Travel Trends Are Old Concepts In Sicily
Rural Tourism and Experiential Travel are new buzzwords and travel trends, but old concepts in Sicily. If you want a true masterclass in rural tourism, you can go to almost any area in Sicily and revel in the soul of the island. Romans built the connecting road systems that remain largely unchanged today. They are the roads used by locals that eschew a fast-lane life. Drive the Autostrada between Palermo and Catania and you will encounter little traffic. On these smaller roads you will encounter hay trucks, flocks of sheep, occasional cows and perhaps carts with horses. Rural tourism takes visitors on these paths between towns to see and experience the lifestyle and its rhythms that still sees people work with their hands on farms and in workshops, break for lunch at 1:00, and walk through their village’s main piazza after dinner. While Palermo and Catania are important historical centers, (Palermo was once Europe’s wealthiest city) Sicily’s backbone is found in the charming villages and hill towns that today seem almost stopped in time.
Rural Tourism and Food Tourism Go Hand in Hand
Sicily is celebrated for its fertility – granted by the likes of Greek goddesses and volcanic ash – for its agricultural skill from generations of farming, and an optimal climate. Exploring the small villages takes you to the farmers. The cheesemaker brings in his flock of sheep or cows and uses the milk to produce a particular cheese that comes only from that area. You will find the botanist who grows every sort of herb and plant on his hillside, for study and to make holistic tinctures. You will find the winemaker, the pistachio farmer, the orchards of citrus and groves of olives that produce the highest quality of fruits, many with DOP status such as peaches from Leonforte, oranges from Ribera, pistachios from Bronte or tomatoes from Pachino. These products are recognized for growing particularly well in these locations. The list is long in Sicily and rural tourism and food tourism go hand in hand.
Farmers and producers are often eager to share their stories and recipes with you over a plate of food and a glass of wine. You could time your visit to participate in a delightful sagre or harvest festival, that celebrates the specialties of an area, or visit local museums that pay homage to these specialties. In one small town there is a museum dedicated to explaining the process of growing and collecting almonds, and in another town, one dedicated to the different shapes of bread used during religious feasts. A small coastal town has a museum dedicated to the anchovy and a new museum will open soon, celebrating the history of Marsala wine. Sicily’s bedrock lies in the rural places. The reverence embedded in these many off-the-beaten-path gems is proof.
Rural tourism, sometimes also called eco-tourism, has a great environmental benefit. Slow travel, travel by foot, eating local and organic, creates little tourist burden like what is felt in places like Venice and Barcelona. Sicily’s rich list of inhabitants from pre-historic to Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Byzantines, Normans, Spanish and more, built plenty of pathways in Sicily, making it a trekkers paradise. Recent attention has shed light on the old path of the Frankish knights, the Magna Via Francigena, that runs from Palermo to Agrigento in 9 legs. Another newly explored route is Arab in origin, and goes along the western coast, the Via Mazarense, but there are so many that take you by small villages, castles, waterfalls, and the sea, that offer incredible vistas and the opportunity to meet people and taste things along the way. This kind of visit, whether for a day or a week, is gentle on the planet, taking little away from it but fresh air. You don’t need to be a backpacker to enjoy these paths, they are accessible to anyone who wants to commune with nature and experience life like a local.
Other great rewards from this sort of travel are emotional, restorative and mindful.
Writer Miriam Beard said this:
Traveling is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.
When you walk the paths, meet the people, and taste the foods, it is a unique opportunity to immerse yourself into Sicily’s beating heart. Interactions with people from small communities can leave lasting memories, even change your life.
Help Local Economy
Not to be overlooked is the benefit to the local economy. Visiting a farm or a local artisan not only brings attention to the lesser-known places, but also important income to the workers. It validates their dedication to the land and to being an independent, which is motivation to stay the course and continue their important work.
When in Sicily, tourists are best advised to adapt to the local customs and enjoy the slow life. It is enriching beyond measure for everyone.
All photos by Karen La Rosa of La RosaWorks Sicily Tours & Travel