Thursday, October 8, 2015

Sicily ~ Mt. Etna and Wine Tasting!

There were two things that happened on this part of the tour with Go Ahead Tours. One of them was finding so much beauty in a volcano and the other was finding a red wine that I actually loved. Since I'm primarily a nature photographer you would think I would find it easy to see beauty in all landscapes but, well, a volcano just doesn't give you much to work with. But beauty in Mt. Etna is, indeed, what I found. And, while I am a wine drinker, I would never consider myself to be a huge fan. In fact, I'm one of those "white wine women" considered by some to not be a fan of wine at all because I don't really drink red wines. But at the vineyard we visited I found a red that knocked my socks off. Enough that two bottles were brought home in my luggage with a lot of careful packing and a whole lot of praying that they would get home safe and sound. But lets start at the beginning...or at the bottom if you'd like...of our trip to Mt. Etna.

On our way we saw Castello di Calatabiano way up on the hill. Whenever we travel we know we don't have enough time to see everything we would like to see so we make notes about things we'd like to do if we ever come this way again. Taking the funicular up to the top of the castle sure looks like it would be a lot of fun to do next time!
 We did stop on our way to the crater in Zafferana Etnea. This little town was simply beautiful. We stopped at this square which overlooks the ocean to grab a drink and enjoy a break from the bus.
 Yes, that's our bus! Of course it was pretty impossible not to notice the simply stunning cathedral right behind it too so I was off to explore it!
 Santa Maria Della Provvidenza is like most of the churches in Sicily. Immensely ornate on the outside with a cleaner line inside.
 With Mt. Etna actually active when we visited there was fine ash all over the stairs but it was the pattern of the stairs that had me fascinated. I'd never seen a church with such an ornate pattern for just the stairs!
 From the stairs I could see the municipal building that is right off the church square. Someone told me that it, too, is beautiful inside and worthy of exploring but, sadly, I only had a few minutes and had to pick and choose where to spend my time.
 But the outside really made going inside a huge temptation!
 Thankfully, at least for this trip, the church was even more tempting. I still don't know what the whole ship-above-the-door thing was about but it was definitely intriguing!
 Each door had a design on it. With age it gets even more lovely and I couldn't help but trace over some of the carvings with my fingertips. I know, I know...if everyone touches it then it won't last as long for everyone else to see. I know. And usually I'm able to resist just by telling myself exactly that. This time I couldn't resist.
 I love churches that can use simple clean lines to achieve a bright, airy yet ornate interior. There was nothing dark and foreboding or depressing about this cathedral at all.
 The light sea green paint was a huge surprise. I've seen pinks used, even blue but never green and it was a lovely touch.
 Wrought iron railings with stunning columns and chandeliers made this one of the most surprisingly beautiful and elegant churches I visited while in Sicily.
One whistful look back at the lovely bell towers and then I reboarded the bus to continue the climb up to the crater.
Our day was a very cloudy one and what seemed beautiful down in Zafferana Etnea soon turned to overcast and foggy as we reached the crater. The road up is long and windy and, as is with all volcano craters, the terrain changes quite a bit into what looks like a moon landscape!
 When we arrived we notice several people climbing the different slopes of Mt. Etna.
 In the winter there is actually skiing up from the top! But even in the summer you can take the gondolas up to the top of the mountain to get the "Top of the Island" views.
 Several of our fellow travelers decided to walk the easier path of the Silvestri Crater.
 I saved my hiking till after lunch when I could get a vantage of the entire Sapienza Refuge visitors area with all of the shops and restaurants for the tourists who visit here year round.
 I've been to a few volcanos. Two in Hawaii and one in Washington. At each location you could see where nature would reassert life where the lava had obliterated it.
 What amazed me was that they use the Hawaiian words for the two types of lava, pahoehoe and a'a. Pahoehoe (pronounced Pah-ho-ee-ho-ee) is the rope like lava pattern you see above and is relatively thin, only a few inches to a foot thick, while A'a (pronounced Ah-Ah) is chunky looking and rough and can be dozens of feet thick. Lava is actually fairly amazing to me. The restaurant where we had lunch (kind of a diner type place) had the last flow run literally inches from the building then split and go around it without touching the building at all.

