I have a dream. Nothing extraordinary ever happens. The scenery is rather elementary, too: a house, a garden, the sky, the sea. The only sound you can hear is the waves of the Mediterranean crushing against the rocky shore – and the occasional fly. As if time were stuck somewhere before sunset, the light has a sensual tint of amber, reflecting on old façades. Vegetation is wild and slightly dusty under the unbearable sun: olive, lime and orange trees, vineyards, jasmine, lavender, cacti with huge orange flowers – the so called Fico d’India. With a climate more North African than European, we don’t expect rain anytime soon.
We are on the island of superlatives: biggest of Mediterranean islands, with a most rich history and a most diverse succession of populations – its location on the major trade route between Europe and the Middle East has made it one of the most fascinating places – and with world’s most active volcano, Mount Etna, adding to the landscape a significant increase in altitude and some snow covered peaks. Yes, we are in Sicilia, Italy. Sicily – if you must. This is where my dream is located.
On this untamed and alluring island, not too far from the shore, yet high enough on the hill to allow for a panoramic view, among lush vegetation and earthy paths, lays an old villa, façade slightly peeling. Rooms are airy, floors covered in cool terracotta tiles and furniture reminds of past times. On the antique beds, crisp white linen. Everything is basic and the air smells of lime and fresh flowers. No televisions. From the windows, a free view of green and blue – plants, sea and sky. We are no more than eight – friends and friends of friends – enough to fill all guest rooms, enough to keep things cosy.
The kitchen, traditional and homey, opens to a generous patio where, in the shade of tropical trees, or under the starry sky at night, scrumptious, home-cooked meals are savoured, always with a glass of wine produced on the island itself. We eat staring at the sea, our conversations fuelled by food and wine. When we need to be alone, we turn to books, writing, or we go to our rooms to nap like babies, shutters closed. We are relaxed and content because there is something extremely reassuring about boredom – it gives you the space and time to focus on the things that are really important. And this is what our holiday on the island is all about – us, together, here, now.
Although conveniently isolated, the villa is a short drive away from small coastal towns, where we go to stock on fresh produce from vendors barking about bargains at street markets, in the morning, when the sun is still shy: capers, tomatoes, olives, aubergines, blood oranges, artichokes, swordfish, octopus, mussels, breads, cheeses, pistachios, almonds – all nurtured by the rich volcanic Sicilian soil, or grown in the waters of the Mediterranean. These outdoor markets that stand on the very same sites today as they did in the tenth century are Sicily’s best preserved Arab traditions.
At home we cook caponata or peperonata as antipasti, pasta alla norma or pasta con le sarde as pasti, fritto misto or pesce spada as secondi. For dessert – dolci – we give in to cannoli, bucconcini, and cubbiata – all bought from the local shops. A glass of Sicily’s most famous wine, Marsala, or some Nero d’Avola, a hearty red produced by numerous Sicilian wineries, often compared to Syrah, and everybody is more than satisfied.
When in mood for exploration, there is plenty to see on the island. From Catania, Taormina, Siracusa, Ragusa, Modica, Noto – in the South-East – to Palermo, Cefalù, Monreale, Segesta, Favignana – in the North-West – there’s history hidden under every rock in Sicily. Greek temples, Norman cathedrals, Byzantine mosaics, Moorish and Baroque architecture – Sicily’s historical richness is mind-blowing.
Maybe we will never want to leave.
Maybe this will be more than a dream.
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It would not be an exaggeration to say that the making of this post was fuelled by the intoxicating scent of Sicilian orange groves on my skin – a few sprays of perfume. And then, there was the sun, a day off from work, me sitting in my favourite chair by the window, a glass of sparkling white at my hand’s reach.
My fascination with Sicily is not new, and same goes for my dream of spending an absolutely hedonistic holiday, with my closest friends, in a charming villa on this magic island. Il dolce far niente. Sweet doing nothing. In the right place, with the right people, at the right time.