Monday, April 14, 2014

Selinute: Where I sat in a Greek temple.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Sicily has the best Greek temples (and Roman mosaics) in the entire world. They are incredible, and this ancient Greek city may be the most impressive and surprising of them all. 

Selinute* is home to five Greek temples and an acropolis set against a dramatic landscape. It's a symphony of vistas: Golden columns perched among wildflowers and olive trees, tumbling down hills to meet the turquoise Mediterranean Sea. 

And best of all, it's all yours to walk through, stand on, and sit in.

It's hard to describe the feeling of taking small, slow steps into a temple and sitting on its floor, gingerly touching its columns, and being in it.

Full body chills, guys.

  • Not dog friendly -- or cynophobic friendly. There are some fairly aggressive stray dogs who call this archaeological site home, and don't like when other canines or humans invade their turf.
  • The columns of the temples are infested with bee hives! Luckily, at least the bees aren't aggressive.
  • Allow yourself at least half a day to see the whole thing. Pack a picnic and good shoes -- there's a lot of ground to cover.
  • There are very few interpretive signs, so it's best to bring your own literature.
  • There is a tourist train available to transport you from site to site, if mobility or time are of concern.
  • Entrance fee: 3 euro (under 25) and 6 euro (over 25).
  • Free parking available on site.
  • Free bathrooms located in the parking lot, by the gift shops.

*Can't figure out how to pronounce it? You can use the Greek name, Selinous, instead.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Planeta's Sumbuca di Sicilia Winery -- With Wieners.

On our second trip to La Planeta Foresteria we finally scheduled a vineyard tour of their Sambuca di Sicilia Winery, the family-run wine dynasty's oldest, perched just above Lago Arancio near Menfi.

Like, seemingly, everything in Sicily it was dog friendly enthusiastic. Our wieners were welcomed with open arms, and loved sniffing around the oak casks and beautiful grounds. 

We were led through the Ulmo vineyard on a private tour by an absolutely charming woman, whose name escapes me. She was so genuinely friendly and interesting to talk to that I ended up enjoying the non-tasting part of the tour far more than I thought I would.

If you know Sicilian wines you likely know about Planeta. But for the uninitiated, Planeta is a series of vineyards sprinkled throughout Sicily that has been making robust reds and buttery whites for generations. You can find their 13 wines internationally, but even here in Malta it's not easy to track them down.

A tour of the Sambuca di Sicilia winery starts with a walk through the grounds, cellars, and (depending on the season) the vineyards. In our case, with two curious chiweenies in tow, poking around the vats.

During the morning a fleet of staff were milling about the premises, preparing a suite of stunning dining rooms for private lunches and dinners. The smell of oak casks and roasting meats and nuts mingled in the air, teasing the pups.

Planeta's style, from the furnishing of its wineries and agriturismo, to its branding, promotions, and wine labels, is elegant, intentional, and impeccably Italian.


Next came our private tasting. You can chose the wines you taste (up to four are included in the tour). We selected the Maroccoli Syrah, their famous Chardonnay, the Santa Cecilia Nero D'Avola, and the La Segreata Bianco (Grecanico, Chardonnay, Viognier and Fiano). We were offered complimentary local Vastedda cheese to pair them with. It was divine.

It was also 11 am and I'm sure a civilized person would have discretely spit their wines out into the pail provided, as one does. But I love Planeta wines too much for that, and I was on vacation. Having a buzz on before noon, with a puppy on your lap, is practically obligatory. 

Our tour ended with a visit to the gift shop where, four glasses of wine later, I was all too ready to whip out my wallet and indulge. We picked up a case of wine and some of Planeta's excellent olive oils. And a wine box-turned-checker-board, complete with little cork pieces, that we did not need but is super cute. (Blaming the wine.)

In a flurry of shopping bags and cheek kisses and goodbyes I was overcharged 5 euros for my checker case. The staff at Planeta are so attentive, and honest, they sent it back to our hotel!

(Take that Sicilian stereotypes.)

La Planeta is named after the Planeta family, and their symbols are the sun and moon. I was admiring their collection of custom moon cycle art and our tour guide took notice. Upon leaving the vineyard I was gifted with a large moon cycle piece that now hangs framed in our living room, a permanent reminder of the beautiful design aesthetic of La Planeta, and the even more beautiful and generous people of Sicily.

Ciao, Planeta. We'll be back -- all four of us.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Rome and Athens? I'll take Siracusa.

In the past I've written about how much I love Siracusa's Ortigia. We've been three times now, but never ventured off the Ortigia and into the city itself. Until last weekend. 

Siracusa's claim to fame, besides an incredibly rich history (it is crazy-town how many famous historical figures and Greek gods called Siracusa home for a time) is the remnants of this history. An entire archaeological park in the middle of the city, bursting with Roman amphitheatres, Greek theatres, crumbling columns, wild flowers, bumble bees, and archophagi. It is stunning: Like a perfectly miniature, green and peaceful version of what you wish  Rome and Athens looked like.

Would you believe me if I told you it has a secret garden, too? 

We still stayed in the Ortigia, of course. As our car crawled over the bridge onto the peninsula I said to Mike, we're home again!

It's weird how a favourite travel destination can feel like that.

I conquered the shops, saying hello to all of the shop owners I know by name now, while Mike sipped Peroni by the seaside, then snapped this gem on his way to meet me for aperitifs.

Yes, that's Siracusa's fire brigade giving the church facade a scrub. Because, why not?

This captures everything I love about Siracusa: Beautiful, quirky, and unexpected.

I'll take it over any grand European city any day. 


slept at: Hotel Gutowski, the best hotel we've stayed at in Italy. Hands down.
ate at: Osteria di Mariano, because it's like going to Grandma's for dinner.