When the temperatures have cooled and the crowds are gone—this is the time of year I crave a trip to Sicily. Fall travel equals more availability (and better prices) in hotel rooms, open tables overlooking the Mediterranean at restaurants, and empty roads for rumbling along with the windows open at the pace of your choosing.
Some think of Sicily for swimming and beaches, but for me, affordable wines, chocolate, cheese, and fresh seafood come to mind. A province called Ragusa in the southeastern corner of Sicily provides all the necessary ingredients for a satisfying food tour. One boutique hotel serves as a stylish starting point (and resting place) between meals, tastings, and afternoon naps. Let food lead the way to discovering a region that is rich in history and culinary tradition.
Located in the seaside town of Marina di Ragusa, La Moresca is a 4-star boutique hotel in a renovated mansion. This Maison de Charme is a patchwork of the past and present, mixing modern comforts with traditional elements like original tile floors. Breakfast is served each morning in a courtyard under the shade of a 150-year old lemon tree. Each of the 15 bedrooms is unique, and features striking black and white photography of life in Sicily. This comfortable design hotel is the perfect base for an exploration of the region's best bites.
One of the top places to taste local flavors is just beyond the doorstep of La Moresca. Start the day lounging with a cappuccino on the rooftop tower solarium of the hotel and then stroll down to the waterfront for lunch at Trattoria da Carmelo. At a table overlooking the Mediterranean, seafood is presented in simple, aromatic dishes that are perfectly executed. I still dream of the pasta with fresh seafood I ate here one sunny afternoon, washed down with a cold glass of white wine.
The Baroque town of Modica—the "town of a hundred churches"—is located a 35-minute drive from La Moresca. Architecture ranging from the 14th to 18th centuries is impressive, but today, Modica gains the most attention for its chocolate. The fragrance of chocolate fills the air here, tempting visitors into shops to taste local chocolates laced with vanilla, cinnamon, and even hot chili peppers. The chocolate has a signature grainy texture from sugar that doesn't melt during the cooking process. Another mouthwatering way to sample this local specialty is with a steaming cup of hot chocolate.
Many wine lovers are familiar with Nero D'Avola, one of Sicily's delicious and affordable red wines. Travelers can venture beyond the borders of the province of Ragusa to the seaside town of Avola in search of the wine's origin, or check out a regional red wine instead. Located just 40 minutes from La Moresca, Piana di Vittoria is home of a local red called Cerasuolo di Vittoria. This bright, cherry-red colored wine is a prized product of the region and is a great pairing with regional cuisine.
Old School Cheese
No food tour of Sicily would be complete without chasing down local cheeses. One of the best is caciocavallo ragusano, a cow's milk cheese made from an old traditional method dating back to the 1500s. This intense but delicate cheese if often grated over pastas in the region but is also a great match for a strong glass of red wine. One of the best ways to learn about the process of making this cheese is to visit the cheese ripening caves in the town of Ragusa.
Wherever you start, make sure to slow down and savor Sicily's flavors one by one. A day could easily be spent seeking each of these local products, and during the fall, those days will be pleasantly warm, breezy, and crowd-free.
Insider Tip: Ragusa is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites—including the towns of Modica, Ragusa, and Scicli—that contain charming narrow lanes and beautiful Baroque architecture.
Freelance writer Jessica Colley covers cuisine, culture, the arts, and experiential travel. She is currently based in New York City and called Dublin, Ireland home for several years. You can follow her on Twitter @jessicacolley or check out her "Writer in the Kitchen" series on her blog The Great American Travel Dream.
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Photo credits: La Moresca courtesy of La Moresca; Trattoria da Carmelo courtesy of Jessica Colley; Nero D'avola grapes in Sicily courtesy of Flickr/VinoFamily