sz815-better-shot-of-the-chocolateThe food trails of Sicily’s riches lead us to Modica an aristocratic town made famous in the 16th century by the Spanish and the introduction of the cocoa bean from the South Americas.

rsz1285-a-glamour-group-shotModica chocolate making

The chocolate of Modica uses methods of chocolate making from the Aztecs giving the chocolate its unique grainy consistency. Made up of sugar, ground cocoa bean, and adding wonderful flavours such as peppercorns, vanilla, cinnamon, wines, and other exotic spices. Many traditional manufacturers such as Modicas’ famous Antica Dolceria Bonajuto maintains its original hundred year old recipes. Our tour group had a wonderful experience in their kitchen sampling their popular chocolate, torrone, chocolate liqueur, and a particularly special biscuit ‘ mpanatigghi.’ This is a light pastry filled with mince meat, chocolate and spices.
Glamour Group Shot

rszimage-the-chocolate-being-pouredTaormina

One cannot enjoy Eastern Sicily without a day in the bustling cliff town of Taormina in the province of Messina. Once the place for artists, movie stars and film festivals, Taormina retains its glamour and style. It has a fantastic selection of high class shopping, antique stores, unique jewels, restaurants, cafes and bars. Full of medieval churches, gothic styled villas, tiny streets and luxury gardens this is a town for shopping, eating, and of course a visit to the garden of Naxos and Greek Theatre. Among the top sites to visit are the cathedral and Piazza Agostino IX Aprile. With its breathtaking panoramic views of Isola Bella and stunning coastline this is the place for wandering the streets and enjoying a morning coffee, lunch or afternoon aperitif.

See Dominique Rizzo’s upcoming Italy and Sicily Tours

Traveling to Ustica is sometimes not as easy as just jumping on a boat and off you go. It is a journey of discovery if you are organising the whole thing yourself. My advice would be to go to a travel agency and get them to book your tickets and then confirm with the ferry company the morning of the journey to make sure that the ferries are still running to schedule.

DomIf you are in Palermo and you would like to choose your own adventure, head down to the ticket office on Via F Crispi the morning you would like to go, usually in the summer there is a 7am and a 9am ferry running directly to Ustica. The ticket office usually opens, well not usually, but more often than not opens 1 hour before the journey… really not leaving you too much time to get the ticket and make your way back to the port, however there is a shuttle service at the entrance of the port that will take you to the ferry if you ask making that part of the journey a little easier.

So my morning journey started at 4am when I woke up out of the blue with the alarm set for 5 so that i could get an early start to catch the ferry at 7 and be on my way… at 7.30 I had already had my double shot cappuccino for the morning a freshly squeezed orange juice which the Sicilians do so well and often by hand and a mini cornetto which I loved. I walked about 6 km around the same areas to find out where the ferry was, asking just as many times was it leaving on time, where to buy the tickets and where did I need to go. More efficiently I could have booked through a travel agency and had them sort the whole thing but I love to indulge myself in the a process of natural progression of discovering that life isn’t always as smooth or efficient as we are all use to and it is a real test of ones patience and go with the flow attitude to take on the local ways. After a slightly choppy boat ride and gratefully an invitation to step into the fresh air by one of the crew I arrive on the tiny island of Ustica.

My guide Salvatore is one of the proprietors of a couple of restaurants, a hotel, a member of the tourist board on Ustica and until recently a member of the local municipo. The local and main port is Cala Santa Maria, although there a two other ports from which the larger trucks arrive and can access the small winding roads without too much difficulty. The small town wears cracks of times in progress with trucks leaving their marks on balconies and the corners of apartments torn off from turning corners due to the narrow streets and little or no room for the trucks to move. The island itself has all but two roads one that goes one way and the other coming back, both return to the main piazza Umberto Primo, with 1200 inhabitants the island as I found out is a mecca of raw slow food with artisan products, a wealth of local wild produce and a longevity of life that the locals are very proud of with many living beyond a hundred.

