By Marcia Frost
Sicily is a mix of the ancient and modern, especially when it comes to eating and drinking. It’s also one of the best places to taste the flavors of Italy from the wine to the capers.
Learning to Cook
The Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School is an adventure from the beginning. You’ll drive up a dirt road (hold onto your belongings as you circle the cliff) on a mountain to reach the small town of Regaleali. The first thing you will see there is the Case Vecche villa. It feels so Italian you can hear a “Ciao!” even before it comes out of anyone’s mouth.
The villa is not extravagant in any way. The rooms are not fancy either. But everything is centered around a perfectly quaint open air courtyard. Except for the kitchen, this is the place to gather. Fabrizio Lanza, who took over the school from her mother Anna, is always around to greet guests. The garden at Anna Tasca Lanza is magnificent. It houses ever fruit, vegetable and herb imaginable, and Fabrizio loves to use them all when she demonstrates in the kitchen. Friends and frequent guests include Mario Batali and Alice Waters.
Some students come to spend a day learning to cook and some stay a month, but everyone who comes to the school is welcome in the same kitchen and dining room that all the magic occurs in. After a few days you will be completely relaxed, eating a breakfast of the homemade yogurt and marmalade you made, with a fig tart you just baked.
The first stop on the wine trail is Ragusa, near Valle dell Acate. This picturesque city is filled with small shops and cobblestone streets, where the local men gather to gossip at night. When you visit the winery, leave time to check out the museum – and sample their Zagra, filled with tropical flavor thanks to a blend of grillo and insolia grapes. If you’d rather cool off with your wine, try the gelataria in Ragusa Ibla, where they make moscato and rosé gelato.
The wine maker Donnafugata has locations in Marsala, Contessa Entellina, Come Raggiungerci and Pantelleria. They are all different wineries to blend with the surroundings. They are also each individualized to what produces the best on that land. The Marsala location is the main headquarters for the family, and a great place for a tasting of their Lighea Moscato.
Tasca D’Almerita also has a number of estates throughout Sicily, with the main one in Regaleali. They have a huge production list that includes sparkling and rosé wines. While they do have all the Italian grapes in their vineyards, they were also the first in Sicily to produce Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, both of which they do quite well.
Eating Capers and Raisins
The island of Pantelleria is technically much closer to Africa than it is Italy, but it’s been claimed by the Sicilians as their own and a place not to be missed. The land across the Mediterranean Sea is filled with cliffs, valleys, ancient ruins, vineyards and capers. Expect to be blown away by the views.
Most of the vineyards on Pantelleria – all of which are producing muscato – are owned by Donnafugata. They process their grapes differently than in other places by drying some of the ones going in the wine in the sun first. These “raisins” are the meatiest and sweetest you’ve ever tasted, and have become a popular island treat on their own.
Pantelleria is also famous for its capers. They grow up and down the side of a mountain here, and bags of them are sold in all sizes at local stores. Before you leave the island, you should check out these interesting plants, and also make stops at Venus Lake and Elephant Arch.
Palermo is the main airport in Sicily. You can fly there directly from many cities within Europe, or from Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport in Rome. Palermo is a good starting point for all your adventures. The only place you won’t be able to reach by car is Pantelleria, but you can catch a short flight there from Palermo or Trapani.