Passion and drinking are a timelessly alluring combination. And nowhere do those twin temptations meet to better effect than in Sicily. Maybe it’s the hot tension of the very much active Mount Etna, on whose fertile slopes grow centuries-old vines. Or maybe the secret lies in its delicious isolation — not quite Europe, not Africa. But baked into the land and growing out of it is a deep love for life’s most fundamental pleasures: food, wine, and fun. That’s why it tops our wanderlust list for 2019.
But planning a trip to Sicily can be overwhelming. Thankfully we discovered Planeta Wine. They’ve put Sicilian fine wines back on the map, and their collection of six wineries spread over five distinct regions offers a taste of the best of the Mediterranean’s largest island.
SIP & STAY
Sicily is the second largest wine region in Italy, with about as many acres under vines as South Africa or Chile. But it’s only just starting to truly get the world’s notice as an oenophile’s playground. That’s thanks in large part to Planeta. This family of winemakers has a 500-year history of cultivating the land.
Menfi is the site of their wineries — Ulmo and Dispensa — as well as their resort La Foresteria. That triumvirate is a microcosm of Sicily, from the Arabic fortress to the acres of vineyards tumbling down to the sapphire sea at Ulmo, from the olive oil freshly pressed each fall at Dispensa to wine tastings, which guide you through the different terroirs of Sicily. It’s the perfect start to your road trip along the coast.
La Foresteria’s cooking school (open both to resort guests and outside visitors) makes optimal use of the bounty of the land, from the thyme, sage, chervil, and lemon balm growing in abundance to the tuna, sardines, and swordfish plucked straight from the sea. Wash it all down with their Sicilia Menfi Chardonnay, which helped to launch Sicily’s wine renaissance.
VACAY IN RUINS
To truly understand Sicily, you have to appreciate the impressive list of world powers that have conquested its shores, from the Greeks to the Romans, the Arabs to the Normans, the Vikings to the Spaniards. Start your living history tour with a visit to the Greek ruins of Camarina, which include the 5th-century Temple of Athena and pottery from the Sicelian (the ancient inhabitants of this region of the island).
Then marvel at the Baroque grandeur of Modica and Vittoria, whose grand sandstone buildings were erected by Spanish rulers after a devastating earthquake in 1693. Another delicious relic of the Spanish? Chocolate. This textured style of chocolate is still made today at Antica Dolceria Bonjuto from a recipe said to have been brought back by the conquistadors.
FIND A GRAPE ESCAPE
Think France has a proud wine tradition? This region of Sicily has been at it for more than 2,000 years, working the grapes since Mesopotamian times. Its wines were so well loved by the Romans that their containers were found among the ruins of Pompeii.
It’s also home to Sicily’s only DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, so named for the area’s signature red sand (cerasa is the word for cherry in Sicilian). Sample it in the renovated 1900s farmhouse of Planeta’s Dorilli Estate alongside pizzas topped with the stunning local Kamarino tomatoes and cooked in their wood-fired oven.
Noto & Environs
Stop at Planeta’s stunning modernist Buonivini Estate for a picnic of stuffed Modica bread, tuna from the nearby fishing village of Marzamemi, and tomatoes dried in the Sicilian sun paired with a bottle of Santa Cecilia, made with the most famous of Sicilian grapes, Nero d’Avola.
Next it’s off to Vendicari, a 3,700-acre seaside sanctuary of pristine sandy beaches, craggy coves, and marshes. If you’re lucky enough to be there in the fall, you can catch a technicolor avian parade when thousands of flamingos, cranes, and other birds stop on their migration south to Africa.
GO TABLE HOPPING
The charming nearby town of Ragusa Ibla is the culinary heart of Sicily, with not one but two Michelin-starred restaurants. Our favorite? Locanda Don Serafino, a cliffside aerie with candlelit tables tucked inside a cave.
RUINS & RETRO GLAMOUR
The hilltop seaside town of Taormina has long been the embodiment of dolce vita glamour, from a Greek theater built in the 3rd century B.C. to the post-World War Two jet set crowd — Greta Garbo, Hemingway, Elizabeth Taylor, and Picasso all vacationed here.
Laze away an afternoon on the Piazza IX Aprile over an espresso and sweets at the glamorous throwback Caffè Wunderbar. Wander the stone alleyways, the lush gardens of Villa Comunale, and take in the views of the sparkling Ionian Sea before cooling off with a beloved coffee granita, a local favorite. And don’t miss sunset Camparis on the terrace of the Grand Hotel Timeo.
CONQUER THE MOUNTAIN
The 11,000-foot, still-very-much-active Mount Etna provides a choose-your-own-adventure opportunity. Need to work off all those arancini? Set out on a hike from Rifugio Sapienza amid the ruins of a ski resort destroyed by a 2002 eruption. Here, white birch trees spring from fields of black lava in some areas while others are lush with emerald pines.
Feeling thirsty? Stick to the Circumetnea, a ring road and railway that traverses the base of the volcano, a tropical landscape of orange groves and pistachio trees. Along the way, you’ll find some of Sicily’s most famous wineries, including Planeta’s Sciaranuova, tucked amid oaks and chestnut forests in the rich volcanic soil. In addition to award-winning Pinot Nero Carricante, the winery carved an outdoor theater from terraces once used to cultivate vines. Here you can spend a perfect dramatic evening sipping wine beneath the stars.
Milazzo & the Aeolian Islands
TOAST TO A PERFECT TRIP
Capo Milazzo is slightly off the beaten path for tourists in Sicily. But for wine lovers it’s the perfect end to your trip thanks to Planeta’s Baronia, a cutting-edge, eco-friendly winery. Its mission? To restore Mamertino, one of the oldest wines of the island (it dates back to 289 B.C. — Julius Caesar was a fan). Though it’s deeply tied to the history of the land, it’s designed to tread lightly on it. Every aspect of the structure is removable, portable, and designed to leave no trace. We’ll toast to that.
This article is sponsored by Planeta Winery.