At midnight on a chilly morning on the 13th October our group of Twenty six travelers met at Sarti Renfield Street to start our bus journey to Manchester airport. Manchester is the nearest place where you can get a direct flight to Catania and as our Catania flight was in the morning there was no option to fly down.

The journey went well and after time for a bacon butty or two we were soon on our way to Catania, blue sky and sunshine, from 12 degrees we soared past the clouds to a warm 28 degrees.

We were met at the Airport by a friendly bus driver Alessandro from Sat the local Taormina bus company, after a 45 minute trip we arrived at our hotel in Taormina.

Il Piccolo Giardino  is a small 3 star + hotel, it could not be better positioned right in the heart of Taormina just a few steps from Corso Garibaldi. Il Piccolo Giardino has a small garden with a bar and restaurant, the staff are friendly and very helpful. The star is the breakfast waitress who could not do enough to help us.

A light buffet was waiting for us at the hotel and after some time to explore Taormina we all met for dinner at the hotel restaurant Ristorante Nettuno Da Siciliano  The food is this restaurant is exceptional.

Antipasto of Polpo alla Griglia con Lenticchie di Ustica con riduzione di Nero D’Avola the Polpo melted in you mouth with wonderful crispy edges

The primo was Paccheri allo Scorfano rosso con Pachino e capperi di Sicilia.

The secondo was a beautiful filleted Sea Bass with a Pistacchio di Bronte crust and a Saffron sauce

And of course for our first night what else but a Cannolo Siciliano for our dolce.

The wines were Inzolia and Nero D’Avola

Thank you Mimmo the proprietor for a wonderful first meal in Sicilia.

With our tummy’s full we went for a short walk and then to our well deserved bed.

Saturday had been designed so as not to make everyone get up to early, after a relaxing breakfast we left about 11 am and headed off to Azienda Vinicola Cottanera at Castiglione di Sicilia.

We were met at the vineyard my Dottoressa Mariangela Cambria the owner of this paradise of a vineyard. Cottanera is nestled at the foot of the grumbling Mount Etna and the grapes miraculously improve every year by the ash that falls on the ground every time that Etna erupts.

Mariangela and her staff had laid out a wonderful buffet of antipasti including arancini, caponata, polpettine and so much more, during the actual meal she presented her wines.

We tasted Etna Doc BiancoContrada Fuedo Di Mezzo, Etna Bianco Contrada Calderara, Etna Rosso Fuedo Di Mezzo, Etna Rosso Contrada Diciasettesalme.

After some time to shop in the Vineyard store and chat to Mariangela it was time to head back to Taormina. This was a great start to the week, to be standing in this wonderful setting in the glorious sunshine, watching Mount Etna puffing away in the background was just an experience to never forget.

Sunday morning and off to Noto  Noto is a beautiful Baroque city, not to be missed if you are in this part of the island, there is lots to see but it is recommended that you hire a guide to explain the history, architecture and movie sites of this City. We stopped a a nice Caffe’ and enjoyed a Sorbetto al Limone Siciliano con Briochia.

Lunch today was the traditional Agriturismo Sunday lunch that happens all over the Italian Peninsular, We were met in the car park by the children of the owners and led into the rustic barn of a restaurant full of noisy Mamma’s, Babbo’s, Nonno’s, Zio’s and Zia’s and Nonna’s and loads of kids. Seemed like the whole of Sicilia was there. The food was all zero chilometri, it was all produced on the farm. Everything was put on the table and you dug in, Antipasti, primi, grigliata and rosticciana, everyone enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere, but to be honest I am still not sure about the Ricotta fresca calda, ie curds and whey.

In the afternoon there was supposed to be a visit to Villa Romana Casa del Tellaro and also to the ancient Arab fishing village Tonnara di Marzamemi, but lunch took so long that this had to be cancelled. The bus driver took us to the Gorges of Alcantara, just a quick visit to give us a taste of something to do next time.

Monday morning was off to Siracusa and Ortigia, the bus dropped us at the Parco Archiologico first, this is a must see place with Greek and Roman Anfiteatro, tombs and of course the famous Orecchio di Dionisio. just before lunch we were dropped of at the nearest point to the island of Ortigia, the ancient capital of Greece. At this point the group went their own way exploring and looking for good places to eat a delicious seafood lunch.

After a day filled with history and lots of walking we headed back to our hotel for a short rest. at eight taxis were organized to take us up to Castelmola, a small picturesque town above Taormina. This restaurant was chosen for its spectacular views over Mount Etna, sadly Mount Etna was not in the mood to perform this night. A good meal was enjoyed at La Taverna Del Etna

Tuesday was time for another Vineyard, this one was at Acate Ragusa,

We were met by Dott.Ferreri the owner of the Azienda, Dott.Ferrieri showed us round telling us the history of this magnificent old winery. He showed us how the wine wine was produced in the 18th Century and then gave a wonderful informative tasting presenting five of the vineyards award wining  wines.

