Guest Post: Susan Van Allen goes to Sicily

Susan Van Allen, an avid fan of Context and author of 100 Places In Italy Every Woman Should Go, wrote to us about her recent trip to Eastern Sicily and the Aeolian Islands, which she took with Country Walkers .

There’s a strong relationship between Context and Country Walkers. In fact, Paul Bennett (Context’s founder), calls them “The adventure arm of Context.” Like Context, they offer small group walking tours (though Country Walkers of course covers the country side while Context covers primarily cities), their tours are designed according to environmentally sound principles, and they feature native guides who give  travelers the opportunity to authentically immerse themselves in the local culture.

Here’s what Susan had to say:

I’ve been traveling to Italy for over 30 years, and this Country Walkers week in Sicily ranks up there with one of the most amazing adventures I’ve ever had in Italy. The great variety of the terrain made for stunning times: one day we’d be hiking with the sun on our shoulders through the Oasi Naturale di Vendicari, amongst marshes, cactus and wild thyme, stopping at a lovely beach to take a swim in the sparkling Ionian Sea. Then we’d be bundled up at the top of Mount Etna, with icy wind whipping around us as we hovered over smoking craters, awestruck.  A highlight of a lifetime was climbing Stromboli (one of the Aeolian Islands), as the sun set. At the summit we were wowed by the island’s still active volcano, simmering and exploding with a low thunderous rumble and sparkling crimson fireworks.

I loved the pace of the trip. As we took on Sicily step-by-step there was time to stop and smell the wild fennel, visit the Greco-Roman amphitheatre in Taormina, see a puppet show in Ortygia, linger after a lunch on the island of Lipari with the grandparents of the restaurant’s owners, who were sitting on a sunlit terrace shelling their freshly picked almonds. And there was, of course, extraordinary food. Lunches after our morning hikes were especially memorable: homemade pasta mixed with ricotta and pistachios, arancini (deep fried rice balls stuffed with cheese and tomato sauce). The panino of spicy salami, caciocavallo cheese, and sun-dried tomatoes I ate atop Stromboli was out of this world! And since we were doing all that walking, I indulged in Sicily’s signature treats guilt-free: heavenly gelato, almond cookies, cannoli, cassatine…All added such sweet notes to every wonderful day.

I’ve found myself daydreaming over the Country Walkers website where there are offerings for trips all over Italy—including Piedmont, the Amalfi Coast, Puglia & Basilicata. A new addition for 2011 is The Dolomites. I’m tempted. Very tempted…