During my stay in Taormina I took a day tour to visit a ricotta maker and see some of the old villages nestled in the mountains of Sicily.
Once our large group was all aboard the coach our guide Alida, translated everything into English, Dutch, German and Italian to accommodate everyone on the bus. What a clever cookie – wouldn’t it be great to be fluent in so many different languages!
As the coach weaved its way through the Peloritani Mountains, Alida explained that Sicily (approximately 25,000sqm) is the most important island in the Mediterranean. The red and yellow flag of Sicily bears the sun or head of Medusa and three legs pointing to the main areas of Sicily – Palermo, Messina (the area I was in) and Syracuse.
After a beautiful drive around the villages of Etna we arrived at the medieval town of Montalbano, a small city that once had a population of 8,000 but our guide said many people have left as there isn’t much work around, and only around 2,000 residents remain.
Here we visited a local farmer who makes cheeses like ricotta and provola. We first went downstairs to see the room where all the cheese are made – where balls of cheese bobbed up and down in sinks of milky liquid and netted bags hung on racks with cheese while they formed – and then we headed upstairs for the important business of sampling the cheeses.
The couple prepared generous plates for us with all the different cheeses, along with some local red wine and fresh bread.
The stand out for me was the smoked ricotta. The outside was firm and the inside was delicately soft and spongey. I would have loved to bring some of this home!
We jumped back on the coach and went to the site of stone age rocks for a scenic walk to see a formation of large megalithic rocks, shaped like animals and people.
One formation looked like a giant bunny rabbit, one had the Picasso-like face of a lion and there was even a tall figure of a lady praying who the locals have named Mary. My favourite was these large stones which are known as Adam and Eve, representing fertility.
A walk through the mountains is a great way to work up an appetite so we got back on the coach and headed to a family restaurant, Testa Dell’Acqua Trattoria, for a long grazing lunch.
We sat at a long table, taking up most of the dining room and for €14 each (approx AUD$20) we were served endless plates including fresh bread, steaming baked ricotta (it is baked whole and then sliced), roasted courgette (zucchini) and peppers (capsicum), fluffy ricotta dumplings, along with homemade wine and water.
Just when we thought we’d had enough, the waiter arrived to serve everyone from a large dish of pasta with eggplant and tomato, topped with shaved ricotta.
We sat, we chatted, we ate and we drank. It was a fantastic day and a great way to meet other visitors to Sicily.
We also saw Mount Etna, which lies on the east coast of Sicily and is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It is both the highest mountain and largest volcano in Italy and the tallest active volcano on the European continent.
A number of towns below Mount Etna have been hit by lava streams from Mount Etna’s eruptions. Years later what’s left behind is endless piles of black lava stones that remain for around one hundred years, unless the area is bulldozed and covered in organic matter so the land can renew.
Some of the other towns we saw in the Piedimonte Etneo area were Rochella (meaning between the rocks), Randazzo, a town at the bottom of Etna that is home to the 13th century Church of Santa Maria and has a lava stream from an eruption in 1981 and Linguaglossa (meaning thick tongue) which has a lava stream from an eruption in 1923.
It was a wonderful day and made me fall even more in love with the beauty of Sicily. Next time I visit I must explore more of this picturesque, rural part of Italy.
Check out more of my Sicily posts: