Puerto Bujaruelo (known as Port de Boucharo in French) is a mountain pass on France-Spain border. The path across this mountain pass has been in use since the Roman time, so that’s kind of cool. We chose this particular gate for the novelty of being able to say “We walked all the way to France!”
The spectacular Faja de Las Flores is one of the Pyrenees’ best hiking trails and yet one that sees few hikers. It’s long and it’s highly exposed. But the scenery? Whoa. It belongs in our Top 10 Hiking experiences for sure.
Spain Food Sherpas was one of the highlights of our time in Granada. Our Granada food tour sherpa took us to one of the oldest shops in Spain, a sampling of award-winning tapas, a sampling of a variety of Spain’s Iberan ham, and lunch at a local restaurant that looked as if it hadn’t changed since the early 1970s.
Guys, Switzerland is beautiful. Unbelievably beautiful. This wasn’t my first time in Switzerland but whoa – I forgot how just mind-numbingly gorgeous this country is.
We went to Switzerland this summer for a wedding (It was by a lake! Mountain casual dress code! I got to wear my hiking boots!).
One of the reasons I was really excited about visiting Sicily was the food. Sicilian food is known for their seafood, wine, granitas, and cheese – totally my kind of food pyramid! Between altitude sickness and lackluster Tibetan food, I lost weight on my previous trip (which never happened before!) so I had extra appetite to spare.
Our Airbnb in in Siracusa is around the corner from the Ortigia’s famous morning market. I spent every morning during our one week stay prowling the market, marveling at bright orange giant prawns, palming giant onions, and tasting local Sicilian cheese – from creamy ricotta salata to the pear-shaped, provola dei Nebrodi.
The Sandwich from Caseificio Borderi
While in Ortigia market it’s hard to miss Caseificio Borderi, a cheese and sandwich shop at the end of the market. Just look for the long line of people around lunch time crowding around Andrea Borderi, the sandwich king himself.
In general, I scoff at the idea of waiting in line for food. Especially for a mere sandwich. No way!
But the more I watched Andrea work, the more I got intrigued. It was obviously apparent that it was more than just about sandwiches. It’s a one-man show as Andrea chops, slices, and stuffs, gives out cheese samples, and in general takes his own sweet time crafting sandwiches like a piece of art – a sprinkle of fresh herbs here, a slice of thrice-baked ricotta there – each sandwich slightly different than the last (you don’t get to order here, you get what he makes).
Every now and then he’d stop to joke with co-workers, greet a customer, or tell a story, “I grew up in a household full of women, and I used to play with Barbies…” with a smile that never leaves his youthful face. Who is this guy that obviously gets so much enjoyment from making sandwiches?
One can’t helped but be charmed.
So one morning, I decided today is the day I break my no waiting in line rule and join the line. After 45 minute of waiting I walked away with a hefty sandwich filled with god-knows how many different types of cheeses, olives, and vegetables. Was it good? Of course. Was it 45-minute-in-line good? You know what.. I think you should find out for yourself 🙂
Ricotta Granita from Cafe Apollo
Piazza Pancali Emanuele 1
It was hot, hot, HOT in Sicily when I was there (well, what do you expect of Europe in July, Jill?). Granitas saved the day! I ate a lot of granitas because I turn into a hot mess whenever the temperature reaches above 80 and only frozen desserts can get me through the day.
What is granita? Granita’s is a semi-frozen dessert made of water, sugar, flavorings. I think of it as Italy’s answer to slushies. Even though granitas can be found throughout Italy, its birthplace is Sicily and they’re very proud of it. So as you can imagine, I came across a lot of places that sell granitas. Which is good. I needed a lot of them.
My favorite though is Cafe Apollo near the ruins of Apollo Temple in Ortigia. They offer a sampler of 4 granitas for 5 EUROS! What a deal! I liked both the ricotta and the pistachio granitas, but if I had to choose only one, I’d go for the ricotta – the combination of salty, sweet, and creaminess was really quite delicious.
Rumor has it that Sicilians eat granitas for breakfast with a side of brioche. Now, I’d never actually spotted anyone doing this… but people who eat desserts for breakfast are my kind of people.
Food and wine tour with Sicily Activities
Something I try to do within the first day or two of arriving at a new country is to go on a food tour. Why a food tour? Because I want to know right away what local specialties to seek out. Food has definitely become a bigger focus on my travel lately – I love learning about what people eat, its surrounding rituals, and history.
Often times the guide is also a good resource for hole-in-the-wall bars, local politics and stories, and offbeat attractions. I’ve done food tour in Miami, Berkeley, and even my own hometown, San Francisco. On each tour, I always learn something new.
On my second day in Sicily I joined a Siracusa food and wine tour with Sicily Activities. I’m so glad I did. It turned out to be one of the highlights of my time in Sicily. With just me, 2 other people, and the guide the experience felt less like a tour and more like hanging out with friends that lasted over 3 restaurants and glasses of wine.
Everything we had was freshly prepared and delicious, but I did have some favorites.
Fried sardine dish from Locanda del Collegio
Locanda del Collegio
Via del Collegio, 13/15
See the fried sardines on top of poached beets and orange – the one in the middle of the platter? I was hesitant at the combo at first. Fried fish and fruit? Who would’ve thought that they’d go well together? But they do. And IT WAS DELICIOUS!
Caponata from Taverna Giudecca
Via della Giudecca 7
Our second stop of the food tour of Siracusa was Taverna Giudecca in Siracusa’s Old Jewish Quarter. I loved everything on this platter but the caponata was the star – so much so that I bought a tub of each home.