The buffet lunch enjoyed by the group was representative of the wonderful food of Ragusa.

After time exploring this paradiso we went off to explore the lands of Inspector Montalbano at Punta Secca. This is a lovely little town where the Inspectors house is supposed to be, we spent some time there paddling in the blue sea before heading back to Taormina.

Wednesday was personally the highlight of my week, as I am a bit of an ancient history buff, we set off early to Agrigento, we were lucky that traffic was light and made it there in just under three hours. At the Valle dei Templi we were met by a guide who walked us round this vast area. http://www.valleyofthe  This was the City of Akragas considered by the Greeks to be the most beautiful city in Greece, this is why they built this area dedicated to the Gods, the Romans later renamed the temples to suite their Gods. The Temples in the valley are stunning the temple of Heracles, The Temple of Concordia, the most complete of the temples due to the fact that Christianity turned it into a church and maintained it.

As usual it was not long before tummy’s began to rumble, after all we are called Club Gourmet, so it was off to the nearby Re Di Girgenti This is a not to be missed restaurant overlooking the Valley.

We were greeted with a glass of Bollicine and some Panelline

The local antipasto soon arrived consisting of Caponata di Melanzane, olive, prosciutto locale, verdure grigliate, cous cous, formaggi, salame and I could go on for ever.

The primo was Ravioli di Melanzane con Pesto di Mandorle, Pitacchi e Fonduta di Primo Sale.

Secondo was the most delectable Maialino rolled in Manzo Piacentino Ennese cooked in Nero D’Avola.

Dolce was a Cannolo Scomposto

Wonderful meal, I absolutely recommend this restaurant owned by the charming Sig Alfonso and his highly professional team.

Thursday was at last a free day in Taormina, a chance to get to see Il Teatro Greco and wander about the little lanes and ally ways in this charming little town.

Taormina has an abundance of restaurants and caffe’s the restaurants are not cheap, I found that in most cases they are very good with excellent service which comes at a price. It is advisable to do some homework before you get there. The bars on the main Piazza Terrazza are great to sit and look at the view and watch the world go by, but expect to pay 10 euros for a beer.

I found that unless you want some Sicilian pottery, Tre Gambe etc there is not much great shopping in Taormina, I would advise you get on the many local buses and head to Catania where there is an abundance of good shops of all types.

2017-10-19 10.07.11

You cannot visit Taormina without going to the Teatro Greco, it is by far one of the most stunningly beautiful Greek theaters of the Ancient world.

Taormina has some beach Lido’s, the easiest way to get to them is by cable car, funivia as they call it, the funivia costs about 6 euros return and takes you to a tunnel which leads to the beautiful Lido’s, the Lido’s have Bagni where you can hire Ombrelloni, Deck Chairs and Lettini as well as changing rooms. There is also a number of Restaurants at the Lido’s where you can enjoy full meals or snacks.

Taormina is perfectly suited to people who like to explore, there are plenty of old churches and great viewpoints looking out to sea or Mount Etna, downside is that everywhere you go is either downhill or uphill, so you decide sweat first or after!!

I would say that a two week holiday here is fine as long as you use the time to go and see the many interesting places around this area, the bus company we use has buses and mini buses that can take you on day trips to all the place we went to, not the vineyards.

If you would like to know more about visiting vineyards anywhere in Italy, then you can contact me, contact information at the end of the Blog.

One word of advice, do not go to Taormina July and August it is full of people, service would be non existent, you would not find seats in restaurants and bars, average temperature is 40 Degrees and it is also the most expensive time of the year.

Best months are April, May, September and October.

Thanks for taking time to read this Blog, for information about Toscana Elite Wine Tours

You can contact me anytime at

Sandro Sarti

00 44 (0)7717 582140 Cel

00 44 (0)1355 901620 land line


Brand new trip planned for March / April 2017. Montecatini / Lucca / Firenze e La Lunigiana.

Lucca views

For information / price and dates for this tour please feel free to phone me on 07717 582140 or email me on or you can message me on Facebook


Montecatini Alto


I Cipressini, preparing the aperitivo and the views over the Pistoia valley.

Castello di Malaspina, views and the spooky breathing bed.

Portovenere, Liguria.

