Sightseeing in Sicily

February 24, 2012 at 3:00 AM

Just 5km from mainland Italy, across the Straits of Messina, lies the rugged and striking island of Sicily. It’s surrounded by the smaller Aegadian Islands, Aeolian Islands, Pantelleria and Lampedusa, and has an abundance of great architecture, archaeological ruins, art, breathtaking scenery and fabulous food.

Agrigento Greek temple in Sicily

The rich history has made the island a melting pot of cultures influenced by every great ancient civilization. This fusion of cultures can be seen in the Byzantine mosaics, Greek temples, Roman amphitheatres and baroque cathedrals that stand side by side. The land is as diverse as the culture, from the lush forest in the northeast, and the rugged hills of central Sicily, to the fragrant orange and lemon orchards along the coast.

Busy mornings…

There is an abundance of things to do and see in Sicily. Every town and city seems to have it’s own culture and atmosphere, which makes this large island a pleasure to explore on sunny summer mornings.

The capital city, Palermo, is bursting with historical and architectural gems including the Cappella Palatina, the Norman Cathedral, the Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace) and Baroque churches. Narrow streets are lined with quaint shops and traditional restaurants, and lead to vibrant squares, including the piazza in the heart of the city where you’ll find the tiered fountain Fontana Pretoria. If you’re feeling slightly macabre you can visit the Convento dei Cappuccini catacombs.

The lively city of Messina is the gateway to Italy’s mainland region of Calabria, and is full of fascinating gothic architecture. The marina, the Piazza del Duomo, the medieval cathedral and the Museo Regionale are all worth exploring.

The medieval city of Agrigento is the perfect place to explore Hellenic temples, theatres and ruins. The Valley of Temples is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can also spend a morning taking a stroll through the ancient ruins in Catania, which is the gateway to the smouldering Mount Etna.

If you’re feeling very energetic you can go trekking in the Nebrodi or Madonie mountains of the Parco Naturale Regionale Delle Madonie, or enjoy water sports like diving, sailing and wind surfing.

…and Lazy Afternoons

Cefalu harbour in Palermo

Relaxing on the beaches of Palermo is the perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon. There are also secluded towns like Ragusa that have quiet beaches where you can sunbathe away from the crowds.

If you want to see experience the peaceful rural countryside of Sicily why not have a picnic in an olive orchard, or just relax around the pool of your Sicily holiday rental.

Another great way to spend a relaxing afternoon is wine tasting at one of the many vineyards in Sicily. Sample Sicilian wines like Nero d’Avola, Bianco d’Alcamo, Malvasia, Passito di Pantelleria, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Etna Rosso and Etna Bianco.

Tantalise your Tastebuds

Sicilian cuisine is the stuff food aficionados dreams are made of, and even if you aren’t a foodie, a large part of anyone’s visit to Sicily will be taken up with eating. Here preparing and eating food is an art so it’s no surprise the island is sometimes nicknamed “God’s Kitchen”. A stroll through Palermo’s Mercato della Vucciria or Catania’s La Pescheria will get your mouth watering.

Popular ingredients in Sicilian dishes include fresh fish, tomatoes, artichokes, citrus fruits, almonds, pistachios, sultanas and, of course, the home grown bright green Castelvetrano olive. One of the best ways to experience traditional Sicilian cuisine is at street stalls. Hot snacks (buffitieri) prepared at these stalls are simply delectable. Favourite Sicilian delights include cannoli, impanata, which are bread dough snacks filled with meat, vegetables or cheese, and arancino.

Whether you choose a Sicily holiday villa because you want to tantalize your taste buds, to see ancient ruins, to relax on the beach, or to climb a volcanic mountain, the experience won’t disappoint.

Guide for the self catering gourmet in Italy

February 3, 2012 at 9:10 AM

Italian restaurants are a treat and one of the great joys of travelling in Italy, but sometimes it feels good to stay at home in the holiday flat and not to have to worry about drinking and driving or tired, noisy children. Especially, as a gourmet Italian meal can be served with minimum effort.

All it takes is a trip to the local shops or a supermarket. In Italy food shopping can be an adventure, if you take the long way round and stop by the weekly farmers market and small, specialised grocery stores.

