10 Things To Do In An Alternative Weekend In Sicily
No matter how many times you visited Sicily , this island will always be able to offer you new things to do and see. We want to tell you our experience in first-person testing this short tour. It is a remote Sicily, both from the mere enjoyment of the historical and cultural tourism of the most well known sites, and from the typical seaside tourism in the most popular seaside locations. Since the beginning of the Agris Itinere project, the idea that inspired us was to look at our island with new eyes. Even touching known destinations as the city of Palermo, the experience has been studied in the name of discovery. And this is more real when you reach the characteristic places of the hinterland. Locations almost hidden to the general public.
The week-end program step-by-step
For this alternative weekend we chose to start from the heart of Palermo. Our goal: the most famous traditional street-food in Europe.
Then we’ll jump into the bivalent art city of Favara, with cooking lesson attached.
We have been fortunate enough to visit the enchanting Borgo Santa Rita in time to participate to the last stage of grain harvesting.
And since the climate was mild, we took advantage of it, walking through the streets of Campobello di Licata, another small village of peasants and artists. A day of craftsmanship, culinary traditions and artwork inspired by country life.
We’ll tell you now 10 things to do in an alternative weekend like this.
1) Street food in Palermo and its multiethnic origins
To say that Palermo, like the whole Sicily, has been in the millennia land of conquest and consequent cultural mix, it would be an euphemism. And it is in the tradition of “poor” dishes of the so-called street food, which cultures blend come out in all its splendor.
Our Virgil, who will lead us through the odorous circles of this vibrant world is called Marco, a multilingual guide with unmistakable accent (Streaty). We meet him in front of the gigantic lions of the Teatro Massimo, which seems happy to see us. The plan involves crossing two of the city’s historic markets: Capo and Vuccirìa. So, after a nice briefing, we find ourselves catapulted into a carnival of stalls filled with fresh seafood, fruit, meat and fried stuff of all kinds. And our highly-trained guide begins with snappy anecdotes and real curiosities on each of the delicacies that for centuries or millennia renew their invitation to the five senses of the passers-by.
But let’s proceed with order
In the first stall, covered with lemons and sandwiches, a man pulls out from a basket, bare hands, a “portion” of frittola. A bit of mystery surrounds the exact recipe of the frittola. They explained us that in a large part it is a mixture of butchers, cartilage, skin and fried and spiced scraps according to one of the oldest recipes of poor Palermo cuisine. Our perplexed expressions turned into satisfaction after the first hesitant tasting. And this was only the beginning.
Few stalls later, we are the hosts of the historic Dainotti family, who for generations run various commercial activities at the Capo Market. And it is among their tables that we are stuck with arancine (strictly feminine), panelle and cazzilli . Each bite corresponds to an historical note on the Arabic origin of the saffron that colors arancine. Or when the Normans invented breading. We learn the old fish-shaped panelle and the erotic metaphor from which came out the name of the cazzilli. Marco does not forget a dialect lesson for us, noting his resemblance with Arabic sound rather than Italian.
Then followed the sfincione of Via Maqueda, the sandwich with the meusa (spleen) from the historical meusaro of Vuccirìa, and a pause of “schiticchio” at the Taverna Azzurra. Liqueur wines accompanying caciocavallo cheese, olives and bread from Monreale. Delirious of taste buds. And just outside of Vuccirìa market, a handmade ice cream bowl is a first-round bell.
2) Between castles and ancient churches, here is the most contemporary art center in Southern Europe – Favara
It’s been many years since the town of Favara has become the symbol of urban recovery and the relaunch of this rural area, in the past a little snubbed by international tourism. The key to understand this change is contemporary art and state-of-the-art architecture, applied to the ancient courtyards of the old town thanks to the Farm Cultural Park project.
Annalisa, our guide today (GoSicily), wisely decides to split our visit in two stages: one dedicated to the history of the city and a second one dedicated to the latest novelties. And in the middle a very traditional cooking session.
So we first stepped on the floor of the large rooms of the Chiaramonte’s Castle, the ancient library and the baroque church of Santo Rosario. Then we immersed ourself in the courtyard quarter, where the Farm Cultural Park is located. By walking, Annalisa is entertaining us with the history of the city, anecdotes of everyday life and village culture. Telling us about all aspects of the positive economic and cultural explosion that the city is experiencing today.
3) A cooking lesson in Favara
But before going into the Farm and discovering the many treasures scattered in its courtyards, we have an equally important appointment with the stoves. And then aprons for everyone! The guide becomes chef and introduces us, mani in pasta, preparing typical dishes such as homemade cavati, stuffed artichokes and almond cubaita. This cooking class ends in the best way: at the table.
Once we get back from the thrill of the good meal and the satisfaction of having prepared such dishes with our hands, we are actively involved in the exploration of the Changing Farm.
4) A walk through the sixth world destination for contemporary art lovers
Photographic exhibitions of international artists, street art of all kinds and even a true architecture school for children are the first impact for us in the Farm. The alleyways among the courtyards are crowded with groups of people, including North-European architects, national TV journalists, video-makers, tourists, and curious. The feeling is to be in a junction of energies and intelligences.
5) The ghost village is filled with life for harvest – Borgo Santa Rita
In the campaign near Caltanissetta the predominant color during this time of the year is the gold of the wheat fields. In recent years, however, a battle is being carried out in the whole island for the recovery and use of so-called Sicilian antique grains . And all this ferment increases the value of a frontier and experimentation site like Borgo Santa Rita.
Its origins date back to the end of the nineteenth century, when it was a lively village where a thousand people lived, all peasants, dedicated to cultivating the countryside around Caltanissetta. Today, only five families live there permanently, and this should be a ghost town. Instead, moving through the seemingly abandoned streets, you can perceive so much romance and desire to redeem.
