Travel by Any Means Necessary

Tag: Mt. Etna

Exploring Eastern Sicily

Mediterranean View from Taormina

From winding roads to volcanic vintages, our Sicilian adventure was a feast for the senses. This sun-drenched island at the toe of Italy’s boot captivated us with its contrasts – ancient ruins cloaked in modern grit, rugged coastlines giving way to sweeping vineyards, and a culinary heritage as bold as the very volcanoes that shape the land.

Our Sicilian exploration began with an “upgrade” to an SUV rental – a mixed blessing on the island’s narrow, twisting village lanes. As one local guide quipped with a smirk, “There are no rules” when driving here. We quickly learned to embrace the organized chaos, asserting our place in Sicily’s self-centered driving universe. Our itinerary took us from the eastern city of Catania along the fertile slopes of Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano. With our four-wheeled steed, we could freely veer from the tourist trail to uncover the island’s viticultural gems.

Vineyards at Palmento Costanza

The vineyards draped along Mount Etna’s formidable flanks produce wines of uncommon terroir. At Palmento Costanzo, gnarly old vines were trained in the ancient Greek albarello style on stubby “living stakes.” Their pre-phylloxera rootstocks, spared by Etna’s sandy volcanic soils, yield grapes with a storied pedigree.

At Nicosia, a more modern yet artisanal approach ruled. After tasting their stellar volcanic wines, the true showstopper arrived – a decadent spread of local charcuterie, cheeses, fruits, and breads that could sate an army. This was la dolce vita at its finest. When not indulging in Mt. Etna’s finest wines, we sampled Sicily’s coastal cuisine. Simple but sublime, our meals showcased the region’s bounty from air, land, and sea. We reveled in pistachio-studded delicacies, briny seafood fresh from the Mediterranean, and crisp fruity wines from Etna’s lava-enriched soils.

Aci Castello

Aci Castello

In seaside Aci Castello, we marveled at the rocks beneath an imposing medieval fortification. Nearby Aci Trezza’s so-called “Cyclops Rocks” evoked Homeric legends. One humble trattoria in the hills served up a feast so authentic, the proprietor gently scolded us for not devouring every last morsel of her “forest cheese” – a unique, honey-laced cheese from the lush slopes of Etna. Even our jet-lagged late-night pizza delivery ranked among the best I’ve ever tasted, the blistered wood-fired crusts beckoning another slice.

Greek City under Catania

We finished our Sicilian exploration by diving in Catania’s history. This seaside city’s historic core endured heavy bombardment during WWII, lending a weather-beaten charm to its baroque streetscapes. Below ground, a once-buried ancient Greek settlement – its ruins blackened by Etna’s volcanic stone – stood as a poignant monument to the layered history of this indomitable place.

As we reluctantly departed Catania’s bustling stazione, I reflected on the raw, passionate energy that coursed through every vignette of our Sicilian journey. From the feisty motorists to the sun-drenched vineyards to the soulful, soil-driven cuisine, Sicily seduced us with its fiery spirit. This beguiling island may be just a toe, but it deserves more than a mere dip into its depths.

Sicilian Antipasti

Sicilian Antipasti

Thanks for stopping by! Check out our NEW Go See Do Explore Podcast, available wherever you listen to podcasts. To read more about our Italian Adventure, check out our La Dolce Vita Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page.

La Dolce Vita: Our Epic Italian Adventure

Venice at Night

Venice at Night

We are back from our epic summer travels, this year we took two and a half weeks to explore Italy from Sicily to Venice. Here is an overview of what is to come in this recap:

  • Layover in Paris
    • Eiffel Tour, Arch de Triomphe, Trivoli Gardens, Louvre Gardens
  • Catania Area, Sicily
    • Etna Wineries
    • Free Walking Tour Taormina
    • Hiking Mt. Etna
  • Naples
    • Free Walking Tour
    • Pizza Making Class
    • Archaeology Tour of Pompeii
  • Florence
    • Uffizi Gallery
    • Academia Gallery Tour (Michaelango’s David)
    • Duomo Complex
    • Tuscany Wine Tour
  • Bologna
    • Market & Food Tour
  • Venice
    • Doge’s Palace
    • St. Mark’s Basilica
    • Free Walking Tour
    • Murano Glass Museum
Crater in Mt. Etna

Crater in Mt. Etna

When planning our Italian odyssey, one of the biggest questions was how to travel between the dazzling cities. Renting a car seemed like overkill since we planned to spend most of our time in cities where the car would have to remain parked. So we decided to embrace the classic mode of Italian transportation – the railway system known as Trenitalia.

Our first Trenitalia experience was the overnight Intercity Notte train from Catania to Naples. As dusk fell, we boarded our private cabin, complete with bunk beds and a sink for freshening up. The gentle rocking of the train soon lulled us into a peaceful slumber…until we awoke to the realization that we were aboard a ferry! The entire train had been loaded onto a boat to cross the Strait of Messina. An utterly unique experience.

Despite the firm mattresses, there was something magical about that overnight journey. We awoke to a traditional Italian breakfast of espresso and pastries, along with an Italian newspaper – a delightful old-world touch.

Market in Bologna

Market in Bologna

For our other Italian train journeys, we opted for the high-speed Frecciarossa trains in business class. The luxurious reclining seats, complete with trolley service offering snacks and beverages, made the transits between cities an enjoyable experience in themselves.

One tip we cannot emphasize enough: pack light! The narrow aisles and corridors of Italian trains make hauling large suitcases an exercise in frustration. We marveled at the overstuffed bags some tourists lugged around, realizing that our carry-on-sized cases were the way to go, especially when walking from stations to accommodations over cobblestones.

Looking back, our decision to embrace Italy’s iconic rail system was one of the highlights of our trip. Traveling from city to city without the hassles of driving allowed us to soak in the breathtaking scenery whizzing by our window. The trains connected us efficiently while offering a uniquely Italian experience in themselves. It was an adventure getting from here to there, and we relished every mile along the way.

Thanks for stopping by! Check out our NEW Go See Do Explore Podcast, available wherever you listen to podcasts. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page.

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