lentilsFood is not only enjoyed throughout the entirety of the island but rightly so celebrated as often as possible with Sacra’s or sacred days of celebration including the Festa Madonna Pescatore, and towards the end of May there is a 15 day lentil harvest where the entire island community comes together to harvest the unique and sought after Ustica lentils. The lentils of Ustica a presidio of Slow Food fetch a hefty 50€ a kilo off the island and about 12€ a kilo on the island itself. Harvested now my machines they were once collected by having cattle constantly trotting on them in a circular motion until the lentils were removed from their husks. They were then raked up in the air allowing the lentil to drop to the ground and the husks to fly away. Hand collected the lentils were then sorted for stones and rocks packaged and sold or used by the farmers. These unique lentils are similar in size to the du puy although have a brown lentil look to them. Their size and flavour attributing to the rich volcanic soil in which they are harvested. The 9km of road that intwines through the island showcases just how fertile this land is. laden with wild fennel, capers, oregano and wild garlic the Island of Utica is a forages dream. Fave beans, chickpeas, artichokes, peaches, prickly pears, grapes, quince, basil tomatoes, eggplant and a type of broccolini are all harvested on the island sold in the local market stores and for private consumption. The harvesting of olives is recently new to the island with the establishment of a local press where locals can bring their own olives crushing them for virgin olive oil.

lunch-usticaAlthough the island has no wineries as such, again the locals are proud of their private wines with grape varieties such as Grillo Cataratto, Linsolia, and Merlot. Seafoods such as gambaretti, octopus, swordfish, tuna, alice or a type of smaller sardine and the popular delicate fish mustina are in the plenty and feature on menu of the local trattoria menus. Most of the waters are part of the natural marine reserve and can’t be fished making the island and surrounding grottos perfect for diving, snorkeling, boat trips and swimming. Although a real treat for travelers and children is to hold a piece of bread in your hand and stand in the water watching all the fish come to eat it out of your hand, no thats cheap and fun entertainment.

BeansWhat I loved the most about driving around Ustica island was meeting the locals, Salvatore Palmesano who today still plows his fields by hand with his stick and trusting and very popular mule Nicoletto was happy to have a chat and for me to taste some of his fresh beans. Salvatore’s father was one of the legends who at 98 was still working the fields from 8 in the morning until dusk and his specialty breakfast consisted of bread with either fresh or dried figs, grapes, peaches or other seasonal fruits. Salvatore is a man of the land with those beautiful working farm hands, his stories could keep you mesmerized for days and his love of all things Ustica shows through his smiling eyes when he speaks of his land, his father and of course his companion Nicoletto.

My next visit was with Signora Maria Cristina, a proud hard working woman with a passion for preserving some of the more traditional sauces and condiments of dishes past. She has a wonderful little shop packed with jars of various sizes, filled with fruit conserves, jams, syrups, pasta sauces, cooked beans, soups, chickpeas, cooked tuna in oil, swordfish in oil, caponata, pates of olives, dried tomatoes, capers, fennel and chili and the list goes on, I was amazed at how many products she had for sale and the variety and combination of flavours with new products hitting the shelves every few days. Her stainless steel production kitchen fits neatly beside her shop and she loved her work, she told me she worked long hours and there was always something to do. I nodded as she spoke to me knowing how much work, love and dedication she was putting into every little jar. Determined to take home with me a packet of the lentils from Ustica I grabbed a small bag which sat next to a packet of biscuits. I looked at the ingredients of the biscuits to discover that she had invent her own recipe for spiced chocolate lentil biscuits, using the famous Ustica lentils, flour, sugar, cinnamon, chocolate and eggs and they were delicious. I came away from her little shop delighted not only with the gift of my lentils, a hand made shopping bag and a packet of biscuits but filled with a certain gratitude for meeting such a beautifully passionate woman whose products would sit proudly in any gourmet city delicatessen fetching top prices and here she was selling her wares knowing that her prices were low but she wanted people to have the convenience for these delicious products at home knowing how easy it was and is for her to have them on hand for a quick meal.

