written by: Brenda Pomponio
Undiscovered Sicily – 9 Day Wanderjack Experience
Recently my family and I visited Sicily – for all of us this was a first-time experience and even more fortunate we were travelling to this region of Italy to work with Wanderjack – you can read more about our Ambassadorship with Wanderjack HERE.
Day 1 Catania
For so long, Sicily has been a destination we have wanted to visit. Finally, the time came and we were very excited. Our Wanderjack experience began in Catania with a bike ride! It was hot, but to have the wind in our hair and use a mode of transport my children excel at was liberating. Our first stop was the fish market which was perfect timing to refuel on some freshly cooked seafood from the street stalls nearby. Our guide Daniella is local to the region and knew exactly how to show us a true Catanian experience.
Catania is a city literally built on lava – after being destroyed several times by Mount Etna’s ferocious eruptions (the latest was 1669) it had to be rebuilt and the Italians just built on top of the lava rocks. Evidence of this is all around with buildings, steps and fences being made out of this lucrative and strong resource.
We ate arancini in the park before riding through the market stalls for a refreshing granita before ending our riding tour.
Our accommodation for the first 3 nights was a 20-minute drive from the centre of Catania at Sicily Country House. We were surrounded by olive and orange orchards, and with a pool, restaurant and bar we were set for the afternoon of swimming and relaxing.
Day 2 – Mount Etna
We were up early to a beautiful buffet breakfast Italian style before jumping into our rental car and heading to meet our guide who would be taking us on a four-wheel drive adventure up to Mount Etna. For those who love the outdoors (and being Australian, we love it) this is an experience NOT to miss if you come to Sicily. Mount Etna is an active volcano, and yes do feel apprehensive about going so close to a live volcano, however, our safety was assured and it was incredible. Our guide from Enta Excursions was attentive… teaching us all about Etna and the type of history that even the children were enthralled to hear. There was no lava to see, however, he did show us video footage from the last eruption which was only 18 months ago. Mount Etna has changed and evolved and is considered such a young volcano. What was incredible was walking on the volcanic rock – the sound is like tinking glass – simply incredible to touch and feel it! We got as high as 2000 meters and walked in the craters. The wind was so strong and there is the option to go up to 3000ft, however, the cable cars were not operating that day. We did get to experience the inside of a naturally formed lava cave – they form from the gases and heat from the lava. The drive up and down Mount Etna is also a great way to see the changes in the landscape. The volcanic ash that penetrates the earth after eruptions make the soil incredibly fertile and so there is canopies of chestnut trees and also a dense shrub that was producing the most beautiful yellow flower similar to our Australian Wattle.
After our exhausting day of adventure, the evening was spent by the pool and playing soccer on the grass with the kids!
Day 3 – Aci Castello + Danielino Windsurfing School
We arrived at Aci mid-morning to be greeted by an energetic, tanned man full of life and spirit. He introduced himself as Danielino and welcomed us to his windsurfing and watersports business which looks more like a scene from a postcard that actual real life. The decking structure built around the rock formation on the beach, locals already easing into the day sprawled on their towels or perched on a rock. Men and women of all ages taking a coffee at the bar and simply enjoying the summer day as the music pumped loudly. We changed into our bathers and were given the go-ahead to jump into the water to cool off – our kids needed no further persuasion to go in! We were then encouraged to try some water sports and we opted for the double kayaks! Girls in one, boys in the other and off we went oars going everywhere until we all found our rhythm. We had some more time to just swim and enjoy the place before getting dressed as the lure of a particular Castle in the background caught our eye!
After farewelling Danielino we heading up to Aci Castle for some sightseeing and much-needed lunch! We spotted a game of water polo in the ocean and marvelled at the view from the top of the castle. A refuelling at a local restaurant nearby and we were content with how we spent the day!
Day 4 – Drive to Noto
It was a relaxing day with no experience organised other than driving to our new accommodation close to Noto – This time we were staying in an Agri Farm which is run by a family and consists of 4 bungalows and camping grounds. We were greeted with coffee and afternoon tea and could hear Nonna Pinuccia preparing dinner for that evening. The children spotted the pool as soon as we arrived and we were content to enjoy a lazy afternoon poolside with them. We ate together with our hosts and other guests at the communal table and heard stories from other travellers and ate local produce grown onsite.
We settled into our Bungalow for the evening enjoying a walk around the grounds before retiring for the night on a full tummy and fond memories.
