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Saturday, 25 October 2014

Our Flight Home - Thank You Lufthansa and ......

On our last day in Italy we arose at 5:45 AM to prepare for our 6:30 AM taxi to the airport. Check in was easy and the customs office agreed to stamp our tax refund form even though we had checked the main item - the new suitcase. Apparently you are suppose to show them the items being claimed to get the stamp. 

The Lufthansa lounge in Rome was comfortable and the flight to Munich pleasant. Upon arriving in Munich we had about a 30 minute walk to the next gate. The business lounge in Munich was ok but not as nice as the one in Rome or even those offered by Air Canada. However once we boarded it felt like we had checked into a five star hotel with a three star Michelin restaurant. We must thank our flight attendant, Mr. Koehler. He was charming and made the last 8 hours of our vacation very pleasurable. 

The Outskirts of Rome

As we have noted Air France created some logistical challenges when they cancelled our tickts 24 hours before our planned flight. The benefit for us was being able to then book business class seats on Lufthansa using our Aeroplan points. The downside was losing one day at the beginning of our vacation and basically one day at the end. We had to leave Palermo a day earlier than planned and stay at an aiport hotel outside of Rome one night before catching an early flight to Munich and then home. 

Monica should become a travel agent when she retires. She was able to find a quirky boutique hotel in a small fishing village just 10 minutes form the Rome airport. The hotel, Al Porticciolo, is only a few years old. The staff were friendly and the colours and design was quite modern - especially after more than 2 weeks in Sicily. Only complaint about our room was it had the strangest shower we have seen and it was next to impossible to shower without flooding the room - as Joe demonstrated. 

The hotel's restaurant has a Michelin Star and we were excited to try it. Our 2:30 pm lunch was pleasant. Our dinner later that night sadly did not match the Michelin rating. 

After our lunch we took a long walk through the local town. The centre of the town contains a very long canal that leads to the ocean.  The canal is lined with large fishing boats. It was fun and colourful. 

Palermo - Too Short a Stay

Our two hour drive to Palermo from San Vito Lo Capo was along the ocean and quite pleasant. We tried to get gasoline along the way, but we could only find fully automated stations - which were too confusing to figure out. Our destination was the Palermo airport - to return our rental car. We figured there would be a gas station close to the airport. We were wong. Some friendly police officers gave us directions (in Italian) to the nearest station - 20 kilometres away! Lesson learned. 

Our hotel in Palermo, the Centrale Palace Hotel, had graciously pre-arranged a private taxi to pick us and it was right on time. Joe had enjoyed the Alpha Romeo we had rented, but was happy to no longer be driving. It was about a 40 minute drive from the aiport into the centre of town. Palermo is the largest city in Sicily with over 1 million population. The "suburbs" are full of large apartment buildings. 

The Centrale Palace Hotel was an old grand building. The desk staff wore formal suits andwere both   professional and helpful. Our room was spacious and included an outdoor patio surrounded by flora. 

The food at the Centrale Palace was not a highlight. We had one dinner there and sent back one of the entrees. The breakfasts were fine, but after so many wonderful breakfasts at other hotels these were adequate.

We did however have one of the best meals of the trip at a nearby restaurant that we highly recommend. The Osteria dei Vesperi is stuated in a square surrounded by old buildings which actually provide a quite intimate feel. We ate outdoors and the night was perfect. The service was more than excellent and the food esquisite. We also enjoyed two conversations with the chef. This restaurant deserves a Michelin Star!

Sadly because of Air France cancelling our original tickets we only really had one full day in Palermo. The hotel was well situated and we were able to wander the streets, see a few markets and museums and shop. We had decided we needed a third suitcase to bring back all our wine and other goodies. 

We would definitely return to Palermo. 

San Vito Lo Capo - Sicilian Florida

It was about a 45 minute drive from Erice to San Vito Lo Capo. Its a pretty drive with nice views of the ocean and large mountains. The core part of the town, along the winding beach, contains most of the hotels. The area is shut off to most cars and we had to get a police pass to drive in and drop off our luggage. Afterward we had to drive out of the core and search for a parking spot. We found one about a 10 minute walk from the hotel and left the car there for the 2 days while we were in town.

