Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Cottanera Winery

The wine industry in Sicily has been going through a period of rapid change over the past twenty years. The popularity and prestige of Sicilian wine is rapidly on the rise.

One of the best experiences in Sicily is wine tasting in a winery on the slopes of Mount Etna.
Located in the Alcantara Valley on the northern side of Mount Etna you will find the medieval hilltop town of Castiglione di Sicilia which is also known as the City of Wine due to its proximity to so many of Mount Etna's wineries. Below the town is the delightfully named 'Strade del Vino dell Etna' (the roads of Etna's wine).
Along these roads you can visit some of Mount Etna's wineries and taste the volcanos fabulously delicious wines.
In May this year we had decided to escape the madness of the G7 Summit which was being held in Taormina and head for a mountain getaway to Agriturismo San Cataldo in the heart of the Alcantara Valley which put us in a prime location for wine tasting.
We have partaken in many wine tasting experiences at some wonderful Etna wineries and we are always eager to try somewhere new so I called my lovely friend Simona Ferro founder of Tripping Sicily who arranges wine tasting tours and said "Where should we go?" She replied "Cottanera ... it is a beautiful winery with amazing wines and great hospitality" and so we arranged to meet Simona at the winery for brunch and wine tasting.
Our dog Daisy loves socialising and she also loves a wine tasting tour.
After breakfast at San Cataldo we all jumped in our car and headed for Castiglione di Sicilia and the Cottanera Winery.
The drive takes you through sun kissed countryside surrounded by stunning green mountains and you are watched as always by Mount Etna. We drove through the quaint medieval town of Francavilla di Sicilia and past Castiglione high above us with its houses sitting on its steep slope and its ancient castle dominating the town.
Cottanera Winery sits 700 metres above sea level and the vineyard grows over lava stone.
The winery was established in the early 1990's by Guglielmo Cambria and his brother Enzo who had a vision of turning the then hazelnut grove into a winery. The winery sits on 100 hectares of land 65 of which makeup the vineyard. The name of the winery comes from an ancient village that runs alongside the family vineyards, along the banks of the Alcantara River. Today, after the death of Guglielmo, Cottanera is run by his brother Enzo, and the children of the co-founder, Mariangela, Francesco and Emanuele.
On arrival we drove along a road that took us through part of the vineyard and past olive trees towards the winery which is a complex of traditional pink buildings with green shutters and a welcoming courtyard where we were greeted by our host Patrizia.
Patrizia suggested first a guided tour of the vineyard and the wine cellars before our brunch and tasting. It never ceases to amaze me when I see the huge vats with wine in progress and the smell of the oak barrels to me is absolutely divine.
What makes Cottanera so unique is that all operations are carried out by a team of women, these women also harvest the grapes which dates back to wine production traditions on Mount Etna.
After our tour we headed to the tasting room for brunch and wine tasting.
The tasting room is glorious and at once we felt at home with beautiful artwork and maps adorning the stone walls. Huge windows act like supersized photo frames of Etna and the vineyard making it perfect when tasting the wine to raise your glass to its creator. On the day we visited Etna decided to cloud over but you always know she is there.
We sat ready for our wine tasting and one by one Patrizia brought out tempting dishes including arancini, wood-oven baked bread with Cottanera olive oil (did I mention that they produce their own olive oil as well?), home grown olives and sundried tomatoes with a selection of local cheeses and local salami from the Nebrodi mountains, bruschetta, frittata and fresh ricotta sprinkled with pistachio from Bronte.
Everything was completely yummy and went perfectly with the two wines we tasted.

The first wine we tasted was the Etnabianco a delicous white wine made from selected Carricante grapes. We could taste various scents ranging from fresh citrus fruits most of all grapefruit.
The second wine was the Etnarosso DOC which is produced from Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio grapes. The taste was rich and in particular intensely floral and slightly fruity with aromas bearing a fresh taste that is typical of Mount Etna wines.
Both wines were fresh to the palate, interesting and enjoyable.
As a special treat for dessert we had the most yummiest homemade crostata which was made from the vineyards grape must.
Patrizia was an excellent and knowledgeable host and we received first class personalised attention and it is obvious she enjoys  both her work and the winery. Of course Daisy fell in love with her.
After an enjoyable brunch and wine tasting we said our goodbyes and left with a bottle of Cottanera olive oil which I have to say really is like tasting pure liquid gold.
Cottanera is a wonderful tranquil winery in a beautiful setting perfect for a wine tasting experience, special events and weddings.
For updates and photos follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The winery is approximately a one hour drive from Taormina by car.

