October 09 2011
“Sicily is an adventure, like no other place. Palermo, for instance, changes enormously through the seasons – the flow of people, the places. It can be totally different from November to April. Nothing is at all “prepared” in Sicily; it’s not perfect. Some find it chaotic, or the Sicilians closed. But, maybe because I was born here, to me it’s an ongoing adventure.
Friday evenings we eat at home in Palermo. Working in the wine industry, I’m always out at restaurants, so when we have family time we savour it. We’ll first shop for supper. Vucciria is the famous food market, but I go to Mondello instead, which is like a Vucciria in miniature with great artisans and shops. Pizzichella is fantastic for fruit and vegetables, like a kitchen garden. My wife, Francesca, and sons Alessandro, eight, and Niccolo, seven, love fish, and in Sicily to eat good fish at home means to have fisherman friends. One might have just come in with a nice merluzzo (cod), so you go round immediately to get it.
On Saturday morning we’re up early to be on our way somewhere. In the summer and into autumn, we’ll sail, often with friends, to the Aeolian island of Salina to our vineyards and the Capofaro resort. Despite being a place of work for me, this is one of my favourite spots because here nature is incredible, absolutely dominant. Sometimes we’ll lunch at La Sirena in the harbour of Pecorini on the island of Filicudi – it’s next to the sea and super barefoot-casual.
If we don’t sail, we might drive to eastern Sicily, which is completely different in character. We’ll go to Vendicari, a nature reserve below the hill town of Noto. The setting and beach are stupendous, clean and beautiful. Noto itself is a jewel, entirely baroque; it’s a great place to teach the kids about architecture while just wandering around. We’ll go to Caffe Sicilia for a gelato experience; the flavours are fantastic – it won several prizes for them.
Then we may drive up to Ortigia in Siracusa for late lunch at Don Camillo, where the chef, Giovanni Guarnieri, is a real talent. Or we’ll go inland to Ragusa Ibla, where all the houses are storte – tilted. There are two superb restaurants: Locanda Don Serafino and Duomo, where the chef, Ciccio Sultano, has two Michelin stars. He’s a bit of a mad genius – a real character, but brilliant.
Back in Palermo in the evening, we’ll often go to the Circolo della Vela, the sailing club, to relax, see friends and have dinner. It’s a members’ club, but lots of Palermitans bring visitors because it gives a different view of local life.
On Sunday we’ll usually stay in town. Palermo isn’t a place to plan your days too strictly; you’ll be walking along and run into someone you know, and then you’re diverted off to see this or do that. We might stop by the Teatro Ditirammu [pictured], in the old Kalsa quarter, where they perform the canto popolare, ancient and modern Sicilian folk music; culturally, it’s unique. And we’ll end up at Trattoria da Salvo, quite close by, for lunch. They cook your fish right in front of you and there are tables on the street – it’s a bit mad, very Palermo. Then we’ll go up to the Palazzo Riso, Palermo’s contemporary art museum, or to GAM, the modern art gallery. Contemporary art is more prevalent now – Vanessa Beecroft was here a couple of years ago at the ruined church of Lo Spasimo.
Sunday evening, Francesca and I will go to a wine bar, such as Vinoveritas, whose owner, Giuseppe Lisciandrello, stocks wines from all over the world, or Enoteca Picone, owned by Franco Picone. The casual exchange of opinions is enriching, both personally and professionally.
Back home, I put the kids to bed. They pick a topic and we research it or just talk about it until they sleep. It’s fascinating – and very sweet.”