Market shopping

Italian market

Markets always open early in the morning and close at noon, and they offer an outstanding range of seasonal vegetables and fruit along with stalls selling charcuterie, cheese, olives, fish, meat and clothes, household appliances and furniture for that matter. Buy some peppers, tomatoes, basil and other ingredients for an uncooked salad. Try out the gorgeous sausages and cold cuts like salame and mortadella (sausages), prosciutto crudo (cured ham), bresaola (salted beef) and speck (lean, smoked bacon). A few choice cheeses including mozzarella. And loads of fresh fruit.

Specialised grocery shops

Then you just have to find a panificio (baker) to stock up on bread, bread sticks, focaccia and pizza slices. An alimentari (grocery) and perhaps an enoteca for soft drinks and wine. A rosticceria (fast food shop) for roasted meat. And a pasticceria (cake and pastry shop) for desserts. You can spend a whole day shopping, but it is great fun.

Supermarkets

Italian supermarket

For those who do not see the charm of slow shopping for food, there is always the big supermarkets selling everything under one roof. In the supermarkets you are not allowed to touch fruit and vegetables unless you put on one of the supplied plastic gloves, and then each purchase must be weighed and labelled. You also have to take a number and queue at the bread, fish and deli counters, which usually gives you plenty of time to study the delicacies on offer. Apart from cheese and cold cuts the deli in Italian supermarkets sell stuffed pasta and ready-made antipasti (starters) like olives, seafood salads, mayonnaise salads, pesto, cooked artichokes, grilled aubergine, squash and peppers. Watch out so you don’t let your eyes shop for you though, or you will wish you opted for car hire during your holiday to get all your amazing ingredients home.

You just take your pick, and point your way through, if you don’t speak Italian. It can be quite an experience.

All ready for a full Italian meal

Selection of antipasti

A reward awaits at the table, where all you have to do is unwrap the goods and maybe slice up a few tomatoes for a caprese salad with mozzarella, basil and olive oil. Serve your selection of cold cuts and ready-made antipasti with bread and bread sticks as a starter. Use the salad or boiled ravioli with pesto for primo piatto, which is the second serving in a typical Italian meal. Move on to take-away roasted meat (secondo piatto). And round off with cheese, fresh fruit and pastry.

You will have a feast to be remembered.

Mette Vaabengaard is the GO! Travel expert on cooking in Italy and cooking your own food while travelling. She can also be found on her blog Italian Notes.

European Countries and their Cuisine

January 26, 2012 at 2:06 AM

When visiting a foreign country a way of understanding the culture, traditions and values of the inhabitants is by the food that they create and consume. Food is an important part of society and there are some great dishes throughout Europe that you simply must try.

Greece: Mediterranean flavours

Meze dish

Photo by Foodie Buddah (Flickr)

The land of the Gods and famed for Hercules, Greek cuisine leans towards Mediterranean type food, sharing many food characteristics with countries like Italy, Spain and even Turkey. Most ingredients used in Greek food tend to be those of oils, bread, fish, herbs and vegetables with the meat being pork, rabbit and poultry. Greek cuisine tends to stay away from beef dishes due to the fact that the climate and terrain makes it difficult to breed cattle.

The signature dish for Greece is known as the meze and is one of the best social dishes that Europe has to offer. With different types of dishes such as moussaka and croquettes, this food is great to share between lots of people. Greek food is designed to enhance the taste of Greek drinks such as wine, ouzo and raki. The plentiful food definitely puts Greece on the map to visit and try what’s on offer. The service in Greece is good; the reason for this is that they just keep bringing more dishes out! You won’t be worrying about the service because you too busy thinking about what you’re going to have next.

Belgium: ‘Big cuisine’

Belgium frites and burger

Photo by John Kroll (Flickr)

Referred to as the nation of gourmands – this country is renowned for its ‘big cuisines’ rather than fine cuisine. It is a mix of the quality of French food but in German quantities.

We can’t forget the humble Brussels sprout which as the name suggests originated from Brussels, Belgium. A dish of Belgian frites will be the best fried potatoes that you will ever have and can be ordered everywhere from restaurants to specialist fast food frites outlets on street corners. One word of warning, Belgians love big food and will take the time to appreciate it. The service here is quite slow so if you want to eat and leave you may be disappointed, but the food is definitely worth the wait.

