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Sicily offers great value, great beauty

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

Over the years, I didn’t consider visiting Sicily, a large triangular island off the boot of Italy. Now that I’ve visited, I can’t wait to go back. Abundant sunshine, great beaches, crystalline waters, fresh local food and the largest active volcano in Europe — what more could you ask for?

We started in Taormina, on the eastern side of the island. Perched high above the sea, this small city has been a required stop for tourists, from composer Johannes Brahms to comedian Woody Allen, all of whom enjoyed its restored Medieval buildings and stunning ocean views.

The Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, the French and the Spanish — all came to Taormina and left their mark.

I could feel the city’s history as we walked along the winding streets to the Teatro Greco, a third century Greco-Roman amphitheater, still hosting a variety of events today. We sat on the seats, and Mt. Etna rose in the distance, still smoking from an eruption the day before.

We took a short cable car ride down to the water where our hotel — the Grand Hotel Atlantis Bay — clung to a cliff. The hotel was themed after the lost city of the same name, and the lobby and hallways felt grotto-like. Sipping a glass of local wine on our patio overlooking the Ionian Sea, I knew that we arrived somewhere special.

Breakfast was served on a patio right above the pool and the sea. I never wanted to leave. But there were sights to be seen and meals to be eaten.

Up the winding road was Patria, one of the largest privately-owned wineries in Sicily. The rich volcanic soil provided a unique terroir for wines.

A tour took us to the volcanic cave with its layers of eruptions clearly displayed.

Sitting around a huge table for a feast with the vineyard owner, it was easy to lose track of the courses (maybe seven). Fabulous wines were paired with each offering — Neri d’Avola, Etna Rosso, Cabernet, Etna Bianco, and their vintage 2001 Etna Rosso. Multiple kinds of antipasti, both hot and cold, were followed by wild mushroom risotto, then seafood pasta, then grilled boar medallions.


Some Norwegian tourists, sitting at another table, burst into song half-way through our three-hour meal, which provided an unusual musical accompaniment to a wonderful Sicilian experience.

The length of lunch put our visit to Mt. Etna behind schedule, which meant that we had to satisfy ourselves with a very short hike around one of the many craters left from previous eruptions.

The lava fields looked like how I imagined the moon’s surface might appear, blasted and cratered lava rock stretching downhill for miles.

That evening we sat on the deck of a charming local restaurant, Al Saraceno, perched high above the bay.

We watched the lights come on below and enjoyed another meal, especially selected by owner Alfio Puglia. Fresh local fish was part of our menu.

With so much more of the island to explore, I can easily imagine choosing Sicily for another visit, when I am seeking sparking blue water and tremendous hospitality.

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