This is part two of my top 12 day trips to take when visiting Sicily in the winter. If you haven’t read part 1, please start here: Top 12 day trips – Visiting Sicily in the Winter. In my previous article, I highlighted the first of five recommended day trips: Ragusa – Ibla, Punta Secca, Scicli, Catania and Mt Etna. Here are seven more:
6. Modica, Sicily, Italy
Modica is a great place to go for the day or night. We were fortunate to hit Modica during its annual winter chocolate festival. During December all the chocolatiers of the region get together and sell their delights. From one stand I purchased twenty different chocolate bars (Christmas gifts for friends back home) – my favorite being the chili chocolate.
As a whole, however, the chocolate isn’t that great
I’m comparing my chocolate experience to American and British chocolate so who am I to judge? Perhaps you can visit Modica and try the chocolate for yourself?
Aside from visiting chocolate vendors, you can watch chocolatiers create masterpieces! I was gob smacked to see what can be done with chocolate.
Whether the chocolate festival is going on or not, Modica is a great place to visit. There’s loads of history, amazing architecture and the surrounding landscape is amazing. Furthermore, there are several little boutiques, cafes and shops to enjoy during a stroll around the town.
10. Roman Villa, Sicily, Italy
The Roman Villa was always on our list of things to go visit but we wanted to wait until visitors from home joined us. We felt that it was one of those things that you’d only want to go to once so we waited for the right moment.
Just a few weeks ago, we had some visitors! We rented a car and took the two-hour trip from Marina di Ragusa to the Roman Villa – It’s listed on the map as the Villa Romana del Casale.
The villa was supposedly the hunting lodge of an important Roman official. It’s decorated with the world’s best-preserved and most extensive set of Roman mosaics in the world. (I always feel honored when I discover something that’s the worlds best, first or oldest).
Apparently, the mosaics were buried in a mudslide in the 12th century keeping them in tact.
So – if you like mosaics this is sightseeing destination not to be missed
My pictures will not do the mosaics justice but you’ll, at the very least, get an indication as to how preserved they are. The mosaic of the women in bikinis was not only in perfect condition but helped me to realize just how long bikinis have been in fashion!
And just a few last details: there is a tourist area that looks like a settlement camp, offering souvenirs and snack foods before entry. Once you’re in the villa, there is a cafeteria type offering. The cost of entry was 10 euros each with children going free. And although most children won’t find mosaics terribly amusing, the layout of the complex keeps everyone interested. There are several stair cases to go up and down, little nooks and see-through glass so small children can see everything.
11. Agrigento, Sicily, Italy
While living amongst 60 other liveaboard boaties at Marina di Ragusa, word spreads quickly regarding new restaurants, upcoming festivals and worthwhile day-trips.
Agrigento seemed to be a must-see destination for most boaties
Week after week I’d see photos of the Valley of Temples on my marina Facebook posts and at the marina bar, I’d overhear groups of people talk about the ruins and beautiful views.
Finally, the time came for us to join forces with another boat, the family on Cygnus III, rent a van and see the temples for ourselves.
Eleven of us clambered into a van and with my husband, Simon, at the steering wheel we set off for Agrigento. During the long trip (2.5 hrs) we sang songs (my daughter practiced the song, ‘Let it go,’ from Frozen), told jokes (most of which I didn’t get – I’m American and the rest of the car was British), and took a pit stop at McDonalds.
Yes, while touring Sicily we stopped at McDonalds
Heck, when you live in Sicily, it’s difficult to get anything other than pasta, bread, steak, etc. so when an opportunity comes up to sample the taste of ‘home,’ we sometimes take it.
We stopped in Gela at McDonalds, ate some grub and then I let my daughter play in the outdoor playground. She hadn’t finished her drink or fries so I kept them on the outdoor table with me. Having the need for the bathroom, I asked my friends to look after Sienna and I should have said, ‘look after her fries and orange juice too!’ As soon as I left the table a homeless man grab her food and started eating it. I wasn’t expecting that but at least the food when to a needy stomach.
After many side roads, crazy driving incidents and loads of laughs we barreled out of the car and started our sightseeing adventure.
The ruined temples are set on a rugged landscape backed by views of the sea
If you’re into temples, this day trip is well worth the car journey. We all spent hours walking around the Greek temples, old roads, gates and walls. Although you can’t go inside any of the temples, you can get very close.
To whet your appetite for Agrigento, here are a few photos:
12. Olive Picking
If someone forced me to choose my most favorite Sicily day-trip, I’d have to say that my olive picking experience topped all others. When my dear friend, Angelina, asked me to join six others for an olive picking day-trip, my immediate responded ‘Yes – Definitely count me in.’
Seven of us left Marina di Ragusa early on a November morning. With my American buddy and fellow cruiser, Kenny, at the wheel I was his copilot as we weaved ourselves through the curvy, narrow, hilly roads of southeast Sicily.
