Mediterranea Trekking at the Bicycle Tourism Fair

More than 15,000 visitors in just two days and queues of up to 50 minutes to get in: record numbers for the first edition of the Bicycle Tourism Fair, the event organized last March 12 and 13 by Bikenomist in collaboration with RM Ideas Factory and Estro Comunicazione, which gathered in Milan a large number of two-wheel enthusiasts in search of inspiration and new ideas for upcoming trips.

In the spaces of the Fabbrica del Vapore, a fascinating example of industrial archaeology, more than 50 exhibitors including tour operators and national and international entities gathered to promote the destinations, with a surprising participation of southern Italian regions, including Sicily and Basilicata among the main sponsors.

A series of meetings, the “talks,” designed for direct dialogue with the public, enlivened the event and thrilled visitors through the experiences, routes and destinations narrated by authoritative speakers, including champions and former professional cyclists of the caliber of Gianni Bugno and Marco Aurelio Fontana.

Mediterranea Trekking, which has strongly believed in the project from the earliest stages, participated in the fair presenting to a passionate and attentive audience its range of bike tours, organized with the support of Gravel in Sicily and Mediterranea Bike, the companies created to rent gravel bikes and mountain bikes.

From unusual itineraries along the majestic Peloritani mountain range to touring southeastern Sicily among splendid Baroque masterpieces, from challenging and exciting climbs to the summit of Europe’s highest active volcano to evocative sunsets on the salt route from Trapani to Marsala: these are just some of the many fascinating bike tours offered by Mediterranea Trekking.

Cycling in the ‘Val di Noto’ between baroque masterpieces, nature reserves and unique flavours

History, nature and food and wine: a perfect trinomial that finds one of its greatest expressions in the southeastern part of Sicily, where the marvelous and fertile landscapes of the hinterland are enriched by the evidence of a glorious past that emerges powerfully at every glance.

We are in the “Val di Noto,” the ancient “Vallo” that from the Norman period until 1812 constituted one of the administrative districts of the Kingdom of Sicily, corresponding today to the eight towns-Palazzolo Acreide, Caltagirone, Ragusa, Modica, Noto, Scicli, Catania and Militello-that after the terrible earthquake of 1693 were rebuilt in splendid late Baroque style, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002.

Our itinerary, which will take us from Pantalica to Syracuse, is of medium difficulty and to be traveled in at least four days crossing provincial roads, reserves and dirt roads.

We start at the Pantalica Oriented Nature Reserve in the province of Syracuse, a naturalistic area of poignant beauty. Here the Anapo and Calcinara rivers over millennia have carved deep canyons, whose towering walls are cloaked in lush vegetation characterized by oleanders, willows and poplars and, in spring, by the explosion of colors of wild orchids and irises. Suggestive natural pools with crystal-clear, icy waters, whose hues range from turquoise to emerald green, are reminiscent of high-altitude alpine lake landscapes and invite an invigorating bath after the long ride.

We choose the entrance to Sortino to embark on the beautiful 24-kilometer (a/r), mostly flat, dirt road route along part of the old railway line that connected Syracuse to Vizzini and that, crossing bridges and tunnels, gives us unforgettable glimpses of Europe’s largest Necropolis, with its 5,000 rock-cut tombs dating back to the period when the Siculians lived in the eastern area of Sicily, between the 13th and 7th centuries B.C.

Enraptured by the beauty of these places we continue to Palazzolo Acreide, the pearl of the Hyblean Mountains, listed among the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy. The ancient Akrai holds some magnificent vestiges of Greek rule: the Acropolis with the “theater of heaven,” so renamed because of its dominant position over the valley, and the Bouleterion, the place where the city senate met. Alongside the Greek vestiges, Palazzolo holds splendid Baroque masterpieces, such as the beautiful churches of San Sebastiano, San Paolo and the Annunziata, which place it among the must-see stops in the Val di Noto.

Don’t miss a visit to the historic butcher’s shop Corsino to taste the excellent Palazzolo Acreide sausage, a Slow Food presidium, made from the traditional processing of Sicilian black pig, which also includes the addition of fennel seeds. Either eaten fresh (raw or barbecued) or dried, it is well worth a stop.  We move a few kilometers further west to enter the province of Ragusa and find another extraordinary slow food presidium, the Giarratana onion, further proof of how much the cultural and scenic richness of the area corresponds to an incredible gastronomic variety. The uniqueness of this onion lies both in its considerable size (which can reach up to three kilos in weight) and in its incredible sweetness, so much so that it is appreciated across the Channel even by Prince Charles of England. Raw, baked or as a basic ingredient for tasty omelets, the Giarratana onion is one of the still little-known but no less important excellences in the panorama of Sicilian cuisine.

We continue by bike, along the ancient paths originally traveled by monks and pilgrims among olive trees, wheat fields and abandoned mills, to Chiaramonte Gulfi, a town located 679 meters above sea level in the heart of the Iblei Mountains.  The town is known not only for its magnificent location, which has earned it the nickname “Balcony of Sicily,” with a marvelous view that sweeps from Mount Etna to Gela, but above all for its excellent oil, among the best in Italy, obtained from the “tonda iblea olive,” an indigenous variety that lends elegance and sweetness to the final product.

In the town where the pork is “magnified,” as the epigraph of the well-known Majore restaurant, a must for those passing through, elegant historic buildings and a complex of eight museums round out the cultural offerings. The time has come to climb back into the saddle, heading for Ragusa, the city of two patrons and three bridges. Its oldest part, Ragusa Hybla, holds one of the finest examples of Baroque in all of Sicily, the church of San Giorgio.