The caponata – eggplant and tomato stew – was an explosion of flavors. Sweet, salty, and with a touch of acidity (from vinegar?). It was so good I ate it out of the tub the next day. It went very well with the crusty, fresh bread I got from the market.
Etna Rosso – A beautiful, bold red from Mount Etna
I was surprised to learn that Sicily produces a number of varieties of bold red wine. On this food tour we got to try a few different varieties: Nero d’Avola, Syrah, and Etna Rosso. The last two quickly became our favorite. For 10-15 euros a bottle, these wines are such good value!
Desserts and almond liqueurs from Trattoria Christina
Piazza Emanuele Pancali 22
The last stop of the food tour was all about desserts. We slowly nibbled at the variety of house-made italian cookies and sipped on tasty limoncello and almond wine as the sky slowly turned inky black. I’m not usually a fan of sweet wines, but they went so well with the ricotta-filled canollo and the chewy almond cookie. It was a lovely way to end the evening.
Everything From Ristorante Macallè
Via dei Santi Coronati, 42
For the best meal in Siracusa? Head to Macalle. On our first night in Sicily, we had dinner at Macalle and Jack would’ve been happy going back there again and again. It was that good. I insisted that we tried other restaurants because I have a case of the grass might be greener. But in the end I had to admit, no other meals compared.
I love the location, tucked on one side of a tiny plaza away from the main crowds. I love everything that we ordered: pasta with Trapani pesto and scampi, the sea bass with chopped hazelnut, and mildly sweet and tangy panacotta at the end.
Big appetite, short on time?
If you only have one day in Siracusa, I highly recommend checking out Ortigia market in the morning, get a sandwich from Caseifico Borderi or lunch at Macallè, followed by the Siracusa food and wine tour (starts at 6:30pm).
Siracusa, Sicily is only one of the many beautiful places in Italy worth visiting. See this post for more incredible places in Italy to visit.
I’ve been to Italy a few times, each to a different region. Each visit confirms my belief that when it comes to food, you can’t go wrong with Italy. What do you think?
Ortigia vs Siracusa: Ortigia is a compact island connected to Siracusa mainland by a bridge. Most places of interest for visitors are located in Ortigia so I’d recommend staying on the island or close to it. Hotels and B&B’s on Ortigia.
Food tour of Siracusa from Sicily Activities. Our guide was Elisa and she was the best – from warm personality to vast knowledge of local history and culture. And oh, the food was delicious too.
Tour of Mt. Etna from Catania: Unfortunately there’s no easy way to get to Mt. Etna from Siracusa unless you have your own transport (after seeing how Sicilians drive I was like, “Nope!” So we had to take an early morning bus to Catania bus station where we were picked up. We thought the Mt. Etna part of the tour was excellent, but the afternoon part was rushed.
If you’re looking for an adventurous weekend getaway from Berlin, Saxon Switzerland is where you need to go. I mean this park has it all: a river to kayak in, hiking trails, via ferratas, scary climbs, and this being Europe – a castle.
2016 recap. The last time I attempted to write an end-of-year recap, it was May by the time I finished it and I scrapped the whole post.
Matka Canyon was one of the few things I really wanted to do while in Skopje. This limestone gorge is easily reachable by public transportation from downtown Skopje and a perfect day trip destination for nature lovers. The walls above the canyon offers hiking trails and climbing. In the summer it’s also possible to kayak the Treska river.
The canyon is a popular destination to Skopje city dwellers, providing relief from often-stifling summer heat. Because of the water and the shades provided by canyon walls, it is so much cooler there in the canyon.
There are caves and monasteries that you can visit. A motorboat can take you to one of the caves.
Jack and I chose to rent a kayak by the hour. We rowed and rowed until our backs ache and our fingers numb but we saw no sign of any caves. Maybe if we had spent more time rowing in a straight line, and less time spraying each other with our paddles and zig zagging like a pin ball, we’d have gone further. But what would be the fun in that?
We tried to catch a glimpse of climbers on the canyon walls, but I don’t think there were any when we were there.
We passed a bunch of giggly teenagers on kayaks but soon it was just us and and the canyon walls. There was a cool breeze that felt heavenly on our sweaty skin. Birds belied their presence by their chirps and squawks. Only passing motorboats break the silence of nature. We waved to them on their way upstream. They passed us again on their way back. They might go faster, but if you ask me, kayaking is the way to go.
We had a great time at Matka. No, an awesome time. It was definitely a highlight of our visit to Skopje.
Visiting Matka Canyon
By public transportation: Bus 60 from Skopje’s main bus station. The bus stop is outside of the main bus station building, next to the petrol station. It takes roughly an hour.
Kayaking Matka Canyon: after we got back to the kayak rental spot, we learned that the nearest cave would take hours of kayaking to get to (I forgot the exact distance, but I remember thinking, “Man, so glad we didn’t try to get there”. So if you really want to see the cave, go on the motorboat.
Tour option: Because we were short on time, we took a half day tour from Viator (this tour here) that includes a visit to the Millenium Cross and St. Pantelejmon church. At less than $30, it’s a great deal.
Skopje, Macedonia’s capital, is having an identity crisis. And this is what you get.
7 Rila Lakes is a popular daytrip from Sofia, Bulgaria. Bundle it with a visit to the famous Rila Monastery for a full day of culture and outdoor adventures.