On A Walk To Scopello

As any regular reader of this blog knows, I am a confirmed walker. I enjoy walking not only because I need and like the exercise, but also because walking allows you to notice and appreciate things you might not see if you are driving past in a car traveling at 30 mph.

Our villa is about a mile from Scopello. I hadn’t taken the walk to town before today because it had previously been hot and cloudless, and it didn’t seem smart to trudge a mile uphill on a blazing, hot day. Today was cooler, however, with a nice breeze—ideal conditions for my walk. It began with a stroll up the tree-lined driveway, shown the photo above. At the top of the driveway you turn left and follow a level roadway for several hundred yards.

Almost immediately after turning onto the road I saw something I really hadn’t noticed before, even though I had driven past the area multiple times already. To the left of the road, past some flowers and a fence, there was a Sicilian farm field on the hillside tumbling down to the sea. The crop had been planted in tidy rows, and a charming stone building—a barn, perhaps?—stood framed against the blue waters behind and lit by a stray ray of sunshine. It was a beautiful scene.

At the first intersection you turn right and begin the uphill climb to Scopello, which rests on a mountainside far above the sea. The road winds steadily upward, and there are many pretty flowers along the way. As you near Scopello, your eye is drawn to an old structure that sits on a rocky crag above the town, as shown at the top of the photo above.

By the time you reach the outskirts of Scopello, you have a panoramic view of the coastline and can distinctly see the different colors caused by shallower coastal waters versus the deep sea. Today the ocean waters were a magnificent royal blue, while the shore waters were a bright, almost luminescent green, and white clouds sailed by in the blue skies above it all. The surrounding mountains rise abruptly from the sea, and the whole area was alive with color and wind blown movement. Much of the land near the coast is cultivated and beautifully maintained. Sicilians obviously care about their farms as much as they they care about their food—which means they care a lot.

I really liked this walk to Scopello.

Birra

One of the fun things to do when traveling is sampling the local beer. On one sunny afternoon during our stay in Scopello, the Georgia BrewDog and I sat outside on the patio and quaffed some of the local birra while having a nice chat about beer, travel, and life in general. Called Messina, it is a smooth, medium-bodied lager that is served in 50 cl (for centileter) bottles, which is about a pint in volume. It has a nice flavor and goes down easy, and the heat is a helpful incentive to not linger over your beer, lest it warm up in the sunshine.

Before we knew it we had each downed two of the bottles. The beer was refreshing, but of course the good company and beautiful surroundings helped.

A Day With The Duchess

Any trip to Italy or Sicily has got to address food. The culinary arts—and I do mean “arts,” in the truest sense—are such an important part of the culture that cooking classes seem like an obvious and essential part of any visit. That’s why yesterday was devoted to a drive to Palermo and A Day Cooking With The Duchess. (If you run a search for that phrase you’ll find the website.)

Our day with Duchess Nicoletta Polo began with a trip to her beautiful rooftop garden, shown in the first photo above, which featured herbs, flowers, turtles, colorful tiles, and a great view of the Palermo harbor. For others, the day began earlier, with a shopping trip to the Palermo market, but we weren’t quite up to the earlier departure time on the morning after the Sicilian CEO Celebration. In the garden, the Duchess selected flowers and herbs to be used in our preparation. Then it was down and into the spacious and well-appointed kitchen, which was home to every kind of pot, pan, utensil, implement, or cooking device you could possibly imagine.

The Duchess is a diminutive dynamo (and, I hope, a fan of alliteration). She speaks six languages, has an easy but total command of the class, and is very much a hands-on teacher. She quickly got everyone involved in each step of the preparation of our meal. Along the way, she shared some of her admirable philosophy about food, cooking, and life, which posits that human beings have a lot in common, that food is a uniting influence, and that people who cook together will necessarily become friends. She also cooks and seasons by feel, and chuckles at the 1/8 teaspoon precision of American cookbooks. Our group of twelve soon functioned like a well-oiled machine. It’s not hard to understand why her cooking class is so highly regarded.

I peeled garlic, chopped octopus, whisked a peach and corn starch concoction, used a two-handed half moon implement to chop herbs, scooped out eggplant, and stuffed calamari, with a welcome wine break thrown in. Perversely, my favorite task was using a spoon to delicately remove the seeds from tomatoes that were destined for the oven. (Of course, I didn’t eat any of them,)

After several hours of food preparation, we took a break so our work product could be cooked, and spent the time touring the Duchess’s home, which is grand and elegant. I was particularly taken with the colorful flooring in the different rooms, which included tile, marble, and parquet woodwork.

Then it was time to be seated in the dining room and enjoy our efforts. As the Duchess forecast, we enjoyed chatting with our newfound cooking class friends. I had the good fortune to be seated next to the Duchess and tried to follow her every move as we savored eggplant, pasta, and stuffed calamari. I was glad to see the Duchess use her fork to twirl the pasta, which is my preferred method. Everything was good, but the pasta dish below was my favorite.

The dessert was a delicate peach gelatin made from peaches bought at the market that morning and topped with a flower plucked from the Duchess’s garden. I’ve never eaten a flower before, but everything else was so good I gladly ate it, and found it was a nice complement to the peach flavor. As we left, saying farewell to our cooking companions, we concluded that A Day Cooking With The Duchess was a day well spent.