What to visit and eat in Sicily

Sicily enchanted us with its hospitable people, natural beauty, architecture, and fantastic food. In this blog post, I’ll suggest a couple of places which are worth visiting and the food you should try if you go to the eastern side of this beautiful Italian island. To be honest, when I look at the content of this blog post, there are more photos of food than anything else, but this is what I like most about travelling – eating traditional and local food! There’s one important thing you need to remember in order to enjoy Sicily – you need to rent a car!

We landed in Catania, one of the biggest cities in Sicily, so we decided to spend two nights there. Unfortunately, the city did not make a good impression on me. Apart from having an apartment with a view of Etna, trying very good food at Al Gabbiano 2, and experiencing the buzzing night life, I will remember Catania as loud, crowded, and full of graffiti and dirty streets. I spent only one day there so my opinion may be unfair, but I would avoid spending too much time in this city. If you are interested in its architecture and sights, visit this website.

The view of Catania from our apartment and the Etna volcano in the background
Pasta with anchovies, bread crumbs and small grapes…I know, a surprising combination, but very tasty

Not far from Catania (about 45 minutes away) there is a picturesque seaside town called Taormina – click the link to see ten things you can do there. Its beautiful pebbly beach, the Issola Bella island in the middle of the sea, and the spectacular views you can admire from the top of Taormina’s hill will impress even the most demanding tourists.

The pebbly beach at Isolla Bella in Taormina. Beautiful, but walking into the sea is a bit painful…I had a few scratches on my feet!
Isolla Bella in Taormina - translated as a Beautiful Island
Isolla Bella in Taormina – translated as ‘Beautiful Island’
Arancini
Arancini is deep-fried rice stuffed with different fillings like mozzarella or ragu sauce

While walking around the centre of Taormina, you’ll experience lively music performances, an abundance of little trattorias with authentic Sicilian food, and posh boutiques. Taormina definitely deserves the title of the ‘Sicilian Saint-Tropez’! We ate a seafood platter at Osteria da Rita and we highly recommend it!

A seafood platter at Osteria da Rita
A seafood platter with tuna, shrimps and mussels at Osteria da Rita

If you like peacefulness and tranquility and want to avoid crowds, I’d suggest renting out a room at a farmhouse called Pantanelli Di Vendicari. It’s located near to the touristic town of Noto, but far away from its crowds. If you stay at this charming guesthouse, you’ll eat delicious food made from their home-grown produce (aubergines, peppers, almonds etc.), hear crickets in the evening, birds in the morning and simply be far away from noise of everyday life.

Pantanelli Di Vendicari.
These rosemary bushes smelt amazing!
Bruschetta – grilled bread with tomatoes and olive oil. A classic Italian starter – it tasted heavenly!

The farmhouse is located close to the Vendicari Natural Reserve which is a great place to walk around and admire its wildlife. The sea there is crystal clear and the wilderness of the place will release you from the everyday busy-ness of your life.

The beach at Vendicari Natural Reserve
The beach at Vendicari Natural Reserve
the ruins of the ancient tonnara
The ruins of the ancient Tonnara, part of the Natural Reserve

Ten minutes away from the farmhouse, there is the fishing village of Marzamemi, where you should definitely spend a couple of hours. You’ll love its cute little restaurants in the square and the harbour. Be careful though – if you want to buy lunch or dinner in the square, be prepared to empty your whole pocket and still feel hungry. The seafood we had at the restaurant Principino was delicious and fresh but the portions were not generous and the prices high.

Marzamemi, a beautiful fishing village
Gnocchi with seafood
Gnocchi with seafood and ricotta cheese. Tasted heavenly…and expensive!

The beaches in San Lorenzo (the town very close to our farmhouse) are simply stunning. The beach was empty, probably because it was late September so off-peak season, and we felt as if the beach was just for us. Don’t forget your snorkeling equipment as the crystal clear water will allow you to see plenty of sea life.

San Lorenzo beach and its crystal clear water
The beach in San Lorenzo and its crystal-clear water

If you are a history and architecture lover, take a trip to Noto – a town which will stun you with its beautiful baroque-style architecture. It’s know as the ‘Stone Garden’ and in the pictures below you’ll see why.

Noto
Noto, Sicily
The buildings in Noto have a characteristic creamy colour. How monumental does this building looks compared to little me?
Noto, baroque town in Sicily
A beautiful combination of beige and green can be seen all over Noto

On your way back to Catania’s airport, stop at Syracuse. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to visit the historical centre, but we managed to pop in to the Ortygia market, where charismatic fishermen sell fresh seafood and other Sicilian delicacies.