Leaving Italy’s southernmost capital behind us, we pedal along State Road 115 in the direction of Modica, famous nationwide for its famous chocolate (to be tasted in the ancient Bonajuto sweet shop), still prepared according to the ancient Aztec recipe that strongly characterizes its texture and flavor. The city of the “hundred churches,” divided into two areas, Modica alta and Modica bassa, is a wonderful nativity scene set in the Hyblean rocks.

Here the main churches, such as St. George’s Cathedral and St. Peter’s Church, have the peculiarity of overlooking impressive and scenic stairways rather than squares. And speaking of scenic views, at Pizzo Belvedere, the highest point, it is possible to enjoy a beautiful vantage point. Before returning to the Syracuse province, a tasting of the local street food, the delicious Ragusan scacce, flatbreads that are stuffed with various toppings, from the classic with tomato and caciocavallo cheese to that with ricotta and parsley, is a must.

Between bucolic dry stone walls and the smell of the dusty countryside dotted with olive, carob, almond and prickly pear trees, we arrive at the southernmost point in Europe, Portopalo di Capo Passero, a fishing village between two seas, the Ionian and the Mediterranean.  We are ready to head up the eastern coast of Sicily toward Marzamemi, a pretty seaside village where we allow ourselves a brief stop to admire the picturesque little Regina Margherita square, surrounded by the fishermen’s Arab “casuzze,” now converted into bars and restaurants. On either side is the beautiful church of San Francesco di Paola and the palace of the Prince of Villadorata, connected at the back to the tuna fishery dating back to Arab rule, which over the centuries assumed great importance until it became the second in all of Sicily, after that of Favignana.

We shop for tuna and other delicious products obtained from its processing (bottarga, ventresca and tarantello) at Campisi’s before reaching the southern entrance to the Vendicari reserve, an oasis of peace whose quiet is “disturbed” only by the wind that caresses the face and the passage of numerous species of birds that inhabit the marshy areas and ponds of this area of great importance along the migratory routes from Africa.

We leave our bikes at the parking lot to ride the 14 kilometers (for those with little time, it is possible to choose one of the 3 paths-blue-orange-green, access to which is guaranteed by several gates) surrounded by the scents of the Mediterranean scrub, among juniper forests, old salt marshes, quagmires and the suggestive tonnara, lapping the famous beaches of San Lorenzo, where turtles nest in July and August, Cala Mosche and Marianelli. Just a short walk from the latter, the Marianelli agriturismo is a must stop for an aperitif to sip at the first light of sunset, when the structure’s beautiful limestone is tinged with orange and pink hues.

Only 26 km separate us from the plateau on which the undisputed capital of Baroque, Noto, towers, dominating the Asinaro Valley.

From the Porta Reale, an imposing 19th-century triumphal arch built on the occasion of the visit of King Ferdinand II of Bourbon, we enter Corso Vittorio Emanuele, where the sun never ceases to illuminate its masterpieces thanks to its east-west orientation, offering to our view such wonders as the Convent of St. Francis, the Church of Santa Chiara, Palazzo Ducezio and the Cathedral of St. Nicholas. On the adjacent Via Nicolaci, where stands the splendid and opulent palace that originated as the urban residence of the Nicolaci family, marvelous floral decorations are made that adorn the street on the occasion of the “Infiorata,” the traditional greeting to spring held every year on the third Sunday in May that attracts many visitors.

Gourmand stop at Caffè Sicilia, a renowned pastry shop whose prestigious awards place it rightfully among the best in Italy, to taste one of Corrado Assenza’s exquisite creations, ranging from more classic desserts such as cannolo and cassatina to innovative proposals resulting from his creativity, always united by the use of the best zero-kilometer raw materials.

Finally, Syracuse, the city that was called by Cicero the largest and most beautiful of all Greek cities, awaits us. It is impossible not to agree after crossing the entrance to the Neapolis park where the Greek theater stands out, which in the spring season welcomes after sunset the performance of ancient Greek tragedies, and the Ear of Dionysius, an imposing 23-meter-high cave with exceptional acoustics that, according to legend, was used by the tyrant Dionysius to listen to the words of his prisoners. There is no shortage of late Baroque jewels here either; in fact, one need only move a few kilometers by crossing one of the two bridges connecting Syracuse to Ortigia to find oneself among the intricate alleyways of this magical little island. Amidst opulent palaces and quaint craft stores, one arrives at the splendid Piazza Minerva. Enraptured by the beauty of the Duomo, whose facade shines under a warm light that enhances its beauty, we taste a refreshing granita thinking back to the beauty of this incredible itinerary.

The Peloritan mountain bike ridge between history, views and taste

An imposing mountain range with a lonely and fascinating landscape: we are in the northeastern extremity of Sicily where the Peloritan ridge, before meeting the Nebrodi near Rocca Novara and Montagna Grande, rises as a natural continuation of the Calabrian Apennines, with which it shares the geological composition as well as the characteristic fiumare, short streams impetuous in winter and dry in summer, with a wide, pebbly bed.

According to legend, the Peloritani are named after Pelorus, who was helmsman of the ship of the famous Carthaginian leader Hannibal. When the African general was driven into the Strait of Messina he believed he was in a landlocked gulf, since the Sicilian and Calabrian coasts were so close that they seemed to his eyes to be a single strip of land. Believing, therefore, that he had been deceived, he decided to have Pelorus killed, but realizing his mistake almost immediately, he undertook to have a huge statue erected in his memory on the northeastern tip of Sicily, which has been called Cape Pelorus ever since. The myth is recounted by several authors, including Valerius Maximus, who writes “from a height of that stormy strait a statue is offered to the eyes of those who cross it in both directions, placed as a testimony and reminder as much of Pelorus as of Punic temerity.” However, as early as the sixth century BC. B.C., three hundred years earlier, the cult of the nymph Pelorias was practiced, who is said to have inhabited the marshes in the area, and who was depicted on coins of the time.

