Remote Year Ohana Month 4: Part 4 - Italy
1st-9th June, 2018: Sicily
I had been wanting to go to Sicily for so long. When my good friend Susanna from Remote Year Ohana said she would go to do research for her food and wine retreat business, I jumped at the opportunity. I figured, when else do I get to go with a good friend who is also familiar with the country and speaks the language?
During our 9 days in Sicily we went to Palermo, Ortigia (and island off of Siracusa), Ragusa, Modica, and Catania. However, my favorite turned out to be a place that wasn’t even in our itinerary, a small beach side town, Marzamemi, on the south eastern side of Sicily. We found out about the town when we were wine tasting at Planeta while talking to two couples who had sailed from Malta and who docked their boat at Marzamemi. The town is so peaceful and picturesque and we fell in love with it immediately.
We sat at a waterfront bar for a drink and had the most wonderful and relaxing time. Unlike most of the other cities we went to, Marzamemi didn’t feel touristy which is another reason we loved it. I'm finding myself surprised by how much I got attached to small towns like Marzamemi or the very rural and picturesque country-side of Portugal. I had only lived in big cities until now and have enjoyed it, but now, whether it's due to age or a different stage in life, I'm more drawn to smaller and more peaceful places and can even see myself living in one of these places for an extended period of time.
Here are some of my other favorite memories in Sicily:
Food tour in Palermo tasting many local Sicilian street food.
Walking around the beautiful city of Ortigia.
Fun and beautiful train rides to get from city to city on the island.
Having free food with our drinks during aperitivo hour in Ragusa and taking a walk through the beautiful old town with two Italian fellas we met. Neither of them spoke much English so we had to use Susanna as the translator but I had a blast.
Our last night in Sicily before flying out to Florence - having dinner at a super local restaurant next to our Airbnb in Catania, having one of the best aperitivo buffets and getting a glimpse how the locals live.
9-13th June, 2018: Tuscany
I had been to cities in Tuscany such as Florence and Sienna and had driven through parts of it but never stayed in the Tuscan small towns. So when Susanna asked me to come with her after Sicily, I couldn’t resist, even though my original plan was to meet the rest of the Remote Year Ohana group in Belgrade. It turned out to be a fabulous experience. My favorite was staying in Fattoria e Villa Di Rignana, Susanna’s favorite place in Tuscany. The views of the rolling hills and the peace and tranquility being so far away from the city made the experience absolutely magical.
I loved sitting by the pool, overlooking the beautiful rolling hills of Tuscany and having that perfect glass of Rignana Rosato, one of the best Roses I've ever had.
I also loved our dinners at the La Catinetta di Rignana next door to the villa and being served by our fun waiter Simone. The first night we were there, he kept pouring us different types of dessert wine after dinner and on our way out of the restaurant we passed by a private birthday party and somehow got pull in to do birthday champagne toasts. Needless to say we took it slow the next day :)
After 3 amazing days in Rignana, I understand why it is such a special place for Susanna, and it's become a very special place for me too.
The natural beauty of Tuscany is breathtaking. Almost everywhere we drove through was out of a picture, no wonder it is one of the most traveled to places. We drove through a lot of beautiful vineyards, rolling hills, went into a few quaint little towns, and tasted a lot Chianti.
Before this trip, Chianti wasn't on the list of my favorite wines. After this trip I have a much greater appreciation for it. After doing many side-by-side tastes of the different types of Chianti, I confirmed that I like Chianti Classico the most. The higher-end versions of Chianti Classico Reserva and Chianti Classico Gran Selezione are also good but for the much higher price I prefer to get the basic Chianti Classico.
The other wine I discovered on this trip was Bolgheri, a Super Tuscan that is made of grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, which are typical in a Bordeaux blends. Bordeaux is my favorite wine, so no wonder I like Bolgheri.
Super Tuscan is also the type of wine that Sassicaia is grouped under. I had heard of Sassicaia from the movie Sideways when one of the main characters Victoria said that that Sassicaia is the bottle that got her into wine. (Sideways is the movie that got me into wine. The monologue that Victoria gave about the Life of Wine and why she loves it is one of my favorite movie scenes.) I have been so intrigued by Sassicaia ever since, so I was so glad to finally see a bottle in a wine store when we were walking through San Giamiagno. Although I found out that it’s over 200 Euros, so not quite in my budget now, but someday, when I really want to treat myself 😊
My last day in Italy was in Florence. I’m glad I went back there because when I was there 11 years ago I didn’t connect with it so much. However, I do have a favorite memory from the city, spending the day in Uffizi museum where I saw the most beautiful painting I had ever seen – Birth of Venus. It was so beautiful and I was so moved by it that I stood there and cried. The only other time I had experienced that much emotion looking at a painting was in the Belvedere Museum in Vienna looking at Klimt’s The Kiss.
This time in Florence, Susanna took me to some places that were not the main touristy spots and I felt I got a better feel of the city. I had one of my best meals on this trip, which was a buffet lunch of vegetables, salads and this to-die-for chicken dish. I even did a coaching certification call in a nearby café, which made me realize just how much I love my life right now. I also managed to do all my coaching calls while traveling through France, Tunisia, and Italy. This feeling of freedom and empowerment that I can do all the things I love - travel, work, have good food and wine while being with good friends - is so incredible and makes me feel so grateful.
In the evening, we stumbled upon Teatro del Sale,which is a dinner and show, and it was so much fun. We had some of the most amazing food with a chef announcing each course, and after dinner there was a spectacular trio performance of traditional guitar music and singing.
Leaving Italy was not easy. If France was my first love Italy was my second. The country completely blew my mind with its art, architecture, and history my first time there 11 years ago. This fourth time back, the country continues to astound me with its natural beauty, amazing food and wine, and lovely people.