This year has perhaps been the longest stretch of time we’ve spent away from Italy since we first fell in love with the Bel Paese decades ago. We miss the food and wine of course, as well as the dazzling views, world-class culture, and slower “la dolce vita” pace of life. What we miss most, however, are the people, including old friends and neighbors, trusted shopkeepers and restaurant owners, and our network of outstanding local guides in cities and rural villages across the country.
To feel a bit closer to Italy, we began reaching out to our favorite guides last month and sharing short interviews on our blog about their journeys to becoming licensed guides in Italy (a famously difficult profession to break into), the highlights and downsides of their cities or areas, and insights into the top things to see and taste. These conversations have uncovered delightful surprises to seek out on our next trip and moving memories of past tours – some with our own clients!
If you haven’t been following our “Meet Our Guides” series, take some time to delve in and visit destinations like Florence with Elvira, Pompeii with Antonio, Bologna with Nathalie, Rome with Alessandro, and Tuscany with Roberta. We guarantee that you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of their areas and a bit of inspiration for future trips!
This week we continue our series by heading across the Strait of Messina to the island of Sicily for an interview with Italo Giordano, one of our favorite Sicilian guides. Specialized in archaeology, Italo is our go-to local expert for unpacking the millennia of history behind many of Sicily’s most fascinating ancient sites. Here’s what he had to say about his career and island:
Tell us about yourself! Where are you from, what did you study, and how long have you been a tour guide?
My name is Italo Giordano and I’m from Lentini, an ancient town located between Catania and Syracuse along the eastern coastline of Sicily. Inspired by the many ancient sites scattered across Sicily, I chose to study classics at the university, specializing in classical archaeology. I have been a guide since 2014.
What attracted you to becoming a guide?
Sicily’s history is complex and stretches over thousands of years, making it a challenge to understand. I became an archaeologist because I wanted to unpack the island’s historic complexity, and I discovered that sharing insights about Sicily’s culture and history with others was deeply satisfying. Little by little, the idea of becoming a guide started to form in my mind as I realized that that archaeology and tour guiding are really two sides of the same coin.
What is the one thing all visitors to Syracuse/surrounding area should see in your opinion?
Ortygia, the ancient island just off the coast of Syracuse, is an important destination for any traveler to Sicily because it encapsulates the whole of Mediterranean history from ancient Greece through the 20th century.
Another place that I suggest visiting is Pantalica, a huge archeological site that is famous for its prehistoric necropolis set in an intricate and wild landscape.
That said, the south-east corner of Sicily – as well as Sicily as a whole – is so rich in cultural and gastronomic treasures that everyone will find something to love, be it historic cities, dazzling monuments, outstanding landscapes, untouched nature, and unique local cuisine.
What is your favorite secret treasure that you love to share with visitors?
Sicily is entirely unknown to many travelers, so the treasure I love to share is simply the knowledge and insight visitors need to access and understand the history and the beauty of this island.
Complete this sentence: If you really want to experience the spirit of Sicily, you should…
…be prepared to engage with the mix of cultures. Sicily’s unique history has influenced its culture, cuisine, and even language today, encorporating a mix of ancient Greek and Roman, Norman, Moorish, and baroque touches in its architecture, street markets, dialect, and cuisine.
Name a sight or activity that visitors should avoid in Syracuse or Sicily in general.
Sicily is larger than it may seem on a map, so I suggest trying not to see too much in too short a time. And a tip about food: avoid pizza at lunch. In our culture, pizza is a dinner-time treat and it can be a challenge to find good pizza during the day.
What is your favorite local dish, and is there a specific place visitors should try it?
My favorite local dishes are “pasta con le sarde” (pasta tossed with a sauce made of sardines, fennel, anchovies, onion, raisins, and pine nuts) and “sarde alla beccafico” (sardines rolled around a breadcrumb stuffing flavored with garlic, parsley, raisins, and pine nuts).
These are two simple but delicious traditional Sicilian recipes that highlight local sardines, and are served in many restaurants in Catania and Syracuse.
In summer, don’t miss Sicilian “granita” served with bread (our “panino”) or the iconic brioche topped with a “tuppo”, or nipple-like ball of dough.
Share your favorite memory from a tour you have given.
Each visitor I welcome to Sicily is a new experience and leaves me with wonderful and diverse memories. My wish is for travelers to be happy to have seen the outstanding historic and cultural treasures Sicily has to offer.
Can you recommend a book or film for those planning of visiting your area?
Jeremy Dummett’s “Syracuse, City of Legends” is specific to the city of Syracuse. Informative and engaging, this book offers a good introduction to the world of the ancient Greeks in Sicily.
What changes do you foresee in Sicily’s tourism due to Covid-19?
Thanks to our climate, everyday life in Sicily is mainly spent outdoors, which is very healthy during a pandemic and means that many aspects of our life have not changed much. The lion’s share of destinations and sights are outdoors and spacious, so social distancing is easy to manage. Indoor sites are a little more challenging, but with patience and organization can be accommodated via the use of masks and caps on visitors.