Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sicily Travel Guide: Mount Etna

To the ancient Greeks, Mount Etna was the realm of Vulcan, god of fire, and the home of the one-eyed monster known as the Cyclops.

As of May 2013, Mount Etna has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“A’ Muntagna” (“the mountain” in local dialect) has always dominated the lives of those who live in its shadow: Its lava flows and dust clouds bring destruction, but they also enrich the soil, making the lower slopes and the surrounding plains some of the most fertile regions in Sicily, and spawning vast expanses of vines and citrus plantation.

The power and romance of mount Etna, at 3,323 m (almost 10,902 ft) the tallest active volcano in Europe, and undoubtedly the dominating feature of the eastern part of Sicily have attracted the attention of travellers, artists, poets and philosophers for centuries.

"I would jump down Etna for any public good - but I hate a mawkish popularity." John Keats Letter, April 9, 1818

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Sicilian Wines: Gambino & Murgo Wineries

Sicily has more vineyards than any of the other Italian regions competing with Apulia for first place as the largest wine producer. Although once famous for sweet Muscats, and later fortified Marsala, the island's best known wines are now its dry table wines produced under the regional IGT title, Terre Siciliane.

On the eastern side of the Etna volcano, in the woods of the National Park and facing the sea of Taormina, the Gambino vineyards are a pleasure for your senses and for your heart.

Mount Etna, the towering stratovolcano, dominates the island’s eastern skyline, and is responsible for the mineral-rich, dark soils which characterize the Etna DOC vineyards. Vines are now being planted higher up on the volcanic slopes, to capitalize on the cooler air and richer soils there.

The Murgo family winery on the Eastern slopes of the Etna, at an altitude of 500 m over sea level, is active since 1860. Beginning 1980, the estate was restructured and the going-together of innovation and tradition got the main attention; quality, authenticity and respect for the nature as a must.

Savoca - the village of The Godfather

Savoca was chosen as a stand-in for the real village of Corleone in the 1972 Godfather movie because it was relatively untouched by progress and had fewer issues than Corleone with the local mafia.

When Francis Ford Coppola filmed at Savoca, all the scenes were shot looking away from the stunning view for authenticity. In contrast, a modern sculpture of Coppola, crouched over his cine camera, looks to the sea.

Bar Vitelli: It is at this spot that a besotted Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, asked the wrong man about a beautiful young girl he had seen, Apollonia Vitelli.

There is one winding, narrow road up from the coastal highway to Savoca, which is now augmented with some modern villas, and then a gentle upward stroll past tiny houses and old ruins to the church on the hilltop, begun in the 14th century and known as Santa Lucia, where Michael married Apollonia.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Sicily Travel Guide: Catania

Catania lies on the Ionian Sea, under the shadow of Mount Etna, or “A Muntagna” as the locals refer to it. In 1669 Catania was covered in lava and then, just 24 years later in 1693 an earthquake shook the town down to its foundations.The reaction to this latter catastrophe was amazing: the entire old part of town was rebuilt in Baroque style, with large, wide open squares and avenues. The most remarkable aspect, however, was the building material used: lava.

The main square, Piazza Duomo, and all its surroudning buildings was designed by one man, Giovanni Battista Vaccarini from Palermo.

At the centre of the Piazza Duomo stands the appealing Elephant fountain, created in 1736. As well as being made in imitation of Bernini's Minerva Elephant in Rome, it is reminiscent of Catania's long and varied past.

The Villa Bellini is the largest park in the centre of Catania. The park was completed in 1883 and is located north of the city. It is inspiring because of its varied design and the many statues of famous people of Catania. Another attraction is the Botanical Clock - a date display of flowers, which is updated and replanted daily.

The fortress of Castello Ursino was built by Frederick II of Hohenstaufen in the 13th century on a rocky cliff overlooking the sea. However, the massive lava spill of the 1669 eruption pushed the sea back, creating in one fail swoop a new coastline and stripping Castello Ursino of its strategic position.