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This adventure of a lifetime starts on the tiny Sicilian island of Favignana, where you will stay on your own private peninsula surrounded by crystalline waters and rocky cliffs. The cooking classes will focus on traditional Sicilian home cooking, while the sightseeing will take you to wineries in Marsala, the Salt Flats of Trapani, and beautiful Erice. You'll get to know the locals as you explore true Sicilian tradition on days packed with amazing experiences, such as casting nets at sea with local fishermen, harvesting salt, swimming in crystal-clear grottoes, cheese-making with a local shepherd, and much more.
For the first six nights of this vacation, you will be staying at the Nido del Pellegrino on your own private peninsula of Favignana Island, off the west coast of Sicily. The "Nido del Pellegrino" (Pellican's Nest), was once an Italian WWII Military Base, and the old gun turrets are still visible on the peninsula. It went through a complete restoration process in 2010 converting the buildings into luxury mini-apartments. It boasts breathtaking 180-degree views of the Mediterranean Sea.
As you walk around the property, there are beautiful trails that take you along the cliffs, and lead down to your private beach on one side, and private dock on the other. All of the mini apartments have an independent entrance, private bathrooms, kitchens, refrigerators. They are all air-conditioned and heated. They have television in each home with satellite service, allowing you to English language programming. Furthermore, free Wi-Fi internet access is available throughout, however the internet on the island is spotty.
Island weather and sea conditions can be unpredictable, so it is important not to stay on the island for your final night due to the risk that the morning hydrofoils may not run in case of bad sea conditions on your departure morning. In order to insure against potential transfer problems, you will be staying in the town of Erice on the mainland for your final night at "La Pineta". This is a rustic little hotel right in the town of Erice, with breathtaking views.
It is important to note that these are not luxury accommodations. There are no luxury accommodations in this area of Sicily, but it is nice, and the trade-off for luxury here is that Erice is the most beautiful town in Western Sicily, giving you a wonderful place to get some last minute shopping and sightseeing in, as well as an excellent location for your farewell BBQ with the sausages you made in your final class.
Hundreds of thousands of people tour Sicily, but there is nothing anything like this. You will have experiences that will have you telling stories for the rest of your life. This all-inclusive trip offers experiences that give you an insider's view of Sicily that is nearly impossible to have in any other way. This trip is full of incredibly unique cultural experiences that you will never forget.
You will live the Sicilian life as you cook authentic local recipes together, interact with and befriend the locals, get to know small-village artisans, and so much more. The retreat will make you pinch yourself over and over in amazement that you are actually living it. It is an all-access pass to true Sicilian life like nothing else out there, and you limit it to no more than 15 people per trip. Most of all, it is a week of fun, family and laughter as you share what makes Sicily so special in a very personal way.
To begin with, you are on a tiny island, and the weather often changes on a dime. Add to that that you are in Sicily, which is not nearly as developed as the rest of Italy, and lots of things can interfere with our plans. Remember, you are off the beaten path and you don't do what the big commercial tour companies do.
You deal quite a bit with people that are not so accustomed to the "timing" ad "expectations" of tourism. What this means is that you must always take it in stride. For example, on one week there was a storm on the start date. The ferry boats simply "decided" not to offer service to the island that day, so you had to scramble to find a hotel on the mainland and make due.
Another time, you were supposed to go visit the grottoes of a nearby island. The fisherman on the island called to tell you that the weather was not good enough to go out. On this island, it looked beautiful, but he made the decision, and there was no convincing him otherwise. Was the weather on his island really bad? You don't know. Maybe it was, or maybe he just felt like sleeping in that day. Either way, when you raise a concern, the only reply you ever get is, quite simply "This is Sicily, what do you expect?".
The point here is that this is completely correct. This is, in fact, Sicily. And this is what one should expect there. Things will happen if they happen, and often things that were never planned happen and are better than expected. The trick here is to let it all flow, take everything in stride, live the "island" life, and in the end it all somehow magically comes together as something amazing. That said, those that are a little more uptight, rely on schedule, and expect everything to go as planned will almost always be displeased with "The Sicilian Way".
You will have four half-day completely hands-on cooking classes this week; the cooking classes are not demonstrations. They are 100% hands-on. They are structured so that you can be as involved as you desire in every stage of every course you prepare. So, if you are up for it, you will get wrist-deep as you make eggplant Parmesan from scratch, veal Marsala, cannoli, amazing Sicilian seafood dishes, and much more.