The Shalai is a stunning tour of Eastern Sicily. This tour offers you opportunities to discover the islands of the Aeolian. As well, to journey to some of the most beautiful historical provinces of Eastern Sicily. All with Chef Dominique Rizzo as your guide.

rsz-with-the-fishermen-on-marettimo-island-032The Shalai Tour commences 15 June 2014.

Where we travel to

On the Shalai Tour of Eastern Sicily we travel to:

  • Catania
  • Syracuse
  • Ragusa
  • Modica
  • Noto
  • Ortiga
  • Taormina
  • Randazzo
  • Milazzo
  • Ispica
  • Ragusa Ibla
  • Caltagirone
  • Randazzo
  • Monti Sartorius
  • Piazza Armerina
  • and the Aeolian Islands.

What we do

These towns have a past rich in ancient history, architectural design, and heroic stories. Leaving traces of high artistic and monumental value for us to discover. Importantly, we dine on regional artisan products. We also immerse ourselves in cooking classes, cheese and wine tastings and traditional sweet making. Among the highlights will be seeing and climbing Mt Etna, which is a wondrous and awe-inspiring experience.

We also visit the stunning and famous town of Taormina. To conclude the tour, our last days are spent on Salina. Salina is one of the greenest islands of the seven jewels of the Aeolian. Rsz-Food-Shot-E-Sicily021Here, we discover turquoise pristine waters, white-washed coastal villas and the beauties of the untouched lands. We also indulge in wine tasting and degustations of local specialty produce. Plus, we enjoy bus island tours and the opportunity to enjoy hiking, diving, and of course, boat trips across the stunning waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Why this tour is so special

rsz-E-Sicily-022There are tours that open your eyes, as well as your mind, heart and soul, to experiencing what the world has to offer. This tour of Eastern Sicily is one of them. The Sicilian dialect term ‘’Shalarvi’’ has Arabian origins which comes from the word Shalai. This is a word used by Sicilians to express an intense satisfaction or pleasure of the soul. Indeed, this is something that is enjoyed from the first to the last moment.Would you like to find out about tours to this area? Our destination page shows you some more of the sights of this region as well as featuring the latest tours with Dominique to Italy and Sicily.

Or alternatively, pick one of our latest tours below. Contact us to find out more!

See Dominique’s latest tours to Italy & Sicily

rsz-213Feast for the Senses tour of Western Sicily, personally guided by Dominique Rizzo gives you an in-depth look at of Sicily’s most historic cities and sights. The tour is starring one of the beautiful and popular cities of Sicily,Palermo as well as Erice, Selinunte, Scaccia, Castelbuono and Cefalu – to name just a few. This tour will leave you with a rich imprint in art, design, architecture and cuisine. You will be astounded by the contrast of the hotels in the humming cities to the exquisite estate set in the mountains with the alluring aromas of mountain lavender, rosemary and thyme as Dominique Rizzo expertly guides you through the region.

rsz-237Visiting the vibrant city seafood and fresh food markets, we shop for seasonal local produce that will be showcased through our cooking classes with specialty chefs and passionate characters we meet along the way. We sample some of the region’s most well-known and finest wines, and dine in slow food restaurants, agriturismos and cantinas that will take you back in time. We end our tour with stunning surroundings in a prestigious 100-year-old hotel and one of the best examples or Art Nouveau décor of its kind.

We travel through Scaccia, Selinunte, Porto Paolo, Mazara del Vallo, Mozia and Marsala, sampling some of the region’s well-known and finest wines, visiting fish markets, handcrafted coral and fine jewelry workshops and dining in slow food restaurants, agriturismos and cantinas that will take you back in time. This part of Sicily is known for its regional produce, seafood and wines that will be showcased through our cooking classes with Dominique and passionate characters we meet along the way.

To find out more about this tour click here.
Book this tour before before the end of July 2013 and receive a FREE night’s accommodation to relax the day before your tour commences. Go to Launch Deal or contact us to find out more!