Visit their website at www.cottanera.it

For amazing Mount Etna excursions by jeep and wine tasting with Simona visit www.trippingsicily.com
If you love wine tours 'The Train of the Wines of Etna' is a unique way to experience wine tasting in Sicily. 
Travelling the slopes of Etna by the Ferrovia Circumetnea and then taking the 'Wine Bus' you can visit the “Strade del Vino dell’Etna” (the roads of Etna's wines) and freely discover the most beautiful wine cellars of Etna. www.trenodeivinidelletna.circumetnea.it

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A Big Thank You to
Patrizia and Simona

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Saturday, 22 July 2017

a Mountain Getaway ... Agriturismo San Cataldo

In May this year we decided to escape the madness of the G7 summit in Taormina and have a few days away with Daisy our dog. Living in Giardini Naxos we are in the perfect location to discover and explore the eastern side of Sicily at any time and a place of much beauty is the Alcantara Valley.

The park of Alcantara covers a large region between Randazzo and Giardini Naxos and is well known in particular for its gorges and ravines. The ravines reach over 25 metres high and give life to an exciting spectacular canyon named Gole Alcantara gushing with icy cold water where you can enjoy walks and many activities such as body rafting.

Within the region there are some beautiful medieval hilltop towns including Castiglione di Sicilia, Francavilla di Sicilia, Graniti and Motta Camastra. The area is abundant with local produce including citrus and olive groves, it is renowned for its cherry trees and there are many vineyards boasting glorious Mount Etna wines.

We have visited the Alcantara Valley on many occasions and decided that it would be fabulous to become one with nature and stay in an agriturismo in the mountains, therefore I researched for a dog friendly location and thereby discovered Agriturismo San Cataldo located in Motta.

An agriturismo is primarily a farm and usually has a number of rooms or apartments available for guests. Guests can enjoy the tastes of local produce such as wines, conserves, oils, olives, local cheeses, bread, seasonal fruit and vegetables and typical local dishes. Most often they are restored farmhouses located on quiet beautiful terrain.

After watching the opening ceremony of the G7 on television at home we headed for our mountain getaway.

Hidden five kilometres up a very steep and narrow road San Cataldo is owned and run by husband and wife team Filippo and Rita. The structure was founded in the early 1900's and stretches over fifty hectares.

The intense drive up the road takes about eleven minutes and is long and winding with some of the road unpaved, to the left of us a mountain ravine trickled along the side of us with fields of orange and lemon trees to the right. We knew we were becoming more remote when we had to stop to let a snake cross the road and a mountain fox skipped along the road ahead of us much to Daisy's amusement who was sitting in the back of the car observing our ascent.

When we finally reach San Cataldo we parked the car and were greeted by a beautiful San Bernard dog called Wilson ... for Wilson it was love at first sight when he saw Daisy.

Wilson escorted us to the main farmhouse and to reception where we were welcomed by Filippo.

Accommodation at San Cataldo are beautiful chalets that sit on the side of the mountain. You can choose from 10 chalets built in wood with a garden or a classic room built entirely in local stone. Every chalet has the most spectacular view of the Alcantara Valley and Mount Etna dominates at all times.

We were staying in one of the stone "Camera Vecchia" chalets which are part of a lovingly restored old house which boasts the charm of an ancient rural peasant house. These rooms are located furthest away from the main farmhouse and are immersed in green and peaceful countryside.

After walking about five minutes down a steep road we reached our chalet. As we had arrived mid afternoon we sat outside in the warm Sicilian sunshine enjoying the stunning scenery waiting for the sun to set behind the lush green mountains. Outside our cabin was a beautiful cherry tree laden with fruit and the only sound we could hear was the breeze through the trees, cheerful birdsong, goats bleating and cowbells clanging. Pure bliss.

After watching the sunset we prepared for dinner at the farm house.

Filippo had explained that dinner would be served at eight pm and would be a homemade buffet made by Rita consisting of traditional local cuisine made using the surrounding produce. We made our way up to the farm house ready for our meal and were greeted by Wilson who was all too happy to escort Daisy to our table.

