September is the moment to savour Sicily. The skies are still deep azure (think Quink royal blue), which shows off to perfection the sparkling white of Baroque jewels like Scicli, Modica, Ragusa and Noto. The sea is reliably warm, the midday sun delicious but not impossibly dazzling, the evenings balmy, the nights agreeably cool. Best of all, the crowds have flown north again – to Rome, Milan, Paris, London – leaving you the pick of hotels, B&Bs and villas. And as in any place that’s annually steamrollered by summer crowds, the local people are learning to smile again, they’re more chilled in this back-season, whether in the mercato, trattoria, gelateria or cantina.
Ah, markets, restos, ice cream, wine…funny how I always get back to these. For food, read both the raw materials and the dishes they find their way into, which in Sicily are brilliant on most counts all year round. And then there are the island’s new-wave wines from little-known and resurrected grape varieties (Carricante, Catarrato, Grillo, Neros Mascalese/d’Avola/Capuccio and Frappato, among others). Together, these are a big part of the pull to Sicily.
As ever, we went the self-catering route. On occasion – not too often – we’ve stayed in hotels or B&Bs. When, inevitably, we happen upon a street market, things fall apart and we retreat in frustration at only being able to stroke (and/or photograph) magnificent sword- and scabbardfish, plump prawns, elongated pale green courgettes like writhing snakes, gleaming aubergines in episcopal purple, datterini tomatoes (i.e. shaped like dates), melons and figs for ever. Luckily everyone in our family loves to descend on the market like starlings, buy whatever looks fresh and fancy, go back to our temporary home and cook up a storm.
We never strayed far from the fish/shellfish/salad path, drizzled with lashings of EVOO from an anonymous bottle grown by the villa owner, and showers of basil from the garden.
Prize for the best selection of gelati went to Blue Moon in Donnalucata.
Great week savouring Sicily; can’t wait to go back.