Before heading into Palmero we ventured the long way, about an hour’s drive from Agrigento to Vallelunga to visit Ragaleali Wine Estate and Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School. Anna Tasca Lanza opened a cooking school decades ago on the families 19th century wine estate called Case’ Vecchie to teach foreigners farm-to-table cuisine. Anna had worked with culinary stars; such as Julia Child, Alice Waters and James Beard and wrote two cookbooks, but for the last 10 years her daughter Fabrizia has run the school, continuing her mother’s passion.
When we arrived, the six of us joined a handful of others in the kitchen to create a Sicilian meal of Chickpea Fritters, Polpetti or meatballs, Eggplant Involtini and Fried Ricotta Pies for dessert.
Our group took part in shaping meatballs, frying fritters and pressing pasta through a motorized crank. I on the other hand, mostly watched my family and friends at work with much amusement (it’s not everyday I get to watch others in the kitchen).
Sipping wine in the sunshine and tasting the group’s culinary achievements made for a very fine lunch afterwards. The view from the table was of grapes being harvested by locals – another magnificent sight to see.
We ventured to the Regaleali Winery, about half a kilometer from the cooking school on the Tasca d’ Almerita Estate. The estate has been in the family for eight generations and today is run by Fabrizia’s uncle. Regaleali Wine Estate includes five labels and produces both white and red wines ranging from the traditional Nero d’Avola to wines made with more familiar grapes like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
We toured just a portion of the 500 hectares, including the tasting room and production area where vats and vats of wine were being produced. *Note – The winery and cooking school have overnight accommodations at both locations.
After a nice afternoon, we headed to Palermo to check in for our final two nights in Sicily. Our accommodations were at Palazzo Brunaccini, a boutique hotel with eighteen rooms in the center of the city – it was formerly a historic mansion that had been restored. Our upgraded rooms were spacious and uniquely designed with skylights and modern furnishings, however the neighborhood around the hotel was a little sketchy at times, but the hotel was in a very centralized location to explore the city on foot.
Walking through the streets of Palermo at night felt majestic with Teatro Massimo (opera house) all lit up and stopping for an Aperol Spritz at il Siciliano just a few steps away. Our dinner that evening at Trattoria Corona was casual and fun. Food in Palermo has a strong Greek and Arab influence from the prior empires that ruled this territory and fresh seafood has a big presence because of the abundance from the surrounding sea. Frito Misto was a natural beginning to a shared-plate meal with friends and we continued with Caponata – a local favorite with chunks of eggplant, onions and tomatoes sauteed together with oil olive.
It doesn’t matter how full you are in Sicily, there’s always room for another Cannoli. The crunchy cylinder filled with sheep’s milk ricotta was such a dream.
Our last full day in Sicily was spent touring the city. We began our visit of Palermo with our guide, Josepina – bright, articulate and just a joy. Our first stop was at the Palermo Cathedral which was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and displays several different architectural styles because of the restorations of years past, the last being completed in the 18th century.
Some other extraordinary Palermo sites to see are Quattro Canti or four corners, the most famous baroque square in Palermo with the crossing of two major intersections, Santa Caterina (Church of Saint Catherine) with breathtaking Frescos painted on ceilings and walls representing stories of centuries past from the bible and Fontana Pretoria (Fountain Pretoria) created by Francesco Camilliani in the city of Florence in 1554 and moved to Palermo 1574.
A special treat was a tour through Palazzo Alliata di Pietratagliata – a palace built in 1473 which holds five centuries of Sicilian art including; frescoes, stuccoes and a Murano glass chandelier with 99 arms. Tours are by appointment.
Then, a quick stop for a cappuccino or Almond Granita at Casa Stagnitta. Even in the rain a granita for breakfast hits the spot.
Our next venture was to Palermo’s outdoor markets to taste street food. Arancina (it’s feminine in Palermo), Sfincione (pizza), Panelle (chickpea fritters) and Pane con la Milza (veal spleen sandwich). These decadent bites were all delicious, but the spleen sandwich was by far the most unique – soft, gamey….I guess an acquired taste??
After lunch we headed to Monreale, about an 5 kilometer drive from the center of Palermo. A quick stop for Marzipan Molds in a tiny shop at the intersection of Corso Calatafimi and Cortile Tumminia heading towards Monreale. This small garage/store had hundreds of fruits, vegetables, animals and characters molds – virtually anything you could possibly think of molding into almond paste. In Palermo, it’s traditional to make these molds out of plaster, instead of plastic or silicone like at home.
Monreale is a town with a large cathedral and commune that sits above the city of Palermo. The Cathedral of Monreale was built by King William II in 1174 within four years and is most representative of Norman architecture. Castellacchio or bad castle is the commune and grounds, which were built alongside the Cathedral. A truly breathtaking area, one you shouldn’t miss.
Palermo Catacombs was our final stop of the day and quite frankly, eerie. These preserved corpses ranged from priests and monks to children, physicians and aristocrats. No pictures are allowed in the museum, so I guess you’ll have to go see for yourself.
Our final dinner was at L’Ottava Nota in Palermo and to me, the nicest meal of the trip. The bread with creamy anchovy spread was a great start, especially with a celebratory glass of champagne. My dish of Spaghetti with Garlic with Red Prawn Tartare was phenomenal – the flavors were light and clean with the most delicate taste of sea. Others enjoyed the Tuna with Foie Gras and Truffle Ice Cream, claiming it to be the most spectacular dish of the evening. For dessert – a spread of chocolate, vanilla, citrus and fruit to share.
Our 10-day adventure had gone so fast and we so enjoyed exploring the island of Sicily. I think we all could agree – it was the people in Sicily that made this trip truly special. We thank all our drivers and guides and Viviana at Essence of Sicily for help in planning and navigating our way. Arrivederci!