San Vito Lo Capo reminded us of a Florida beach town, only with more patina. The beach goes on for  quite a distance and is lined with umbrellas and chairs. Many hotels, including ours, have a row of their own umbrellas and lounges for their guests. We spent part of one day relaxing in these lounges and enjoying the warm clear water. The ocean was calm and one can go out quite a distance before swimming. Great for kids and there sure were a lot of them. 

We stayed at the Hotel Piccolo Mondo. The hotel, rated quite highly on Trip Advisor, is small and simple. Vito and his wife made the stay friendly and her pastries at breakfast were outstanding. We had one meal at the Syrah restaurant that was quite good and worth visiting. 

We imagine that San Vito Lo Capo would be quite busy and crowded during the peak season. Two nights here were just enough. Not a destination we would run back to. 

Erice - Way Up Top

We left Planeta mid morning heading first to visit the mountain top town of Erice. You can reach Erice two ways; by cable car based in Trapani or by driving up the switchback roads. We chose the roads. Compared to the windy roads along the Douro Valley these were quite civilzed, with the added comfort of what looked like very sturdy guard rails. 

Parking was easy and plentiful and the views were quite amazing. We could clearly see the lake near Planeta where we had the wine tasting and of course marvelous ocean vistas. 

Erice's main attractions include a Castle, museums, an array of restaurants and a famous bakery. Pasticceria Maria Grammatico is famous for her scrumptious pastries and marzapan. Monica took us there twice and brought back many treats for the family. The founder, Maria, was raised in a convent and learned her recipes at a Monastery. 

After our afternoon in Erice we headed to our beach town, San Vito Lo Capo. 

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Planeta Wine Tasting - WOW

Before we left Canada, Brian Perry, from the National Club graciously arranged for us to have a private wine tasting while we were at Planeta. Knowing we were going to be tasting and maybe swallowing, we decided to hire a car for the 30 minute trip from the resort to the Vineyard. Our driver was a pleasant man. Unfortunately he started the trip talking on his cell phone while driving. After a polite request he turned off the phone. However before he got rid of the phone it was interesting, albeit a bit frighting to watch him drive. He held the phone in his right hand and when requred to shift gears took his left hand ff the wheel and reached across to change gears. Very talented, but dangerous. 

The Vineyard was a combination of old and new world. The buildings have a sicilian patina and character. But inside they also have gleaming modern steel tanks for the wine. We were greeted by Chiara, one of the daughters of the companies founders. She was warm and knowledgeable. We began the tasting with a tour of the winery. Planeta has vineyards in at least five terrroirs across Sicily. At this location we saw all aspects of the wine making process, from vineyard to steel and oak. We also learned about the history of the family and the decade long investment they made before realizing the impeccable wines they now produce. 

After the tour we settled down for some serious tasting. Normally they only taste 4 wines, but ur host sensed our enthsusiam and we were fortunate to taste 8 wines from various terroirs and vintages. Many interesting and satisfying wines!   We hope to see more of them in Ontario soon!

The tasting was followed by an outdoor lunch along with 6 Americans who had their own tasting. 


La Foreseteria - Planeta Estate - Menfi

We are now at the half way point of our trip. At this point the luxury factor increases as we check into the wonderful boutique hotel run by the famous Sicilian winery. Once again it was somewhat difficult to navigate the last few kilometres to our destination. Giving up on our Tom Tom we pulled into a Penny Mart grocery store to ask for directions. We connected with one of the customers (no english spoken) who motioned for us to follow him.  We waited while he checked out and followed him into the parking lot. He didn't get any bags in the store so his arms were overflowing with boxes of pasta and other groceries. We had expected him to just point out some directions. We were pleasantly surprised when he motioned for us to follow his car. He drove 6 kilometres out of his way leading us right to the winding road leading up to Planeta. As we parted we rolled down our window to thank him. He said "Welcome to Sicily" and drove off. What a lovely man and a great example of how warm Sicilians were throughout our trip. 

