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Hello From Sicily – Exploring Lipari and a Sicilian Seafood Dinner in Salina
My first evening and night on a sailboat had gone very well. After our little late night trip into Lipari town I had slept like a rock, only to wake up this morning at around 8am to see in the daylight what the island of Lipari looks like. So I stuck my head out of the sailboat and saw that it was a great day! blue, sunny skies, not a cloud in sight. Perfect for exploring Lipari, the capital of the Aeolian island of the same name.
Our captain was already up while my other three fellow passengers were still resting. Francesco and I grabbed a small snack from our abundant stash below deck, sat down and enjoyed the gorgeous surroundings. We were surrounded by dozens of boats, most of them sailboats, powerboats, and some of them rather elegant sailing boats, and towards the land we saw several fishing boats in the area tied up and fishermen putting their web out.
I told Francesco that the experience on this yacht and in Sicily in general is so different from the hurried, frenetic pace we have in our urban centers in North America. I said it was a very welcome change from my usual routine. The rhythm of life is definitely slower here, and people seem to have different, simpler priorities: they focus on their friends and family, and eating good food, drinking good wine, and enjoying life, every day. Our own skipper, who was truly Sicilian, also provided a deep sense of calm and happiness.
Around 10 am I was ready to start exploring and I started my walk towards the center of Lipari town. The half-hour walk along a busy road is very beautiful, with mountains on one side and the sea on the other, and the hilltop fortress of Lipari town in the distance. On my way into town I saw a scooter rental place, and at 15 euros a day I was very tempted to rent one for a couple of hours. Instead I decided to get some exercise and continue the walk into town.
With around 11,000 inhabitants, Lipari is the largest and most populated island of the 7-island Eolian archipelago. It is an attractive place for tourists: in the summer the population rises to more than 200,000 people. It is a vibrant commercial center and an active ferry port. I entered the town on one of the main streets which was full of retail stores, vegetable and fruit stands and a variety of restaurants.
There was a very steep cobbled street leading up a hill, so I followed it and arrived at the fortress town of Lipari which has a long and complex history. Inhabited since at least 5000 BC, the island has been ruled by successive waves of Greeks, Carthaginians, Etruscans, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Saracens, Normans, Hohenstaufen, Angevins and Aragonese. The impressive city walls were built by the Spanish as well as the ancient Greek acropolis in the mid 1500’s. Within the walls of the fortification there is a magnificent cathedral, an ancient castle, excavations of an ancient Greek settlement as well as the Museo Archeologico Eoliano.
There is a long flight of stairs leading up from the lower level of the town to the Cathedral and on a small patch of grass next to the stairs an old local man had set up a shop to sell a variety of handmade doilies which as well as volcanic stones such as pumice and obsidian which both occur naturally on this island.
I came up to him to see what he had for sale and he introduced himself as “Nonno Dorino” (“Grandpa Dorino”) and told me that he hangs all the doilies himself He surprisingly engaged me in conversation and I ended up buying two of his crochet masterpieces. On the way he showed me a picture of his grandson and gave me free samples of all kinds of volcanic stones. I always love to interact with the locals, and Nonno Dorino was a real character. He certainly knows how to surprise tourists.
I came down the stairs from the cathedral and took a left turn which took me into Lipari’s second harbour, Marina Corta, which has a large square with a view up to the fort and a variety of cafes – outside with beautiful patios. Today there was a large group of children on bicycles, along with various local police. It was like a special cycling event and attracted spectators among the locals and the tourists.
There is a small chapel at the south end of the piazza and there are narrow streets with different shops leading up to different parts of the town. As I walked on this sunny day I explored some of these side streets and found cramped but neatly kept living quarters, children playing in the street, cats and dogs ‘ lazy in the sun, and many older women sweeping the pavement in front of their houses.
On my way to the ferry port I linked up with Herbert, one of my passengers, and we walked back to the ship together. Around 2pm we were ready to leave Lipari and started to sail out of the harbor and our skipper set the sails when we were in open water.
We traveled along the coast of Lipari and reached the next bay in which there was a town that stretched along the shore and splashed up on the mountains, and looking further north a large part of the island consisted of white stone Francesco, our captain, explained that this stone is pumice, a porous white stone of volcanic origin.