You will even have a class that is all about Sicilian sausage! For those who would rather eat than cook, there is always something to do. Head down to the beautiful seaside with crystal clear waters, opt for a scuba lesson, spend the morning at the beach, or relax in the sun on the giant cliffs overlooking the sea.
This vacation is all about rich cultural experiences that are never part of some touristy offering. Most of the cultural experiences are done with local friends that do what they do only with Culture Discovery Vacations, making each a truly intimate experience. When you go night fishing, you are out with a local fisherman on his nightly fishing trip; you cast the nets with him, you get to know him, you clean the fish with him, and you even help him sell the catch at the local market.
When you are making Ricotta, you are on the private farm of a local shepherd, not at a commercial cheese factory that does "cheese tours". You will see many of the same locals over and over on the boats, in their homes for dinner. You will not be a tourist. You will be a guest. While thousands drive the Trapani Salt Road on their tours, they will be looking at the people out there harvesting salt. On these trips, you are the people those tourists are watching out there harvesting the salt and of course, you bring it home with you!
Culture Discovery Vacations is located in a part of Sicily that is still real, and you will find yourself discovering fantastic places that the travel business hasn't caught onto yet. You will visit a private winery in Marsala, you'll take trips to incredible places with breathtaking grottoes off the coast, you'll visit the mountaintop village of Erice, you'll experience the Salt Mines of Trapani, and so much more. These excursions are not the worn Sicilian history tours, they are excursions that bring you into a Sicily few foreign tourists ever experience,seeing Sicily not just like an Italian, but like a Sicilian insider.
You will visit a local shepherd, Gibarossa. This is an amazing man that you are sure to never forget. Together, you will make Ricotta cheese that you will be using for the pastry class. You will taste some of the fresh cheese as you make it before heading off to the cooking class for the day.
At around noon, Rosario and Enzo will bring the fishing boat to the private dock at The Nido, and they will have set some of the fish you caught aside for you. You will boat around the island to a beautiful spot, where you will cook up some of the catch from this morning for lunch! You will have ample time for swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, and relaxing.
When you arrive at Marettimo, you will board small boats that will take you around the island. This island is famous for its breathtaking grottoes, that put those of Capri to shame. In fact, many people liken Marettimo to what the Island of Capri off the Amalfi Coast was once like before it was overrun with mass tourism!
As you visit the magnificent grottoes, you will have time to jump off and take a swim in the crystalline waters from time to time. The ability to visit the grottoes at Marettimo is heavily dependent on wind and sea conditions, to the extent that there is a 50/50 chance of going at any given time. If you are unable to go on the agreed day, you will visit the Levanzo caves, which have some the most ancient cave paintings in the world, dating back more than 10,000 years.
For those with more spirit of adventure, you are about to have an experience of a lifetime! You will get up in the middle of the night, then have some coffee and fresh pastry with the local fishermen who are about to head out for their nightly catch. Here, you will meet Culture Discovery Vacations' friends, Rosario and Enzo. They are local fishermen that do this every day of their lives, as their fathers did, and their fathers before them. You will board the little fishing boat and head out to the local waters with them to take part in this local tradition.
As you reach a point of their choosing, you will help Rosario and Enzo cast the fishing nets into the sea. You will then start your time of waiting for the catch, during which, you will enjoy each others company as you drink wine and eat traditional Sicilian Pane Cunzato (Focaccia with olive oil and sauce). While you are waiting, you will learn some Sicilian dialect that you will put to good use in a couple hours!
At the moment of sunrise, your work begins; you will slowly pull the nets in, then head back into port as you sort the fish you caught. Once you arrive, you will help Rosario and Enzo set up their market stand, and you will help them sell today's catch to the locals at the village fish market. This is where your newly learned phrases in local dialect will be used, as you will be "calling out our catch" to the locals as they pass by! After a bit, you will head back home and get some sleep while Rosario and Enzo finish their morning at the market.
While virtually, every tourist that visits Western Sicily has "The Salt Road" on their itinerary, the most popular stop is the "Ettore Infersa" salt mill. The tourists go there, look at a museum, walk through a shop, and stand behind some gates to take pictures of the people harvesting the salt. You will be walking right past the tourists and through those gates.