More realistically, Peloritano would derive from a Greek term with the meaning of “boundless, gigantic,” as these mountains must have appeared upon the arrival of the Greeks in Sicily in the 8th century BC.

And along this ridge rich in legends is one of the most exciting mountain bike routes in Sicily, Provincial Road 50 bis, an unusual and fascinating 70-kilometer route that runs between Portella San Rizzo and Portella Mandrazzi, passing through unspoiled and majestic nature, breathtaking landscapes that open now on the Tyrrhenian side now on the Ionian side, and historical-religious testimonies that hark back to ancient times.

In fact, the route has great historical significance, being in the vicinity of Mount Scuderi, where the ruins of the ancient Byzantine city of Mikos stand. Moreover, the current sp 50 bis, since Roman times was a military road, a very important connecting route that linked the two passes of Portella San Rizzo and Mandrazzi. Even in medieval times and later periods it was traveled not only for military purposes, but also for commercial and strategic purposes, representing the shortest natural route for the inhabitants of the inland municipalities to travel to the coastal areas. During the Kingdom of Italy, access was then authorized only to the military to reach the defensive outposts of the Strait of Messina and the Plain of Milazzo: the Umbertini Forts and the Batterie.

The route, which runs mostly on dirt and in some stretches on screed, is challenging and requires MTB experience, but the effort will be rewarded by the extraordinary beauty of a landscape full of forests, canyons, gorges carved out by watercourses, small waterfalls and, certainly not least, places to indulge in pleasant gourmet stops.

In this regard, near the departure from Portella San Rizzo, we immediately find “Don Minico,” the historic eatery born of Don Minico’s intuition in the 1950s, now run by his children and grandchildren who have expanded the business by creating a farm and wine business. The specialty is the famous “panino alla disgraziata,” a wheel of wheat-flour bread stuffed with strictly local products: vegetables in oil, semi-seasoned cheese produced in the Peloritani and medium-grain local salami. One sits outside on the wooden benches, savoring the succulent sandwich while contemplating wonderful glimpses of the sea among the surrounding vegetation. Refreshment for the body and the mind.

The setting of Don Minico’s “House of Cure,” as the son has renamed his father’s creation, is original and welcoming and worth a visit in itself, with the posters and slogans extolling the magical virtues of the wretched sandwich, not a simple piece of stuffed bread, but a food with “saving” power, able to cure any ailment with its goodness. Today, patrons’ opinions are divided between longtime fans, who consider the sandwich not up to the standard of what it once was, and, on the other hand, current admirers, who are certain that the quality and taste are still the same as they once were. Whichever way you look at it, Don Minico is and remains an institution as well as being, logistically speaking, ideally located to stock up on food in anticipation of the long leg ahead.

The route from Portella San Rizzo starts immediately with a challenging climb in the midst of a very green forest of pines, chestnut trees, holm oaks and downy oaks that reaches the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Dinnammare, located at 1,130m above sea level, whose name is said to derive from the Latin word “bimaris,” indicating precisely the spectacular view from this place over the two seas, Tyrrhenian and Ionian. We are in fact at the highest part of Cape Peloro, in a magnificent position overlooking the Aeolian Islands, the Bay of Milazzo, Tindari, the Strait and Scilla. The Sanctuary, often shrouded in a haze that adds to its aura of mystery, stands on top of the mountain of the same name and is an extraordinary crossroads that attracts a melting pot of visitors: not only cyclists engaged in the route of the Peloritanian ridge who after the arduous climb take a breath here breathing in the immensity of its panoramas, but also groups of bikers riding their motorcycles, faithful pilgrims, hikers who penetrate the paths within the Peloritani, birdwatchers intent on observing the migration of birds of prey over the Strait in spring and autumn and finally simple excursionists hunting for views to immortalize with a photographic shot. An evocative and emblematic place that combines spirituality with an exceptional natural and scenic setting.

Trekking peloritani

After the sanctuary, the itinerary proceeds for 40 km between climbs and descents that reveal striking views of Etna, the Aeolian Islands and, between Pizzo Bottino and Pizzo Cavallo, coastal stretches. We pass by the Casa degli Alpini refuge (859 m a.s.l.), nestled in the beautiful Fiumedinisi Reserve, the only protected area crossed by the ridge. Here the landscape is characterized by beautiful specimens of chestnut trees, sycamore maples, hollies and laurels and the Fiumara di Fiumedinisi. Not far from the refuge, next to a spring, is a superb view of Etna’s northern slope. We continue along the Santissima, a 7-kilometer descent that just before ending in the village of Fiumedinisi boasts an excellent family-run refreshment point in a splendid stretch of unspoiled wilderness: “Rusti e Mancia Cannetti.” Set in a deep, narrow green valley, the farmhouse, located on the side of the road, with its spartan wooden structure reminiscent of a mountain cabin blends perfectly into its surroundings. Accompanying the greedy lunch is the lapping of small freshwater waterfalls that form pools on the bed of the Nisi River, just below the agriturismo. Everything here is homemade: from the pasta made by the skillful hands of Mrs. Carmela, in the two variations “alla norma,” with tomato, chunks of fried eggplant and a generous sprinkling of ricotta cheese, and “con il sugo di maiale” (the latter deserves special mention), to the meat – sausage, Messina chops and veal stew – cooked by her husband Giovanni. Welcoming patrons is the kindness of Santina, who with her brother helps run the restaurant. The formula is that of a set menu: as a prelude to the “strong” dishes described above, a good mixed appetizer is served that encompasses the specialties of the area, from cheeses and cured meats to sun-dried tomatoes and olives, along with delicious meatballs, vegetables and ricotta cheese in batter, while delicious ricotta cheese fritters close the meal. In the summer season, baked mutton, made with a long cooking time of at least six hours according to the dictates of ancient Messina tradition, is tasted. By reservation, the restaurant is open for both lunch and dinner, with flexible hours based on requests received.

