You know those rare vacation moments when you look around and think, “I don’t ever want this experience to end!” My one-day adventure through the Sicilian countryside was filled with those.
There are many who look down upon all tours for being inauthentic…too touristy…maybe even cheesy. I like travel in nearly all forms: cruise, train, road trip, independent, relaxing, adventurous, romantic, girlfriend getaway, kid-centric, and beyond. And, I like a good tour from time to time, especially one that gives a glimpse into a location's essence that you might not be able to find on your own.
A slice of Sicilian heaven
Sicily was the second port on our Disney Mediterranean Cruise. As our bus rambled through the gorgeous Sicilian landscape, our proud tour guide gave a brief lecture on her country’s history and culture. My daughter, Karissa (then age two), draped her body across mine and dozed during our one-hour trek, allowing me to savor a rare moment of snuggly relaxation. The guide on our “A Day on the Farm” excursion told us in a lilting Italian accent that Sicily’s central location in the Mediterranean Sea has made it a target throughout the ages by conquering forces from Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines to Arabs, Normans, and more. She said the island’s residents to this day consider themselves Sicilian, not Italian.
My daughter snuggled up in her beach towel on my lap
Upon arrival at Villa Dafne, an agritourism farm/hotel in Alia, the children were given lumps of dough to roll into little balls. Afterwards, we were served delicious pieces of airy focaccia topped with tomatoes and olives (not formed by the kids). Then we were given bowls of fresh ricotta to sample. The warm, lumpy cheese was a bit too reminiscent of something else entirely unappetizing of the same temperature and consistency, so after one bite I discreetly dumped the rest in a trash can. Adults helped themselves to some red Sicilian vino while kids sipped bottled water.
Foccaccia topped with tomatoes and olives
Then we donned requisite blue swimming caps and jumped in the pool, where we splashed alongside resort guests of various nationalities. As my husband tossed my giggling daughter about in the water, I was overwhelmed by the bittersweet perfection of that moment. The aqua blue of the pool, surrounded by the golden hills…I wanted to stop the clock and forever be enveloped by Sicily’s beauty, the sun shining down on our happy little family, the sounds of children at play ringing through the air. I knew it would be over all too soon.
My daughter and I taking a dip in a pool in the Sicilian countryside
Before long it was time to depart that watery spot of heaven. Thankfully the transition was an easy one because it involved eating a multi-course organic farm-style Sicilian lunch. After one more small glass of wine, I switched to Coca-Cola but my husband, Phil, drank my portion and then some. We were treated to several appetizers involving things like eggplant, tomatoes, and olives. Then we dined on homemade pasta shaped into little shells and served with chicken in a fresh, earthy broth. It was a dish that I will probably never stop craving. It pains me to know that I will never taste anything like it again, unless, of course I return to that little farmhouse hotel. (I might have to, if only for that pasta dish!) Then lamb was served, which we declined due to full bellies (and my personal aversion to eating baby animals of any sort).
A fountain at Villa Dafne
Finally, it was time for a dessert of cannoli. Ever since, I have been on a quest for an authentic cannolo. I have found a few good cannoli, but none even in the same realm as what we tasted that day. Our tour guide had prepared us for the wonders of this sweet treat. She told us that to get a taste of true cannoli, one must come to Sicily. She warned us that the Italian version of Sicily’s national dessert should be avoided at all costs. She said, “You are more likely to get authentic cannoli in America than in Italy because Sicilians who have moved to New York City and beyond carry on the true recipes and methods of making the dessert, unlike the excuse for cannoli that can be found in Rome.”
Prickly Pear Cactus Crop in the Sicilian Countryside
Some cannoli shells are flimsy and soggy while others are overly dense and greasy, having been over-cooked to stay crunchy while holding the creamy center for hours on end. According to our guide, the dessert should be stuffed with Ricotta cheese just prior to eating. Most cannoli cream I have encountered, even if delicious, had a slightly grainy texture. The genuine cannoli we were served consisted of an impossibly crisp, light shell that crackled when bitten. The filling was a cloud of sweet velvety goodness.
My daughter dutifully mooed at these Sicilian cows
Sufficiently plumped, bronzed, and relaxed – we and our cruise mates re-boarded the bus. After a quick stop to spy on cows and watch brave fellow cruisers milk goats, my good fortune continued. The bus was equipped with a television screen on which old-school Mickey Mouse cartoons played to the delight of tired children and their parents. While Phil slept off his numerous glasses of lunchtime wine (I can hear him now, “But it’s table wine – it’s not that strong!), I happily stared out the window at a patchwork of verdant and sun-bleached rolling hills speckled with vineyards of twisted grape vines and crops of prickly pear cactus bearing a few gems of their burgundy-colored fruit.
Not all vacation days are blissful. Most aren’t, in fact. But some are. And this one was.
Sadly, the current Disney European Cruises do not stop at Sicily. This stop has been replaced by Valletta, Malta. Of course, I wouldn't mind exploring this nation, which is spread across seven islands and is home to ruins that predate the Egyptian pyramids and England's Stonehenge. Ahhh…a girl can dream…
How do you feel about Sicily or about group travel tours? Let us know in the comments!