You will be going right past the tourist zone, and into the harvest area. You will put on some rubber boots and walk out into the flats, where you will try your hand at harvesting salt yourselves. As you often say, you don't just take photos of the view; you are the view people are photographing! You will be the workers out there the tourists are photographing, at least for as long as you desire. You will be taking home some of the salt you harvested ourselves, then do a "Salt tasting" at the mill with more wine, fruit, etc.
In seaside Sicily, sea urchins are a delicacy, and a popular tradition is the "Ricciata", which is something of a seaside picnic, in which friends get together to eat sea urchins with fresh bread and wine. You are with Culture Discovery Vacations, you are in Sicily, and you are doing it like Sicilians this week, so you are having yourselves a Ricciata at sunset!
Tuna Cannery was once the life blood of Western Sicily. Now closed, it remains a monument to the thriving economy of the island's past. This was once the heart of Italy's tuna market. The caretaker (and former worker at the cannery) will give you a tour of the property and some insight into what life was once like on the island.
At Genna winery in Marsala, you will meet the owner, Diego Genna and taste some of his wines, including Marsala, Zibbibo, and even Almond Wine.
You will quickly pick up on the fact that we are all connected outside of "business". Rocky is a great person to start with to convey this! Like Michael, Rocky grew up in Los Angeles... in fact, just a few blocks from Michael. They never knew one another, but they had a very close mutual friend most of their lives. That friend visited Michael and Paola in Soriano in early 2011, and brought Rocky with. He joined in on one of our week-long cooking vacations in Soriano, and felt an instant connection.
Alyssa & Sam
Alyssa is Michael and Paola's daughter, and Sam is her other half. Like Michael, they are both from the San Fernando Valley in Los Angels (Like, Totally!), but they now split their time between Orlando, Florida and Italy. Alyssa grew up actually speaking Italian before English, but was mostly raised in the States, spending her summers in Italy. Sam, on the other hand, came to Italy for the first time in 2013, but picked up the language in a heartbeat and is sometimes even mistaken for an Italian.
Western Sicily is not heavily traveled by foreign tourists. You will not find great shopping here. There is some, but it is quite limited. Those that have been to the "cruise ship ports" like Taormina will find a completely different Sicily. The beauty here is raw and unspoiled, not dressed for mass tourism. It is Sicily as it actually is. This culture is not as rich as Tuscany, for example, so everything (and everyone) is much simpler and down to earth. For those seeking an authentic experience that they will never forget, this is at the core of what makes this trip so amazing.
That said, the shopping here is not just for locals. This is a very popular destination for Italian tourists, so there is no shortage of shops, cafes. However, they are geared more toward Italian tastes. You will be at sea level for most of the trip. The island of Favignana is a tiny little island community where everyone knows everyone. It is an extremely friendly and safe place where any form of crime is practically unheard of. Your final evening will be atop the mountain of Erice, which is at 751 meters (2,464 feet) high.
Culture Discovery Vacations is all about food and wine, and if there is one comment Michael and Paola hear more than any other from their guests throughout the week, it is "I can't eat another bite". You will never be hungry, and you will never want for more wine, period. All of the restaurant meals are in small, local restaurants that are considered the best of the best for their area. These are the places the locals rave about, not the touristy places. Furthermore, Culture Discovery Vacations don't do "tourist food". They insist on the highest quality at all times, and always pull out all of the stops.
The seafood is always today's catch. The pastries are always just-baked. The wine is always flowing, and everything is always the best of the best. Additionally, the meals at your cooking classes are not little "learn to make pasta" classes like many others. Instead, the first three classes are traditional Italian Sunday family meals, done to the maximum and from scratch.
For example, when you make Cannoli, you will make the dough from scratch. You will roll your shells from that dough by hand, and the filling will be made by you, from the Ricotta cheese that you made with your shepherd friend. When the trip is over, you will have experienced the real Sicily that few tourists have ever experienced. You will have made new friends, and you will have learned why Italian culture is so amazing, because you will have lived it.
You'll fire up the grill and have grilled bruschetta, sausage, Involtini, chicken, and potatoes. Dessert will be local Cassatelle pastries with Marsala wine.
You will make two kinds of traditional Sicilian sausage Boscaiola and Capricciosa.
Book your flight to arrive at Palermo Airport (PMO). Culture Discovery Vacations has organized a free shuttle to pick you up at 2:30 p.m.