ‘on the ground’ in the territory. We want to know we are supplying our clients with the very best experiences.

This means trying firsthand all the tours and experiences our clients will do, visiting hotels, restaurants, selecting and meeting all the suppliers, guides, drivers, and hosts that will make up our client’s trip.

 

What are the challenges you meet when planning a luxury trip or tours in Sicily?

Working with third-party travel agents between us and the final client, misunderstandings can be easy to happen. So it is extremely important to have clear communications with all parties.

At Sicily Lifestyle, we pride ourselves on our transparency, and thoroughness for a smooth planning process and a satisfied customer.

Other Challenges in Sicily may arise when clients have a short time and yet they want to [understandably!] visit the whole Island.

Some people think that with Sicily being an Island, it is small and that the most popular destinations are all quite close to one another.

Sicily extends for 25711 km2, distances are quite long and roads are not always greatly connected, so in reality, it’s not usually possible to see everything in one trip.

Knowing the length of the trip is essential in order to understand in which areas to focus, rather than splitting the stay in too many hotels, requiring the client to pack and unpack their luggage every night and spend too much time sitting in a car instead of sightseeing and relaxing.

Cottanera Winery Sicily with Etna in background
Many ‘luxury travellers’ are looking for exclusive food and wine experiences. Photo courtesy of Cottanera Winery

What are the typical “luxury” travelers looking for?

The typical “luxury” travelers in Sicily look for authentic experiences with locals, as well as getting a taste of the culture, and history considering that Sicily hosts seven Unesco World heritage sites. Another key aspect travelers look for in Sicily are amazing nature and food&wine related experiences.

 

What are the key secrets of a luxury travel advisor?

Creativity, empathy, great knowledge of the destination, and top-notch suppliers are essential to work with a high-end client who is seeking stress-free planning, flexibility before and during the trip, and high-quality service throughout the process.

What are the most requested tours and destinations in Sicily?

Etna, Taormina, the Valley of Temples, and Noto are absolutely a must!

Along with these top sellers, there is Palermo and its noble heritage, its amazing architecture, and the traditional street food made every day in the folkloristic local market.

Lately, we’ve been receiving a lot of requests from clients who want to experience a romantic getaway in the countryside of Noto and Siracusa, where some of the best boutique hotels are located as well as luxury yacht cruises in the Aeolian Islands.

Sunset over Stromboli island
Stromboli: One of the Aeolian Islands, which are among the most requested Sicily experiences

What are the less known places in Sicily that you would, instead, recommend to your clients?

The Island of Pantelleria is still less known compared to the Aeolian Islands, which are not as beaten by tourism as the mainland of Sicily, but yet a popular destination.

Pantelleria is still an unspoiled, virgin land; an ideal place to unwind, relax and discover all it has to offer: nature, great landscapes, and amazing wines and food.

What do you want to know from your potential client in order to craft the perfect itinerary?

We need to know the basic information such as the number of people, if it’s a multi-gen trip, a honeymoon/celebration, length of the journey and an estimated budget.

It is also very important to go deeper in the knowledge of the client, making the right questions in the pre-planning phase in order to craft the most suitable experiences for that specific customer so that expectations are met [and exceeded!].

What are the most memorable tours and experiences you have organized in Sicily? Can you tell us some unique details about them?

The most memorable experience I have organized was for a multi-generational trip with clients who had Sicilian roots.

They asked us to do family heritage research, which lead us to go through tons of documents in the archives of the city hall of a tiny village on the west coast of Sicily.

As it usually happens in Sicily, as soon as the word spread through the village, a lot of people, from the mayor to a cultural/historic association decided to take part in the research and found relatives who were still living in the village.

At that point, we decided to give updates about the research before their trip to Sicily, but we didn’t tell them that on the day of their visit to their ancestor’s village, they would actually meet their relatives for the first time.

You can imagine how emotional this day was for our clients and also for the whole village, who welcomed this American Family as they were part of the community.

Motta Camastra Sicily
“In Sicily, luxury is not something they will see, but more something they will feel…”

What is the most valuable advice you would give to someone that wants to plan a trip to Sicily? 

First of all, to live as a local as much as they can and to leave behind the mainstream idea of ‘luxury’ because in Sicily, luxury is not something they will see, but more something they will feel.

