January 14, 2021

Enjoying a refreshing Italian gelato in Cefalú

Enjoying a refreshing Italian gelato in Cefalú

Ah, the trips of yore… Before the pandemic and shelter in place.

In may 2017 my mother got married in Italy to her Italian boyfriend. Their wedding party was in Sicily and it is certainly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

It was perfectly scheduled for the end of May, at that incredible end of Spring time when the weather is great but its still not too hot and everyone is happily outdoors.

But you can’t talk about Italy and not talk about Rome. I’ll probably have a separate set for Rome alone, but I could not refrain from a few photos and comments here. We spent a few days there for the start of the trip. The weather was perfect and we walked around a bit while we were there.

We visited the main places - the Vatican, of course, and the Sistine Chapel, the Fontana di Trevi and the Pantheon around the historic town, the Piazza Navona with its many bars, restaurants and classic fountains (and, little know, location of the Brazilian Embassy to Italy). But we strolled through the charming small neighbourhoods as well. One of the best is the Trastevere region, a bohemian area with colorful small buildings, happy tourists walking around and filled with traditional tattorias as well as trendy craft beer pubs. It’s an amazing place to have good lunch, spend an afternoon around and end the day in a bar drinking a refreshing Aperol Spritz.

Another gem we had the luck of finding and managed to visit was the Terrazza Borromini, a rooftop bar at the Eitch Borromini hotel. It is located at the Piazza Navona, although the entrance is from a side street, and it has the most amazing ‘from the top’ view of the Piazza and breathtaking skyline sights during the sunset.

And when in Rome… I couldn’t forget the drinks and food! As I mentioned before, having an Aperol watching the sunset and a vero Carbonara for dinner is indescribable. And the evening strolls bathed by the city lights when going back home make for a superb end of the day.

Now for the main course! Sicily. The largest island of the Mediterranean, a place of ancient history, part of the Greek and the Roman empires, and home of the still active Etna volcano.

And speaking of which, it was our first stop in Sicily. The Etna had been active just 2 months prior - March 16 2017, and a few stones were even still hot. The scenary is of complete desolation and to go all the way up you take a lift and then a small shuttle, called the Funivia dell’Etna. You could venture going up by yourself by foot, but I would certainly not recommend it. The day was a bit cloudy, so visibility was not the best while we were there.

We chose to stay in the city of Noto as a hub/base for the wedding. It’s a small medieval city with its many narrow streets. We tried a few of the many good restaurants there and got to see a bit of the city under the night lights. There isn’t a lot to see and you can walk the entire city in an hour or so, but it was well located and close to where the wedding was going to be.

Our next destination was the city of Syracuse. If Sicily was home for the Greeks and the Romans, Syracuse was its ancient capital. It was founded by the Greeks in 734 BC and changed hands a couple of times. The city is full of ruins and historic places and is a must see in Sicily.

One of the top spots we loved is the Isola di Ortigia, or the Ortigia Island, with its narrow streets, ancient squares and classic Cathedral. We took a walk through the Marina seashore plaza with its many restaurants, spend quite some time enjoying the deep blue colors of the Mediterranean and lost ourselves in a maze of little streets.

A bit outside the city is the Neapolis Archeological Park. We got there almost by closing hours and so did not have a lot of time to explore. We did check out the Greek Theater, which is in much better condition than its Roman counterpart, and visited the Catacombs of San Giovanni (technically outsite of the park, but close by).

I won’t go into details about the wedding, except to say it was held in this extremely picturesque fishermen’s village - Marzamemi, population 367 - on a perfect blue-skied day. And we had lots of fun.

After the wedding, me and my wife - girlfriend at the time - split from the group for the remainder of the trip and started our own road trip. We drove west towards Agrigento and stopped in Modica and Ragusa on our way there.

Modica is known for its Baroque buildings, its chocolate (not that good for my taste, by the way) and its many hills encrustred with white and beige houses. We parked and walked around for a few hours before moving on to Ragusa.

Ragusa has a very peculiar topology. The city is located at a hilltop mostly divided in two main hills split by a small valley. To reach the smaller secondary hilltop you have to go down the valley a bit and then up again.

As mostly happens, the coziest side of the city is the smallest hilltop, old and filled with nice restaurants to have lunch. And that’s exactly what we did.

When we finally got to Agrigento it was almost night. We chose a bed-n-breakfast to sleep in and walked the city til sunset. Again, it’s one of these small ancient cities, the kind of which Sicily is filled with. But to each their own peculiarity. Agrigento is also located on a hilltop, but closer to the sea than Modica or Ragusa. And in between the city and the sea you can find an amazing archeological site called Valle dei Templi, or Valley of the Temples. By the way, what is it with Sicilians and hilltops? It’s almost like being at a strategically higher terrain could help you during an invasion and you wouldn’t have to change dominions from Greeks to Romans to Bizantines so many times during your history.

Anyway, the city has ridge-placed restaurants and some cute shopping streets, and the ambience is perfect for a red wine and a plate of prosciutto and mozarella in the evening.

But the main site really is the Valle dei Templi. It’s huge, and encompasses the remains of seven Greek temples which have been carefully restored throughout the times. Other then the temples we also walked through the remains of some close-by villages and catacombs.

Next, we headed North, towards the coastal city of Cefalú. But as in any good roadtrip, we stopped along the way. This time we stopped to check out the remains of a 4th-century villa and enourmous estate, rich with mosaics on the floor of every room. The Villa Romana del Casale has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a beautiful place to see.

Cefalú, on the other hand, is a place to rest and enjoy. Coastal, lively and filled with tourists, perfect for our summer vacation time. We stopped by a seaside bar and order bruschettas with a couple of Peroni beers, then got a refreshing Italian gelato and just enjoyed the sun and the scenery.

People really do just sit at the marina breakwater and watch the time go by. We did that while sipping a glass of Aperol and then watched the sun hide itself behind the sea. Just beautiful.

After Cefalú we had our final complete day before heading back home. And the largest stretch to cover.

We decided to finish the day in Catania, the capital of Sicily, and where we would get the plane back. To get there we had to go around the island’s northeast corner through an amazing coastal highway, heading East, getting to the closest point to continental Italy in Sicily, and then heading back South to Catena.

On our way there we stop for lunch in Savoca, a slightly more inland and uphill city, reachable only by a very narrow and windy road. The town was the location for The Godfather’s Corleone, and we visited (and had lunch) at the famous Vitelli bar, where Michael Corleone asked Apollonia’s father to meet his daughter.

Last, but not least, we visited the famous city of Taormina. Again, occupying a ridge right by the Mediterranean sea, granting us breathtaking views of the hills and the sea meeting. Taormina is an old touristic city and has beautiful beaches along its shoreline.

When we visited, the city had just been host to the G7 summit 4 days earlier, with leaders of the seven participating nations present, along with hundreds of their aides and staff.

We spend the afternoon there and the city was packed! We walked throught the old town and headed over to the Teatro Antico di Taormina, the ancient Roman theater, overlooking the sea. We ended the afternoon at the Giardini della Villa Comunale, a public garden originally settled by a Scottish noblewoman, later taken public by the town. It is right at the edge of the ridge and we had the best views from there.

After Taormina we headed back to Catania, but got there too late to visit, and our plane left very early the next day. It’s a much bigger city than everything else we’ve been seeing and it clashed so much with the small town vibes we had throughout the trip that we didn’t like it very much.

I highly recommend making a dedicated trip in Sicily and taking your sweet time to get to know each place! It’s well worth it.

I’ll leave with a picture of me and the vibes of summer time in Sicily. Til next time!