Travel /
Sicilia

Sailing Sicily Off Season Pt.2

PART 2

 

January 8 - January 12 - Trapani

nautical miles = 0 

weather conditions = partly covered skies, high winds then hail, storms, excessively high winds

 

Four days of intense storms, hail and 40km/h winds kept us anchored (figuratively) in Trapani’s port—an experience which just about made me want to give up sailing in winter forever. Each night, the strong gusts of wind made the boat rock back and forth and kept us awake. I thanked every star in the universe that we were moored in a relatively safe place as opposed to the middle of the sea. During the day, we completed chores that are impossible to do while navigating, from washing out clothes and linens to fixing issues with the boat’s engine. 

 

On Sunday morning, as we strolled to breakfast we stumbled upon a shop filled with all sorts of tuna-based products and a curated selection of local delicacies that was instantly familiar to me. Il Tipico is a family-run bottega in which one can find everything from ventresca preserved in olive oil to tuna bresaola, salame and the world-famous bottarga. Tuna is considered il maiale del mare (the sea’s pig) as every single part can be eaten and transformed into something delicious, including lattume: male fish reproductive glands! Our breakfast ended up being a heavenly degustazione of swordfish carpaccio, bottarga pane e olio and toasted bread with delicate tuna bresaola

 

Sunday was the only day we had a car to move around inland and we decided to make the most of it by visiting as many producers as we could starting with Trapani’s saline. I was already well-acquainted with the process of salt production from a previous trip to Marsala, but seeing the salt plains in winter was completely different: the wind dragged all the sea salt in the air and covered our clothes and hair. Sea salt has been produced in Trapani, within shallow rectangular plains which allow water to evaporate gradually – leaving behind the precious mineral – since Phoenician times. 

 

After looking at our map, we realized that we were just a few kilometers from the Slow Food Presidia of Aglio Rosso di Nubia, and decided to pay a visit to one of the producers – who conveniently displayed an aperto 24 ore sign. We found Rosalba Gallo and her husband in the middle of their fields, planting the new garlic. Despite their busy schedule, they dedicated the following two hours entirely to our visit. They graciously showed us every step of production and transformation, including the awe-inspiring gestures needed to braid 100 heads of garlic together. Naturally, we did not miss an opportunity to pet their donkeys for at least twenty minutes before waving goodbye. I will never forget their kindness and the beauty of stumbling across hard-working, genuine and welcoming people. 

 

We drove deeper inland with Agriturismo Vultaggio as our final destination of the day, recommended by the Gallo family as a scrumptious venue. With luscious, fresh, and acidic Zibibbo in our glasses, we watched the spectacle of the restaurant’s mixed antipasti unfold: tiny bowls and plates topped with all sorts of delicacies from the land were arranged in the center as Biagio, a 17-year-old with more knowledge on hospitality than most adults, narrated each dish. Giardiniera, braised snails, herby olives with bread, primosale cheese, pecora bollita, steamed cauliflower, polpette al sugo, prosciutto cotto, trippa and fried panelle. The primi piatti we selected followed soon after, each better than the next, with wonderful, rich, multi-layered sauces and one spectacular element in common: the quality of the pasta. We soon learned that the funny-looking wooden object in the neighboring room was their own flour mill. They make all of their pasta, pizza and bread from locally grown ancient grains. I can’t think of a better way to end a day that was full of marvelous, gastronomic surprises. 

 

January 12, 2022 - Trapani to Mazara del Vallo

nautical miles = 30 

weather conditions = clear skies and little wind 

 

Excited to be finally back on the road – or rather, sea – we left Trapani’s port and were welcomed by towering two-meter waves which made sailing towards Favignana the exact opposite of enjoyable. Nonetheless, we tried to keep our spirits high by heating up the tray of anelletti al forno I had bought just before our departure from a small bakery. The traditional Palermitan dish consists of small, ring-shaped (ergo the name anelletti – “small rings”) pasta first seasoned with a rich, meaty ragù, peas and bechamel sauce, which is then placed in a baking dish, covered with grated caciocavallo Ragusano and baked. A light dish that requires a simple preparation! Jokes aside, the dish is traditionally made at home, to celebrate special occasions, as the lengthy amount of time needed for its preparation reflects the fondness one has for the cause of celebration. The dish has also weaved itself into Palermo’s street food culture and you can find small trays of anelletti al forno in every friggitoria or gastronomia

 

As we dug into our piping hot pasta, we passed by Favignana’s archeological site of Cala San Nicola and couldn’t help but appreciate the intricate caves built by the island’s first settlers. We veered our boat and headed in the direction of Mazara del Vallo, arriving just in time to watch the sun drop into the sea and disappear for the night. With our bicycle in tow, we cruised into the city’s Kasbah, the Arabic term for Mazara del Vallo’s medina (the old, walled part of a North African town). 