A Week in Val di Comino and Valle del Liri

Our Club Gourmet is not long back from a great week in the Ciociaria, this part of Italy that is half way between Rome and Naples is a series of lost magical valley’s somewhat frozen in time, waiting to be discovered. This is not to say that they are totally unknown, towns like Picinisco, Atina, Villa Latina, Ponte Melfa, become bustling hives of activity during the months of July and August when all the Italiani from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Paris and many countries too many to mention, fill these towns to bursting point. The British tourist though has yet to discover the wonders of this area.


Our Hotel Golf Hotel La Grotte  was well situated in the heart of the Comino valley Close to the old town of San Donato, this is a good family run hotel ideal for walkers, a car is essential for this hotel as you are at least 40 mins walk from San Donato. The hotel has attractive grounds with a small pool, a nine-hole pitch and put course and a very good restaurant serving typical home-made, regional food.


Our happy group of travelers set of on our first day to visit the market town of Sora, nestled in the valley of the Liri, Sora was famed for its skilled cabinet makers, you can see by the architecture that this town was once a rich place. Sora has its market day on a Thursday, it has many fine shops and some excellent churches to visit. After a busy morning exploring Sora it was soon time for lunch, our group is not called Club Gourmet for nothing, when tummies rumble its time to eat.


Our restaurant choice was La Perla D’Arpino,  overlooking the beautiful Roman town of Arpino.  Fantastic choice, antipasto of plump Scampi followed by a wonderful seafood pasta then sea bass with baby vegetables. Wines were white wines typical of this area. The proprietor of this top class seafood restaurant is Rino Ferri, Rino is also a skilled wine buff with an astounding list of top class wines.img_1913

After a relaxed lunch we headed across the Liri valley to Arpino, birthplace to Cicerone (Cicero) and Julius Caesar uncle Mario (Marius). We climbed to the very top of this ancient town passing the polygonal walls still standing after 2000 years. I must say it was a wonderful feeling walking on the streets that the Romans walked on and being in the valley of the Volsci, Sabines, Samnites and the Aequi.img_1916

Cicerone pointing the way out for Catiline.img_1920


Gaio Mario known as the father of the Roman Empire. The Roman Eagle its wings pointing the two ways to the castle.

The next day we chose Atina as our destination, Atina is the capital town of the Valle di Comino, a Roman town with a wonderful museum of its early Roman past and the battles fought against the Volsci and Samnites in order that the Romans eventually dominated this area and became part of the Empire. A visit to the Cantina La Ferriera, for a wine and food tasting, their wines Ferrato (Petit Verdot, Cabernet and Syrah) and Realmagona (Cabernet and Syrah) were a real treat, many of the group could not resist bringing their Ryanair weight to the limit by purchasing some bottles.

Lunch was at Ristorante Il Vicolo  Again a lovely lunch of local specialities was enjoyed by all.

We all had time to explore and enjoy the beautiful panorama of the area.

Monte Cassino

Our day at Montecassino started at 10:00 hours sharp and our guide was waiting to give us an in-depth  tour of this amazing Abbey. Founded at the site of a Roman Temple by St Benedictine and his twin sister Saint Scolastica, this Abbey has been destroyed and re built twice once by a great earthquake and again by American and British bombers during the Allied advance in WWII.

The German officer, stationed near the Abbey managed to save all the precious artifacts and drawings of the Abbey, these were later used by modern-day craftsmen to re build the Abbey exactly as it was.

50,000 young men were sent to their death in the unnecessary taking of this Abbey ordered by Paton and Montgomery the small handful of German troops were stationed below the Abbey and it became almost impossible to climb the steep mountain. Th devastating bombing only made thing worse as the Germans dug into the ruins and held Montecassino for even longer. Our thanks for this day go to Don Edmer who organized the day for us.


No visit to Montecassino is complete without visiting the Polish, Commonwealth, American and German Cemeteries, places of peace and meditation and also shock when you read the head stones of all the 20/25-year old boys who died on the mountain.


We left in the morning and headed to Casa Lawrence, D.H.Lawrence spent some time here and wrote some of his novels The Lost Girl was the one he based on Val Di Comino and Picinisco. We were welcomed by the owner Loreto Pacitti, a fine cheese maker and host of Casa Lawrence  and Sindaco Marco Scapaticci, Major of Picinisco he was very kind and offered aperitivi.

After a very pleasent morning being shown round this lovely little Agriturismo we moved on to Picinisco where we were shown round Sotto Le Stelle this is a beautiful little hotel situated in the heart of Picinisco. all the rooms are suite with kitchen facilities each one with views over the Comino Valley. The proprietor Cesidio Di Ciacca invited us on a tasting of his Virgin olive oil and home made preserves, and presented us all with a beautiful publication on the Valle di Comino.

