We didn't have a happy time with food, growing up. Mum was such a bad cook we used to pray AFTER we'd eaten. She had a black belt in cookery – one of her chops would kill you.
Which is why we look on anyone who visits Sicily with true envy.
It's an island influenced not just by Italy but the rich civilisations of the Greeks and Moors, all of whom left their mark on the cuisine.
Take cous cous. There's a special Sicilian way of creating this staple food, carefully prepared with fish and seafood as opposed to the North African recipe using meat. The lovely beach resort of San Vito Lo Capo in Western Sicily celebrates it with an International Cous Cous festival in September.
Indulge yourself in some first class cooking lessons at Foresteria Planeta, a small and well-appointed abode near Menfi, owned by Sicily's most celebrated wine producers, the Planeta family. There’ll also be time to visit one of their wineries, not forgetting to linger at ‘Da Vittorio’ for a superb seafood lunch – featured on BBC’s ‘Sicily Unpacked’ with Giorgio Locatelli, and Rick Stein’s Mediterranean Escapes. Try the ‘pasta ai ricci’, a delicate yet highly aromatic sauce with sea urchin eggs…delicious!
The Foresteria also offers incredible, world renowned cookery courses.
The lovingly restored olive oil farm of Mandranova, near Agrigento, makes a perfect stop whilst travelling east and allows you not only to taste their award-winning oils (used by Jamie Oliver in his restaurants) but also to experience the fascinating production process itself in the property’s working mill (Oct/Nov).
Producing its own excellent wines (try the ‘Rosa Negra’ – a delectable rose made purely from Nero D’Avola grapes) and Sicilian delicacies from its organic farm, a stay at the once Norman Fortress of Torre Marabino is a must for gourmet lovers. Both the cuisine and wines are of a high standard here, and the beautiful stonework and elegant interiors of the restaurant sets the scene for that special occasion.
Aside from a superb range of hotels (from three to five star) Sicily offers the more independent traveller an alternative style of accommodation, ‘agriturismo’ properties tend to be small, family-run establishments ranging from charmingly restored farmhouses to wineries or olive oil estates.
These are smaller and more informal than traditional hotels, so it is commonplace, for example, for dinner guests to socialise over an aperitif while the meal is often prepared and served by the owners themselves.
Staying in an ‘agriturismo’ property is absolutely ideal for those looking for an authentic Sicilian holiday with gastronomy high on their list of priorities and who would like the freedom of exploring the island by car, making for a culturally varied and enticing multi-centre itinerary!
THE SICILIAN GASTRONOMY EXPERIENCE Menfi/ Selinunte – Agrigento – Ispica
Stay at a delightful wine-producing dwelling and learn to cook Sicilian style! Beautiful south coast views, beaches and Greek Temples at Agrigento.
Stay next at a working olive oil farm followed by a scenic journey through the baroque region to Ispica, where your fortified tower accommodation serves up its own excellent organic fare and wines.
Total driving distance approximately 290 miles.
Seven nights from £935 per person inclusive of flights from London Gatwick, economy self-drive hire car and hotel accommodation on BB basis at La Foresteria Planeta, Mandranova and Relais Torre Marabino. Additional charge payable locally for pick up and drop off at different airports.
Cooking Experiences: Each of these hotels offer various cooking experiences ranging from €25 - €120 per person (payable locally). Some date restrictions may apply, please ask for details.
Baglio Oneto (Western Sicily, near Marsala)
A comfortably furnished, Moorish style farmhouse with all the facilities and services of a good hotel, and which produces its own local wines and olive oil. Wine tasting sessions are offered in the hotel’s cellar.
La Foresteria (Western Sicily, near Menfi)
Owned by Sicily’s most celebrated wine producers, the Planeta family, this small hotel is situated in an elevated position surrounded by vineyards. Also offers cookery courses.
Mandranova (Western Sicily, Palma di Montechiaro near Agrigento)
Working olive oil farm with an informal atmosphere coupled with stylishly designed accommodation and delicious food. Offers both olive oil taster and ‘let’s cook together’ sessions.
Relais Torre Marabino (Baroque South East, Ispica)
Originally a Saracen tower with many of its original features still visible, this small historic property offers wine and food from its own organic farm and vineyard. Cooking lessons and a visit to the estate’s authentic wine cellar with wine tasting are available.
(Please note that for each of these wine tastings and cookery courses, charges may apply).