 

Tiny winding streets decorated with murals, illustrations, and beautiful poems surrounded us and the spectacle was wonderful (even if nearly every shop was closed). Turning the corner we noticed an open shop – REGALI – LISTE NOZZE – once again like an oasis in the middle of a desert. Bingo! Ever since being gifted a bottle of Gin di Favignana by Nino, one of the gin’s producers, we had been on the hunt for a proper glass in which to make a gin and tonic. Stepping inside the shop felt like entering a travel machine back to the 80s: glass cabinets lined the shop’s perimeter, filled with all sorts of vintage plates, glasses, ashtrays, lamps, vases, and more. We were welcomed by Girolamo Cristaldi, the shop’s owner who took over after his father’s passing, who not only helped us find our proper gin and tonic glass, but narrated the history of his small business. Upon returning from WWII, his father decided to open an antique store nestled within the Kasbah and it has been in business ever since—for a total of 80 years! On our way out we stopped in front of a mural depicting a homeless man accompanied with a quote by Ettore Majorana, who – Girolamo explained – was thought by many to be the homeless man after his mysterious disappearance in 1938. As he spoke, Girolamo would receive a wave or ciao! from every passerby, a further testament to his position as a pillar of local society. 

 

January 13, 2022 - Mazara del Vallo to Sciacca

nautical miles = 25 

weather conditions = slightly overcast, little wind 

 

Smooth and stable weather conditions granted us a safe and speedy passage from Mazara del Vallo to Sciacca, a beautiful city dotted with wonderful Sicilian architecture from different centuries, with tall and elegant Baroque palaces dominating the skyline. I had made a dinner reservation in the town’s most esteemed restaurant, Hostaria del Vicolo and we welcomed the occasion of a formal dinner to have a long, wonderful shower in Sciacca’s marina. Showering on board is possible, however slightly uncomfortable as you try not to get the entire bathroom soaked in water. Freshly clean we began climbing the endless steps that lead you into the main square and into the winding vicoli, where dinner awaited. We were welcomed by Nino, the restaurant’s owner, and his two daughters, respectively Hostaria’s Chef and Maître. The family-run affair has been an institution in Sciacca for over 30 years so we decided to place our palates in their skillful hands by way of the innovazione tasting menu. What followed were eight meticulously prepared and well thought out courses, full of research and high quality, locally sourced, ingredients. My personal highlights were the first antipasto: a delicate gambero rosa di Sciacca tartare; the second antipasto: marinated cod filet topped with a cannolo made from calamari, filled with a delectable cod spuma. My third and final favorite dish was the main course: spaghettoni with clams, finger-lime infused salted butter, bottarga, and toasted breadcrumbs. The meal ended after hours of conversation with Nino and cooking tips shared by Lila, accompanied by their homemade lime limoncello. A night to remember! 

 

January 14, 2022 - Sciacca to San Leone

nautical miles = 60 

weather conditions = clear skies and no wind 

 

We set sail from Sciacca’s port, still discussing the previous night’s wonderful dinner, finally in a t-shirt thanks to the 16°C that day. We smoothly cruised across the bay of Agrigento, sighting some dolphins who were in the process of hunting their “catch of the day”. Seeing their hunt reminded me of their nature as wild-beings, a notion one quickly forgets when admiring them play with the waves created by your boats’ passage. Just before sunset, we drew closer to shore to admire the world-renowned Scala dei Turchi—a white marl cliff which attracts thousands of tourists each summer. The cliff had been unfortunately vandalized a few weeks prior to our visit and – although most of the damage had been removed by some wonderful volunteers – the red paint was still visible, an indelible reminder of how cruel humans can be. 

 

Another ten nautical miles later we drew into San Leone’s bay, lowering the anchor just outside the port. Exhausted from the sixty nautical miles of the day and the (wonderful) yet fierce sunshine we had spent the previous 12 hours under, we fell asleep, rocked by the incoming waves. 

 

January 15th, 2022 - San Leone to Marina di Ragusa

nautical miles = 57 

weather conditions = clear skies and no wind 

 

The tide rolling in from off-shore woke us up early, giving us a head start to another day of lengthy sailing. Have you ever seen an oil rig up close? The steel monsters which inhabit oceans and tower high above the sea have always piqued my curiosity for some strange reason. We decided to adjust our route slightly in order to pass by the two oil rigs situated off the coast of Agrigento—and what monsters they truly are, like creatures out of a Transformers movie.

 

As we basked in the glorious sunlight Paolo volunteered to prepare lunch: spaghetti alla carbonara e ‘nduja. What followed was an hour-long wait as he prepared the dish, and each time I peeked into the kitchen a waft of amazing aromas would float to my nose, making my mouth water incredibly. By the time lunch was finally ready, my expectations were so high, and my hunger so intense, that I could have eaten Paolo’s serving too. The moment had finally arrived. Time to taste the marvelous pasta I had heard so much about. 

 

The best way of describing the experience of stuffing a heaping forkful of ‘nduja carbonara in my mouth is to compare it with eating a whole Carolina Reaper – the spiciest pepper that exists – in one bite. My mouth went numb and simultaneously gave me a burning sensation, whereas my lips were on fire. I tried adding cheese, adding olive oil, butter, anything that could dilute the spice ma non c’era niente da fare: the pasta was inedible. Taken over by a deep sadness that comes when the highest of expectations are not fulfilled, I sought solace in the beautiful and unique adventure we were undertaking, the endless stretches of water, and the privilege of watching the sun drop elegantly into the sea.