Sunday, 13 November 2011

Sicily's Cyclops Riviera - Mystical Tales of Romance and Courage!

One of my favourite parts of Sicily is the 'Riviera dei Ciclopi', or Riviera of the Cyclops, which is a stretch of coastline north of Catania leading from Aci Castello to Acireale. This is such a beautiful part of Sicily and is surrounded by myth and legend. Two of the most popular stories tell of the Cyclops 'Polifemo', the one-eyed giant son of Poseidon (the god of the sea) and Thoosa (a sea nymph).

The first legend comes from Homer's book 'Odyssey' and tells how Ulysses, the King of Ithaca, lands on the island with twelve of his men on his way home from the Trojan War. He ventures into the Cyclop's cave, who then traps the men and eats four of them. In order to escape, Ulysses blinds Polifemo as he sleeps by driving a burning hot stake into his eye. When the Cyclops awakes, he removes the large boulder from the cave's entrance in order to let his sheep out, thus giving Ulysses and his men a chance to escape. As the men escape on their ships, Polifemo tries to stop them by throwing enormous rocks into the sea after them. These rocks can still be seen along the coastline and are known as 'i Faraglioni di Aci Trezza'.

The other legend is much more romantic and tells the mythological story of the beautiful nymph Galatea, the daughter of the sea god 'Nereo', and a young shepherd named Aci. Galatea and Aci were madly in love, however Aci unfortunately had a rival for his lover's affections in the form of the Cyclops Polifemo. One day, Polifemo was so overcome with jealousy that he crushed Aci under an emormous boulder. Jupiter, the king of the gods, took pity on the young couple and turned Aci's blood into a river and the nymph Galatea into sea foam, so that as the river met with the Ionian Sea, the lovers would be united in an eternal embrace.

There are now nine towns that lie in this river's path and all take their name from Aci. My favourite of these are Aci Trezza with its wonderful seafood restaurants, Acireale with its stunning Cathedral and Aci Castello with its breathtaking castle and sea views. This area also holds a special place in my heart as my wedding reception was held at a venue high on an Aci Trezza hill overlooking the Faraglioni :-)

Be sure to add these mystical places to your itinerary if you come to Sicily!

A presto,

Debra :-)

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Cin Cin! Let's drink a 'brindisi' to San Martino.

Cari amici, we are at the start of a new month and, for some, the most important month in the Sicilian calendar. Wine lovers across the island are preparing themselves for the first taste of this year's 'vino nuovo', or new wine, which has now finished fermenting and is ready to enjoy!

The traditional day for this first taste is actually the 11th November which is 'la festa di San Martino', or St. Martin's Day. The Sicilian saying goes - 'a San Martino ogni mustu diventa vinu' - which means that on this day every mosto becomes wine. On this day every year Sicilian vineyards and wine producers open the doors to their cellars to allow patrons their first taste of this year's 'vintage'. Aside from these large producers, many Sicilian individuals make wine from their own grapes and sell it to neighbours and friends. In fact many Sicilian families fill several 15 litre containers with this wine and store it away for the coming months.

Any wine enthusiasts planning to try this 'vino Siciliano' should be warned that this is not comparable to your typical wine - this is an absolutely delicious, but extremely potent version. Beginners should therefore go slow at first to avoid being the first reveller to dance on the tables at the annual 'festa di San Martino'! Personally, I think that it is truly 'buonissimo' :-)

This tradition has lead San Martino to become known as the Patron Saint of drunkards, however his actual story is far more modest. According to folklore San Martino was actually a Roman soldier who later became a monk. One of his most famous legends tells how, on a bitterly cold, stormy and snow-filled day, this soldier cut his cloak in two with his sword to share it with a beggar who he encountered on his travels. He then continued on his way only to find that after several minutes the storm miraculously cleared and the sun came out as a reward. According to the legend this is the reason that we often experience an unseasonal spell of sunny, warm weather at this time of year. This phenomena was originally referred to as 'St. Martin's Summer', however it is now more commonly called an 'Indian Summer'.

Whatever the weather, our Sicilian Connections friends across the globe should be practising their tarantella, opening this year's vino and preparing to pay homage to this time honoured Sicilian festival! Cin cin Amici!

A presto,

Debra :-)