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Took a 5 day road trip from Catania airport to Palermo airport, then spent a day in Palermo.
Drove from airport to Ortigia, where headed straight to the market and specifically to Caseficio Borderai. Had best cheese of the trip + fresh canolo, and were very well taken care of by the owner. Also tasted excellent wine. The “expert” sandwich maker shows up around noon, we showed up more like 11 am and were taken care of with little line. After noon there was a long line, but probably you get more spectacular sandwiches. My only complaint is that I didn’t like the bread for the sandwiches, has a sweet finish.
What I would have liked to do, if it hadn’t been pouring was to visit the Necropolis of Pantalica to hike. It’s about 1.5 hours from Modica, 1.5 hours from Ortigia. In fact, you could stock up on sandwiches at the Caseficio Borderai and then head to Pantalica for a long day. The towns you can enter Pantalica from are Sortino and Ferla.
From Ortigia, we drove to Il Granaio hotel spa, near Modica. It’s a hotel in the countryside. We had a nice though not spectacular dinner where we discovered Milazzo wine at the suggestion of the owner. It was our favorite wine on the trip, and appears on many menus at nice restaurants thoughout Sicily. I would stay at Il Granaio again but it wasn’t essential. They have a spa, that was pleasant. I might prefer to stay at this lovely looking agriturismo that was closed for winter: http://bagliocchipinti.com, or in Modica proper, though in February it was pretty empty. Between Modica and Ragusa, we really loved Modica, it is so beautiful and fun to walk around. Note that in Feb most of the restaurants recommended on Chowhound in Modica/Ragusa were closed for the month. Places I wanted to eat based on CH reviews in Modica: Accursio as fine dining, slightly cheaper Loconda del Colonello which is supposed to be excellent. Suggestions include stay at Palazzo Failla Hotel, http://www.palazzofailla.it/ they also own Locanda del Colonello, or to stay at fancier b&b Casa Talia.
Checked out of Il Granaio and went to a tour at La Timpa, http://www.latimpatempoenatura.it/il-.... Email them to reserve it in advance. It was a deeply interesting tour of an old water-operated historic mill that has been lovingly restored by its owners, who also grow ancient grains and use the mill to grind flour. They actually operated it with the water and showed us how the mill works. They have some saffron fields, and sell their pasta and flour, and do a tasting of the bread from their flour. Highly recommended (12 euros per person).
From there we popped into Ragusa for a walk around, then headed to Modica to visit Sabadi chocolate where you can taste every single type of chocolate they make. Very precise and focused on ingredients and process. This is not your typical Modica chocolate though it does have the same general style. Nice, but maybe not essential. Interesting flavors, such as marjoram infused chocolate.
From there we drove up to Modicarte, above Modica, for a cooking class with Maurizio and his sister. He has worked at kitchens abroad and in Duomo, the 2 or 3 michelin star place in Ragusa. It was delicious and we learned a lot, and they were very nice and kind. We also stayed in their simple but clean and comfortable rooms, very affordable. Would recommend highly- thanks for Chowhound folks for the tip. http://www.modicarte.it.
We headed to Scicli, a very lovely town with all these churches on hills you can hike around to. Definitely recommend. There seems to be great food around but I didn’t research or eat there.
From there we drove up to Piazza Armerina area to see the Villa Romana del Casale, which is spectacular for 4th century Roman mosaics. And then we backtracked a bit and drove to Caltagirone, based on a restaurant recommendation from Maurizio (cooking teacher) to go to La Coria. https://www.ristorantecoria.it/. This is two chefs who also used to work at Duomo in Ragusa and started a lovely Sicilian fusion restaurant. Their fixed menus start at 45 euros, and their wine pairing was fantastic (we had Cusomano 700 – sparkling, Frapatto Valle dell’Acate, Cusomano Nero de Avalo 2007). They were willing to change the menu to deal with our food requirements, and I’d highly recommend. Caltagirone is lovely- famous for ceramics and its tiled steps heading up to a viewpoint. A few hours to wander is perfect. We stayed at the very clean and nice Palazzo dei Vespri, from which we could walk anywhere.
We drove to Milazzo to taste their wines. This was a beautiful inland mountain drive, but the tasting itself, while very informative, was limited to 3 of their wines and they don’t sell the wines there, you have to go to the next village to buy bottles. In addition, it’s only got a few of its vineyards nearby, their land is scattered. We loved the host, but for the full wine tasting experience in retrospect I’d have tried to visit Arianna Occopinti, COS, or Valle dell’Acate vineyards instead, all of which are in Vittoria and closer to Modica.
