Travel notes

Travel notes

Summer has finally arrived and our trip around Siciliy on the Gusti-Bus could not miss Sicilian granita, a refreshing dessert typical of Eastern Sicily.

The history of Sicilian granita is, in fact, particularly linked to the area of ​​Catania and Messina, where the highest peaks of the island are. But why is the history of granita linked to that of the mountains? It is soon said! During the winter workers called “nivaroli” went on expedition to the Etna, the Peloritani or the Nebrodi mountains to collect fresh snow and take it to the city or flat areas.

The snow was then kept in the “neviere”, holes in the ground covered with ash or straw built in cooler areas, so that it could be kept for the whole summer. Over the years, the snow holes became larger and took different shapes, more and more suitable to protect the snow from the heat. The need to collect snow was closely related to the summer heat: the nobles, in fact, had the habit to refresh themselves during the hot days with snow sprinkled with lemon juice or flavored with syrups.

In the 19th century, this tradition took hold further, with the help of some typical Sicilian ingredients such as almonds, mulberries or coffee. In the area of Syracuse, in fact, the almond-variant is the protagonist (in Modica even toasted almonds are used), in Messina the one with prickly pear, while in the villages near the Etna with pistachio; a small exception that takes us to the other side of Sicily is the black mulberry granita, a summer favorite in Trapani and San Vito. The addition of fresh ingredients and the evolution of the original technique led granita to detach itself from the Roman “grattachecca”, born in the early twentieth century. Another distinction must be made from sorbet or ice cream, although granita itself is their ancestor.

Carrier of a centuries-old tradition, deeply linked to the territory and the typical crafts of Eastern Sicily, granita is the best cure against the Sicilian summer heat, which Sicilians and tourists can not help but love.

Travel notes

After speaking of Ustica as a summer destination, we must also talk about the other “black pearl” of the Mediterranean, Pantelleria, larger and wilder.

Reachable by plane or ship, the island is perfect for those who love to spend a holiday surrounded by unspoiled nature, being able to choose between walks in the woods, boat trips, snorkeling or spending hot days on the lava rocks.

Characteristic of the island is in fact its volcanic origin, which has allowed the proliferation of luxuriant nature with an extremely varied fauna, but not only: the spearhead of the island’s lunar landscape is the lake of Venus, that is the crater of an ancient volcano whose surrounding sources of thermal water have gradually turned into the natural swimming pool that we can admire today (and in which we can bathe). The name “lake of Venus” or “Mirror of Venus” derives from a legend according to which the goddess of beauty used to mirror herself in the waters of the sulphurous water basin.

Among the many attractions in Pantelleria, the elephant arch is certainly noteworthy: a singular cliff with a shape that reminds the trunk of an elephant that seems to drink in the splendid waters in which it is immersed, offering a breathtaking and unique spectacle. The island is also full of thermal water springs, real natural pools that in addition to their beneficial effects offer an excellent way to relax during sunset.

The island also presents interesting insights in its architecture, in fact it houses two structures that are completely unique in the world: the first one is the famous “dammuso” of Pantelleria, whose particular shape derives from the need of the inhabitants to use wind and rain to their advantage with domed roofs and thick walls; the second, fascinating and original, is the Pantelleria garden, that is a maze of dry stone walls built around plantations (originally citrus) to shelter them from the strong wind.

After talking about nature and architecture, we cannot fail to mention the cuisine of the island, in which the simplicity of the products is made precious by the tasty and savory flavor of the vegetables and typical island products, grown in a soil particularly rich in nutrients and with the important proximity of the sea. From this point of view, the caper represents Pantelleria’s excellence, which has been recognized as a protected geographical indication since June 1996 and is one of the main ingredients of many of the island’s culinary delicacies. Finally, the winemaking tradition represents another strong point of Pantelleria: among the Pantelleria liqueur wines the famous “passito” cannot be missed, a real nectar of the gods!

Perfect for those who love a holiday dedicated to nature and sea, Pantelleria is one of the ideal destinations for this summer.

Travel notes

Colorful, rich and tasty, it is the quintessential Sicilian dessert, which satisfies the eye even before the palate: we are talking, of course, of the Cassata, one of the timeless classics of the Sicilian confectionery tradition, that over the years has conquered taste buds throughout Italy and beyond.

