Le Querce di Cota: Sampling a Small Slice of Sicily
By Carolyn Bonello
6:30am….bleep…..bleep bleep… bleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep. The noise got louder and sharper and…
‘Damn! Why is my alarm clock ringing already?’
As I rolled over sleepily, fumbling to switch off the terrible annoyance, I realised that this noise pollutant was coming from the bedroom window.
Peering out unenthusiastically into the cold, crisp, early-morning air, I spotted a fluffy little lamb, bleating energetically, harmoniously accompanied by a yapping puppy, a couple of chirpy birds, and a very assertive rooster, all happy that the sun was rising.
The obvious question one would now ask is: ‘Where on earth was I? A wildlife reserve?
No, I was enjoying the early morning sounds of my first day at Le Querce di Cota – a 19th century farmhouse nestled amongst orchards and olive groves, in the heart of the Nebrodi Mountains, in the province of Enna, Sicily.
The aim was to escape from the maddening chaos of the Christmas festivities and enjoy some peace and quiet away from it all with my boyfriend; we could not have chosen a better place.
The journey there was easy and pleasant. Ninety minutes following a smooth catamaran ride from the tiny island of Malta, our homeland. (Thank God for the calm sea; since it was December, I had been having nightmarish visions of gale force winds and shipwrecks.) We were observing weathered fisherman proudly bringing in their catch of the day in the little village of Pozzallo.
‘Benvenuti in Sicilia… fatevi un buon viaggio.’
The customs officer waved us off as we hopped into our car and began our two-hundred-kilometer drive through some of the most spectacular scenery in Sicily, to eventually get to what we would call home for the next week.
Each of the five charming rooms (all with the accommodations one would need on holiday) have stunning views, either of the imposing Mount Etna, covered in snow, or of the surrounding green meadows and hills.
The owner, La Signora Concetta is a charming, friendly woman who goes out of her way to ensure that everyone feels totally welcome and comfortable.
The food, which she proudly prepares herself, consists entirely of local produce. At each meal, tasty, fresh dishes are brought out, one after another, and the words “sono piena” do not exist in her vocabulary.
It is almost an offence to refuse her food, but also impossible, as the tantalising smells of funghi in freshly-pressed olive oil, home made pasta al pomodoro, a selection of meats and freshly-picked fruit keep one’s appetite at dinner time open till the very last morsel of food is brought out.
Breakfast is another major event, where delicious aromas of coffee, freshly baked cakes and toast with home-made fig and peach jam are the perfect recipe for a great start to each day.
Unwind and chill out
The place is a sanctuary for relaxation. Comfortable sofas, draped in crisp white linen, are spread around the sun-kissed courtyard, where one can sit and concentrate on acquiring a golden winter tan.
Pretty terracotta pots, cleverly hand painted in the most detailed, intricate designs line the courtyard, whilst plump, ripe burnt-orange pumpkins border the roof.
Inside the main building, a selection of books are neatly arranged in a cozy library, complete with a crackling fireplace.
Around the farmhouse, there are several acres of land where one can stroll casually along footpaths, enjoying the spectacular views, or play with the lambs, horses and dogs who are just as friendly as their owner!
Discover the region by car
A 15-minute drive up a winding road leads to Troina, a medieval village perched on a cliff at an altitude of around 1000m. Cobbled streets and small old houses lead up to a piazza in front of the main cathedral, offering spectacular views of the surrounding Nebrodi mountains, with Mount Etna towering in the distance and contrasting views of the Ionian sea on the other side.
Driving along the SS120, the road which skirts the Southern border of the Parco Regionale dei Nebrodi, one can enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery on the island.
Sleepy farming villages, such as Cerami, Capizzi and San Teodoro, are scattered along the way. Close-knit communities, dominated by males, pacing up and down the streets, some greeting each other with a kiss on each cheek, others gathering outside small cafes, discussing the day’s happenings.
The lack of tourists gives the whole area an even more authentic feel to it, making the experience all the more real.
Nicosia and Leonforte are two of the larger towns in the area, the former having been a Byzantine community and the latter being an attractive baroque town.
The neighbouring town of Agira, which from a distance rises up in an almost perfect cone with the ruins of its medieval castle at the top, is surprisingly twinned with one of our local villages, Zebbug.
Close by, in the village of Sperlinga, lies a fascinating castle built in 1082 AD, and totally carved out of the rocks. The look-out tower on top offers 360-degree views over the plain of Gangi and the surrounding mountains. This castle was the scene of a long siege in 1282, during the war of the Sicilian Vespers, and is therefore of historic significance.
Around two hours away lies the Parco delle Madonie, a 40,000-hectare park in the province of Palermo. It includes the second highest peak after Mount Etna – Pizzo Carbonara – which, at 1979m, offers downhill skiing in winter, as well as some beautiful walks.
Amongst others, Petralia Soprana is a charming medieval village in the area, beautifully positioned on a hilltop and offering splendid views of the Madonie mountains.
So this is how we spent our time – sampling delicious local cuisine, strolling along the countryside, visiting quaint villages, and at the end of each day, eagerly returning to our delightful farmhouse, dying to taste the specialities prepared by Concetta.
A real Sicilian cenone
One of our best moments was New Year’s Eve, when we experienced a typical Sicilian cenone (banquet). This time Concetta needed help from her family, as the amount of food prepared was beyond words.
Struggling to breathe after around 15 different dishes, we were ushered to a different room for the countdown, where, together with Concetta’s husband, children, sisters, parents, cousins and what seemed like half the population of Sicily, we danced the Tarantella, and quickly mastered a couple of other Sicilian dance techniques, taught to us by our new friends, which kept us amused till the early hours of the morning – what an experience!
I would recommend this place, where time seems to stop, to anyone, whatever age, who wants to get away and relax for a few days – it really is a must.
Visit LeQuercediCota.it for more information.
Coming from the tiny island of Malta, Carolyn Bonello has an intense desire to explore the world. She works as a physiotherapist and in her free time loves reading, swimming, cycling and any other form of outdoor activity. She keeps journals of most of her travels, and loves reading about other people’s experiences.
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