We'd like to introduce the newest member to our team, our rep Daniela, a Sicilian herself and somebody who has incredible passion for the island.
We're delighted to be able to introduce our newest member of staff at Sicilian Places, a fantastic rep called Daniela who is based on the island and is ready to share her expertise and assistance for our customers embarking on holidays to Sicily.
Whenever we add a new rep to our team, we're always desperate to try and tap into their unrivaled knowledge as soon as possible, and we thought there'd be no better way in doing so than through introducing and interviewing Daniela for our Sicily Blog.
Tell us a little about yourself, where do you originate from and how long have you lived in Sicily?
I am originally from a busy port town called Augusta on the Eastern coast of Sicily. When I turned 20 I decided to take the leap between my island of birth and a foreign Northern one I knew very little about. England was much greener, more diverse and multicultural, full of opportunities and the chance to work and to feed my craving for travel. I have been a waitress, bartender, bookseller, cycling guide. I loved most of my time there but I missed the smell of lemon groves, of my mum’s parmigiana, of the Mediterranean Sea and the sunny weather that we are fortunate to enjoy here most of the year. I have been back now for two years and I have finally learnt the meaning of roots.
What is your favourite part of the island?
The Southern Eastern region is the most attractive, and Western Sicily appeals to me because of its Arabic heritage and its beautiful nature reserves.
Zingaro Nature Reserve - image credit: kubais | Shutterstock
Is there a certain time of year that you look forward to most on the island?
Sicily is blessed with fine weather most of the year and I treasure every season for what it offers, but spring seems to present all the natural hidden treasures of the island.
If a holiday-maker comes to the island in search of history, which is the one site they should visit?
The cathedral of Ortigia, the old town of Siracusa, is the key to understand the history of the island and more specifically of the Val di Noto, the South East. While marvelling at this special building, you can overlook the fact that beyond its baroque façade, rebuilt in the eighteenth century after a terrible earthquake, the ancient pillars of the original Greek temple dedicated to Athena in the 5th century BC still stand miraculously on its lateral side. The cornice above these ancient columns testifies the time that the church was turned into a mosque by the conquering Arabs, the Normans raised the height of the roof and added the side chapels, the Spanish added the ceiling made of chestnut wood from Mt Etna. Layers of history are visible here even to the inattentive eye, and you can learn about Sicilian history without even opening up a guide book. The old town of Siracusa is a feast to the eye for anyone interested in the Greek and Roman foundations of the island, giving you the chance to visit both a Greek Theatre and a Roman Amphitheatre. Ortigia has celebrated its 2700th birthday this year.
Maniace Castle, Ortigia - image credit: T.Slack | Shutterstock
If a holiday-maker comes to the island in search of the perfect beach, which one should be top of their list?
I have a favourite for each side of Sicily if we look at it as a triangle: in the North side, my favourites are the beaches and coves of the Riserva naturale dello Zingaro. There are several bays and beaches, each with its own characteristics. The water is of several shades of turquoise and the setting is superb. In the South side I love the beaches of Eraclea Minoa, 38km from Agrigento. Eraclea was once an ancient Greek town perched on top of a promontory from which you can have sweeping views of the beautiful beach stretching below. In the East side my favourite is the beach at The Isola delle Correnti. It’s the southernmost point of Sicily (reaching further south than the capital of Tunisia) where the Ionian Sea meets the Mediterranean...
Do you have a favourite secret location in Sicily that tourists don’t know much about?
I am not sure it is so secret but it certainly is a hidden gem in the Hyblaean Mountains. Noto Antica is the ancient site where once stood the town of Noto. Founded in the 5th Century BC it was severely damaged during the terrible earthquake occurring in 1693 which almost destroyed the whole South Eastern region of Sicily. Not many people know that the actual town of Noto (14km downhill from here) was only rebuilt in the 18th century by the Spanish in Baroque style and that a whole town, still surrounded by a thick fortification wall and which still includes several houses and ruins of a castle and churches, is still perched on top of Monte Alveria and visitable by the most adventurous. It’s a wonderful, underestimated archaeological site immersed in the typical Sicilian Mediterranean maquis, with sweeping views of three gorges. The drive up from Noto to reach it is one of my favourite of the whole island.
Noto as it looks today - image credit: Dalibor Kastratovic | Shutterstock
Food is a massive part of the island’s identity; do you have a favourite Sicilian dish that you’d recommend?
Spaghetti alla carrettiera. Made with the simplest and freshest ingredients. It’s a pasta dish with freshly chopped ripe tomatoes, basil, olive oil, chilli pepper, capers and ricotta salata. Simplest is best in Sicily.
When it comes to restaurants, are there any on the island that you’d say are a cut above?
Being a vegetarian I may not have the wider prospective on all available dishes but I do love my food and I can certainly appreciate it when it’s freshly cooked! One of my favourite restaurants in Sicily is MOON (Moving Ortigia Out of Normality) in the heart of Ortigia. They make incredible vegan dishes and you would not be able to notice the lack of meat if you tried a vegan Spaghetti alla Carbonara! Their service is impeccable and they always introduce local bands softly playing their instruments in the background. I also think that the restaurant la Manna in the heart of Noto is top quality. Located in one of the side streets climbing up from the main corso, having dinner here is a special culinary experience. They are inventive with fresh, local produce and the atmosphere is wonderful.
What hobbies do you enjoy most on the island?
I love swimming in the sea, taking photographs and cycling the back roads of Sicily. Snorkelling along the rocky coastline of the South East (in Cala Mosche for example, within Vendicari Nature Reserve) will reveal fantastic fish and abundant underwater flora. I believe that cycling is by far the best way to get in touch not only with nature, but also with the culture of the island. It allows you to get off the main tracks and explore the most secluded places where ordinary people grow their tomatoes and make their own oil.
Finally, why should a holiday-maker book a holiday to Sicily over other destinations?
Because it’s hard to find a place where you can ski down the snowy slopes of Etna in spring, after you have climbed almost to the top with a volcanologist and took a peek at the main crater, and end your day by having a swim in the Ionian Sea (only 45km away) followed by a seafood meal and a glass of Etna Rosso wine al fresco at a restaurant in Naxos (the first colony founded by the Greeks in Sicily. When the Greeks sailed to reach Sicily to conquer it, their only reference point was the smoky pinnacle of the volcano, hence their first settlement was at its foothills). Fascinating layers of history, fresh tasty food, earthy wine made from grapes grown in volcanic soil, 2,500 hours of sunny days a year makes it a very special place indeed.
Mount Etna in Spring - image credit: ollirg | Shutterstock
Have you been inspired by Daniela's tips and stories from the island? Take a look at our Holiday Ideas page and start planning your own experience on Sicily now.