Tuna, Ortygia Market, Syracuse
I had never seen a whole sword fish before. It’s actually massive!
Fish at Ortgia Market, Syracuse
Fish at the Ortgia Market, Syracuse
Spices at Ortgia Market, Syracuse
I mean, just look at the colours of those spices…
Olives at the Ortygia Market

I hope my blog post about what to visit on the eastern side of Sicily will encourage you to visit some of the places and try some of the dishes I have included in this article. Below I will write some pieces of advice you may find useful when going to Sicily:

  • If you plan to rent a car, take your credit card with you. The rental companies do not accept debit cards to take a deposit and you’ll end up paying a lot of money for insurance.
  • Be extremely careful while driving – some Sicilian drivers don’t respect any road rules!
  • Avoid renting out accommodation in busy places like Catania. It’s better to search for so-called ‘Agroturismo’ run by families. It’s more relaxing to stay there and they will feed you with local food at a much cheaper price than in the centre of touristic towns.
  • Don’t be surprised to see the sides of streets and motorways full of rubbish bags. It is apparently a consequence of new recycling requirements which some Sicilian people are not used to following. They prefer to leave their bags on the motorways!

A quick reminder of what Sicilian food you should try:

  • Pasta Siciliana (pasta with almond pesto which is so creamy and delicious)
  • Pasta alla Norma (pasta with grilled aubergines, tomatoes and grated ricotta cheese)
  • Local wine (any type really; it is delicious) and Messina beer
  • Cannoli (an Italian dessert with pistachio or ricotta filling)
  • Arancini (fried rice covered with breadcrumbs, most commonly with a mozarella or ragu filling)
  • Seafood (especially tuna)
  • Bruschetta
  • Gelato (I recommend almond flavour)

Sicilian ceramic Moorish heads- the story behind the head here
A very common sight at Sicilian shops with souvenirs – ceramic Moorish heads. The story behind the heads can be read here

Which is the best town to visit in Lake Garda, Italy?

Lake Garda and its surrounding villages were some of the places we had the pleasure to visit on our recent holiday to Italy. If I could quickly summarise what we were doing there, I would say that we ate tons of gelato and were simply living La Dolce Vita, all while enjoying the sunshine. In this blog post, you’ll see photos from Bardolino and Sermione – adorable places located near to the biggest lake in Italy – Lago di Garda.

Sirmione, Lake Garda. Italy.
It’s hard to believe it’s a lake, not the sea, with its turquoise water.

Lake Garda is a popular holiday destination in the northern part of Italy mainly because of the picturesque scenery (the lake is surrounded by mountains), lovely cafés and restaurants, and also the possibility of using the lake for water sports. Most of the tourists are from Germany and Switzerland and German is the language which I mostly heard on the streets. If you are going to the east side of Lake Garda, I recommend going to Bardolino and the ancient fortified town of Sirmione. Obviously I cannot be an expert, as I haven’t visited all the towns around Lake Garda, but these two are really worth visiting!

Coulourful boats in Bardolino, Lake Garda, Italy
The colourful harbour and boats in Bardolino, Lake Garda, Italy. The yellow boat is callled Maddalena which is similar to my name. I wish I could have a boat with my name on it in Bournemouth!
How would you name your boat if you had one?
Traditional Italian Gelato. Italian ice cream. Lake Garda, Italy
Traditional Italian gelato is the ultimate winner. Pistachio is one of my favourite flavours.
Italian ice cream. Lake Garda, Italy.
Unfortunately I don’t remember the flavour of these two scoops, but I remember they were mouthwatering!

Bardolino was the first town we visited. It has a wine museum and winery where you can see the history of wine-making by the Zeni family. They’ve been running the business for a century! There is also a free wine-tasting opportunity and the possibility to buy some home-made wine or prosecco. Zeni family members who work there can professionally advise you on what type of wine will suit your taste buds.

You can also visit the Zeni’s basement, which contains hundreds of barrels of wine and beautiful paintings. The mysterious atmosphere of the place will transport you into another world. You can also eat some Italian antipasti there while drinking wine from the family’s collection.

Bardolino, wine museum. Zeni's family.
Walking amongst barrels of wine.
Bardolino, wine museum. Zeni's family.
Speechless about this set-up!

Let’s move to Sirmione, the second town we visited, which is located on the south side of Lake Garda. It has two major historical landmarks: the remains of a Roman villa from the 1st century – the Grottoes of Catullus – and a medieval port fortification – Scagilero Castle – from the 13th century. I do not want to include too many historical details about these places, so if you wish to read more about them just click on the links to find out more. But I hope my photos below will give you an impression of how beautiful Sirmione is.

