Taormina - Italy

Taormina, June 30 2009, Beautiful 30 deg sunny

The 'jewel' of Sicily and rightly named so. This is one of the most beautiful parts of Sicily on the east coast - perched high above the Mediterranean. Sweeping views of the beaches below, the sea that blends into the sky just an azure haze. We are positioned perfectly in the Il Piccolo Giardino, just a few steps from the Corso Umberto which runs for about 1 km, the length of this gorgeous Sicilian village. We admire a view of the remains of Taormina's Greek Theatre ( the second largest in Italy) from our rooftop pool area. This is spectacular to say the least.

There is so much to love about this place - laneways of hidden treasures, art exhibitions , concerts in the ancient Greek Theatre, great Italian food and of course good shopping.

One little find was 'Dr Roberto', a specialist in the art of nougat and cannoli making. He claims to have the best cannoli in the world and we are inclined to agree. The freshly made ricotta mixture waits in the fridge to be filled on order into the crisp canolli shell - all hand made by Roberto. The shop has been there for 35 years and Dr Roberto learned his skills from his Papa - he seriously has a doctorate in cannoli making !

Found the best 'Maccheroni alla Norma' in an unlikely restaurant at our front door - a dish specific to this region - a hand made maccheroni pasta rolled to perfection, baby eggplant simmered in a fresh tomato sugo served with baked ricotta - just delicious. It's a favourite of our daughter Nastassia who had this dish on a recent trip to Sicily and has been trying to recreate it ever since. I think I now know the secret - the white baby eggplant .

Seafood is also in abundance as it is anywhere in Sicily and the variety and freshness is unbelievable . We particularly enjoy the grilled sardines in lemon and garlic. There are plenty of unusual offerings including sea urchin, 'goldfish', live crustaceans of all kinds and giant oysters.

Just down the hill (about 600 meters ), is the perfect swimming beach of Giardino Naxo. We have a fabulous lunch at one of the many beachfront restaurants then swim all afternoon in the crystal clear , marble rock lined shores. Just perfect - where else in the world can you still be sun baking at 7 pm? Life is a bit tough in Taormina.

PS If you are thinking of making Taormina one of your stops check the concert schedule in the Greek theatre. We just missed Jose Carrera by one week. That would have been something to see and hear !

Aeolian Islands

June 27,28, 29 -sunny 28 - 30 deg glorious weather

Far from the hustle and bustle of cars, scooters and bucking horses of Palermo, we find ourselves in the tranquil environment of Capofaro Resort, Salina Island - the second largest of the Aeolian Islands. Capofaro, www.capofaro.it is situated approximately 400 metres above sea level and nestled amongst row upon rows of Malvasia vines sloping down to the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Everything is very quiet and peaceful here with white washed buildings made from concrete. It is cool and relaxing. The resort is well situated and overlooks the sea. Molto contento !

Nothing else to do here other relax around the pool and wonder what time you should eat dinner! The resort boasts a five star restaurant as well. We hear that it has a new chef from Naples, Nunzio Spagnuolo who previously worked in a Michelin star restaurant in Rome. Needless to say the food is impressive.

We share a perfectly cooked Saffron and courgette risotto with king prawns. The next night we share another meal of lobster, citrus and fennel salad along with a tuna dish prepared in different ways.

From our vantage point on Salina we can see the island of Panarea - the smallest of the Aoelian islands - this is where Bennie and Tracey are staying for a few days - so - off for a visit. From the rocks in front of their hotel we plunge ourselves into the invigorating, crystal clear waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea, sun ourselves a little and wander the streets of this cute little village - no cars here, only scooters and pedestrians.

We come across the place for our most perfect lunch - Broccia Ristorante. It's part of a hotel, Quartara, www.quartarhotel.com It's a charming, authenticity Aoelian hotel with only 13 rooms and beautifully decorated with personalised friendliness.

With views of the water on one side, mountains on the other and a cool breeze, the scene is set for a perfect meal. From the buffalo mozzarella with ripe Sicilian tomatoes, freshly grilled zucchini, eggplant and roasted capsicum to our whole fish cooked to perfection in the traditional way - olives, capers and tomatoes - throw in a few bottles of great Sicilian wine - we are all in heaven . Did I mention the cannoli - the best ever ricotta and chocolate filled cannoli had so far.

Of course, made all the better by sharing with best friends.

Molto contento!

Photos fm top: Saffron Rissotto; Broccia Ristorante; View from the room at Capofaro; Sicilian cannoli; Pool area at Capofaro.

Palermo , Sicily

June 25, fine 28 deg.

The taxi ride from the airport to our hotel is in itself a whole story ! I just think it is hilarious that a single lane for taxis and buses has traffic going in both directions... at once - so occasionally you are faced with an oncoming bus. We were up front with the driver and the three nuns were behind us - just as well.

At one stage I thought we were on a movie set. You know the one with the scene of a car flying through an intersection (red light I think) and narrowly missing oncoming traffic - having said all that - I did feel completely safe with our "home grown" Palermo taxi driver.

This sets the tone for our short Palermo stay -

We did have a big win with our accommodation - Mark's selection via the internet prior to leaving home. I can highly recommend the Hotel Porto Felice www.portofelice.it

It's a really well appointed hotel, near the port (convenient for us) with a Wellness Centre. A massage was needed after the taxi ride.

Palermo is steeped in incredible history and this is shown by the architecture with Greek influences. There is much to see and we found the easiest way around was a horse and carriage ride. We bartered on the price of course - 50 euro for 1 hour is not too bad when you consider a cab ride for about 10 minutes is 40 euro! Anyway a great way to see the sights.

Now the food.......... as expected the seafood is in abundance and is freshest I've ever eaten. We do lots of street dining. We find a little restaurant in a lane way or a street barbecue as this is where you find the best.

Recommend is Trattoria de Salvo - same street and two blocks from our hotel. All the shellfish on offer is displayed in tubs, still alive, and the fish are cooking on the BBQ. Mumma is out back cooking spaghetti. We know we are in the right place. This is the real Palermo !

We are seated on the street (literally) and the Trattoria is loaded with atmosphere. From the scooters passing by, the waiters yelling orders to the chefs and buskers selling their wares, this place is buzzing! Platter after platter of prawns, lobster, grilled fish, mussels, clams, spaghetti - it just keeps coming and coming.

We have the freshest, most tender, melt in the mouth mussels in a light tomato broth that we've ever encountered. The is fish cooked to perfection - insalada - really basic well cooked fare. Add in a bottle of Sicilian white wine and we are both Molto Contento !

Diano Marine

Italian Ligurian Coast sunny 28deg
June 19

Following a day's drive along the most spectacular French and Italian coastlines - from Cannes to Monaco, then back across the Italian border, we discover the most gorgeous little seaside village of Diano Marine about 20 km south of San Remo. This place is a tiny dot on our detailed road map, but it is a bustling family beach holiday location with beach front accommodation at very reasonable rates.

We stayed at the 'Palm Beach Hotel and Residence' www.residencepalmbeach.it located only minutes from excellent restaurants and across from the private beach (yes the one where you pay 22 Euro for your seat at the beach). But the friendly , helpful staff always make your stay much more enjoyable and as a bonus - a washing machine!

Our meal at Vico del Rame Osteria on the first night was so good we ate there the following night as well - fresh seafood in abundance. It was the best Spaghetti Vongole, Guazzetto di mare - a seafood soup loaded with clams, mussels , crab and scampi in a light white wine and tomato broth followed by a Branzino in costa di sale armatico alle erbe - a Sea Bass baked whole in salt seasoned with rosemary - this dish then gets filleted and served at the table - the fish is so sweet and delicate and served with grilled vegetables.

We have been enjoying the local white wines. The grapes are grown on the rugged slopes with a mineral base which makes the wines light and lively. The Pinot Grigio is particularly good with the seafood - Borgo Coventi 2008 pinot grigio from Friuli.

Then you need to do "la passeggiata" ( to walk the street) to take in the ambiance of the village and finish off the evening with an excellent gelato -of course - probably nearly as good as the one in Torino and only 2 Euro as well.

Buon Appetito