After the beccafico sardines, we continue with our Gusti-Bus section around Sicily, telling another story that perhaps not everyone knows: the genesis of the cassata that today stands on our tables on holidays.

The first ancestor of traditional cassata is the baked version, still very widespread and loved today, dating back to the Arab domination in Sicily. The Arabs, in fact, are at the origin of most of the ingredients of Sicilian cakes and pastries, having imported or increased the production of citrus fruit, dried fruit and sugar cane. According to tradition, during the 11th century, Arab shepherds began to produce a dessert called quas’at (from which the name “cassata” probably derives) by mixing sheep’s ricotta cheese, honey and sugar in a container: this recipe reached the court of the Emir of Kalsa, where the container was replaced with shortcrust pastry. So was born, in the heart of Palermo, the baked cassata.

During the Norman times, the cassata was instead covered with sugar, almond paste (another confectionery ingredient born in Palermo), chocolate and candied pumpkin, until it became the sumptuous and colorful cake that we all know. The official recipe of the Sicilian cassata was then established in 1873 by the well-known pastry chef Salvatore Gulì, when it had already become a popular dessert throughout Sicily thanks to its presence during synods, meetings and noble dinners.

The cassata, in fact, takes on a different connotation based on the Sicilian area in which it is made: each area has made its small changes based on the excellence of the territory or the climate but, one thing is certain, there is no Easter, Christmas or Sunday lunch without this jewel of Sicilian pastry.

Travel notes

Tasty, delicious and cheerful: we are talking about traditional Sicilian cuisine, which in addition to satisfying the palate is a joy for the eyes and for the mood. The colors, textures and decorations of Sicilian food are unique in their kind, often accompanied by a curious history, which makes the preparation of these dishes a real moment of connection with the land. From this consideration comes the Gusti-Bus section, with the intention of travel in Sicily with the most famous dishes, flavored with historical notes and curiosities!

Let’s start our gastronomic tour with a cornerstone of Sicilian cuisine: Sarde a beccafico! This dish is typical especially of the Palermo, Messina and Catania areas and is so famous that it has been fully included in the list of traditional Italian agri-food products.

Sarde a beccafico interpret Sicilianity in all their ingredients, as each element is typical of our regional cuisine. Sardines, for example, are a kind of fish considered as “poor” for its abundance in the Mediterranean Sea and therefore of low cost, which is why they are particularly used in Sicilian dishes. The same thing holds for the tasty and winning combination of raisins and pine nuts: the raisins used in Sicilian dishes, also called “passolina”, derive from the drying process of a particular type of grape that grows abundantly in Sicily; raisins are often combined with pine nuts, also produced in Sicily’s inland area, which counterbalance the flavor and texture of dried fruit, creating that typical game of contrasts that characterizes the Sicilian dishes that host them.

We’ve talked about the ingredients of this delicious dish, but where does it come from? In 1800 the Sicilian nobility used to hunt small game, which therefore became the full protagonist in the menus of the rich population of the area. Among the most coveted birds there was the beccafico, a bird whose meat was considered very valuable thanks to its fig-based diet, which was cooked stuffed with its own entrails and served with the tail up in order to make it easy to take it and then eat in one bite.

The poor population certainly could not enjoy this dainty dish, that is why they decided to ingeniously replicate it using inexpensive and readily available ingredients: the bird was thus replaced by sardines, wrapped on themselves, and the entrails where replaced by bread crumbs, raisins and pine nuts. To satisfy the eye, in addition to the palate, the rolls were then arranged with the sardines’ tails up, to faithfully reproduce the original dish.

The creativity of the 19th-century Sicilians was rewarded: what was a particularly poor dish for them, stands out today in the tables of Sicilian families in its original dishing with the upturned tail, and presents further tempting variations with aubergines or zucchini.

Travel notes

Traveling means discovering new places, learning about traditions, stories and cultures different from ours. Museums and monuments represent the emblem of this concept, enclosing treasures that speak of the world in all its aspects. But what if you can’t go to a museum? Then the museum will come to you!

In this particular period, in fact, some of the most important museums in the world have made available several virtual tours, allowing millions of visitors, equipped with only an internet connection as entrance ticket, to visit their most important collections.