Lake Garda, Sirmione. Italy
The turquoise water simply tempts you to dive in…
Sirmione, Lake Garda. Italy
If you search for some information about Sirmione on the internet, a picture of this house always pops up…it is simply very photogenic.
Sirmione, Lake Garda. Italy. Italian gelato.
I ate tons of gelato! This was mango and raspberry flavour to refresh myself from the heat.
Isn’t it great how we can capture moments that happen in nature within milliseconds on a camera?
Sirmione, Lake Garda. Italy
A swan, turquoise water and a happy me 🙂
Sirmione, Lake Garda. Italy.
One of the restaurants with the views of the Lake. Beautiful in its simplicity .
This dog was watching passersby from a window which looks a bit like a prison…he looks so sad but sweet at the same time.
Handmade Italian dishes. I really regret that I didn’t buy one for pizza!
Sirmione, Lake Garda. Italy

The map below shows how big Lake Garda is. You have a large choice when deciding where to stay! I am sure each town is unique and can offer something different, but one thing they will always have in common is the beautiful lake and surrounding mountains which will leave you speechless and tranquil. I suggest visiting Bardolino and Sirmione, but I am sure you won’t regret going to any of these places.

Lake Garda's map

What to visit in Cornwall? Part 2: Port Issac and St. Ives

In my previous post about Cornwall, which you can find here, I described what to do in Padstow. This post will be devoted to a small fishing village called Port Issac and a beautiful town with turquoise water – St. Ives.

We spent only a couple of hours in Port Issac, so I cannot pretend to be an expert in what to do or visit there. But believe me, just a short period of time in this adorable place was enough to make me fall in love with it. Coastal views, tiny alleys, family-run shops and the omnipresent nautical atmosphere – what’s not to love there? Well, just be careful if you’re planning to drive through the alleyways. They’re so narrow, your car will barely fit!

Low tide in Port Issac's Harbour
Low tide in Port Issac’s harbour.
Port Issac
‘Port Isaac Harbour was a busy coastal port from the Middle Ages to the mid 19th century. Cargoes like stone, coal, timber and pottery were loaded and unloaded there.’ Source here.

One thing I will always clearly remember from Port Issac is the Cream Tea, which I can honestly say was the best one I have ever eaten. The freshly baked scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, served with tea and milk, tasted just heavenly!

Which should go first on the scones – jam or clotted cream? The Queen puts clotted cream on first, but Cornish people eat it with strawberry jam as the first topping. Rebellious souls!
The Krab Pot is a family run café where we had the delicious scones. Unfortunately, I did not try their crab sandwiches, but I assume they are delicious. It’s got excellent reviews on TripAdvisor and a big yes from me as well!
The names of some of the cottages in Port Issac are very marine. Would you like your house to be called Little Dolphins?

As I said before, we spent only a little time in the peaceful and quiet Port Issac, so I would now like to move on to St. Ives. Its atmosphere is completely different to Port Issac – it’s more lively and touristic, offering a variety of attractions like boat trips to Seal Island (which we sadly did not have time for) and contemporary art galleries like the Tate Modern. St. Ives will enchant you with its turquoise water, lovely harbour and tiny houses with cute nautical names like in Port Issac.

turquoise water in St Ives
Views from the harbour in St. Ives. What a colour!

We had a lovely stroll around St. Ives, had a close encounter with some angry seagulls, ate a big, home made, traditional Cornish Pasty (which was made in front of our eyes!) and I also finally tasted lobster for the first time in my life!

When we bought ice cream, the lady who sold them warned us to be careful of the seagulls, which are known for being little thieves. Looking at this one, one may think it wants to do some harm…
St Ives. A man preparing cornish pasties in front of the customers.
St. Ives. A baker preparing Cornish pasties in front of the customers.
An amazing restaurant with views of the harbour – Porthminster Kitchen. We ordered a full lobster and ate half each. It was the first one I’d ever had, so I was a bit worried about its flavour. You can see my full-of-doubts facial expression below…
To eat or not to eat? I ate it and I liked it. I wanted to try it, but I think it was the last time. Not because I didn’t like the taste, but knowing how long it takes for a lobster to grow to this size (approx. 5 years) and reading about these amazing animals at the Lobster Hatchery in Padstow made me realise we should not destroy their population by eating too many of them. Sustainability and balance is the key.

I could probably upload 100 more photos that I took in Cornwall, but as they say, less is more, and quality is always more valuable than quantity. So I will leave you with only a couple more photos to end this post.

the Harbour in St Ives
The view of the harbour in St. Ives.
St Ives Harbour - fishing boats
St. Ives harbour – fishing boats.
Beautiful beach in St Ives
St. Ives beach.

I hope I have encouraged you to visit Padstow, Port Issac and St. Ives, and I hope you’ll have more time to explore than I did. Unfortunately, one weekend was simply not enough!