The rooms at Planeta were luxurious, spacious and nicely decorated. For our first 2 nights we had an executive suite with 2 outdoor sitting areas surrounded by Lavender and views of the vineyards. Breakfast (included) and dinner (additional costs) were in a small semi outdoor dining room. It was a nice setting, only marred slightly by bees and wasps. There was a wild, friendly kitten who roamed the dining room chasing bugs and shadows. The food at breakfast and dinner was good, but not the best of our trip. What was very surprising was the wine service.  On two nights the sommelier gave us good advice on wine choice (all Planeta, of course). But after the first pour we were left to our own devices to pour the rest of the bottle. On one night the main sommelier was away and his stand in told us a 2005 Chardonnay was suppose to be peach coloured and taste of oxidation. To her credit she did agree to change the wine, but was adamant it was excellent wine. 

The pool at Planeta is certainly the highlight of this small resort. Its not a large pool, but it overlooks the vineyard and has comfortable lounges and the support of a nice bar. We had some great times talking with other guests from Switzerland, Germany and a wonderful couple, Jacques and Bridgette from Montreal. Our conversations continued through dinner and breakfast. We look forward to reconnecting when back in Canada. 

A few more tips to enjoy this location. The massage, although well priced, it was not up to what I am use to, a little too new age for me. But you should take a half day to explore the local beach. We walked for an hour down an isolated shoreline. It was a beautiful day and the ocean breezes and scenery were great. Even better was our lunch at a local "gourmet" restaurant - Da Vittoria. We had one of the best meals of our vacation at this restaurant.  The seafood was amazing, fresh and well prepared. Check out our pictures. 

The other gem at Planeta is the actual winery. See our next post for a description of our wine tasting experience. 

Fattoria Mose - Agrigento

While we were planning our Sicilian Adventure ourr friend Franca from Bloom Restaurant connected us with her friend Linden, who has organized many trips to Sicily. One of her key recommendations was for us to visit Fattoria Mose which is run by Chiara Agnello. Chiara's family has owned this country estate since the 1800's. It is an old mansion surrounded by Olive trees, Vineyards, many types of flora and crops. 

Our trip to the Fattoria Mose took a few hours. There was lots of construction on the highway and then our GPS, once again, got confused. After some trial and error we pulled into an isolated gas station and asked for directions. Our interaction with the gas station employees was actually lots of fun. They spoke no english, but were sincerely interested in helping us find our way. Luckily our cell phone worked and we called Chiara who gave insttructions to the gas station guys who then showed us our route on a map. About 20 minutes later we were at the gate and driving up the winding entrance road. 

We were greeted warmly by Chiara and offered a much appreciated glass of wine. After a nice chat we were shown our room, inside the house.The room was on the second floor with both a large bedroom and small second room. Big shutters were open and the view of the surrounding farmland was lovely. We settled in and then headed out to town for a quick snack and then to explore the nearby Greek Ruins. The Greek ruins are spread out over several kilometres across a series of hills. You can either park at the top or the bottom. We chose the bottom and paid 3 Euros each to take a taxi to the top. 

The ruins include ancient burial lands. Some of the buildings are amazingly well preserved. We took our time exploring and enjoying the views. For part of the time we toured the site with a German couple who were both in healthcare. Interesting discussions. 

Returning to our room we rested before our 8pm dinner (Breakfast and dinner are included in the very reasonable price). Dinner was so much fun. We had about 12 people at a long table, outside under a large tree. The food was simple and satisfying. Many antipasta, sausage and plentiful local wine. The guests included people from Holland, Denmark, Switzerland, France, Germany, Britian and of course Canada. The common language was mostly English. We ate, drank and conversed until the wee hours. A great experience. 

Thank you Franca and Linden for getting us to this magical place. 

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Heading to Sant' Ambrogio

On our fourth day we visited the Catania fish market in the morning and we then packed the car and navigated our way out of the traffic filled streets of Cantani. Once again we were grateful to Rita for her clear instructions.

When we found the highway it was clear sailing all the way. The A20 highway is well constructed and an easy drive. When we got close to our destination our cell phone worked and we contacted our hostess who met us in the centre of town. We then followed her one kilometre into the country, up a steep road to our apartment overlooking the ocean As you can see in the pictures the outside area was large and beautifully landscaped. We looked forward to four restful days and nights.