Sicily – the name alone conjures up images of an exotic island, a mysterious and fascinating past. I have wanted to explore Italy for some time now since I had not been there for a long, long time, and when I was pondering which region of Italy to explore Sicily came to mind. I figured this island would offer a combination of fascinating history, rich culture, scenic beauty, and an opportunity for a wide variety of activities. One activity I definitely wanted to pursue was to combine my journey with language studies: my earlier language study trips to Havana and Cuernavaca, Mexico, not only got me closer to the Spanish language, but these on-site language learning experiences really allowed me to explore the culture from within.
So this time I was going to focus https://www.bloomcarts.com/ on learning Italian, and I was able to locate two language schools in Sicily that would both provide a totally different experience and a different way of exploring the island. Armed with no prior knowledge other than having read through an Italian grammar book, I was going to see how much of this beautiful language I would pick up in my three weeks in Sicily.
My first eight days were spent in Taormina, a gorgeous mountain-top town on the eastern side of Sicily, whose main distinguishing feature is an ancient Greco-Roman Theatre that is still in use today. The town itself has to be among the most picturesque destinations anywhere, with its beautiful buildings, narrow streets and passageways and stunning views of Mount Etna and the Mediterranean.
Shortly after my arrival I got to meet the people at the Babilonia Language School where I would be learning Italian for a week and exploring the culture of Sicily. My accommodation was in a lovely 13-room privately owned hotel that has been operated by the Sciglio family for more than 50 years.
Mr. and Mrs. Sciglio are in their mid-eighties and continue to work extremely hard, without even a thought of retirement, and their son Salvatore works with them. In an interview I learned more about the hotel’s history and the family’s involvement in this business. On the second day I joined my first guided excursion with the Babilonia language school: a guided hike to the ancient village of Castelmola which was followed by a tasting of Sicilian delicacies in a local bistro.
My first weekend in Sicily promised to be great: an excursion to the ancient town of Siracusa and an exploration of the gorgeous coastline just east of Taormina, including the town of Mazzaro and Isola Bella. The following Monday was my first day of language studies: first we went through the placement test, and then we had our first lesson which included some unique yet effective teaching methods. The next day was May 1, Italian Labour Day and a national holiday: a perfect opportunity to rent a car and drive into the countryside surrounding Mount Etna, Europe’s largest volcano, which by the way, had erupted the night before.
The next day it was back to school, and Alessandro, the director of the Babilonia language school, gave me a personal history lesson about Sicily and also explained the origins of that famous Sicilian institution, the Mafia, to me in detail. That evening I joined in a cooking class in a private home offered by the language school. I was going to see first-hand how a real multi-course Italian meal was prepared, using authentic, locally grown ingredients. And of course, I would have a chance to taste the finished delicacies afterwards and partake of a nice meal with other language students and the local Ferrari family.
My language studies the next day were followed by a visit to a local pottery painting artist, as Babilonia also offers pottery decoration courses, in addition to hiking, biking, golfing and diving programs. Perched on the rooftop patio of a Taormina hotel, with a perfect view of an ancient palazzo right next to Mount Etna, I learned about Sicilian pottery painting techniques. In the late afternoon I joined another excursion to hike up the southern flanks of Mount Etna. A visit to a winery and a nice dinner followed.
Then I had reached my last day in beautiful Taormina and after my final language lessons it was time to say goodbye to the folks at Babilonia, and to my co-students, whom I had gotten quite fond of. With the exception of the occasionally grey and drizzly weather, my experience in Taormina had been great: the language learning, the interesting excursions and activities and the interaction with my international co-students had been a really great experience. I was a bit sad to leave Taormina where I had gotten so comfortable.
But a new adventure was about to begin: I took the train to Milazzo on the northeastern side of Sicily, where the next day I would embark on a seven-day sailing trip through the beautiful Eolian Islands, offered by Laboratorio Linguistico, a Milazzo-based Italian language school. After meeting some of my six shipmates, who were really cool by the way, we were off on our sailboat, the 4 cabin “Solitaire II”, to our first destination: the island of Lipari, the largest of the Eolian Islands, and an extremely scenic place.
Our expert skipper Francesco, a licensed captain, also happened to be the co-owner of the language school, and one of our two resident language teachers on this sailing trip. After Lipari we continued our sailing trip to Salina, a neighbouring island, where three of us went on a driving tour to see local villages and also the house where “Il Postino” was filmed. An Italian lesson on the backyard patio of a bar was our first introduction to Laboratorio Lingustico’s language teaching program. Of course Francesco and Franco, our second teacher and co-owner of the school, conducted all conversations during the entire sailing trip in Italian only, which allowed us to be fully immersed in the language all the time. After we had nourished our brains, a Sicilian seafood feast capped off our second day on the boat.
On the third day we set sail for the island of Stromboli, which is still an active volcano. The town of Stromboli features such narrow streets that they are impassable to regular vehicles. No wonder the local “carabinieri” (Italian police officers) have to ride in golf carts.
After a somewhat turbulent late-night voyage from Stromboli to Panarea we arrived late and anchored in a bay off the island. On a gorgeous morning the next day we first had another language lesson – where else but on the outdoor patio of a bar in Panarea, surrounded by gorgeous sunshine and beautiful flowers. Panarea is an extremely photogenic destination and offered great opportunities for hobby photographers like me.
Our voyage continued to Lipari again where we would end an eventful day with a scrumptious outdoor feast on the main square. The next day three of us went on a driving tour of this beautiful island and from the south end we already saw our next destination: the island of Vulcano, which also features an active volcano. We anchored in a bay off this island, enjoyed some Italian lessons on the boat and after a delicious on-board dinner, our shipmates Franco, a gifted guitar player, and Agnieszka, a talented singer, entertained us with soulful melodies by candlelight on the back of the boat – magical moments that I will not forget for a long