Martorana Church - Sicily
The Regaleali Estate
The Great Wine & Food of Sicily
22 - 30 September 2012
Sicily has long been an Arblaster & Clarke Wine Tours ‘Classic’ wine holiday and this up-dated itinerary visits Etna; features the fascinating cities of Syracuse, Palermo and Marsala and, as always on an Arblaster & Clarke Wine Tours holiday, has superb and extensive wine tastings, dinners and lunches at the best wine estates that Sicily has to offer. Many of the meals will not only be shared with the owners and winemakers that produce these spectacular wines but will have been cooked by them or specially at their request to match their wines. We have limited the tour to a maximum of just 24 participants so early booking is highly recommended.
One of the great joys of this wine tour has always been the superb meals at stunningly set, remote wine estates where we discover superb traditional recipes (which have become firm favourites in Tim Clarke’s cooking repertoire as a result) that match these great wines. It is no surprise that the latest book from Giorgio Locatelli on Sicilian cuisine has proved so popular – and you’ll enjoy many of these great dishes on this tour. We’ll ensure that the recipes are discussed with you so that you can re-create them back home as you are bound to feel inspired to do so.
We begin on Sicily’s fiesty landmark – Mount Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe, with dinner at the wine estate of Barone di Villagrande, which belongs to the charming Dottoressa Nicolosi. She produces some top Etna White and Red as well as a more complex barrel aged Fiore and a stunning fortified Moscato from the Island of Salina (which is a staple in Lynette & Tim Clarke’s personal cellar for after dinner drinking!).
We check out of the hotel today and head for a visit with the Benanti family, who have been producing wines on the slopes of Mount Etna since the 1800s. In 1998 the family set up a modern winery and since that date have been concentrating on the terroir of Mount Etna combined with indigenous grape varieties such as Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, which we will taste over lunch at the estate.
This afternoon we check into our hotel on the ancient harbour of Syracuse. The remainder of this afternoon you will be able to stroll around the lovely harbour city, which was one of the most important cities of the Western World for over a thousand years. At the Cathedral the Doric columns remind you that it was once a temple of Athene. The Ortygia (which means quail in Greek), where our hotel is situated, is the small island of the old town, linked to the rest of the town by two bridges. Worth visiting, just out of town is the Greek theatre, with a capacity of 15 000 people making it one of the largest in the world. Syracuse is a truly beautiful small city, great for strolling around especially in the evening as the sun sets, picking out the glow of the golden stones.
On all evenings, when there is no dinner included, you are as on all A&C fully escorted tours, welcome to join our team at their choice of restaurant. Sicilian cuisine is very different from mainland Italy, reflecting its varied history and the many cultures that have invaded over the years. Pasta alla sarde is one of the many classic dishes showing the Arab influence – pasta with sardines, wild fennel, pine nuts and sugar – and Sicilian puddings are gaudily coloured including _Cassata _(sponge cake with ricotta and marzipan) – not to mention some of the best ice creams in the whole of Italy which we’ll seek out throughout the tour!
The next morning we call into the lovely Baroque town of Noto, described as a magical town by Calvino in “Invisible Cities”. The architecture is wonderfully theatrical and there are also some of the best ice cream parlours in Sicily (more ice cream!). We enjoy lunch at family owned Feudo Maccari owned by Antonio Moretti where they not only make the traditional varieties, but a flagship Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. We return to Syracuse for more free time, there is much to see here. The old city is a feast of crumbling Baroque facades over much older buildings. We will offer you the option this afternoon to take in the Classical sites including the Ancient Greek theatre and stone quarries.
Near Piazza Armerina is the Villa Romana del Casale, which is home to some of the most impressive Roman Mosiac remains of Italy. These mosaics were excavated in the 1950’s and are extremely well preserved. They have been attributed to a Roman South African school of design – with many exotic scenes and animals on what would have been the Villa floor. One of the most emblematic mosaics is of ten girls in “bikinis” taking part in a sports competition (just like the modern beach volleyball!). We then spend some time over lunch in the attractive town of Enna, perched high on a hillside overlooking the stunning expanse of countryside below.
We continue to Palermo to arrive late afternoon, with what is left of the afternoon and evening for you to explore. Palermo is a wonderfully under-rated city that is teeming with church art and great architecture. The old city is known as Quattro Canti, and defines the four old quarters of the town. The Cathedral was begun in 1185 and was designed by an Englishman, but was redesigned in the 18th century. The Palazzo Reale houses the superb Cappella Palatina, the royal chapel, with a magnificent carved wooden ceiling. This chaotic buzzing city has a wonderful Opera House as well as a Norman Palace and many churches (some with wonderful Byzantine Mosaics).
This evening we have a very special invitation to dine as private guests in Palazzo Malvagna, which dates from the 15th century. The in-laws of Count Laurent Bernard de la Gatinais of Tenuta Rapitala own the Palazzo Malvagna. Although the wine estate is inland in the D.O.C. Bianco Alcamo region, we will be dining at this magnificent private residence in the old Jewish quarter of Palermo, which dates from the 15th century. The house, built around a discreet courtyard, is hung with great Italian paintings, which include some of Italy’s greatest artists. This is genuinely a true honour; to be invited inside such a superb private residence as warmly welcomed guests of the owners to dine. It is one of the many highlights of this spectacular wine tour of Sicily.