After the tour Sindaco Scapaticci kindly presented the the group with a little “ricordo” of Picinisco.  After some free time and a visit to the church of San Lorenzo we all made our way to Ponte Melfa for a nice lunch with our guests at Ristorante Melfa



Views from beautiful Picinisco with special guest Charlie the, not so wild, Boar.


Venafro is a lovely town in the Molise region of Italy, slightly south of Lazio. A Roman town, famous for its wonderful Virgin Olive Oil and cheeses like the well known Cacio Cavallo. Dierdre Mackenna, who’s family come from this area, organised a splendid day in Venafro.

The day began with a visit to a 2000 year old olive grove, with 600 year trees producing olives at this very time. From here we went to her fathers restaurant for a tasting of the oil, home produced cured ham, cacio cavallo cheeese and salsiccia secca. A wonderful aperitivo from a very king family.

From Olive oil we moved on to Vino to the Cantine Campi Valerio, Antonio Valerio is a very fine winemaker, worth a look up on your laptops where you can read all about the fine wines that the Valerio family produce, after a vineyard visit, what else to do but eat lunch once again, you do pile on the kg’s on the Club Gourmet tour. A fine lunch was laid out with a tasting of Falanghina Del Monte Lare, Rosa Dei Campi, Sannazzaro, Sannazzaro Riserva, Opalia and Astrorosso Vino Delle Stelle.

After lunch we made our way to the historic center of Venafro, We were met by Luciano who has created at his own cost a museum made of of WWll finds, as this is the place of the Winter Line, The Germans held this line before the battle of Montecassino. The museum is amazing filled with actual weapons, bombs, uniforms and all sorts of things soldiers of all sides used during this awful campaign.

During thia great week the Club Members had time to wander round many of the visited places, some even ventured up the hill from the hotel to San Donato, healthy walk was the reason, I sort of think that the 1.5 euro glass of wine was more the reason.

Our special Thanks to

Cav Adriano DeMarco  who had the idea of going here (his hometown)

Dierdre Mackenna for the wonderful day at Venafro

Sindaco Mancini of Atina

Sindaco Scapaticci of Picinisco

Antonio Valerio proprietor of Campi Valerio Wines

Loreto Pacitti Proprietor of Casa Lawrence 

Don Edmer for the great day at Montecassino

Cesidio Di Ciacca for the tour of Sotto Le Stelle and Oil tasting

Ivan Filippo Tavolieri

Adriano Capocci (owner of Leabus) for getting us about safely.

Look out for all of next years tours on Toscana Elite Website, Facebook page and on my blog




As promised here is the recipe for this tasty risotto dish.

ingredients for 6 people:
300 grms Carnaroli rice
Zafferano to taste
unsalted butter
olive oil
200/300 grms small prawns, depending how greedy you are.
12 scampi (two each)
fresh ground pepper
sea salt
glass of dry white wine
light fish stock (bought type is fine)
2 anchovies in olive oil (not white pickled ones)
wide leaf parsley
bottarga di muggine (if you have it) not totally vital to the dish, just adds more flavour
2 cloves garlic


Chop garlic fine, or crush in mortar and pestle.

In large pan melt garlic, anchovies, pinch of salt, crushed pepper, olive oil and butter 50/50 not too much.

Add the carnaroli rice and fry moving all about to stop it burning.

When rice is ready add a glass of white wine.

When alcohol has evaporated add 2 ladles of fish stock, chopped parsley, bottarga and saffron.

Keep stirring the rice so as to prevent it from sticking, adding stock as required.

Continue this process until rice is cooked, rice should not feel hard under your teeth.

Add small piece of butter to bring the risotto together and finally add the baby prawns

Finish the dish with the scampi on top.

Scampi can be pre-cooked in a pan with some olive oil, garlic, I like a touch of dried chilli as well.

In Italy we say that risotto should be served all’onda and not alla montagna, this means that when serving the risotto should look slightly wavy in the plate and not stand up like a mountain. It should feel soft in the mouth and in no way burned or stuck to the bottom of the pan.

This basic recipe can be used for a great selection of seafood dishes, the main rule is that fish like squid, mussels, large prawns etc should be cooked beforehand and added to the risotto as you go along.

This type of risotto is a great dish if you are having a dinner party, when the rice is fried and after you have added the wine and two ladles of stock, you can take it off the heat and cover with tin foil. the rice will take in the liquid but stop cooking, therefore you can continue the process and finish off when you are ready to serve.

Be sure to use dark anchovies in olive oil, not white silver skin pickled anchovies.
Bottarga is tuna eggs, usually purchased in a block, I have seen it supermarkets like Waitrose in powder form, can still be used this way. Bottarga makes a delicious spaghetti just with a touch of Virgin olive oil, if you like a fishy flavour.