MEET THE WRITER
Jennifer V. Cole is a freelance writer and editor based in Catania, Sicily. She was previously an editor at Travel + Leisure and Southern Living, and is the author of Chasing the Gator with chef Isaac Toups of New Orleans.
When was the last time you were in Sicily?
I first visited in 1998 and returned regularly every few years afterward. I’ve been living in Catania since late 2018.
What drew you to Sicily?
It’s an incredible amalgamation of sun, sea, mountain, food, wine, and generous hospitality. You arrive as a tourist, looking to bask on beaches and eat and drink all the things, and after a short while you’re truly welcomed as family.
What was the most surprising thing about Sicily that you didn't expect?
The camaraderie and inclusiveness of the wine community. There is a whole new generation of winemakers across the island who are revitalizing the viticulture, actively supporting one another, and readily welcoming newcomers into their fold.
What's a favorite anecdote from the time you've spent there?
A couple of years ago, at the suggestion from my friend (and writer) Brett Anderson, I went to a small seafood restaurant called Viri Ku C'è on the southern coast in Scoglitti. There’s no menu, just a giant case of seafood fresh from local fishermen, and you eat whatever they bring out until you cry uncle. The day I went (solo), that meant about 25 antipasti of every creature you’d find in local waters, a couple of pastas, a bottle of wine, and amaro -- I waved the flag before they brought around the whole roasted fish -- all for about 50 euros. I was the only woman in the dining room and every table at one point invited me to join their group. It was pure Sicily: seafood in abundance, a view of the sea, chivalry, and the charming ability to flirt (without being skeevy) that Sicilians seem to be born with.
What's the number one can’t-miss recommendation for a visitor?
Don’t leave Sicily without eating gamberi rossi, the medium-sized local red shrimp that are most often served raw with a drizzle of olive oil and a squirt of lemon. They are creamy, delicate, and rich -- the brightness of the Mediterranean sun and the complex salinity of the sea in a single bite.
How easy is it to get around Sicily for English speakers?
In Sicily, outside of luxury properties, many people don’t speak English. But the locals are never shy about communicating with visitors -- Italian gesticulations are real, and conversations often take on a charades-like quality. Sicilians have a persistence and patience with language that doesn’t seem to exist in many other places, such as Paris, and not speaking Italian will never get in the way of building rapport, being fed, or getting to the next breathtaking vista.
What’s your top piece of advice for someone going for the first time?
Embrace the chaos: Nothing will go exactly as planned, efficiency simply doesn’t exist, and driving is like a dance that requires you to just jump in and constantly improvise. It’s wild and disorganized, and that’s part of the charm.
Next big trip you have planned in 2020?
I hope to get to Morocco, India, and Oman this year.
Ultimate bucket list destination you've always wanted to visit?
I’ve long wanted to visit Iran, a land of rich food traditions, stunning landscapes, and historical and cultural sites that span millennia.