From Palermo next morning, we head towards Trapani to visit the estate of Brugnano, first established in 1970. This rising star of Sicily has quality wines, which have won an award from the International Wine Challenge in 2008; this is a welcoming family and we are looking forward to seeing them again following our popular visit there a couple of years ago. We continue to lunch at the Calatrasi wine estate, in north-west Sicily, who use low yields and sustainable farming techniques to ensure the quality of the wines and their extensive vineyard holdings are planted with both indigenous and international varieties, from which they produce wines such as Catarratto and a good Viognier.
After lunch we spend a little time the nearby hill town of Monreale, which has an amazing Norman Cathedral with magnificent mosaics that cover 6340 square metres, which is over 2000 square metres more than St Marks in Venice. The Cathedral was built by William II as a tribute to the Virgin, after she appeared to him in a revelation.
After breakfast we leave Palermo for the island’s interior. The noble Tasca D’Almerita family own what is one of Sicily’s greatest wine estates, Regaleali. Founded by Giuseppe Tasca some almost 30 years ago (indeed when we first started visiting this was a very new estate, so we have been following their fortunes for a very long time), this estate with its high altitude vineyards (500 -700 metres above sea level) is in the heart of the island. These microclimates mean that they produce not only indigenous grape varieties but also excellent Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Following a tasting of their range, we then enjoy lunch at the estate. The menu will be from simple but delicious recipes overseen by Anna Tasca, who has written cookery books that are considered by many as the definitive Sicilian cookbooks. Several of us at A&C have this on our cookery bookshelves and often reach for it for inspiration and to remind us of the wonderful food and wine of Sicily. The journey here is worth the whole trip alone, with wonderful views of the rolling hills of the interior.
We head south to the Foresteria of Planeta. One of the most dynamic estates of Italy, not just of Sicily, is the family run Planeta at Sambuca di Sicilia. Only established relatively recently in Italian wine tours, they have quickly gained an international reputation for excellent wines and innovative marketing. As well as local Cataratto and Grecanico, the Nero D’Avola, Cabernet and Merlot blend is extremely attractive, as is their world class Chardonnay. We stay the night here and there are just 14 rooms in total. This means that for the overall tour our maximum party size is limited to just 24 participants.
Next day we head to the archeaological site of Selinute, on the southwestern coast of Sicily, which was the site of the Greek city of Selinus. Its heyday was in the 5th century BC when it vied with nearby Segesta for power in the west of the Island. Today there remains a large spread out archaeological site of some seven temples including the most complete, which is the Doric Temple, dedicated to Hera. We stop here for a brief visit.
We continue to Marsala and have lunch at the wine estate of the De Bartoli family. Led by Marco De Bartoli, the estate has been instrumental in the renaissance of Sicilian wines, not just of Marsala. They have a wide range of these sumptuous wines, in various Marsala styles from the lighter style Vigna la Miccia to the superbly classic Vecchio Samperi, which has been aged for 30 years. The family also produce an excellent unctuous sweet wine, Bukkaram, on the remote Volcanic island of Pantelleria.
Marsala itself is located on the western most point of Sicily. Although dating from Greek times, the city’s fortunes were established firmly in 1773 when John Woodhouse began the English Wine Trade in the city. In 1860 Marsala became the first city of the new united Italy when Garibaldi landed. The 18th century Cathedral is dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury. There is the Archaeological Museum, which houses an interesting range of Phoenician artefacts including a reconstructed Punic ship. As the hotel is situated outside the town, the coach will make a transfer back to the hotel for those who prefer to relax at the hotel and those who wish to spend more time in town over lunch time and in the afternoon.
On the penultimate morning of the tour we take a short boat trip to Mozia, a very small island just off the north coast of Marsala. The island of Mozia is owned and operated by a foundation established by the winemaking Whitaker family (who built the Anglican Church and Villa Malfitano in Palermo), it has a remarkable museum and the ruins of an equally remarkable civilization, complete with a harbour and cemetery. The wines that are being produced from the island are interesting too.
This evening we visit the cellars of Donnafugata, where the Rallo family are producing an excellent range of wines including their superb Vino di Tavola Tancredi from Nero d’Avola and Cabernet. Their Mille e una Notte (A thousand and one nights) wine rates as one of the most serious red wines ever produced on the island. Following a visit to the cellars, we enjoy their wines paired with local dishes over dinner, which is always a really great experience here and will be a superb and fitting finale to an 8 day wine tour of this fascinating wine island. The next morning we check out of the hotel will take you to Palermo airport in time to check in for the Easyjet flight that departs at 11:20 (correct as of October 2011, please note that flight times change).
If you would prefer to stay in Sicily, or extend your holiday to other parts of Southern Italy, Rome or elsewhere we will provide you with details for our recommended luxury travel partner so that you can discuss this further and to book your flights if you wish. Though if all you require are the suggested Easyjet flights, it is best to book these direct on the website.