Our first step is the brand-new Immaterial Micromuseum of Wheat and Bread. Our host is Salvatore. From the upgrading of the Baron’s Palace, Salvatore had the idea of creating a memory bank of this world that for centuries has lived of grain just in these places.
Entering into the Micromuseum is just like a time travel. This is a journey that involves all five senses. The first moment of astonishment comes when welcoming us to the entrance of the first hall is nothing but the hologram of Baroness La Lomia, owner of these lands two centuries ago. Following are halls dedicated to the sensory exploration of this world. On the walls open holes to put your hands and touch the grain, the flour, the yeast… On a second wall you can smell the scents. Then some amplifiers give you the chance to hear the sound of the wind between the wheat ears, the crickets, the birds and so on. Salvatore tells us that the excitement we are demonstrating is even more amplified when schoolchildren come to visit the museum. To demonstrate this, all the walls are covered with colorful post-its left by the children to comment on what they saw, felt, touched.
There follows a projection room, and a whole floor dedicated to the scientific and historical aspects of grain, harvesting and baking.
And here we are, as real good students, to theory we immediately follow the practice. In fact, just before the museum comes to collect us the tractor of Salvatore’s father. We go on the trailer and make a funny ride to reach the wheat field, the today’s first true laboratory. At 360° the scenario is governed by the wheat fields. Salvatore’s father pointed out the difference between the ears of commercial grain and the tallest dark wheat, the “perciasacchi”. Sickles in our hands, we begin to gather the ears, concentrated as neurosurgeons under the watchful eyes of Salvatore’s dad. Though the sun is high and the heat begins to beat, we continue our harvesting as it is our unique life purpose. Shooting more photographs than at a movie star wedding. Feeling like Maximus Decimus Meridius in the final scene of the Gladiator.
7) The ghost village baker
The award after so much effort is a visit to the famous Forno Santa Rita where we find Maurizio aiming to cook dozens of fragrant loaves. It is from the bakery of Maurizio who started the experiment in place here at Borgo Santa Rita. Maurizio chose with courage and capriciousness to open his business into the Borgo. But his decision went further: he explains that in his oven only selected raw materials are used with the old methods inherited by our grandmothers. Mother yeast, Sicilian antique grain flakes and so much patience are the recipe for this bread that is going around the world. Cherry on the cake is a tasty pizza prepared with Maurizio’s pasta, cherry tomatoes and local goat cheese.
8) In the land of sulfur, between art and crafts – Campobello di Licata
The last stop of our weekend is among low hills covered with vineyards, almond trees and olive trees. Campobello di Licata is a village with agricultural vocation, which also had a great past in mining. Here we are at home, however, Campobello can always surprise us for the hospitality and the goodness of his culinary tradition.
History and culture are not lacking. In Campobello we visit the unique in the world theme park dedicated to Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. They call it Valley of Painted Stones. A journey of dozens and dozens of painted monoliths that illustrate and reinterpret the figures of Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise. All in the green of Mediterranean scrub. In addition, the same hand that painted the valley also cared for the murals that decorate the town hall, and many of the squares in the city. The result is impressive.
And here we come to look at a workshop of art and crafts. Salvina works and paints terracotta, pottery. In addition to sewing, embroidering, painting real paintings, and who knows what else. We admire its small but colorful display made of bummuli, more’s heads, serving dishes, Sicilian carriages. Then she takes us to her lab where she reveals some secrets about the color mix and the temperature of the terracotta oven.
9) The Campobello’s culinary tradition and lu mpurnatu’s recipe
Along our walk there are many places that allow us to taste the Campobello specialties. In order: almond desserts, donuts (or giambelli), scanatu bread seasoned with local organic olive oil. Then there is the mpanata, a pasta worked to become thin and elastic, stuffed with spinach, onion, cauliflower (or bruoccula) and black olives. Definitely a tasty vegetarian dish.
Near the lunch we are hosted by the restaurant “La Madonnina”. Here, the chef Giovanni introduces us to the art of cooking lu mpurnatu (baked pasta in the campobellese way). An easy recipe that takes 24 hours to complete! So we learn the right amount of eggs for a pan (more than you are thinking). And before the foil paper and the oven paper, the large cabbage leaf was used to cover the baking tray in the stone oven. We find that almond wood burning gives a special aroma to the dishes. But also that Campobello baked pasta goes well with the wine of Campobello.
10) Among goat’s cheeses and glasses of one of Sicily’s finest wines
Let’s have a quick greeting to the queen of the Agrigento countryside: the girgentana goat. The Montalbo Farm allows us to meet the famous twisted horns of their goats while they are grazing. In front of them it seems to be in front of a mythological animal, with a dignity that you do not expect from a goat. Undoubtedly this is the most special meeting this weekend. David, the owner, does not let us go without tasting some of the delicacies produced in his dairy. Unforgettable the caciotta “ammucciata”, or the scirocco, a cheese without the addition of rennet.
From there we head to the award-winning cellar of Baglio del Cristo di Campobello. Where we are welcomed by Carmelo, the owner, who leads us from one room to another of his cellar. So we can see the great French wood barrels, hybridized with the latest technology, bottling and then the room where the wines rest and grow old. From the passionate words of Carmel we understand how much the profession of vinification is at the same time an art, a philosophy and a science.
Likewise wine tasting must be done with respect and attention to detail. So we are guided through the different types of cultivars and the resulting aromas. And, very satisfied, we go out in the court in front of the baglio, in time to admire the sunset on Campobello hills, refreshed by the breeze coming from the sea, not far away.
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