Day 5 – Ortigia
An early start to make our way to Siracusa for an Ape Car Ride through Ortigia. If you don’t know what an Ape Car is – neither did I, but when I tell you’ll know. In Italy they are used often – the three-wheeled vehicles people use for transporting small amounts of goods, however, in our case they have been refashioned for transporting tourists! So we enjoyed being taken around the village of Ortigia which has such a similar vibe and feel to Venice (only is much smaller and fewer people) The architecture and small narrow streets make the Ape Car a perfect way to experience this town, but that was just one part – next we were dropped off at the port and shown Ortigia by boat. We visited grottos and were taken around the coast to enjoy the view of Ortigia from the sea and even the children were given a chance to steer the boat.
The middle of the day was our free time before our next experience and we choose to enjoy lunch at Fratelli Bogio which was recommended in our Wanderjack guidebook. This deli was incredible and we all enjoyed eating paninis and a tasting plate of their cheeses, cured meats and pickled vegetables.
We spent the afternoon at a seaside beach so the kids could swim (and parents could relax) before heading off to Pupari – an authentic puppet show conducted using handmade puppets in the traditional methods. We meet with the owner and he spent some time going through his making process which can take up to one month to make one puppet. The puppet show was held in a gorgeous small theatre where the children were seated up the front and the adults behind. The performance which was about 40 minutes involved various puppets and sets acting out a story, in this case, a love tale with a dragon and twist of some kind. It is spoken in Italian so there was no way of knowing the actual story but the kids were engaged the whole time so a win in my book!
Day 6 Noto + Marzimemi
What a great day exploring the town of Noto – we were met with a Local Jack guide – Chiara who walked with us through the town of Noto giving us some historical facts and cultural significant information along the way. We were taken to Cafe Sicilia in Noto and is one of the oldest and best cafes in the area for Granita! So, of course, we all sampled some granita to start the day. Do I need to tell you how delicious it was? Ok – I will. It was delicious (I had the almond mixed with coffee). Our next stop was to visit a local winemaker at Cantina Modica di San Giovanni and we were lucky to be offered a glass of Moscato which this winery is renowned for.
The beauty of walking around the town is having the pleasure to stop and look up from time to time. Chiara was able to point out various architectural elements of significance like the gargoyles on the balconies which were all varying and differing from one balcony to the next. There was a belief that they were a sign of status but that they also would protect the inhabitants from evil spirits.
We purchased a takeaway lunch from another incredible looking deli to hop on an open top jig and be taken around other parts of Noto by driver Corrado who was extremely charismatic and was very passionate about Noto.
Our day ended with a short stop in Marzimemi a seaside village which is gorgeous and should you have the chance to visit in the evenings we were told it has a lovely atmosphere.
Day 7 – Modica + Agrigento
We farewelled our hosts at the Agri Farm and headed to Modica where we again meet with our guide Chiara for an incredible hands-on Chocolate experience. The Laboratorio Don Puglisi is a company based in Modica that started by supporting single mothers find employment and support by baking biscuits. As they grew, it expanded its repertoire to include chocolate which is made using sustainable ingredients. We got stuck into learning about the making process and the children were able to help melt the chocolate and pour it into the moulds. Of course, we couldn’t attend without some samples, so we tried various flavours including orange, pistachio and even chilli chocolate.
After all that chocolate we enjoyed a walk through the town of Modica and stopped for a quick lunch before the drive to Agrigento – our last stop for the tour where we would spend the final three nights.
There may have been a few wrong turns as we entered Agrigento (I blame google maps) yet we arrived safely and were greeted by our host for Camera A Sud with such a warm welcome that we immediately felt part of the family. So much so, we agreed to meet up later that evening for a drink at appetisers at a local restaurant. This is a testament to how we found all Sicilian people. They were so kind, considerate and happy to help but also connect with us and show real interest in our travels and family. It was a lovely surprise we were not expecting.
Day 8 Valley of the Temples + Go Sicily Cooking Experience
I’m not sure I could have ever planned a better day myself. I must say at this stage of the Wanderjack journey I realised how wonderful it was knowing that each day there is something planned and the stress and organisation has been completely taken away from you that you literally can just enjoy each moment. This day was jam-packed and at one stage I was concerned it would be too much, but it goes to show I was worried about nothing. Yes it was hot, and the children got cranky at some stages, but hey that’s normal. The morning felt like we had been transported to Greece. I had no idea Sicily had such incredible temples and the Valley of the Temples were just that – awe-inspiring and I can only remember another time, whilst at Stonehenge in Scotland looking at a monument and feeling such an overpowering sense of wonderment. Laura was our guide for the morning and she runs family tours specifically for children. Jude and Miranda were given maps which made the whole process interactive and fun. We passed a 500-year-old olive tree, learning about who and why the Temples were built and also discovered that there are still ongoing archaeological works going on at the sight to uncover more of the area.