It is not something they will find in fancy things and services, but in the people that will make their stay special, from the driver at the airport to the Sicilian Mamma who will welcome them to her home and treat them like family.

If you had 3 days to experience Sicily, what would your personal itinerary include?

With 3 days available I would focus on the East coast of Sicily.

I would land in Catania and would stay at the Belmond Hotel Timeo in Taormina. On my arrival day I would simply enjoy a guided walk of Taormina and its ancient Greek Theater and then relax at the beach and have a traditional dinner in a tiny family restaurant overlooking the sea.

On my second day I would definitely do a hike on Mt. Etna, or take a helicopter tour, and stop in a winery for lunch and to enjoy great food and taste the Etna Doc wines.

On my last day I would definitely head to the south-east area of Sicily, visit Siracusa and have an easy lunch at the local market, then head to Noto to see its baroque palaces and stop at Caffè Sicilia to meet the best and most well-known pastry chef in Sicily and try his granita made with the delicious Avola Almond!

Vita is our beloved Travel Advisor, she takes care of our clients from the beginning till your last day in Sicily with us. If you have been inspired by Vita’s expertise and knowledge, get in touch with us today and we can start to explore your perfect Sicily itinerary!

The Feast of Sant’Agata in Catania – The event that all Catanese’s people are looking forward to

 

For centuries, the first week of February has been a special time of celebration to people of Catania. Starting on the 3rd of February, begins the Feast of Sant’Agata – a three-day long celebration, full of faith, devotion and tradition.

This incredible event brings tens of thousands of devotees to the streets of Catania in a spectacular expression of worship to give thanks to the city’s patron saint – Saint Agata.

During Festa di Sant’Agata, Catania is dressed in luminous lights, thousands of candles and flowers are offered to the saint and each evening of the feast is celebrated by elaborate fireworks.

Lights in Catania during Sant'Agata Feast

 

Who was Sant’Agata?

Saint Agata is beloved by all Catanese people for her show of courage and principle at a young age. The beautiful young virgin was born into a Christian aristocratic family and decided to devote her life to God.
However, her beauty caught the eye of Roman Proconsul Quintianus. She resisted his advances and marriage proposal, which unleashed a campaign of religious persecution against her. She was rolled on hot coals and had her breasts amputated, and subsequently died a martyr’s death on 5 February 251. Soon after, became a cult figure of Catania and a symbol of Sicily’s struggle against the Roman abuse of power.

 

Legends of her patronage

She became the patron saint of Catania and legends tell of her protecting Catania against Mount Etna’s eruptions, earthquakes and some epidemics. Legend has it that on February 1st, 252 – just before the first anniversary of her death, the city was threatened by a violent eruption. The inhabitants of the nearby villages, terrified, took the veil that was wrapped around her tomb, and used it as a shield against the lava flow. The white veil suddenly turned red and stopped the eruption on exactly February 5th, the day of her death.

saint agata feast sicily


Festival schedule

February 3rd the festival begins with the procession of the cannalori, eleven heavy gilded sculptures each holding a candle. They are carried on the shoulders of men through the streets and eventually to the Piazza Duomo where a concert and fireworks close the day.

February 4th is the day on which Sant’Agata’s statue is carried through the Cathedral and the city streets. Joined by thousands of worshippers, dressed in white cloth and black caps, the procession takes the statue throughout the city starting at 8am until 11pm, which is no small feat. Devotees carry enormous candles as offerings to the saint and the streets of Catania are covered by sawdust in order to protect the pavement from the burning candlewax.

Celebration Sant'Agata in Catania

February 5th the final day, the statue is taken on another tour of the city. The final leg of the procession is a speedy sprint up Via San Giuliano, symbolic of the strength and devotion of the statue bearers in spite of their heavy load. There is also a special stop on this final day on Via Crociferi bythe monastery of Benedictine nuns. The nuns come out to greet Sant’Agata and sing to her, which is especially unique because the nuns do not leave the monastery for the rest of the year.

The Feast of Sant’Agata is a very unique and special experience. During these three days, a collective energy unlike any other embraces the city. Worship, thankfulness, hope, devotion envelop all who participate and regardless your belief or religion, it is a truly spectacular and moving experience.

An invitation to experience family sharing in the Sicilian kitchen

 

A few kilometers from Taormina, between the Alcantara River Park and Mount Etna, stands Motta Camastra, a small village inhabited by just 600 people, which still manages to express the face of an authentic Sicily that has stood still in time.

