We first met Marco Scapagnini and Niche Italy at a dinner we attended at Valentino Santa Monica. Piero Selvaggio had invited his friends, Chefs Peppe Barone and Antonio Colombo to prepare the Baroque food of Piero’s home town, Modica, Sicily. Marco stopped by our table to show us a trip he was planning. We were interested in the trip with Marco and Piero Selvaggio because much of it would feature a part of Sicily that we did not have time to cover in our 2014 trip. With Marco’s proposed Itinerary, we would get to see Maria Grammatico’s bakery in Erice, Chef Peppe Barone’s restaurant, Fattoria delleTorri as well as the Bonajuto Chocolate Shop in Modica. We would dine at Ciccio Sultano’s I Banchi, in Ragusa Ibla, see Corrado Assenza’s Café Sicilia in Noto; as well as return to Palermo, Trapani, Agrigento and Taormina. What a tempting list.
The trip turned out to be a wonderful blend of the architectural and cultural treasures of Sicily with exposure to its variety of foods, cheeses, wines, plus meals prepared by some of the most cutting-edge chefs of the island. Our particular tour included visits to the mosaic-encrusted churches in Palermo, Greek temples in Agrigento, and the Baroque architecture of Ragusa and Noto, accompanied by extremely knowledgeable local guides. We tasted street food in Palermo, pastry in Erice, chocolate in Modica, fresh, warm ricotta at a rural caseificio, dozens of herbs at a dedicated herb farm, and toured a still-working ancient mill in Cava Ispica. We had a combination of wine tastings and meals at the Firriato and Planeta estates, hosted by the youngest generation of these well-established wine making families.
An unexpected gem was our visit to Denise Sipione’s favorite local fish restaurant at the beach, Viri Ku Ce, where we dined on a Gargantuan feast of seafood from tiny snails and bivalves, to fresh-caught fish, (in every preparation imaginable), and then lobsters! All served with copious amounts of great bread and wines. Of course, for dessert- cannoli and espresso, too!
A treasured experience was to have meals prepared by Chefs Patrizia Di Benedetto in Mondello, Angelo Pumilla at La Foresteria, Peppe Barone in Modica, Ciccio Sultano in Ragusa, Corrado Assenza in Noto, Andreas Zangerl and Turi Siligato in Taormina. We don’t ever expect to supass these visual and gustatory heights!
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention some things that Marco and his team organized to make the trip run smoothly. It was great having a professional liveried driver to maneuver the tour bus from location to location. The company changed to two smaller buses for towns with tighter roads; as well as switching drivers so they were always fresh and alert on longer touring days. The hotel/resort choices were excellent and elegant. Marco, Piero and Denise listened to what we all wanted out of the experience and adjusted the itinerary so as not to exhaust us with so much to see and experience. They are very attentive hosts.
And the cons of the trip? Rome Airport can be disorganized and chaotic, but necessary to get to Sicily, and you’ll manage just fine. Allow plenty of time there for transferring to Sicily. Marco and Denise go along with you from your hotel to the airport in Sicily to assist you in making your return connection to Rome. (Our flights departed from Catania.) This is extremely reassuring as you are by then tired, and it is often very early in the morning, and this extra bit of transfer service is really helpful.
In short, Marco’s Niche really is Italy! Bravo!
Vincent and Cherie Capostagno
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