Around Sicily in 80 days

Combining heritage hunting, environmental advocacy and civic activism our 2000km Grand Tour was a plea for Sicilians to regain touch with their roots and for more sustainable forms of tourism. 

Around Sicily in 80 days

Combining heritage hunting, environmental advocacy and civic activism our 2000km Grand Tour was a plea for Sicilians to regain touch with their roots and for more sustainable forms of tourism. 

After many years abroad, an urge to rediscover our native island whilst advocating for more sustainable living practices turned into possibly the most ambitious travel project ever carried out in Sicily. Celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Goethe’s ‘Italian Journey’, the itinerary was conceived in a way that would enable us to defy the common stereotypes about Sicily, elude the premiere tourist destinations and provide a unique vantage point from which Sicily could again mesmerise contemporary beholders as it did with Goethe some two centuries ago. This was Slow Sicily’s first act.

Italy leaves no trace in the soul without Sicily: Sicily is the clue to everything.
J. W. von Goethe

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ITINERARY

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From century-old olive groves of Ficarra to the black pigs at the Borrello farm, preserving food traditions and biodiversity is paramount in Sicily.…

Cycling in Sicily from Montalbano Elicona's medieval castle via Floresta with its basket weaver to the seed bank in Ucria to the olive groves of Ficarra.…

Nestled on the Peloritani mountains in northeast Sicily, Novara di Sicilia is home to the maiorchino cheese and a functioning 600-years old water mill.…

HOW IT ALL STARTED

Born in Messina, I left Sicily before even becoming of age to attend boarding school in England. Over a decade went by before I decided to return, having quit my corporate job overseas and undergoing a deep ‘quarter-life crisis’. Drawn by this personal search to my father’s home town, Cesarò, perched on the Nebrodi Mountains in the north-east of Sicily, one day I found himself in the small town’s bar. The owner, a 93 year old woman, was staring at me insistently from behind the bar. “Who do you belong to?” she inquired, in the local dialect.

Personal identity, for her generation, was tantamount to ‘belonging’ to a family. And though she had never seen me before, she was able to recognise my father, who had grown up in the town, in my features. What she could not possibly divine, was that her question would cut right across me, exposing me to how little, after all my travels, I really knew about my family, my origins, my native land. Could filling that knowledge gap bring me closer to an understanding of what the old woman, incredibly, seemed to know – namely, who I really am?

Hoping to regain a sense of belonging, to find a meaningful connection with my own roots in an increasingly fast and globalised world, I prepared to embark on a journey of both discovery and introspection with my closest friend and long-time travel companion, Marco Crupi.

IN SERCH OF LOST SICILY

While herds of tourists pour into the streets of Taormina or line outside the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, more and more lay sicilians will spend their weekends in outlets and shopping malls, becoming oblivious to the beauty of their surroundings. By the same token, while visitors often get a sadly partial insight into things sicilian, Sicilians themselves seem to have forgotten about the uniqueness of their heritage and about the urge to protect it.

Our task was precisely to remind ourselves and the world of what an unmatched treasure chest Sicily is and to reflect about both the meaning of our discoveries for our own identity and the values they equip us all as citizens of a globalized world. As British travel writer Norman Lewis once wrote, “The Sicilian is the legatee of an ancient and splendid civilization from which he has inherited human standards of an impressive kind”.

HERITAGE HUNTING MEETS SUSTAINABILITY

From abandoned tuna fisheries to forgotten monasteries; from the child who continues a millenary tradition of hand-harvesting salt to the world’s last itinerant chocolate seller; we hunted down both tangible and intangible traces of a shared sicilian past. We found that most of what is unique and still alive in Sicily has to do with a connection between man and nature which was truncated roughly at the junction between my grandfathers’ and my father’s generation. Millennia’s worth of human life on a stunningly biodiverse and fertile island have engendered traditions of farming, fishing and craftsmanship which were pivotal to the island’s economy and which we think are crucial for a revival of a form of environmentally sustainable and economically viable human development on the island. That’s why we partnered with the Slow Food Foundation, whose aim is to protect biodiversity, landscape and local food cultures.

The urgency of finding new impulse for economic and human development is all the more relevant in Sicily where a stagnant economy, the pervasiveness of a mafia-like kind of nepotism, a dismal disregard when it comes to environmental preservation and a constant human hemorrhage among its young generations are draining the island of much-needed potential for positive change. That is why we conceived our journey around two principles: minimising environmental impact and maximising positive social impact. We planned a carbon-neutral journey, by bicycle and with solar panels to charge our electronic devices, carrying no disposable plastic, reporting illegal waste dumping sites, including in our photographs and interviews dozens of people who made sustainable practices and heritage protection the very essence of their associative or entrepreneurial endeavours. This is what it meant for us to live up to the ‘highest human standards’ inherited by the ‘ancient and splendid civilizations’ of which we, as Sicilians, are the legatees.

The Sicilian is the legatee of an ancient and splendid civilization from which he has inherited human standards of an impressive kind.

 

Norman Lewis