What to visit in Cornwall? Part 1 – Padstow.

We only had two days to visit Cornwall which, as you can imagine, is very little time! Having such a limited time, we only focused on two small Cornish towns – Padstow and St. Ives. However, we also managed to take a short visit to a tiny, but picturesque, fishing village called Port Issac. I took so many photos in these three places that I have decided to split this blog post into two parts. Padstow first!

Harbour in Padstow, Cornwall
The Harbour in Padstow, Cornwall

Deliciously fresh fish, lobsters, crabs, Cornish pasties, beautiful sandy beaches and…Rick Stein’s ’empire’ are all things I will remember from our trip to Padstow. And that’s what you’re going to see in this blog post.

If you follow the South West Coast Path from the harbour, you will get to this beautiful spot…

The first thing you should do after arriving in Padstow is go to its tourist information centre. I found it very helpful as I was given a map which was circled with the best places to visit and things to do if you have only a little time. Since Padstow is famous for sandy beaches, the first thing we did was take a walk to the beach by following the South West Coast Path. Of course, I was not surprised to see beautiful scenery, but what shocked me was a graveyard of crabs scattered all over the beach. It was sad, but also quite fascinating as I had never seen crabs in the wild!

Dead crabs on the beach in Padstow

When it started to become cloudy and windy, we decided to go to the Lobster Hatchery, which is a must-visit place in Padstow. It is a charity, but also a research centre which helps to increase the falling number of European lobsters. The entrance fee is £4, but you know your money will go to a good cause. I found out many fascinating facts about these shellfish creatures, and saw the different stages of a lobster’s growth. The youngest were just three months old (the cutest things ever) and there was even one giant lobster which was about 60 years old!

Lobster's Hatchery, Padstow, Cornwall
Lobster Hatchery, Padstow, Cornwall. Captain Barnacles (that’s his name :P) weighs over 5 kg! His claws alone are around 2.5 kg!! He’s estimated to be 60 years old!!!

Another place worth paying a visit to is Padstow Museum, which is opposite the Lobster Hatchery. It’s free, but tiny, and you won’t spend more than 15 minutes there. Nevertheless, having a little read about the importance of the fishing and tourism industries for Padstow’s community was quite interesting.

Padstow Museum, Cornwall

Walking around the harbour area, you’ll definitely notice the omnipresent surname of a popular chef – Rick Stein. Padstow, apart from having plenty of local cafés, is literally dominated by Stein’s businesses. Stein’s fish and chips, Stein’s deli, Stein’s seafood eatery, Stein’s hotel, Stein’s restaurant, Stein’s patisserie, Stein’s shops with nautical souvenirs, Stein’s cookery school…you name it, and Stein will give it to you.

Stein’s home accessories are beautiful.

Rumour has it that the local community does not like Rick Stein. One of the reasons is that he’s bought so many properties in Padstow, making its property market really expensive. Moreover, he does not support the Lobster Hatchery. Other small local businesses do, so why not a rich man like him?! Just saying!

There are lots of stunning beach bays around Padstow which are easily accessible by car. Make sure you visit Booby’s Bay, Constantine’s Bay and my favourite one – spots around Trevose Head. I am sure my pictures will convince you that they are all beautiful.

Bays in Padstow, Cornwall
Bays in Padstow, Cornwall
Trevose Head, Padstow, Cornwall
Trevose Head, Padstow, Cornwall
Trevose Head, Padstow, Cornwall
Among the flowers on the cliffs 😉 Trevose Head, Cornwall – I took one billion pictures in this place
A pretty white lighthouse only adds to the beauty of this place
Mother Ivey's Bay
Mother Ivey’s Bay

Looking for a foodie’s paradise? Padstow is considered to be one! I swear to God, the sea bass I ate there was the most tender I’ve had in my entire life. The mussels in white wine were a real delicacy. If you are a seafood lover, you’ll be the happiest person on Earth in Padstow. Apart from the seafood, make sure you try traditional Cornish pasties as well as a Cornish Breakfast, which is very similar if not identical to English Breakfast.

Cornish Breakfast, Padstow, Cornwall
Cornish Breakfast, Padstow, Cornwall
Whole cooked lobsters in Rick'Stein's seafood eatery

Padstow enchanted me with its nautical atmosphere, delicious seafood, Lobster Hatchery (I didn’t know Lobsters could be such interesting creatures!), beautiful beach bays and the feeling of pride and independence you can see in its local people. The only thing I didn’t manage to visit was its famous Camel Trail, but it’s a good excuse to go back there one day. My next blog about the picturesque Cornish town of St. Ives and the fishing village of Port Issac is coming soon…

Am I flying?