Our journey took less than two hours and was full of great conversation and anticipation for the day’s events. When we arrived at our destination, our hosts Paolo, Mila, and their two children graciously greeted us. Within seconds, I felt very welcomed.
After a quick tour of the country home and a bathroom break, Paolo led us towards the back of the house, down a path, along an orchard of nut trees (I think they were almonds) and through to the olive grove.
The air was fresh, the views were green and the mood amongst the cruisers was light and open. We were all excited to learn about the process of olive picking AND support a local farm by volunteering our time and energy.
As we approached the grove Paolo explained the history of his family and the land. He also described his philosophy about nature.
I wish I recorded his speech as it made my heart smile
Paolo explained that he likes to believe that each tree has a soul and needs to be taken care of accordingly. Giant olive farmers use machines that shake and bruise the olives during harvests whereas Paolo’s traditional methods call for hand picking.
From what I learned, bruised olives cause the fermentation process to start creating a less authentic and tasty end result. During our full day of olive picking, the cruisers and I used our hands to pick or pull the olives off allowing them to softy fall on green netting surrounding the tree. Four of us would work one tree at a time, carefully allowing the green olives to drop below.
Paolo taught us to always look before we took a step to avoid crushing an olive!
Once the olives were removed carefully from the tree we’d slowly pull the netting away allowing all the pickings to congregate in the center. We then slowly poured them into crates that would go to the olive oil press (within 36 hours).
After a few hours of picking, Paolo disappeared and then reappeared with one of the most amazing lunches I’ve ever had. On top of a couple crates, he laid out slices of fresh homemade bread covered in olive oil and fresh herbs in addition to cheese and meat. There was also a bottle of homemade red wine.
When I told my husband, Simon, about the experience I said that it felt as if I was eating nature. He laughed at me and called me a ‘dork,’ but I honestly felt as if I was experiencing a bit of history, evolution, authenticity, love and nature while eating the most simple foods.
Perhaps it was the glass of red wine after expending quite a bit of manual labor, but for a moment I felt so close to the people and land around me. I felt in love with life…in love with the simplicity of living.
It was a magical moment
After our lovely lunch, we all went back to picking olives. Each one of us shared stories, listened to each other talk and kept our ears open for anything Paolo had to say. His voice conveyed a sense of calmness and wisdom…Perhaps if he was speaking an unknown language I’d still want to listen to the sound of Paolo speaking?!
When bringing olives to the press there’s an optimal amount needed – too little won’t work and too much isn’t good either. My co-pickers and I strived to achieve the optimal picking amount. We couldn’t let Paolo down – could we?
The olive picking soon came to an end and we all helped to clean up and transport the olives to a vehicle. We were shepherded back to the farmhouse where Mila greeted us with a table set for a traditional Sicilian feast.
As we ate more fresh bread, olive oil, cheese and meats we were also served an amazingly tasty bowl of lentils. We also enjoyed some wine while Paolo and Mila answered questions, shared the details of their lives and discussed their plans for the future.
I felt so honored to be amongst my fellow cruisers and to have such an authentic experience – the day was bliss…the day was REAL…I felt so alive and so happy to be alive.
After dinner we all purchased some of the olive oil previously pressed from the grove and then headed to the press. I pictured a traditional stone wheel for the pressing but we arrived at a warehouse that had several connecting pieces of machinery. I notice the olive cleaning stations, and then I followed along to the press and mulcher thing…my eye followed further along until I could see a steal container with a tap allowing the fresh olive oil to finally be extracted.
Paolo took us around the machines and explained the process. We eagerly absorbed the experience and enjoyed gaining closure to the olive oil process. Picking olives was great but seeing the olives turn into olive oil made the whole event spectacular.
Night had arrived and it was time to head back to Marina di Ragusa. With Kenny at the wheel, we headed home. The car was full of energy even though we all felt slightly exhausted. A couple people sang for us, some told jokes and we all participated in fun conversation.
For €10, to cover the food served to us, and my time for one day I experienced an truly memorable event. If you ever find yourself in Sicily, please, please, please visit Paolo and Mila. The have a working farm and invite guests throughout the year to stay with them and experience traditional Sicilian life. I cannot recommend a visit more.
There website is: www.phantalica.org
Here are some photo’s from our special day:
Finally…the final day trips I suggest when visiting Sicily in the winter include Marzamemi, Noto and Syracuse.
But, let’s not just take my word about them. My cousin, Loryn, was able to join us when we first arrived in Sicily so read what she thought of these amazing places in her article: Exploring Noto and Syracuse
Side note: I just wanted to say ‘thank you,’ for reading my articles. I hope you gain something from them. If you have a question or are interested to learn more, please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.