Refreshed, we continue to the third highest peak in the Peloritani Mountains, Pizzo di Vernà (1,287m a.s.l.), with a landscape of untouched vegetation: arboreal heather plants, farnie and poplars along the streams. From the summit of Vernà springs, moreover, the Mela stream, which is an important site for the presence of Woodwardiaradicans, a very rare fern.

The route draws to a close at Portella Mandrazzi crossing one of the most picturesque areas of the trail, whose lush forests along with panoramic views will remain an indelible memory of this magical route.

Between Etna and Nebrodi

A journey through the extraordinary flavors of Sicily

It is not new news that Sicily is a land capable of expressing its opulence also in the gastronomic field, thanks to raw materials of great quality and dishes with unforgettable flavors.

In fact, the perfect combination of favorable climatic conditions and the contamination brought about by the numerous dominations – Arab, Norman and Spanish, among others – over the centuries has made Sicily a hotbed of excellent products and sublime recipes.
What not everyone knows, however, is that in addition to products that are well-known and appreciated at international level, such as arancini or the prized pistachio of Bronte, Sicily offers a considerable variety of flavors and lesser-known foods. This variety is often the result of local traditions that have been handed down from one generation to the next, with great stubbornness and hard work, resisting globalization that would otherwise push towards simplification and impoverishment of the gastronomic offering.
We will follow a wonderful itinerary in search of local flavors in the north-eastern part of Sicily. The absolute stars of this tour will be the unmissable specialties of the provinces of Messina and Catania, which you will be able to buy up after your excursions to Mount Etna or the Nebrodi Mountains.

Catania
In the city that was the birthplace of the famous composer Vincenzo Bellini, our exploration of flavors can only begin with the famous pasta alla norma: its simple ingredients, tomato, fried eggplant and salted ricotta cheese, combine perfectly to create an explosion of flavor on the palate. According to one legend, the recipe was created by a Sicilian chef as a tribute to the first performance of Bellini’s opera Norma in 1831.
Masculini da magghia, a Slow Food presidium, are anchovies fished in the Gulf of Catania using special nets (magghie) that retain their heads, causing them to bleed to death. This fishing technique makes it possible to obtain a product of particular organoleptic value, to be tasted in the typical pasta alla catanese, a tasty and balanced dish in which the anchovies are seasoned with tomato and breadcrumbs.
Catania is also the city par excellence of the tavola calda: in addition to the classic arancini (the gender is masculine here, as in all of eastern Sicily) with ragù, alla norma, butter and pistachio, the panorama of rustici includes cartocciate, cipolline, bolognesi, fried and baked bombe, all specialties that will turn your curiosity into a real addiction.
In the colder season, the unmissable dish from Catania is cavolfiore affogato (“drowned cauliflower”), a delicious side dish that invites you to taste it while it is cooking thanks to its intense aroma. The cauliflower, strictly Etna purple, is placed in the pan, creating layers with oil, black olives, Sicilian pecorino cheese and spring onion, then braised with wine and topped with a weight that ‘suffocates’ and crushes the vegetable. The result is exceptional, try it to believe.
And the scacciata, an unmissable hors d’oeuvre on Christmas Day, is also one of the winter dishes: a sort of pizza stuffed with tuma cheese, broccoli, sausage and olives or, in its variations, with “drowned cauliflower”, anchovies and tuma cheese, or potatoes, tuma cheese, tomatoes and spring onions. One of those comfort foods that can be shared with friends and family in a convivial atmosphere.
In Zafferana, a town on the slopes of Mount Etna, we find the Siciliana: a huge fried calzone stuffed with tuma filante and anchovies. It’s enough to cause digestive problems just listing its ingredients. But if you are not among the lucky ones who can boast strong stomachs, don’t despair because you can rely on one of the many digestives, including lemon and salt seltzer and tamarind, that the kiosks will prepare for you. Zafferana is also known as the city of honey, the gold of Etna, considered among the best in Italy for its aromatic notes. Here the production reaches 15% of the national product and among the varieties we find chestnut, sulla and orange blossom honey.
And the combination of fried food and honey gave rise to the crispelle di riso, a winter street food from Catania, which have their salty counterpart in the soft and delicious crispelle with ricotta or anchovies.
Etna also plays its part: the typical fertility of the volcanic soil has in fact created the ideal conditions for other high quality and tasty products such as spinelle pears, Etna apples or the Maletto strawberry, a very large and sweet ancient strawberry now at risk of extinction.
Catania is also the city of horsemeat: put on your oldest clothes and head for the city’s oldest and most popular neighborhoods, where, amidst the smoke of the embers and the folkloric shouts of the restaurateurs, you can sample fillet steak, T-bone steak and horse meatballs, perhaps accompanied by a tasty salad of tomatoes, red onion and salted ricotta.
South of Etna lies the Catania plain, which in the municipalities of Palagonia, Scordia and Francofonte is one of the Sicilian areas most suited to the production of blood oranges. In addition to the sweet juices, try them in the traditional orange salad.
If savory food offers us so much, Catania’s confectionery art is no less, starting with one of the most satisfying and universally appreciated (but also imitated) specialties: the granita. In its many and varied flavors – almond, pistachio, lemon, coffee, chocolate and, in season, mulberry, fig, peach and melon – it is the right time of day to enjoy it. Accompanied by a warm, fragrant brioche or even bread, granita is ritual and tradition, conviviality and pure enjoyment. The Arabs, who brought sherbat, an iced drink made from fruit juices, to Sicily during their domination, were the forerunners of granita, which according to various sources was first prepared in Aci Trezza, between 600 and 700.
If the granita wasn’t enough, a breakfast of iris, ricotta raviola – fried or baked – and panzerotto will remove all doubt you may have about Catania’s pastries. Also worth mentioning are the sweets made during the celebrations dedicated to Catania’s patron saint, St Agatha, in what is the third largest religious festival in the world in terms of importance and number of participants: the minnuzze di S.Agata, small Sicilian cassata in the shape of the martyred saint’s breasts, filled with ricotta and covered with an icing topped with a candied cherry, and the olivette di S.Agata, small almond olives covered in sugar.
We conclude with the green gold, the Bronte pistachio, a delicacy that is now known beyond borders and is harvested every two years. Climatic conditions, shape and flavor make the Bronte pistachio a unique product. Gelato, granita, arancini, pesto and pistachio cream are just some of the possible ways in which this great Sicilian excellence can be used.

