I was raised to believe that god created everything. I always wondered about that. How could God have created everything? I spent a lifetime trying to understand it. My first few hours in Sicily, on a guided bus tour of all things, it began to make sense.

“God has blessed Sicily," explained our tour guide Maria. "With fertile soil, with a shoreline filled with seafood.”

“I cannot tell you...It is unimaginable,” she said, reaching after words that could somehow capture her meaning. Like a priest delivering a mass, her eyes scanned the bus, catching and holding each of ours. Her pronunciation was poetic. Her dress was perfectly pressed.

“Sicily is the most interesting island of the Mediterranean, with a temperate climate, matched only to that of southern California,” Maria told us. “Getting here means getting lost in its vast landscape and fascinating cities, in the sea shining in a thousand shades of blue and the coastal houses reflecting the golden light of the sun. All of it inviting you in, to a world rich in history, art and beauty."

How was it, exactly, that I came to taste my way through this extraordinary Sicilian landscape? This is the question I’m still asking myself. It came at a time when I was looking for an answer. One minute I was asking God to send me a miracle, the next I was in a crowded, noisy back-lane café, crammed full of Sicilians, sinking my teeth into fresh buffalo mozzarella, tangy tomato, plump capers and anchovies, strongly flavoured and fresh from the sea.

Ahhh... pizza, as it should be. Crisp, chewy, tart and salty all at the same time. Washed down with a strong, fine waiter-recommended Nerello. I found heaven.

Little did I know that in the weeks ahead, this would become my daily ritual. From Catania to Palermo, Marsala to Pantelleria, street food to elegant dinners, villagers to counts, time-honoured traditions to world-class wines. Brilliant people and beautiful people. An experience of wine and food that would change my life completely.

There is something about Italians, the way they strive to make everything they produce the best in the world. They have a way of making you fall in love with everything, including yourself. They welcome you, feed you, encourage you, embrace you. Words can hardly describe my experiences in Sicily, but I choose two: Generosity and Love.

Although, pizza is not the flagship product of Sicily, it was my first experience. And it brought together the flavours and some of the finest ingredients of the island: flour, tomatoes, olives, olive oil, anchovies, capers and beautifully fragranced herbs.

Here, through my eyes and my photography, I hope I can do justice to this beautiful place.

Think of this feature as a red carpet, rolling out in front of you. This is what Sicily did for me.

xo

Mari

If you enjoy this story I would really appreciate it if you would share it with your friends! Sharing links above and below!

Edited by Alison Gillmor

Sign up for our Monday Morning Inspiration Newsletter here. 

Cover photo, a picturesque coastline view from the terrace of our hotel, The Grand Hotel Atlantis Bay, built on a cliff dropping down to the sea.

Above left to right. 1) Opera house and art gallery located in a small coastal town, Taormina, on the island of Sicily. This beautiful, quaint city on the Mediterranean coast, has been a very popular tourist destination since the 19th century. Beautiful beaches and coastline views, fine boutiques and restaurants, art and culture. 2) A picturesque coastline view from the terrace of our hotel, The Grand Hotel Atlantis Bay, built on a cliff dropping down to the sea. 

Above Left to right, 1) Looking out of the famous grand entryway of Tasca D'Almerita Estate, a journalist taking a private moment after breakfast, to make some notes for Wine Spectator Magazine, overlooking the vast countryside. 2) One of my favourite photos: Michael, a Champagne journalist from London admiring my personalized copy of Coming Home to Sicily, by the famous Fabrizia Lanza. A native Sicilian and former art historian, who returned home to her family's famed, Tasca d'Almerita Estate, to help her mother, Anna Tasca Lanza run her renowned cooking school, Case Vecchie, one of the most respected in Italy. In this beautiful book, Fabrizia introduces the authentic flavours of Sicily, where dishes are prepared as they have been for decades.

Above Left to right, 1) Looking out of the famous grand entryway of Tasca D'Almerita Estate, a journalist taking a private moment after breakfast, to make some notes for Wine Spectator Magazine, overlooking the vast countryside. 2) One of my favourite photos: Michael, a Champagne journalist from London admiring my personalized copy of Coming Home to Sicily, by the famous Fabrizia Lanza. A native Sicilian and former art historian, who returned home to her family's famed, Tasca d'Almerita Estate, to help her mother, Anna Tasca Lanza run her renowned cooking school, Case Vecchie, one of the most respected in Italy. In this beautiful book, Fabrizia introduces the authentic flavours of Sicily, where dishes are prepared as they have been for decades.

Above, we are being chauffeured through the Springtime vineyards by Alberto and his cousins in a convoy of Landrovers.

Above, we are being chauffeured through the Springtime vineyards by Alberto and his cousins in a convoy of Landrovers.

1) A large crucifix hangs over the fields at Baglio del Christo de Montebello winery in Sicily. 2) A courtyard lunch buffet table, set with fennel frittata and chickpea fritters.

1) A large crucifix hangs over the fields at Baglio del Christo de Montebello winery in Sicily. 2) A courtyard lunch buffet table, set with fennel frittata and chickpea fritters.

One of my favourite memories of Sicily was being invited to a courtyard lunch at Baglio de Christo de Montebello, a winery in Agrigento, Sicily. As we arrived, we were greeted with the most delicious smells and a rustic table set with beautiful traditional Sicilian food. And the extra treat was discovering the food was being prepared right in front of us, by a neighbouring restaurant owner. Her name was Maria and her food was exceptional. It started with anchovy meatballs and fennel frittata, chickpea fritters and caponata. Then as we were seated, she delivered her homemade fava bean soup with handmade orecchiette and fennel and a main course of veal roll stuffed with egg and prosciutto in the most delicate tomato sauce. Then lovely little donut-hole pastries and her famous cannoli. This was a lunch that could make you cry, and I savoured every moment. Maria later taught me how to make orecchiette (meaning lamb's ear) pasta, which I have taught at our cooking classes many times. Never have mine turned out as delicate and beautiful as hers. 

1) Sicilian Caponata, a marinated eggplant & olive dish. 2) Maria's son cooking anchovy meatballs on an outdoor portable cooking element.

1) Sicilian Caponata, a marinated eggplant & olive dish. 2) Maria's son cooking anchovy meatballs on an outdoor portable cooking element.

1) Maria keeping the dishes filled. 2) Maria's beautiful veal roll stuffed with egg and prosciutto and covered in tomato sauce.

1) Maria keeping the dishes filled. 2) Maria's beautiful veal roll stuffed with egg and prosciutto and covered in tomato sauce.

1) Maria's handmade orecchietti. 2) Fava bean soup with orecchetti and fennel.

1) Maria's handmade orecchietti. 2) Fava bean soup with orecchetti and fennel.

1) Maria rolling the donut-hole pastry. 2) The finished product dusted with sugar.

1) Maria rolling the donut-hole pastry. 2) The finished product dusted with sugar.