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Our Top 5 Favorite Reasons to Travel to Sicily with VBT

Italy, Sicily, Sicilians on the road of the cemetery of Ragusa Ibla

This year we introduced a new bicycling vacation to the amazing Italian island of Sicily. As the Italy travel experts, we knew we had to return to this Mediterranean island that has developed its own distinct Italian flavor by incorporating diverse influences. We’ve improved our Sicily: Biking the Southern Coastal Villages vacation for 2014—including a new Pre-trip to Taormina and an added lunch on a local family’s farm—and wanted to share our Top 5 reasons to join VBT cycling  the southeastern corner of Sicily and discovering its rich history, delicious cuisine, and friendly locals.

The Bike Routes
Sicily is a beautiful island in the heart of the Mediterranean with some rolling hills and vast farmlands. “I was quite surprised at the beauty in the countryside with all of the acres of vegetables. We had the pleasure of lemon trees being in bloom which just accentuates the aura of the area” recalled a VBT traveler. The trip also mixes the terrain up a bit from day to day with stops at a couple of beaches and some lovely coastal riding as well. This tour is rated as Easy/Moderate which does include some hills, but rest assured that the VBT support van will always be on call to offer a snack or encouragement or transport you to any point along the way if you desire.

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The Pre-and Post-trip Extensions
We listened to traveler feedback and have changed the Pre-trip extension from Palermo to Taormina for this vacation in Ortigia island, Syracuse2014. You’ll have 2 nights to enjoy Taormina, with its incredible views ranging from its blue waters, the Etna volcano, the bay and rocks, and the little isle of Isola Bella. Take some time to stroll along the Corso Umberto with its classical music cafés, pastry shops and monuments left from the Arabs and Normans—like its gothic and baroque buildings.  The tour ends in Syracuse and VBT offers a 2 night extension in the historic city. One VBT traveler advised “don’t skip the post-trip in Syracuse. It’s a delightfully sized, walkable city with our hotel on the island portion called Ortigia. If you’re up for a great walk there are miles of paths along the coast with a shipwreck along the way and views of Mt. Etna.”

The Local Cuisine
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The region has a long history of producing a variety of noted cuisines and wines due to the diversity in cultural history and perfect climate—we’ve even heard some refer to the region as “God’s Kitchen”.  We’ve added a new lunch at a local farm in Ognina, where we’ll picnic on the private grounds of a local family and learn about the native cherry tomatoes or ‘pomodoro Pachino’—which take their name from the nearby town of Pachino, where they were grown for the first time. Also included on this tour are stops at a Masserie, a local farm that prepares delicious pizza and empanadas, and an exclusive tour of the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto chocolate factory—which has processed cocoa seeds according to old Aztecan techniques since the late 1800’s. While staying in Noto we’ll pick borage, wild fennel, lemons and oranges on our hotel’s estate, and then take them to the kitchen to prepare a Sicilian recipe under the guidance of our chef. “The food and eating establishments VBT selected were beyond description and always served fresh and outstanding food,” said a VBT traveler after returning from a trip last May.

The Rich History
Sicily has a very rich history that is distinct from other areas of Italy. Since 750BC the island has been courted by the Ragusa IblaGreeks, refined by the Romans and influenced by the Moors. “We forget how young our own country is when walking in cities with history that is over 2,500 years old,” remembered a VBT traveler who visited last spring. Travelers on this trip will stay in a restored 19th century residence, explore fishing village founded in the 16th century and visit the ruins of Noto Antica—a town destroyed in an earthquake in 1693 that was once one of Sicily’s wealthiest and most beautiful towns. We’ll also venture to Ragusa Ibla—listed as a UNESCO World Site for its Baroque palaces and churches— and stroll along the pedestrian streets to discover the incredible architectural beauty.

The Warm Weather
While many biking vacations are only offered from the late spring through the early fall, our Sicily vacation has departures running from March to November, giving you plenty of chances to fit this amazing vacation in to your schedule. Since Sicily is located in the heart of the Mediterranean and lies much more south than most of Europe, you’ll enjoy weather with average temperatures in the mid 60’s or higher on all departures dates. One VBT traveler said “the weather was just right for pedaling; sunny and warm…with clear blue skies and ocean views”. That’s sounds pretty tough to beat!