Messina
It is within the enchanting landscape of the Nebrodi that most of the delicacies of Sicilian butchery are concentrated. This is where the Nebrodi black pig, the prized indigenous breed of dark-coated pig, lives in the wild and semi-wild. Among the products made here, don’t miss the salame fellata, prosciutto crudo and sausage, both fresh and dried, whose intense flavor is one of the characteristics conferred by the extraordinary Sicilian breed.
The famous salami of Sant’Angelo di Brolo, produced in the village of the same name in the inland part of the splendid stretch of coast between Milazzo and Capo D’Orlando, should not be missing from the list of norcine specialties. The salami produced here, which bears the PGI mark, benefits from a unique and ideal microclimate for maturing. It seems that its origins can be attributed to the arrival of the Normans in the 11th century, who gave impetus to new eating habits and consumption. Coarse grain, softness and intense aroma characterize this tasty salami. And in the same village, if the Normans are responsible for the origin of the salami, the Arabs are responsible for that of the bocconetto, a traditional sweet made with long candied courgette and almonds.

What better pairing for cured meats than with cheese? And here is the other protagonist of the territory: provola dei Nebrodi, a raw milk caciocavallo obtained from a cheese-making technique handed down among the cheesemakers of the Sicilian cheese-producing municipalities. Eaten both as a table cheese and used in traditional recipes, it is an excellent product to taste.
An indigenous variety of olive, the ‘minuta’ olive, also finds its habitat in the Nebrodi Mountains and produces a very special oil with a spicy, bitter taste and excellent persistence in the mouth.
In Novara di Sicilia, a beautiful village on the border between Nebrodi and Peloritani, and in some neighboring villages, another amazing island cheese is produced: the maiorchino. According to some sources, its origins date back to 1600, when the Maiorchina festival was organized under Spanish rule. This is a pecorino cheese that requires a very long processing time, and for this reason it is not widely produced, with a strong and sweet flavor at the same time, and a long maturation period that can reach two years.
Among the specialties to be sampled in Messina is the delicious focaccia messinese, which has lard in its dough and is stuffed with escarole, tuma and salted anchovies. The pidone, a tasty fried calzone, is made with the same ingredients. And then let yourself be tempted by the scagghiozze, delicious little pieces of fried polenta.


Already known to fans of Montalbano, pasta ‘ncasciata is one of the best expressions of Sicilian cuisine. Its name is said to derive from ‘u n’cascio’, the gesture of placing the pan of pasta on the embers used for cooking. In the Mistretta version, which is widespread throughout the province, baked pasta is enriched with fried eggplants, meat sauce, salami, pecorino cheese, hard-boiled eggs, caciocavallo cheese or tuma cheese: a triumph of flavors for the taste buds!
Among the meat dishes, try the soft Messina-style braciole, veal roulades stuffed with cheese, strictly Sicilian, cooked on the grill.
If you’re wondering what happened to the fish, here it is in one of the historic recipes, stocco alla messinese, a dish in which stockfish, which was imported to Sicily by the Normans, is dressed with a succulent sauce of tomatoes, potatoes, olives and capers.
And then, in the tradition of Messina, there is the swordfish of the Strait, which comes in many versions: from braciolette to baked swordfish covered with breadcrumbs.
Desserts include bianco e nero, a delicious cream-filled cream puff cake reminiscent of French profiteroles. Unlike the French profiteroles, however, the puffs are covered with gianduja cream and large chocolate shavings.
And in the fried food category, the balò alla ricotta and the torciglione Messina will satisfy the sweet tooth, the former with their soft ricotta filling, the latter with a delicious custard.
To close Sunday lunches and for special occasions, the traditional dessert is pignolata, which dates back to Spanish rule and was at one time only made during Carnival. The dessert is made up of a mixture of fried or baked dumplings covered in a black and white icing.

And now all that remains is to move from theory to practice!

Trekking in the Aeolian Islands: the 5 paths not to be missed

Because the Aeolian Islands are the ideal destination for trekking: discover 5 of the unmissable paths

Peaks with incredible views, beautiful trails immersed in the riot of colors of an unspoiled nature and lush, exciting walks on active volcanoes to admire the intense activity as privileged spectators: trekking in the Aeolian Islands is an experience you will not forget.

