Ancient farms, small towns, carob and olive trees, wheat fields surrounded by stone walls, cows roaming free in the pasture and many more surprises are in store for us in this itinerary allowing us to discover a more intimate and genuine Sicily. Follow a path that explores villages rich in history, like Buccheri, Ferla, Monterosso Almo, Chiaramonte Gulfi. Along the road that runs through the Hyblaean plateau, wherever you look you will see nature expressed in all its beauty. It is a paradise for hiking and cycling: curves that caress the fields, hairpin bends that rise and fall between the valleys, blooms lapping the roadsides, trails with breathtaking views. It is only waiting for you to discover it.
Our first stop is BUCCHERI. We travel along the old road up the valley, established in the Middle Ages by merchants from Catania to reach Ragusa. Buccheri was an important stopping place on the long journey to the plateau of Ragusa. Just before the road starts to climb towards the village, surrounded by olive groves, we visit the ancient chapel of St. Andrew, used by the Templars as a last outpost before setting sail for the Holy Land.
A little further on, Mariagrazia will show us the olive trees of the family estate VERNERA. With eyes full of emotion, she describes how her father Vito recognized the trees individually, seeing the soul in each of them. Today Vernèra oils are renowned internationally, and Mariagrazia invites us to a tasting that is hard to resist. And we discover why this oil has received so many awards.
At sunset, with the silence broken only by the sound of cicadas, we can appreciate that this place continues to have a magical atmosphere. So we choose to stay in LE CASE DI SANT’ANDREA, the farm bordering the Vernèra estate. The next morning, we awake to a wonderful surprise. From the terrace in front of our room, a breathtaking landscape unfolds: around us, as far as the eye can see, are only green woods and olive trees. At breakfast we are welcomed by the owner, Marzia, with a homemade tart and fresh fruit plate. For her also, this has always been her haven of peace.
We say goodbye to Marzia and continue our journey to the village to meet with Pippo Formica, an environmental hiking guide who will take us to discover the ancient NEVIERE DI BUCCHERI (storage caves for snow) and the old town of Buccheri. During the excursion, Pippo regales us with stories ranging from history, myth and legend, but always citing authorities. With him we learn about the men who toiled in these snow caves, and Prince Alliata, “Mr. Snow.” From here we have a panoramic view extending from the summit of Etna all the way to the coast of Calabria. The story continues as we follow our guide among baroque churches, up atmospheric stairways, through alleyways and courtyards, to the foot of the ruins of the medieval castle, which overlooks the entire valley.
The tireless Pippo knows every detail of this fascinating territory. But we may be a little peckish by now, so we can ask him where we can eat something typical of the area. He invites us to have lunch at his restaurant, the l’OSTERIA ‘U LOCALE. He runs this together with his brother Sebastiano, who likes to call himself the “peasant cook”. Here the palate rediscovers the taste of ancient flavours, simple dishes prepared with natural ingredients: vegetables straight from the countryside, local meat and cheese, Hyblaean oil and red wine.
In the afternoon we visit the nearby small town of FERLA. The residents here have chosen “slow living” as a lifestyle, with attention to nature, health and relationships. And in fact, walking through its narrow streets, with churches, squares and alleys, you’ll find the air you breathe in the village is relaxing. We meet Floriana, who tells us that every spring Ferla holds a Wellness Festival, “Ferula”. And in the town a pastry chef named Franco Emanuele invented granita flavoured with olive oil, surprising everyone with its outstanding and unusual taste. We will definitely have to try it!
The next morning we stop at PARCALLARIO, an adventure park nestled in the woods near Buccheri. We were told it was an experience, but we never thought that we’d have so much fun! Led by the patient and experienced staff, we launched ourselves onto the canopy bridges, with zip-lines leading down through the trees, climbing and descending. The excitement and the laughter of children we met said it all: it is impossible to be bored here. At the information point, Francesco and Salvina tell us that here everyone can find something that suits their ability level, and that when you are on the zip-line, you are in a special harness that guarantees 100% security. After so much fun, we decide to stop in the restaurant area of the park, where there is an inviting aroma of roasted meat on the grill.
After lunch, a well-deserved nap under the trees of Parcallario, and then our journey resumes towards MONTEROSSO ALMO. Here we meet Alessandro, a young hiking enthusiast, who guides our exploration of this small town packed with so many fascinating sights. He tells us that directors such as Tornatore chose this place as a film set for the film “L’uomo delle Stelle”. We are immersed in the atmosphere as we stroll along these tiny alleyways that make us feel that we have gone back in time.
The next morning we get up early to move on to CHIARAMONTE GULFI. This village of a few thousand inhabitants has an amazing ten museums to visit. Here, Lucio and Elisa guide us through exhibits of archaeology, Art Nouveau furniture, ancient presses for grinding, embroidered tablecloths of the last century, stuffed birds, musical instruments from the five continents, military memorabilia, Nativity scenes and sacred ornamental items, wood carvings, paintings. Doors open and close, and behind them we encounter the local culture and traditions, preserved with love and passion.
We say farewell and thank you and see that it is time for lunch. We ask around for recommendations. Everyone directs us to the MAJORE RESTAURANT, famous for its typical pork dishes, and a place we will certainly be able to enjoy the culinary traditions of Chiaramonte Gulfi. We go in, and already we are welcomed by an inviting aroma coming from the kitchen. We ask the waiter what he recommends from the menu–a great decision, because we are served the specialty of the restaurant, risotto alla Majore, prepared with pork sauce, and followed by cheese-stuffed pork chops, which we judge to combine all the genuine flavours of this land.
In the afternoon we discover other attractions of this elegant town, walking through its streets until we reach the Villa Comunale, graceful Italian-style gardens. Facing the railings of the lookout point, the eye is lost forever in the breathtaking panoramic view from Mount Etna to the Gulf of Gela, and we realize why Chiaramonte Gulfi is called the “balcony of Sicily”. It is one last unexpected gift of this fascinating and charming itinerary to discover the Hyblaean Mountains and a Sicily unjustly called “less important”.