France: Stylish and diverse

French mussels

French Cuisine can be characterized as stylish and diverse. This is mainly due to the fact that most of France’s regions all have their own signature food.
Due to this great range of food there is an abundance of plates that you could try.

A great area of France for cuisine is Alsace, Lorraine and Champagne, with its very popular game and ham and sparkling wine that make it a wonderful area to visit.

France also offers wonderful sea food, Normandy’s sea bass, “moules” (mussels) and sole makes it a place that any seafood lover must go. The service in France is excellent, food and service is in their history the only problem that you will find is that you do pay for it, unlike most countries there will always be a 15% charge to your bill, this is however added on to all the food so if you’re a glass half full person you won’t think it matters too much.

Germany: North and South traditions

German sausage or wurst

Photo by Mr. T in DC (Flickr)

Another country influenced by its neighbours, Germany has two types of cuisines, one being the south where it is highly integrated with the Swiss and the Austrians. In the south meaty dishes have always been a great part of German ingredients with food such as bratwurst sausages, frankfurters, “schnitzels” and German dumplings also known as “knodels”.

The other cuisine in Germany is highly influenced by the French and the Belgians. These countries and the close proximity with the North Sea make it a region where a lot of fish dishes are found. Also typical for this region are hearty wurst potato and cabbage dishes, as well as casseroles, rye breads, and several different kinds of soups.

Now when it comes to service some of the customs are going to be very alien to others. Examples of this is that in Germany waiting for a table is very different because you are expected to find your own seat, you will not get any tap water and most German restaurants do not accept any credit cards. The service is astounding in Germany, it will be quick and thorough but here I advise you to tip heavily as in Germany they do rely largely on tips. I must stress though always pay it with the bill never leave it on the table as this can be very offensive to waiters in Germany.

Spain: Beautiful and simple

Seafood paella

Photo by avlxyz (Flickr)

Spanish food is beautiful, why? This is because it is the most simple, down-to-earth food that relies on solely the countries amazing produce and ingredients. Like Italy it does rely on oils and garlic but it does have some mouth watering food throughout the country. Spanish take their ham or “jamón” very seriously and you will find that many cheese and ham dishes will be in restaurants. These are a must try!

For a country that is surrounded by three waters seafood has to be on the list, and it is. Seafood paella is something that you must try. Spain’s seafood is amazingly fresh and with the world renowned paella supporting it, you cannot go wrong.
Service in Spain is fairly standard however and can often disappoint.

Italy: Real food

Spinach ravioli

Photo by fritish (Flickr)

Italy is a country that has got tremendous history in its food. When going to Italy there are definitely things that are a must try, and its not just pizza and pasta. For example when visiting Rome try the sheep cheeses, which has become a very popular dish, whilst in Tuscany there is a great selection of breads without salt, and various white beans dishes that are a great light dish. The regional differences in Italy are surprising as it is the type of fats used. In the north they tend to use richer and heavier fats like cream butter and cheese, whereas in the south they use olive oil. No visit to Italy however should go without trying a dish known as spinach ravioli.

Like France a service charge is always included on to the food. It depends on your location for tipping in Italy: in more rural areas it is not welcome, whereas in the main tourist areas it is good to put down around 5% (if your food was good).

Written by Rob, Event Organiser for Chillisauce and an adventure blogger on Adventure Sport Blog.

Awarded by the Sunday Times Travel readers

December 8, 2011 at 9:06 AM

HomeAway.co.uk has been selected by the Sunday Times Travel magazine readers as one of the best companies for villa holidays. Being recognised by UK holidaymakers really encourage us to continue with our job: Helping you find the perfect accommodation for your holidays.

One of the points highlighted by the Sunday Times readers when it comes to booking holidays with HomeAway.co.uk is that it’s the best place to find holiday bargains. We have made this selection of affordable villas and apartments for the February half term and Easter holiday periods.

