A trip around Italy, a must for anyone, should absolutely include a stopover in Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean and the cradle of civilization since the dawn of time. Ruled variously by the Greeks, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, and the Spanish House of Aragon (amongst others), it is a wonderful example of how cultures can follow and criss cross one another, creating unexpected and therefore surprising results.
Today we are in Taormina, a splendid town in eastern Sicily, not far from Mount Etna. This majestic volcano is so high that, in winter, its snow-capped summit sits proudly on display. For this leg of the journey, we’re accompanied once more by Jenny, my right-arm woman. She is quiet and observant and can at first seem shy. It just takes a bit of time, until she feels more at home, and then you get to see how lovely she is. We've been working together for nearly 25 years! She was very young when she first started working at MarcoMoreo, she says we are her family! It is always an honor for me to hear her say that.
I can just see it now, the conversation we’ll have as we slowly climb toward the Greek Theatre (known here as the Teatro Antico). It is the most famous image of Taormina; its stage, like a balcony, looks out onto the coast, to Mount Etna and across the cobalt-blue of the sea.
An altogether Italian custom is the struscio – the stroll down the main street of a town or city. Here, that street is Corso Umberto I and it lies between two ancient gates that give access to the town center: Porta Catania to the south and Porta Messina to the north. In Roman times it was known as the via Valeria and it connected the cities of Messina and Catania.
Jenny suggests that, as we walk down Corso Umberto we nibble on a delicious brioche with ice-cream (virtually a meal in itself, and not to be missed) or a fresh granita, a slushie that also comes with a rich brioche. But what flavor do we choose? I recommend the Bronte pistachio – named after the area on the slopes of Mount Etna where pistachio trees grow naturally. The fruit of these trees is still picked by hand, every 2 years, and then left to dry in the sun. When it comes to a granita I can’t decide between almond with a dash of coffee (a breakfast-time classic) or black mulberry – those big, sweet, tasty berries that are just perfect for an afternoon break.