Museums in the world

Paris, of course, easily becomes one of the main capitals of virtual tours thanks to the accuracy of the descriptions and itineraries proposed by the Louvre Museum (which provides not only insights on the collections, but also on the spaces that host them), as well as the Musée d’Orsay and the Palace of Versailles which, in collaboration with Google, have organized extremely varied tours with textual elements, photos, 360-degree panoramas and videos with historical insights.

New York also does its part: the city that never sleeps reveals all its beauty online thanks to a plan created by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs which includes visits to the main museums (especially the MET), web replicas of Broadway and Metropolitan Opera shows, information and curiosities about the whole city, going beyond Manhattan, taking this particular opportunity to show the other districts of the Big Apple.

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the Hermitage in Moscow, the Reina Sofia in Madrid, the Archaeological Museum in Athens and many others also open their doors to virtual visitors.

Museums in Italy

With its beauties around every corner, Italy too reveals its wonders via web: the unmissable Uffizi in Florece, offering the program “IperVisioni” – an in-depth study on some well-defined historical-artistic paths -, then also the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan and the Vatican Museums.

Amusing solutions are offered by the Egyptian Museum of Turin, which has published some interesting “Walks with the Director”, thematic tours led by Christian Greco (Director of the Museum and Egyptologist of international fame), the Peggy Guggenheim Collection of Venice which entertains its guests with quizzes on art and the Teatro alla Scala which opens its curtains for web replicas of the most important works of the past seasons.

Palermo also unveils itself on your screens thanks to the contributions of the University of Palermo, which reveals its museum system with the “Virtual Tours” project, immersing the user in  the museums of Geology, Zoology, Palazzo Chiaramonte Steri, the Botanical Garden and other places of incredible value for the city.

You just have to choose the destination and start traveling comfortably from your sofa: if this opportunity allows you to discover the beauty of every corner of the world, dreaming of being outside of your home, it can also give you an inspiration for your next destination, imagining yourself already headed to the airport ready to take a plane to your next vacation!

Travel notes

ummer 2020 seems far away now, but why not travel with our mind and think about possible summer destinations, where we can spend the hot weeks of July and August in the open air, in peace and tranquillity?

If, as expected, most Italians will choose a destination in Italy, here is a solution close to our Palermo that will make everyone happy: the island of Ustica.

Contrarily to what one might think, getting to Ustica is not particularly complex: the port of Palermo, from where both the hydrofoil and the ferry to the island leave, is only 1.8 km from Piazza Politeama, one of the main landmarks for anyone who reaches Palermo from the Falcone e Borsellino Airport.

Once arrived, Ustica fascinates its visitors with the genuine character of the town center and its inhabitants, not to mention the 12 km diameter full with unspoiled nature, coves, nature reserves and cobalt blue caves. Using the term “charm” when talking about Ustica is almost a must, considering that the ancients believed that this remote island in the Mediterranean sea was the home of Circe, sourceress and enchantress of Homeric origin.

What strikes right away is the possibility to plan the vacation without focusing it solely and exclusively on the sea, thanks to many other different kinds of interesting activities: the island, in fact, offers several nature trails dedicated to expert and non-expert hikers, archaeological sites that go back to the Bronze Age and watchtowers from the Bourbon era from where it is possible to enjoy breathtaking views on the intense blue sea that characterizes the island.

Speaking of sea, to enjoy at best the marine beauties of Ustica you must spend at least one day relaxing on a boat trip while navigating around the island or between the many caves that the coast offers. But also from the city center itself it is possible to easily reach parts of the coast suitable for every need, from pebble beaches perfect for children to the most impervious rocks great for diving and snorkeling (not surprisingly Ustica is considered a real paradise among those who love immersions).

This overview of Circe‘s Island can only end with a nod to the culinary delicacies of the place such as fish and vegetables, particularly tasty thanks to the soil of lavic origin. Among them, an excellence that has become a Slow-Food-must stands out: the lentil, small, dark and tasty, always present on Ustica‘s tables in summer and winter.

Given the particularly favorable climate, Ustica offers the maximum of its beauty between June and September, why not start planning a trip to discover this Black Pearl of the Mediterranean?