We anchored the boat in the bay in front of the pumice quarries, some of which had been closed down several decades ago and were still industrial ruins. Claudia, Francesco and Lorenzo took a dip in the Mediterranean waters which were still quite cold. The temperature couldn’t be much higher than 18 degrees, and as a matter of fact, my policy is to only go swimming if the water temperature is above 28 degrees. So for me it was not an effort, but my shipmates enjoyed the short, but refreshing journey. We also saw shellfish, called “medusa” in Italian. These animals seem to be more common when the water is cooler and less visible in the summer months.
Towards 6 pm we reached the next island called Salina, an island that the ancient Greeks called “didyme” (“twin”), because of its two main mountains, Fossa delle Felci (altitude 962 m) and Monte dei Porri (860 m). We arrived at the main town of Santa Marina, which has a large pleasure boat harbor. There are two other main towns on this island: Malfa and Leni, and the total population is around one or two thousand people.
My friend Herbert and I went for a little walk around town. Santa Marina mainly consists of two streets that run parallel to the coast, the Via Lungomare Giuffré right by the sea and parallel to the Via Risorgimento, further inland a country In the town there is a larger church on Via Risorgimento, and a smaller chapel on a square by the harbour. Activity around the main square is very lively, with numerous restaurants, ice creams and street vendors.
As we were going to meet for dinner at 8pm, I went back early to have a shower – on land! The Santa Marina yacht harbor actually features a comfort station with modern shower and washroom facilities. And since I was still squeamish about using the little toilet on board/shower combination I couldn’t wait to jump into a real shower. When you step out of your normal comfort zone from time to time, you realize how valuable simple things like a warm shower can be. I thoroughly enjoyed my cleansing ritual on land and dressed for dinner.
Francesco took us to a local restaurant on the main street called “Nni Lausta” (http://www.isolasalina.com/default_eng.htm – Sicilian dialect for “lobster”), a famous local seafood restaurant which is even listed in the Michelin Guide. Our skipper had arranged with Fabio, the owner of the restaurant, to prepare an authentic multi-course Sicilian meal for our group. Fabio himself had spent some time in the United States and also owns a restaurant in northern Italy, obviously an accomplished restaurant entrepreneur.
We settled in and our food started to arrive. Fabio’s sister, Sabina Giuffré, owner of a local bed and breakfast, also dropped by and recognized Lorenzo, who had visited the island about 12 years ago and met Sabina then. For Lorenzo, this was a real homecoming, a kind of back-to-roots experience, to return to the small island that his grandparents and grandfather had left in 1910. He had already walked through a village All of Santa Marina, chatting and connecting or reconnecting with many of the locals, and despite his limited Italian skills, he wasn’t shy about talking to anyone .
Sabina and Lorenzo said that almost everyone in the town seemed to be called “Giuffré”, indeed a popular name that seems to date back to the Catalan settlers centuries ago. . In fact a website about Sicilian surnames indicates that “Giuffré” is the most popular last name in the town of Santa Marina. It was good to see this man from Boston, a Catholic priest anyway, reconnecting with his family roots and having a good time.
The first course of our dinner was ready to arrive: we each got five different types of fish on a long plate, including tuna, mackerel and anchovies. One of the dishes was called “tartan di tonno” which meant that it was raw fish. The group loved the food, not so much because I’m not a fish eater in general. Unfortunately there is a wonderful world of seafood in Sicily
completely lost on me.
But, I told myself, you are going to try each of these dishes. Anyway I gave it a shot and decided to open my mind. So I tried the five types of fish and there were two that looked half-appetizing to my palate. The rest of the group was shocked to learn that I don’t eat fish, but I happily obliged and cleaned up the rest of my meal. Nothing will be lost here!
The meal continued with two types of pasta: “battarga di tonno” (with tuna), and “pasta verdure di stagione” (vegetarian), which was a very enjoyable dish. The main dish was a large whole fish for the whole group: “scorfano” which I believe translates as “hogfish”. It was a large, medium but beautiful fish and certainly enough to feed a whole group of four. My main dish was a pasta dish with eggplant followed by a lemon ice cream dessert for everyone. A glass of local wine “malvasia” (malmsey) followed and some of my companions also had a bite to eat. A true Sicilian meal will certainly include many courses, always featuring wine and fish, and perhaps a glass of alcohol to top it all off.
After this extensive culinary experience we went back to the boat and sat up chatting until 2am. It’s time to relax for a new day of events…
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#Sicily #Exploring #Lipari #Sicilian #Seafood #Dinner #Salina