Alcudia, Majorca. 5 sleeps. £60 - £644 per week. Property 498770.
Ogn og Fjordane, Norway. 4 sleeps. £22 - £66 per night. Property 75079.
Ronda, Malaga. 6 sleeps. £172 - £343 per week. Property 818831.
Praia da Luz, Algarve. 2 sleeps. £69 - £661 per week. Property 444249.
Fuengirola, Malaga. 2 sleeps. £140 - £345 per week. Property 76313.
Crete, Grece. 4 sleeps. £120 - £375 per week. Property 91879.
West Kensington, London. 4 sleeps. £60 - £119 per night. Property 417679.
Portes du Soleil, French alps. 5 sleeps. £150 - £700 per week. Property 438463.
Cannes, France. 4 sleeps. £60 - £95 per night. Property 499046.
Javea, Spain. 5 sleeps. £144 - £1,073 per week. Property 84434.
Property 443777. 3 sleeps. £25 per night. Javea, Spain.
Ibiza, Spain. 4 sleeps. £257 - £515 per week. Property 429070.
Villa Olimpica, Barcelona. 10 sleeps. £21 - £48 per person per night. Property 451791.
Palermo, Sicily. 2 sleeps. £120 - £592 per week. Property 489754.
Sofia, Bulgaria. 4 sleeps. £25 per night. Property 489952.
Sardinia, Italy. 4 sleeps. £154 - £1,201per week. Property 637317.
Paphos, Cyprus. 4 sleeps. £49 per night. Property 811720.
Mellieha, Malta. 2 sleeps. £150 - £330 per week. Property 807848.
Majorca, Spain. 7 sleeps. £86 - £850 per week. Property 817003.

At HomeAway.co.uk we provide you with the tools to find special offers and late deals on holiday villas, apartments and cottages all over the world. If you want property suggestions check out our deals finder, where you will find special offers around the world very easily.

If you want some facilities to be included (dishwasher, internet access, air conditioning, etc) have a look at the left side of the page and tick the boxes for the facilities you need. You can also email the owner of the property and ask for any extra that is not included in the description. Maybe they can provide it.

Those who have a destination in mind can also find cheap holiday deals. Just select your destination in our website and go to the left side of the page and include the maximum price you can afford. Don’t forget to introduce the number of bedrooms needed for your holidays!

Tuscany villas with wonderful landscapes

December 1, 2011 at 1:36 AM

Are you looking for relax and nature? Recharge your batteries by renting a villa in Tuscany and enjoy your holidays far from noise and tourists. Just you, your friends, your family and the countryside. There are many properties available in our website to enjoy the beauty of the Tuscan landscape. Have a look at this selection of villas in Tuscany with fantastic views.

Casa Fina in Gassano has a large terrace at the top floor with outstanding views. Property 9963.
Relax in this villa set on the edge of a hillside village, just one hour drive from Pisa. Property 707579.
Rent this duplex apartment in the heart of Radicondoli in Siena and relax far from noise and tourists. Property 63365.
This old circular watchtower set in Mercatale di Cortona has stunning views of the Niccone valley. Property 11181.
Enjoy the peace and quiet of this countryside house with views of the Apuan Alps. Property 404162.
This farmhouse is located in the national park Alpi Apuane in northern Tuscany. Property 455895.
Il Biancospino is immersed in the greens of Cortonese mountains in Arezzo. Property 479461.
Relax under the shade of a fig tree and enjoy stunning views in this cottage set in Bagni di Lucca. Property 58687.
Casa Cristina is a restored cottage with olive groves and vineyards views set in the hills above Lucca. Property 54008.
Nice views and extensive grounds for relax in this restored farmhouse located in Garfagnana. Property 6801.
This property in Chianti enjoys a panoramic terrace ideal for eating and relaxing. Property 830540.
Between Villafranca in Lunigiana and Bagnone is this apartment with great views of Apennines. Property 454712.
Surrounded by vineyards and olive trees, this 17th century farmhouse is the perfect place to relax. Property 824692.
La Canigiana is an ideal farmhouse to spend a memorable holiday. Property 19261.
Stay in this 19th century villa with stunning mountain views. Property 412723.
Meditate and dine al fresco while enjoying superb views of the rolling hills in Maremma. Property 69771.
This holiday villa is located on the edge of medieval village Villafranca in Lunigiana. Property 89790.
Enjoy spectacular views of the Apennines from this villa located in the forested hills of Lunigiana. Property 486890.
Il Poggio offers the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the Tuscan countryside close to Florence. Property 450560.
This villa in the heart of the Chianti countryside is surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. Property 412929.

Have you found any amazing property in Tuscany while browsing around HomeAway.co.uk? Do you own a villa with excellent countryside landscapes? Please share them by leaving a comment below.