Once seated Filippo brought us over some local wine and fresh mountain spring water. One by one delicious dishes were brought out of the kitchen and Filippo rang a little bell to indicate that dinner was ready. For starters we enjoyed homemade pasta alla norma, rolled aubergine (eggplant) involtini, caponata, fresh mountain mushrooms and frittata amongst other delicacies. For main course we ate barbecued pork chops followed by traditional Sicilian sweets, coffee and limoncello. We returned to our chalet well fed and completely relaxed ready for the next day where we had arranged to go wine tasting at the Cottanera Winery in Castiglione di Sicilia with our friend Simona Ferro founder of Tripping Sicily.

The following morning we woke up to complete silence except chirping birds and cow bells and as I opened the door I jumped back in surprise ... sitting on our doorstep was Wilson waiting for Daisy. We found out later from Filippo that earlier in the morning he had told Wilson to go and find his girlfriend and he had trotted off down the mountain and found our room and sat outside until Daisy awoke.

Ready for the day we headed back up to the farm house for a delicious breakfast.

San Cataldo is surrounded by much beauty and offers many activities for all members of the family.

There is plenty of places to walk, a didactic farm and cheese factory where visitors can discover aspects of the rural environment, you can help pick local fruit, assist with milking the goats, watch the cheese being made, there is also the Parco Avventura (adventure park), go quad biking, have a go at archery, go on a horse riding trail and there is a relaxing bio-swimming pool.

There are many animals in their natural habitat including ducks, hens, rabbits, pigs, horses, goats and even a peacock that struts around showing off his beautiful tail feathers. During our stay there was a beautiful litter of kittens wandering around discovering life.

After breakfast and exploring the area we jumped in our car with Daisy and set off for our wine tasting experience at Cottanera Winery driving back down the long winding mountain road driving through stunning countryside towards Mount Etna's wine territory passing through the medieval town of Francavilla di Sicilia and past Castliglione di Sicilia which sat perched high above us.

After a delicious brunch and wonderful wine tasting experience we headed back to San Cataldo where again we spent the afternoon sitting outside our chalet enjoying peace and quiet watching the sunset reading a book.

At dinner that evening up at the farmhouse we enjoyed penne carbonara for starters and my personal favourite, barbecued Sicilian salsiccia (sausage) for main, again followed by sweets, coffee and tonight grappa.

The following morning we enjoyed our last breakfast and said a fond farewell to our hosts and all the other guests that we had made friends with during our 2 night stay.

Agriturismo San Cataldo is the perfect getaway to relax and unwind and is perfect as a romantic breakaway for couples and an amazing fun holiday destination for families. It is also perfect for special celebrations, children's parties or just to visit for a delicious homemade lunch.

Filippo, Rita and Wilson are the perfect hosts and look after their guests and dogs with a lot of love and care making you feel part of the family. Bizarrely one week later whilst having a pizza one evening in Giardini Naxos who should we find sitting on the next table to us. You've guessed it Filippo and Rita ... only in Sicily!!!

As for the blossoming romance between Daisy and Wilson well lets just say that I think it was just a holiday thing but I will keep you posted.

(Please Note: If you are taking your dog with you it is best to keep it on a leash at all times whilst outside the cabin)

Agriturismo San Cataldo is approximately a 40 minute drive from Taormina.

For more information on activities and booking at San Cataldo
visit their wonderful website www.agriturismosancataldo.it

Next Blog post: "Cottanera Winery with Tripping Sicily"

If you enjoyed this Blog post search my archive
for my November 2014 post
"The Alcantara Gorge"

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Villa Marianna

Family House available for Holiday Rental
in Motta Camastra

a beautifully decorated comfortable 3 bedroom family house
with air conditioning and 2 bathrooms
garden and sun terrace
located in Motta Camastra
set within its own citrus and olive trees
with stunning views across the Alcantara valley

Peaceful location and ideally located for exploring
Mount Etna. Alcantara and Eastern Sicily
Just 30 minutes drive to Taormina, Giardini Naxos and local beaches

for owners contact details


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I am also a contributor to www.timesofsicily.com

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for activities in the Alcantara Valley and beyond
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Love Sarah x