Sicily is the island of citrus fruits. The presence of citrus plants is deeply rooted in the local territory, both in its environment – characterized by evergreen gardens dotted with evocative orange and yellow fruits – and its typical cuisine. Citrus is the perfect ingredient for a group of gourmets to discover Sicily through taste!
We already explored the “golden triangle” of organic, Sicilian red oranges (for more, read “Experience Sicily between oranges and unique properties”). But today we will take you on another delicious and entertaining journey: winter foodie experiences between lemon groves and Mount Etna, in the mesmerizing venue that is Villa Aranjaya.
Rediscovering your Senses at Villa Aranjaya
Once you are at Villa Aranjaya, your senses feast on what surrounds you: lemon and orange groves release sweet scents across the countryside; the landscape alternates citrus trees with tomato plants, silhouettes of cypresses and the majestic Mount Etna; the color explosion continues indoors – where you can admire colonial-style fans, terracotta floors and quirky antique furniture.
Villa Aranjaya is a residential complex within a working farm in San Giorgio, a 30-minute drive from Catania. Its organic citrus orchard has been recognized as a Natural and Cultural Heritage site by the European Organization for Landowners. When we asked the owner, Rudolf von Freyberg, to share a few words about the location, his passion and enthusiasm impressed us:
“Our philosophy is the magical place in which the organic San Giorgio estate is located, a territory that has been inhabited continuously for the past 6000 years. The prehistoric tribes of the Siculi and Sicani carved caves into limestone just 50 meters away from our current kitchen: they – just like us and the populations that have lived here throughout time – could feel the incredible and positive vibrations of this area! It is simply mesmerizing: verdant and generous nature, owls and hoopoes, busy bees in the flower fields, African-style sunsets… I could go on and on!”
This venue was mentioned by Helena Attlee in her book “The Land Where Lemons Grow: The Story of Italy and its Citrus Fruit”, along with other prestigious places such as the Florentine gardens of the Medici, the terraces of Amalfi, the shores of Lake Garda, and the Ligurian Riviera.
Sicilian Scents, Textures and Sights
Villa Aranjaya is one of the hidden gems where we can organize special journeys for you to discover the colorful world of lemons: you get to learn about the zagara, the fragrant flower of the tree; to witness how citrus fruits are harvested and – if you wish – you can also give a hand yourself and participate in this ancient Sicilian tradition. It is a wonderful experience to touch the gifts of land, feeling the roughness or smoothness of lemons, tomatoes, oranges and olives.
You can also walk through other “fragrant paths” to learn about local medicinal and aromatic herbs. If you enjoy gardening, you can prune citrus threes in the orchard and roses in the lush gardens!
The choice of authentic activities continues indoors, where you can join the chef in unforgettable cooking classes and even in cheese making sessions.
In the surroundings of Villa Aranjaya, you can visit the best local wineries on the slopes of Mount Etna, tasting the unique wine that his volcanic land produces. If you think you can only explore archaeological sites on this island, you are wrong: Sicily is home to some Eden-like gardens such as Il Biviere, San Giuliano and Parco Paternò.
The best season to join or witness the lemon harvest is winter, especially February. Should you visit in this month, you cannot miss the celebrations in Catania in honor of Patron Saint Agatha: three days of cult, devotion, folklore and tradition that stand almost alone in the world! The annual festival culminates in a great all-night procession through the city with hundreds of thousands of participants.
In the paragraphs above we have mentioned a number of educational and fun ways of rediscovering your senses and learning about local traditions. These are ideal for families with children, groups of friends, amateur cooks and food lovers.
They are also a great way to complement a special occasion, such as a destination wedding, corporate retreat or family & friends’ reunion. Just imagine how many unusual moments you can experience and share with your loved ones: these precious gestures and events can become unforgettable memories that you will treasure forever. And by combining a sensorial experience to your Italian journey, you will be reminded of your special occasion whenever you smell the scent of a lemon, or cook and eat a dish with Mediterranean herbs.
If you are a discerning traveler who looks for authentic experiences that are off the beaten path, visiting Sicily during winter can be one of the most surprising and rewarding journeys. If you need access to local knowledge and expert guidance, put Italian Special Occasions DMC to the test!
Photo credit for featured image above: Lemon grove near Mount Etna, Sicily – image from ruralbox.it