Then we drove, again at the suggestion of Chowhound contributor Ziggy, who was the guardian angel of our trip, to Porto Empedocle. This town has nothing special except the amazing Salmoriglio, where we ate one of the two best seafood meals of the trip. It’s in a less charming part of Sicilian coast, but worth getting there. My absolute favorites there were the crudo trip- specifically their smoked salmon served in a smoke filled dome, the tuna tartare with burrata. And, the tuna main with clementines.
Worth noting that we skipped La Madia in Licata this time- have been before- it’s amazing, but again in a middle of no-where, nothing much to do town- the restaurant is only reason to go. La Madia has 2 michelin stars, and the tasting menu is spectacular. I’d recommend, also for vegetarians if you tell them in advance, but for us it was either Salmoriglio or La Madia, and we chose the former based on driving time. They aren’t really in the same league, La Madia is a more fancy knock your socks off, whereas Salmorigio is a very nice, elegant seafood restaurant with some exquisite dishes a la carte, no extensive tasting menus.
Then we checked out Scali dei Turchi for a beach walk, very pretty place. And then we headed inland to a strange agriturismo I wouldn’t recommend. However we at least learned from them about pesto trapanese, made of almond walnut tuna anchovies garlic ragusana dop cheese, oil. I never saw it anywhere else, but want to try to make it.
I wish we had stayed (instead of the weird agriturismo) in Sciacca (no particular hotel recommendation but locals said it’s a lovely town- Porto San Paolo was a suggested restaurant) or in Porto Pala to stay and eat at da Vittorio, which was recommended highly as a charming spot, but close in February.
We left early and arrived at Selinunte at 9 am, it was a spectacular site, about 8 miles walking (there is a golf cart option but we loved the walk). Then we drove towards Trapani to Bonagia, where we ate an amazing seafood lunch at La Sirena, again kudos to Ziggy on CH. The anchovies to start and the scorpionfish soup were amazing as was the expo pasta. Lovely place, also middle of nowhere but great.
If we had more time, I would have added a day on this coast to see Mazzara del Valle, Marsala, Trapani, and taste some Marsala and other local wines. Instead, we headed to Palermo airport to return the car (avoid driving into Palermo if you can) and headed into Palermo for our last 2 nights.
We stayed in Palermo at the lovely Palazzo Lincoln, the owner was a gem and we would recommend it. We ate at La Cambusa for our last sit down dinner- also thanks to Ziggy’s CH posts. Delicious food, highly recommended.
Walked around Palermo, mainly eating food on the street and buying endless ingredients, spices, capers, etc at the markets. The markets all seem to have the same stuff (Ballaro, Capo). If you see someone frying artichokes on the street in the market, stop and eat them. We also loved the fried food at Passami u Coppu, near Quattro Canti. It was sooo good- we had the zucchini flowers with ricotta salata and fried artichokes (good but not as good as the street artichokes). Had I had larger stomach capacity there were 5 other fried things I was excited to try.
Personally, didn’t love the arancini specialty store Ke Palle, further down the same street, which is next door to a good but still not spectacular cannoli only store. I think you can do better. But also, I don’t think I’m a fan of arancini- they take up too much of my appetite when I want to taste a little of everything.
We headed to Capella Palatina, which is spectacular mosaics. Afterwards, stopped by Pasticceria Cappello, a bakery, for their famed Settevelli cake. Didn’t have time to head to Monreale Cathedral this time, but everyone should go, it’s amazing. Really.
We ended our day at 4 pm at Enoteca Picone, which has a vast assortment of Sicilian, Italian and global wines. They were willing to create a flight for us, mainly woman winemakers and tiny places that don’t export. They also have a small by great menu, the tuna bresaola I had there (thin sliced salt cured tuna) with raw celeriac shreds goes as one of my absolute favorite dishes on the whole trip. We were able to ship a box of unique Sicilian wines to the US from there. They were fantastic and knowledgeable.
If I had more time, I wanted to eat at Ferro da Cavallo and Bisso Bistro (both suggested by our host at Palazzo Lincoln). And there were other enotecas I wanted to try. We popped into one bar called Basquiat, very cute and seems to have high quality and a popular aperitivo. Others I’d like to try next time: Cana Enoteca.
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