Each of the 7 islands of the Aeolian archipelago offers hikers different trekking itineraries, not always well signposted, which generally present a medium degree of difficulty both for the difference in height and for the condition of the paths. The temperate climate, typical of the Mediterranean islands, also allows you to take on various paths throughout the year.
Spring is undoubtedly one of the best times to enjoy the explosion of colors of the Mediterranean maquis and also to spot birds such as the herring gull and the queen’s hawk. The autumn will allow you, taking advantage of less high temperatures than the summer but with a sea still “warm”, to dive into the water at the end of your trek without other tourists around.
For those who choose summer, on hot days remember to hike very early in the morning or late in the afternoon, bringing plenty of water with you.
And here we are, camera in the backpack, ready for our tour of the five most beautiful and evocative paths of the Aeolian Islands.

Stromboli Crater, Stromboli (2h)
Stromboli is the island where the four elements – water, earth, air and fire – come together, leaving anyone passing by breathless.
The fountains of lava, the constant explosions and the rain of ash create, in fact, a wonderful natural spectacle that never fails to impress, all amplified by an exceptional scenic context.
Among the most beautiful and exciting experiences of trekking in the Aeolian Islands could not, therefore, miss the ascent to the crater of Stromboli – “iddu” – to observe closely the volcanic activity at night.
Since 2019, following two violent explosions, for safety reasons it is no longer possible to reach the highest point of the island. The current upper limit has been set at 400 m above sea level, only when accompanied by guides; alone it is possible to reach up to 250 m.
The itinerary, that we have covered with the guide, begins after the Church of S. Vincenzo in correspondence of the old cemetery, where there are some tombs dating back to the beginning of 900. We leave in the mid-afternoon in order to arrive at the panoramic point located to the north-west in time to watch the sunset, a prelude to an even more beautiful spectacle that will enrapture us at nightfall: the volcanic explosions.
The path proceeds initially between bends on a sandy bottom mixed with rocks and offers beautiful views of Piscità and Strombolicchio. Among Mediterranean scrub, terraces and streams we arrive at 400 meters, where we find the viewpoint of the Sciara del Fuoco, the wall on which pours the pyroclastic material emitted during the constant and frequent explosions of Stromboli.
Once arrived at the belvedere, the roars from the crater, which is only 350 meters away as the crow flies, make the contemplation of the sunset even more suggestive. When the light finally goes away the red of the lava becomes a magnet that captures our gaze, making it impossible to take our eyes off the lava fountains so close and imposing.
The climb takes a couple of hours and you can return to the starting point by taking the mule track of Punta Labronzo on the way back.

From port to Monte Filo dell’Arpa, Alicudi (2,5h)

Alicudi is the most remote and wildest island of the Aeolian Islands, a true paradise for hikers.
Here trekking is an integral part of life on the island: it is a daily routine for the Arcudari, its inhabitants, and a surprising experience for the guests who stay there. In Alicudi, in fact, roads do not exist and one moves by facing the steep steps that start from the port and connect both the houses and the six districts of the island reaching its top: every movement is transformed, in this way, into a tiring but suggestive trekking on lava stone steps. Whether it is a matter of reaching a house or walking along a path, the unit of measure, a singular peculiarity of the island, is always the step.
And with 1,700 steps, which gradually rising in altitude become higher and more challenging, we take you from the port to the top of the island, Mount Filo dell’Arpa (675 m), which owes its name to the harp, the buzzard in dialect. A unique trekking, which climbs the south-eastern wall of the island, insinuates itself among the beautiful Aeolian style houses, the rows of vineyards that here and there border the path and the abandoned terraces dating back to the beginning of the last century.
In Alicudi, vegetation and man’s hand blend perfectly in a scenario of rare and authentic beauty. Undisputed protagonist and companion during our ascent is the blue sea, increasingly intense behind us. One of the best points to admire it is the belvedere on which stands the small chapel dedicated to San Bartolo, about a third of the way.
After the last houses, the path becomes more impervious and uneven and you risk to lose it because of the vegetation that covers the tracks. Among ferns and stones, after the steep climb that from the port has never softened its slope, we arrive at a vast plain where every now and then some wild goats peep out, watching us with curiosity and fear.
The silence of this place is deafening and here, as in no other place, the solitary charm of this island emerges overbearingly.
A few more meters and we reach the panoramic point, at 670 m high. We look out and the Aeolus begins to blow energetically on our faces, while we enjoy a wonderful view from the top of the Bazzina district and to the east of Filicudi which clearly outlines its profile under the amber light of sunset.
The descent is made by retracing the path in the opposite direction, but pay attention to your knees that will be severely tested by the steps.

Ascent to Punta del Corvo, Panarea (1,5h)
Panarea, the most chic and worldly island of the Aeolian Islands, undisputed realm of entertainment and nightlife, hides a bucolic and authentic side that few people know. It is enough to go beyond the boundaries of the well-kept town, which extends close to the port, to immerse oneself, in fact, in the silent and generous nature that frames the three paths that cross the island.
Let’s take the itinerary that starts to the north of Panarea, near the Calcara beach. From the port follow the indications for the restaurant da Paolino; 200 m after passing the trattoria take the street on the left and continue until you reach a gate.
Here begins the path, immediately immersed in the Mediterranean scrub among mastic, heather, cistus and silene hicesiae, the beautiful flower with pink petals that grows only on this island. In the midst of the vegetation, you begin to see Basiluzzo and Stromboli that shyly show themselves to the north-east, behind the heliport of Panarea.
After the first half hour, the path becomes more exposed, overhanging the sheer wall in front of the Scoglio la Nave. Turning our backs, behind the gorse bushes in the distance you can see the hidden Ginostra, wrapped in a light white haze that contrasts with the golden lights of dusk. A fairy-tale image. We continue through the vegetation that becomes more intense invading the path, but it’s just a little further to reach the summit, Punta del Corvo (421m). The panorama now opens up over Filicudi, Alicudi, Lipari and Vulcano.
From here it is possible to continue by descending on the south side or by crossing the central part of the island. We choose the latter option and we enjoy along the descent a beautiful postcard of Panarea with its white houses surrounded by green, the small dots of boats in the roadstead and Dattilo on the right that are the background. The final stretch of the route is completely immersed in vegetation and ends next to the Raya disco.