Standing at the overlook of the visitors area I looked over to the tallest cone you can climb and suddenly came to realize why people love volcanoes. I understand the sense of danger is what draws some people, especially when it's in a current eruption pattern like it was for us in 2013 but that doesn't really do it for me. However, there is a certain sand dune type beauty to them. The sloping sides along with the dark colors of the lava sands is really beautiful. Against this brief patch of sunlight at the top the cone along with the rusty oxidized and shades of black and gray of the lava sand glinting in the light was just gorgeous. And, in that moment, looking at this scene through my viewfinder, I realized the true beauty of this volcano.
We drove up to the Barone Di Villagrande Winery through a sea of wine grapes and wildflowers.
The entryway to the winery has these gorgeous gates.
We headed in through those gates and into the beautiful grassy courtyard of the winery. On the left hand side was the actual processing area and to the right was the store and formal diningroom.
Established in 1727, this winery sets about 700 meters above sea level in the shade of Mt. Etna. The volcanic soil is what gives the wine such a rich taste.
Unlike California vineyards, these are not just set out in lines but in geometric shapes to accomodate the land of the hillsides.
Pathways lead down to the vineyards and they are tended by the family each day. The winery has been owned exclusively by the family since 1727.
We learned on our tour that most wines are made from a variety of grapes and that most vineyards get at least some of the grapes from other growers. This one makes wine from only their own grapes grown on this property.

Walking towards the vines we noticed that the grass crunched under our feet. It's a very, very strange thing to walk over crunchy grass! We had been told, on the drive up, that the ash from Mt. Etna has to be cleaned up by the villages nearly every day and that they have certain corners of each town where the ash is piled up during an eruption. You could see the small pebble sized ash near the base of the tree.
The stone walls were covered in this "ash" which looked like large black sand pebbles. While we didn't see or feel any falling on us while we were there we were told that when the wind shifts it feels like tiny hail coming down. But we were assured that the lava has never traveled far enough down to ever threaten the popultion on the slopes of Mt. Etna. The only loss of buildings and life have been  in the areas very close to the crater or the cones.
We were then led into the rooms where the wine is actually made. These little casks, when they were not just decoration, held a couple hundred bottles worth of wine.
The huge casks in the cask room hold enough wine for thousands of bottles of wine!
Some of the process is done with more modern machinery. We were led into the processing room where, unfortunately, I wasn't able to take photos to show you how they bottle or age the different types of wine that are produced by this winery.
 Finally it was time to head into the diningroom. Not only were we all very hungry, we were all anxiously waiting to try these wines we had been told so much about!
 When I didn't put away my camera at dinner I had a few of our fellow travelers make it clear that photos of them while at dinner wouldn't be appreciated so I focused on close ups and assured them that no person would be in the final images. We started out with several wine glasses, bread and olive oil.
 The room was large with long tables set formally with white table cloths, white plates and silver flatware. But above the room were two large dragon chandeliers that were just so gorgeous I wanted to take one home with me!
 We were presented with a small booklet that outlined the history of the family and the wines and as we started to read over it two of the actual family members joined us to tell us all about their family and their vineyard.
 Our first course was the antipasti plate filled with bruschetta (pronounced Broo-sket-ah...had no idea I'd been mispronoucing this for years!), aged cheeses, olives, fresh baked bread and thin slices of  aged sausage. This was paired with our first of 5 wines. We enjoyed two white wines, two red wines and one dessert wine. The white wines, one served with our bread and olive oil and one served with the antipasti, reminded me of a pinot grigio and a chardonnay respectively. The Etna Bianco was the lighter of the two, more like the pinot grigio, and my favorite of the whites.
 Our main course was roasted sausage and potatoes served with the Etna Sciara and the Etna Rosso. The Sciara was a bit acidic to me but the Rosso took my breath away! It was smooth and rich and had a flavor that just melted on my tongue. For the frist time ever I was in love with a red wine!
 We finished up our meal with panacotta with the dessert wine. The Malvasia delle Lipari was a light dessert wine with honey notes to it. Not too sweet but so very delicious we were all very disappointed to realize that this is a limited release wine and that the next round of it wasn't due for another two weeks. Sadly, none of that come home with us.
We paid about $17 per bottle of the Rosso and nearly the same for a bottle of the Bianco. We were told that you could have a case (12 bottles) direct shipped for about $20 per bottle but to wait for Spring to order since the heat of Summer can effect the taste of the wine. So we'll wait for Spring and then wait impatiently for more of this amazing wine to appear at our door! You can order it right online at the Barone Di Villagrande website but it's even more fun to join the family for a meal and enjoy it on the slopes of Mt. Etna if you can do that instead.
The next morning we headed to the airport at dawn. My last view of Sicily was this one of Mt. Etna through the airport windows. 

This ends our tour of Sicily but I have a lot more to share with you next week from my home near Monterey! Can't wait to share with you a new place to eat, a few new beaches to enjoy and some really beautiful views! In the meantime don't forget to click on these smaller photos so you can enjoy their larger versions and drop by to see me on Facebook or Instagram!


1 comment:

  1. I wish I could travel this much! I've only been outside of Australia 3 times, better than nothing though! And all the food looks amazing!