The afternoon was destined for another experience – cooking! How could we come to Sicily and not experience something hands-on to do with food. So we met with Annalisa the founder of Go Sicily Cooking School at the Cultural Farm in Favara (a 15 minutes drive from Agrigento). We spent the afternoon making our own passata from organic cherry tomatoes and then learning the art of cavatelli – a small rolled pasta that is made from a dough that does not require eggs. Whilst the sauce was simmering we were free to roam the grounds of the Favara Cultural Park which has been set up to help local and prospering artists have an inspiring space to learn and create. There is an exhibition building and currently, there is a display of a project about Detroit displaying photographs, stories and video. The whole farm is a colourful mix of dynamic art and is juxtaposed in a village that is grey and bland. However, it has really helped put the town of Favara on the map and encourage the youth to be creative whether it is film, art, music, food, or culture.
Of course, our evening was spent gathered around a table eating our freshly cooked pasta and sauce. Perfecto.
Day 9 – Val Di Kam Trip to Sant Angelo Muxaro
We meet with Pierfillipo – of ValdiKam Tours early in the morning at the square at the end of our street in Agrigento. His energy is palpable and we know already we are going to be in for a great day and we all pile into his car and take the drive to Sant Angelo Muxaro – A small Sicilian village.
Becuase in order to experience Sicily you need to meet the people, and the people are in villages and Sant Angelo Muxaro has some incredible locals achieving incredible things. Our first stop was to visit a local cheese maker. They have 400 sheep that are milked by hand twice a day and the cheese is artisan quality, sold to the locals. They do not wholesale to stores or restaurants, just for the locals, who come to buy the ricotta (fresh cheese) or matured cheeses. Next, we visit a local baker who is actually English born to Sicilian parents and then she married a Sicilian so is back living in Sicily cooking authentic bread. As we walked into her baking room the smell affected all my other senses and I was hoping she would offer us some to eat. There was no need to hope. She was already putting a loaf to warm up to make a traditional Sicilian snack by cutting the bread and drizzling oil, salt, pepper and oregano in between before slicing and handing it out. The mouth-watering moment right there.
As we were devouring our bread, I could see Pierfilippo talking in such hushed voices to a nearby local. He was up to something. We were encouraged to follow him and he introduced us to another local and cue more hushed voices.
The next moment we were being led up the road and the local man was opening up what looked like a shop. No…. it wasn’t a shop.
It was a fully decked out room dedicated to hand crafted Christmas Nativity. He beckoned us in, and our eyes lit up. If my sense of smell was in overdrive in the bakers, now my eyes were in full-blown stimulation mode. This room was completely handmade by a local, not for profit or a business but by his love of making something that gives joy to the local children. Jude and Miranda (ok, and us parents too) kept walking around admiring each scene, each detail and with the carols playing in the background it so easy to believe the Christmas Spirit truely can make you feel happy and joyful.
Time to get back into the car, because – remember the cheesemakers? Well if we timed it right we would see their son on horseback lead the sheep down the mountain for the afternoon. Off we went and yes we did catch him coming down the mountain. So amazing. And if I thought it couldn’t get better we were off to a peach farm where were learnt the correct way to pick peaches and then, of course, were introduced to a whole new way of eating them. Soaked in wine. Of course, why didn’t I think of that?
Our final destination for the day was Teatro Andromeda which is a handcrafted sculptural theatre which is operational for concerts and shows. The cubes are representative of the galaxy of stars and there are dates to attend to see the solstice as it passes through the mouth of a large face. The view of the valley from the top was a perfect way to end the day and as the sunset, it was amazing to think of all the experiences, people and memories had during our Wanderjack tour.
More about Wanderjack
Thanks to Wanderjack for your support and choosing Our Family Travels to be your ambassador! Our Sicily adventure was truly a unique way to uncover and discover the highlights of Sicily without the stress and strain of planning and scheduling each day ourselves. Having not thought it possible to consider a family tour, this was completely different. Wanderjack pride themselves on working with and collaborating with likeminded businesses in the tourism space to offer experiences, not just sights. We made so many friends and had such a family fun time experiencing Sicily in this way. Often the most time-consuming part of any travel journey is working out what you will do, where you will go within each township and figuring out what experiences will really worth seeing. Being guided by Wanderjack and having a tailored itinerary for our needs and family was essential and that’s what we received. We will look back at our journey through Sicily not merely as a tourist visiting, but as a traveller who allowed Sicily really into our hearts.
If you are interested in knowing more about Wanderjack CLICK HERE.
If you would like enquiring about Wanderjack Sicily Tours CLICK HERE