Trekking Eolie

Ascent to Gran Crater, Volcano (about 45 minutes)
If the most beautiful and panoramic treks are usually the longest and most tiring ones, the path that leads to the Gran Cratere di Vulcano is certainly the exception that confirms the rule. With a walk of only about three quarters of an hour we can, in fact, admire the fascinating crater of an active volcano situated in one of the most panoramic points of the whole Aeolian archipelago.
The access to the path is located about ten minutes from the port of Levante along the road leading to the villages of Piano and Gelso. The ascent runs along the west side of the volcano on a ground of volcanic sand, surrounded by gorse bushes, which give way to clay tuff higher up. As you climb in altitude, the view opens up to Alicudi, Filicudi, Lipari and Salina. Arrived at the top, 386 meters above sea level, the other two islands, Panarea and Stromboli, also appear in our view, completing a wonderful “picture” to contemplate, especially in the light of dawn or sunset.
Behind us stands the crater with its 500-meter diameter and its particular yellow-reddish coloration due to the action of bacteria that interact with the sulfur of fumaroles. It is necessary to pay attention not to approach it too much both because the jets of vapor reach very high temperatures and because the sulfur is harmful to human health.
Fog from the fumaroles and a breathtaking view of the other Aeolian islands: the perfect setting for a series of photo shoots before setting off along the return route, which is along the same path.

From Valdichiesa to Mount Fossa delle Felci, Salina (2h)
The very green Salina, with its bucolic charm and the perfect geometry of its twin cones, now extinct volcanoes, is crossed by several trekking routes that connect the different places of the island. Here we will explore the path that starts from Valdichiesa (313m), a hamlet of Leni, and reaches the top of Mount Fossa delle Felci (962m), the highest point of all the Aeolian Islands.
The church of Madonna del Terzito, behind which the route begins, is 10 km from Santa Marina Salina and, in case you haven’t rented a scooter or a car, you can reach it with the island’s regular buses.
The path, taken care of by the forest, goes up through a forest of pines, chestnuts and oaks, and crosses in several points a road that can be a good alternative for those who are not used to medium-high slopes. The initial stretch offers a beautiful perspective on Malfa, with the church of the Immacolata and the vineyards all around. At the end of the climb, you cross a thick fern forest, from which the mountain takes its name. Finally, we reach the coveted panoramic point from which to observe Monte dei Porri, the twin cone on the slopes of which rises Pollara, the sweet valley of Valdichiesa, Lipari and Vulcano to the south and, finally, Alicudi and Filicudi to the west.
Calculate about 2h for the ascent, 1h30′ for the descent, which is done by the same path.

All that’s left to do is get your gear ready and go!

Cycling in Western Sicily among salt pans, nature and historic villages

Suggestive salt mountains lying on placid lagoons, villages rich in history and crossroads of peoples, majestic nature with the blue sea as a backdrop: we are in the province of Trapani, in the westernmost part of Sicily. 

The itinerary, to be covered in at least four days to enjoy unhurriedly the wonders the island has to offer, is mostly easy with a few more challenging sections and runs mainly on paved roads for a total of about 180 km.

With its imposing Spanish fortifications dating back to the 16th century, a historic center dotted with splendid Baroque and neoclassical palaces, and a beautiful waterfront that invites romantic strolls at sunset, Trapani is not only the starting point of our itinerary, but an interesting city to explore. A perfect prelude to the Via del Sale: 29 km of rare and poetic beauty to admire while riding our bike.

The easy, flat route begins along the provincial road sp21 of Trapani, among white salt pans and picturesque windmills that follow one another in a crescendo of emotions first within the Saline di Trapani e Paceco Nature Reserve, and then, near Marsala, in that of the Stagnone.

The first stop is Nubia, where we stop to visit the Salt Museum and learn, thus, about the Phoenician origins of the very ancient tradition of salt pans. The shallow waters on the one hand and the high temperatures accompanied by the presence of wind on the other appeared, in fact, to the Phoenician people ideal conditions for the extraction of salt. Large-scale consumption of this precious element and its use for food preservation soon decreed its success: salt began, thus, to be exported throughout the Mediterranean basin and became a pivotal element of the local economy in later eras as well.

The museum shows the different stages of salt processing and the tools used for extraction and harvesting, but the small Trapani hamlet also boasts another product that, though less well known, is characterized by its high quality: red garlic from Nubia. Inevitable in local recipes, such as in the famous pesto alla Trapanese – made with garlic, tomato, almonds, oil, salt and pepper – with which the traditional busiate, a symbolic dish of the Trapani area, are seasoned, Nubia garlic is distinguished by its red color inside, its intense flavor and its packaging in large braids, which are traditionally hung on balconies.

It is, however, in the vicinity of Marsala, in the brand new Stagnone bike path, that we skirt the most striking and spectacular part of the route. The landscape preserves the history and beauty of these places, between the sixteenth-century red roofs of the windmills and the marshy and brackish areas populated by more than 170 species of birds and by flamingos, revealing to our eyes the perfect combination of nature and man’s work. In the background are the four islands of the lagoon: Isola Longa, the largest; Santa Maria, covered in vegetation; San Pantaleo, the most important because of the ancient Phoenician city of Mozia; and the decadent islet of Schola.

We stop at the beautiful location of the Genna Salt Works to admire, “pieds dans l’eau,” an unforgettable sunset: before us the colorful palette of colors created by the reflection of the sun on the water mirrors of the salt crystallization tanks.