Through the silent squares and the breathtaking views over the Alcantara Valley, the narrow and fascinating streets, the hidden corners where life passes slowly, is set a natural culinary and social experience put in place by the “Mamma del Borgo” ~ “The Mothers of the Village” which tells the story of Sicily in its simplicity and naturalness through home cooking.

In today’s economy on the margins of tourism, where employment opportunities are scarce, the young people but also the not so young, are forced to leave their origins to find a future elsewhere. However, a group of courageous, creative and enterprising women and mothers created an opportunity for themselves. They offer – with genuineness and attachment to their land and their traditions- a new way of hosting.

The project is called “Mamme del Borgo” and it combines traditional cuisine with moments of shared joy, dishes exclusively based on local products and the camaraderie and connection between local people and tourists. In fact, the goal is not only to create an employment opportunity but also to re-evaluate the area.

mamme del borgo sicily

The raw materials come from the surrounding countryside, so everything is zero kilometer. The preparation takes place inside the mothers’ home in full compliance with the principle of community sustainability, which characterizes the activity at every stage and makes it unique in its kind in Sicily. Interaction with local people is certainly one of the aspects that makes the activity engaging.

Typical products of Sicilian cuisine- including hot baked ricotta, caciocavallo, pecorino, baked peppers and stuffed aubergines, make up the appetizers. Followed by the preparation of maccheroni alla norma and arancini with wild fennel from scratch was definitely one of the most fun activities.

Considering the time and dedication required to make these dishes, they are generally only found on holidays and Sundays on Sicilian tables, which makes the experience all the more special.

Preparing macaroni is an art that has been handed down from generation to generation. Being part of this tradition, directly in the kitchens, alongside the mothers of Motta Camastra allows you to savor the pleasure of family sharing that you can only breathe in Sicilian homes.

 

At the end of the meal you cannot miss the dessert, the pancakes stuffed with ricotta and covered with a delicate layer of sugar. The wine served is the local one, the result of the work of the local farmers who with millenary techniques create a 100% organic product.

To make everything even more unique and wonderfully authentic- are the companions. The children of the mothers and a group of young people from the village who with naturalness, sweetness and spontaneity accompany guests along the alleys of the village, making them discover the corners that otherwise they would distractedly risk to lose. They are also the protagonists of an experience that will remain in the hearts of those who have the honor of living it.

It’s not all. Motta Camastra, with the nearby  Castello degli Schiavi and Bar Vitelli , was chosen in 1972 by Francis Ford Coppola as the shooting location for the film “The Godfather” to take on the role of Corleone.

One more reason to get to know the village that has been working tirelessly since 2016 to let anyone who reaches it experience the traditional hospitality of Sicily.

Addio Maestro

Ennio Morricone, uno dei più brillanti compositori italiani di tutti i tempi, si è spento il 6 luglio 2020 all’età di 91 anni.
La nostra nazione ha perso un artista amato, ma il suo lavoro sarà per sempre ricordato dai siciliani, dagli italiani e da tutti gli amanti della musica nel mondo.

Il lavoro di Ennio Morricone e le sue colonne sonore sono per sempre legate alla storia del cinema: C’era una volta in America, l’intero genere Spaghetti Western, Mission sono solo alcuni dei capolavori musicali da lui composti.

Il Maestro aveva un legame speciale con la Sicilia – sia perchè sposato ad una Siciliana che per il suo lavoro. Nonostante il suo riconoscimento internazionale e la sua fama, è con un regista siciliano che ha avuto la collaborazione più duratura: Giuseppe Tornatore.

Come disse una volta il Maestro, “Ho sposato una siciliana e questo mi ha permesso di comprendere appieno la cultura siciliana, ma è stato attraverso l’arte di Giuseppe Tornatore che le mie convinzioni su quest’isola si sono rivelate reali”.

Ennio Morricone directing
Sven-Sebastian Sajak, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

La lunga amicizia (e collaborazione) con Giuseppe Tornatore

Il lungo sodalizio tra il Maestro e Giuseppe Tornatore è piuttosto consistente e comprende infatti 13 film, tra i quali tre rappresentano al meglio la Sicilia in tutte le sue bellezze e contraddizioni: Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (1988), Malena (2000) e Baaria (2009).

Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, girato tra Bagheria, Cefalù e Castelbuono, fu la prima collaborazione tra Morricone e Tornatore.

Quando a Ennio Morricone fu chiesto per la prima volta di comporre le musiche per questo film, rifiutò l’offerta perché già impegnato con una produzione hollywoodiana, ma quando gli fu data la sceneggiatura del film, si commosse leggendo l’ultima scena (il leggendario montaggio censurato dei baci cinematografici) e finalmente disse di sì.

La colonna sonora scritta da Ennio Morricone e la fotografia di Giusppe Tornatore diedero vita a una delle più belle e nostalgiche rappresentazioni della Sicilia e dei siciliani e vinsero il premio Oscar per il miglior film straniero nel 1990.

Un altro esempio di una perfetta combinazione di regia, musica e fotografia è Malena che è sempre considerato un film controverso a causa dei temi sessuali e la rappresentazione di un comportamento molto chiuso e sessista del popolo siciliano.

I temi musicali di Ennio Morricone accompagnano perfettamente la bella Monica Bellucci mentre attraversa la piazza del Duomo di Siracusa sotto gli sguardi giudicanti delle donne e quelli adulatori degli uomini.

La musica di Malena è un perfetto mix di suoni siciliani: la musica delle tradizionali processioni dei santi e una musica più intensa in grado di trasmettere la tragedia di una donna la cui bellezza diventa una maledizione.

La stessa atmosfera la ritroviamo negli spot pubblicitari girati da Tornatore per Dolce & Gabbana nel 1995 e nel 2003 con protagonista ancora una volta la bellissima Monica Bellucci. Il bianco e nero e la musica drammatica di Ennio Morricone mostrano Monica Bellucci come una femme fatale siciliana inseguita e desiderata da uomini siciliani.

Ennio Morricone comporrà ancora per Dolce & Gabbana, questa volta con la grande Sophia Loren nella splendida cornice di Villa Valguarnera a Bagheria.

Baaria, in siciliano Bagheria, è importante per Ennio Morricone per diversi motivi: è la città natale del figlio d’arte Giuseppe Tornatore ed è la città che nel 2006 ha tributato a Morricone la cittadinanza onoraria, rendendo il Maestro cittadino effettivo della bella cittadina nobile siciliana.

Ma Baaria è anche un altro prodotto del sodalizio tra Tornatore e il Maestro, una pura dichiarazione d’amore a Bagheria e alla Sicilia che racchiude 50 anni di storia siciliana. È nel brano “Sinfonia per Baaria” che troviamo tutto l’amore e il rispetto che Morricone aveva per questa antica e nobile città e per la musica tradizionale e gli strumenti siciliani come Zampogna e Marranzano.

Anche se Ennio Morricone ha vissuto tutta la sua vita a Roma, è innegabile che con le sue composizioni riusciva a trasmettere emozioni e sentimenti di “sicilianità” come solo un vero siciliano poteva fare.

Il dolore e la nostalgia di lasciare la Sicilia per trovare fortuna all’estero in Nuovo cinema Paradiso, i sentimenti di lussuria e amore per una donna siciliana in Malena e i suoni del marranzano e le voci della gente di Baaria trasformati in musica saranno per sempre il suo dono e la sua eredità immortale alla Sicilia.

Chi, venendo almeno una volta in Sicilia, non ha mai visto una testa di moro in un balcone, o in un ristorante tradizionale siciliano, o nei numerosi negozi di ceramiche che abbiamo? L’arte della maiolica è stata portata in Sicilia dagli arabi che insegnarono ai siciliani come creare questi meravigliosi oggetti, ora vere e proprie opere d’arte. Ci sono diversi tipi di oggetti che possono essere realizzati, distinti per colori, forme e motivi dipinti sulla ceramica.

Ma, senza alcun dubbio, gli oggetti di ceramica più popolari e affascinanti sono le Teste di Moro. La leggenda della Testa di Moro risale all’XI secolo, durante appunto la dominazione dei Mori in Sicilia e come nella maggior parte delle leggende, e ancora una volta è colpa di Cupido (o merito?).