So join us next year and let us show you the real Sicily. Our expert Trip Leaders are all from the area and know the local customs and traditions, as well as inside information about reliable places to shop, eat, explore, and relax while on tour. To learn more about Sicily: Biking the Southern Coastal Villages​ simply click on the following link: http://bit.ly/VBTSicily

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VBT’s Lodging of the Month: Agriturismo Montebelli

We like to have our travelers experience as much of the local culture as possible while on a VBT vacation—including the scenery, food, people, and especially your accommodations.  “Distinctive Lodgings with Local Charm” is a tagline we like to use because we feel as though your lodging should be a destination in itself—a haven meant to savor. You can find short descriptions when you click on the “accommodations” tab on all our vacation pages on the VBT website—but we wanted to delve a little bit deeper here. So we’re starting a series of blog posts highlighting some of our accommodations.  This month we’d like to tell you about one of our favorites, Agriturismo Montebelli, found on our The Tuscan Coast bicycling vacation. Located in the Maremma region of Tuscany,  Montebelli is situated on immaculately maintained grounds with olive trees, vineyards, and flowers. Guest can also enjoy tennis courts, archery, bocce courts, an outdoor pool, and a stable with horseback riding facilities and instructor! And who better to tell you more about this fantastic hotel then the folks at Montebelli themselves—Enjoy!

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Well, first of all, what does  Maremma stand for? If you try searching on google you would get lots of information on theOakTree_7948web white shepherd dog but way past half the page you would learn something more about this beautiful territory located in the south west part of Tuscany.  When travelling through this grand territory you are overwhelmed by the beautiful landscapes of its rich and unspoiled natural environment. Views from the countryside, seaside, mountains and rolling hills unfold in a mesmerizing dream come true.

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Maremma has a long time tradition in farming thus saving it from uncontrolled exploitation. Be prepared to enjoy good food and wine. Some of the best Tuscan wines from this area are Morellino di Scansano DOC* and Bianco di Pitigliano DOC. The Mediterranean diet here is at its best—seasonal fruits and vegetables, milk, sheep cheese, meat, wild boar and seafood make for top culinary specialties.

HikingTrail_7935webThe territory offers ample choice for physical well being; apart from the tracks and trails to cover on foot or by bike, there are infinite opportunities for practicing sports like golf, horse-riding, water-sports, boating, fishing. On top of that, spa breaks are easy to get almost everywhere. Saturnia is well known  for its beneficial hot springs.

Last but not least, for those seeking cultural sites and events, Maremma boasts a historical heritage dating back to 750 B.C during the Etruscan times—Amazing!

And what about Montebelli?

Agriturismo Montebelli--Exterior at night
Montebelli Agriturismo & Country Hotel is an oasis of peace and relaxation located in the softly rolling hills and olive groves of the Maremma countryside. It is twenty minutes from the Tyrrhenian coast and close to the art treasures of Tuscany. Montebelli offers its guests the very best of Tuscan hospitality and lifestyle. A stay at Montebelli includesArbor_Scene_7125web holistic wellbeing for its Spa treatments, healthy cuisine prepared with organic produce, outdoor activities, sports as well as a quiet and relaxing ambience.  The century-old olive groves lining our Agriturismo grow olives used to make the excellent Fabula I.G.P. extra-virgin olive oil—the ultimate in olive oil for people who choose wellness as a lifestyle choice. But Montebelli is much more. The Zampinaio vineyard grows Sangiovese and Vermentino grapes, while the Giannino vineyard grows Sangiovese, Sirah and Montepulciano grapes. Both vineyards span 8 hectares and are classified as “DOC Monteregio di Massa Marittima”. These vineyards produce a range of noble Tuscan wines like the Fabula DOC Reserve—a jewel in Montebelli’s wine cellar—as well as the excellent Acantos red wine.

Our joy is your satisfaction. We are pleased to welcome you to our little Oasis..

*DOC stands for “Denominazione di origine controllata”—Controlled designation of origin—and is a quality assurance label for Italian food products, especially wines

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