Leaving one of Italy’s most evocative cycle routes behind us, we continue to Capo Boeo, the extreme western tip of Sicily where, in a strategic position on the Mediterranean, stands Marsala, the ancient Marsa Allah (port of God) for the Arabs. The city was the scene of an important moment in the Italian Risorgimento: it was here, in fact, that Garibaldi landed in 1860, as the monument to the Thousand on the seafront recalls. However, what really made Marsala famous were the British shortly before, who in the 18th century discovered the wine vocation of these lands, opening the door to the export of the famous wine throughout Europe.

In fact, history attributes the birth of Marsala to English merchant John Woodhouse, who during one of his travels was struck by a sudden cloudburst and forced to take shelter in Marsala. Here, the local wine must have seemed to him so similar to those in vogue in his land at the time, Port and Madeira, that he wanted to introduce it to English salons. In order to make the long journey, however, he decided to dilute it with aquavit: thus Marsala was born. Not to be missed is the tasting in one of the area’s historic and excellent wineries, such as Fina, Martinez or Pellegrino, which well prepares us for the strenuous climb to Salemi, our next stop, to which we arrive intoxicated by the beauty of the vineyards and olive groves that surround us.

The medieval town, which stands majestically in the heart of the Belice Valley, is built around the Norman castle from which Garibaldi hoisted the tricolor flag proclaiming Salemi the first capital of Italy on May 14, 1860. Counted among the most beautiful villages in Italy, Salemi owes its charm not only to its enviable location but also to the “campanedda” stone, a particular sandstone visible in the buildings of the Jewish quarter of Giudecca and the Arab quarter of Rabato and in no fewer than 25 churches in the historic center, which in sunlight take on warm hues ranging from yellow to pink. Inscribed since 2012 in UNESCO’s Register of Intangible Heritage, the campanedda was so renamed because of the sound emitted when the stonemason strikes, which would resemble that of a bell.

After admiring the splendid view from the castle, we indulge in a short stop for a taste of one of the delicacies of these areas: the “Vastedda del Belice,” a Slow Food Presidium, whose name derives from its shape reminiscent of the traditional Sicilian loaf of bread, the “vastedda.” The only stretched-curd sheep’s milk cheese, it is excellent eaten fresh, dressed with oil, or in typical baked pasta timbales.

We continue through rows of vineyards, wheat fields and streams toward Mount Barbaro, where one of Sicily’s great archaeological wonders stands: the city of Segesta, which dominates the valley with an extraordinary panorama of the Sicilian countryside. Founded by the Elymians, one of the oldest indigenous peoples who lived in western Sicily between the 9th and 1st centuries B.C., it has among its main attractions the theater, where in fine weather it is a must to watch the performance of Greek tragedies while in the background the first lights of dawn give the setting a surreal atmosphere.

From the fascinating and lonely hinterland we point to the northwest coast of the island to reach the village of Castellammare del Golfo. This pretty Arab-Norman town, enclosed between the turquoise waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea and Mount Inici, is nestled among ash trees, oaks and holm oaks in a richly vegetated landscape whose profile is outlined by caves and jagged inlets.

The itinerary continues through the 27 km that separate us from the seaside village of Scopello: an unmissable gem set on a promontory overlooking the sea. The Faraglioni in the background and the bucolic and grandiose landscape in the interior enhance its scenic impact. Once known for its tuna fishery, today the village is mainly known for its beauty and for its access to one of the most beautiful and unspoiled places in Sicily, the Zingaro Nature Reserve: 7 km of disruptively beautiful coastline, amid the intense green of the Mediterranean scrub and the different shades of blue that lap the white beaches of its seven coves. We get out of the saddle to immerse ourselves in this paradise, which can only be visited on foot.

On the west side of the Zingaro Nature Reserve, San Vito lo Capo is famous for the Cous Farallon Festival held every year at the end of summer and hosting chefs from all Mediterranean countries, ready to compete to elect the best Cous Cous.

We continue on the coastal road that, passing through the scenic landscape of Macari and the farming village of Castelluzzo, leads us to the Mount Cofano Reserve, the penultimate stop on our itinerary. The red background of the initial dirt road contrasts with the green of the dwarf palms and the white of the rocks, which soon give way to coves and inlets with crystal-clear waters. Beyond Punta del Saraceno, to the southwest, the walls become steeper and overhanging the sea, and the trail becomes harder and rougher. To refresh us, however, a delicious pane cunzato with tomato, olives, capers and mozzarella awaits us at the end of the trail, before the challenging climb to the last stage: Erice.

Situated 750 meters above sea level on the summit of Mount San Giuliano, this beautiful and majestic medieval village offers incredible panoramic views of Trapani and the Gulf of Macari, which will reward the energy expended in tackling the challenging elevation gain.

Founded by the Elymians, to whom the cyclopean walls that outline the perimeter of the town date, Erice was later conquered by the Phoenicians, Romans and Normans. To the latter dates the Castle of Venus, built in the same place where an ancient pagan temple dedicated to the cult of the goddess stood: inside it one can still admire a well in which, according to legend, Venus herself bathed immersed in milk.

A slow walk through the village’s cobblestone streets leads us to the Pepoli Turret, a beautiful Art Nouveau palace built by Agostino Pepoli at the end of the 19th century, from which there is a panorama that embraces the entire gulf as far as Mount Cofano.

We end our itinerary with a gourmand break at Maria Grammatico’s, a true institution of Erice pastry making. Here Sicilian opulence manifests itself in a triumph of colors and flavors, a worthy and well-deserved conclusion to this unforgettable Sicilian weekend.