Un  giorno, una ragazza che viveva nella Kalsa, il distretto arabo di Palermo, si stava prendendo cura di piante e fiori nel balcone di casa sua come era da sempre abituata a fare. All’improvviso, un mercante moro che passava lì vicino, si innamorò della bella ragazza che ricambiò immediatamente il suo amore. I due iniziarono ad avere una storia d’amore fino a quando, la giovane scoprì che il suo amante aveva già una moglie e dei figli che lo aspettavano nella sua terra natale.

La fanciulla impazzì di gelosia e una notte, mentre lui dormiva, pensò a un modo per farlo rimanere con lei per sempre! Senza alcun rimorso, gli tagliò la testa e decise astutamente di usarla come vaso per far crescere la sua bella pianta di basilico. La gente che camminava lungo il suo balcone cominciò a guardare la sua fiorente pianta di basilico e divennero tutti gelosi di quanto fossero fiorite le sue piante, così anche loro iniziarono a forgiare vasi colorati con teste di argilla.

Oggi esistono diverse modelli di teste in ceramica, ma quelle tradizionali mostrano un uomo di colore e una bella ragazza.

In Sicilia il sentore naturale del mandorlo fa parte dei sapori e delle tradizioni. La sua carezzevole dolcezza pervade questa fragranza, viaggio sensoriale ed emozionale verso una delle regioni più incantevoli del Mediterraneo. Il mandorlo è originario dell’Asia centro-occidentale e in maniera minore della Cina.

Tipica pianta della Sicilia, raggiunge il suo massimo splendore in primavera quando sfoggia lo splendore del suo fiore, colorando l’albero con sfumature bianche e rosa.I fiori di mandorlo vengono impiegati nella produzione di delicati prodotti cosmetici, mentre il latte che si ricava dal frutto, è molto utilizzato come bevanda energetica, con proprietà antinfiammatorie e rinfrescanti, mentre l’olio è un ottimo emolliente e lenitivo.   

Essendo il primo albero che sboccia durante la primavera, è simbolo di rinnovo e speranza.

L’arancio produce tantissimi frutti, circa 500 frutti ad albero che possono essere raccolti da novembre fino a  maggio-giugno. Durante la primavera sui rami dell’albero sbocciano dei meravigliosi  fiori costituiti da cinque petali bianchi. I fiori d’arancio hanno la caratteristica di rilasciare un intenso profumo. Questa tipologia di fiori è impiegata per la preparazione di fragranze e profumi, utilizzata anche in ambito culinario in alcuni prodotti dolciari come per esempio l’essenza di zagara derivata esclusivamente dai fiori di arancio amaro. Proprio la Zagara,  è il fiore degli agrumi ed in particolare quello dell’arancia amara. Il nome dall’arabo zahrah, viene tradotto letteralmente come “fiore bianco“.

Il Gattopardo è considerato un romanzo storico, in quanto la vicenda narra lo sbarco di Garibaldi in Sicilia che porterà all’annessione dell’isola al regno piemontese dei Savoia. Tra vicende interiori, intrighi politici e preoccupazioni prettamente isolane, si scorgono nella lettura diversi dettagli e motivazioni che dipingono in maniera fedele la situazione storica-sociale dell’isola a quel tempo. «Sono venticinque secoli almeno che portiamo sulle spalle il peso di magnifiche civiltà eterogenee, tutte venute da fuori, nessuna germogliata da noi stessi, nessuna a cui noi abbiamo dato il la…, da duemilacinquecento anni siamo colonia». Ciò a testimoniare il fatto che la Sicilia è da sempre stata terra di conquista, e anche in quel caso, i piemontesi, seppure armati di buone intenzioni, non sono che gli ennesimi stranieri che si  propongono al governo dell’isola.Tomasi descrive anche come geograficamente l’isola in sé ha cresciuto a propria immagine e somiglianza il popolo siciliano sottolineando come “l’ambiente, il clima e il paesaggio siciliano sono le forze che insieme e forse più che le denominazioni estranee e gli incongrui stupri hanno formato l’animo dei siciliani: [..] questo paese che a poche miglia di distanza ha l’inferno attorno a Randazzo (Etna) e la bellezza della baia di Taormina; questo clima che c’infligge sei mesi di febbre a quaranta gradi e dopo ancora le piogge sempre tempestose, che fanno impazzire i torrenti asciutti, che annegano bestie e uomini proprio lì dove due settimane prima le une e gli altri crepavano di sete. Questa violenza del paesaggio ha formato il carattere nostro [..]”.