Sleepy Sicily: My stay in the hilltop city of €1 houses | Travel

FFinding an unknown corner in one of our favorite countries is the holy grail for tourists. For locals looking to attract visitors, it’s another matter. That’s why the hilltop town of Sambuca di Sicilia, just over an hour’s drive south of Palermo but off the radar for most holidaymakers, is trying to drum up excitement and put itself on the map. .

First, he offered abandoned houses for sale at €1 each – the Soprano Actress Lorraine Bracco was among those who took the opportunity to take over a 200-year-old house without electricity or running water. Now the council has tapped Airbnb, which has its own newly renovated €1 house in Sambuca.

Last month, he held a dream job competition: the winner will live in the house for free for one year, provided they rent the guest room for nine months (they keep all rental income).

Inside Airbnb’s remodeled $1 house in Sambuca

AIRBNB

High unemployment in the rural core of Sicily has driven many young Sicilians to the thriving cities of the mainland. Mayor of Sambuca, Leonardo Ciaccio, says, “We are looking for someone who wants to live with the local people and participate in all the important moments of the community, from the grape harvest to the olive picking. We look forward to welcoming whoever is selected.

The winner will arrive in June, but I visited to find out what hope there is for tourism in the area. My first impression was how beautiful everything was – the countryside is an unspoiled patchwork of olive groves, forests and vineyards, while Sambuca is filled with beautiful Baroque churches and its Arab quarter is a maze of stone streets dating back to the 9th century, when Sicily was under Arab rule.

The Airbnb house is a short walk from a small ceramics shop, a restaurant, and the spectacular panorama of Terrazzo Belvedere, an observation deck at the highest point in the city, from where my partner and I enjoyed a picnic. -nice in the silence of a pint.

I was expecting a doomed ghost town. It’s not. While the atmosphere is definitely sleepy, Sambuca is bigger than I thought: 6,000 people live here and everyone I passed on the street was smiling warmly.

I was the first to stay in Airbnb’s rundown new house. The three-story, two-bedroom house was transformed with the help of Studio Didea, an architectural firm in Palermo. I liked the mix of new and old; vaulted ceilings, exposed stone and original floor tiles contrasting with a contemporary purple staircase and poured concrete floors.

Designer decorations include Marset lighting and CC-Tapis rugs, as well as fixtures and fittings in the kitchen and three bathrooms from Kos, Bulthaup and Smeg.

Sciacca wharf

Sciacca wharf

ALAMY

Don’t expect an upscale hotel vibe; this is the deep countryside after all and 21st Century Sambuca is a work in progress. Some of the roads had been dug out and plumbing, construction and restoration work was underway. Also, you will definitely need a car.

On a cool early March afternoon, we wandered the sunny streets lined with orange trees for a pick-me-up at Bar Caruso: espresso and Sambuca’s most famous dessert, minni di virgini – breast-shaped pastries, filled with ricotta cream. A group of locals gathered outside to chat. On weekends, Caruso puts on live music, with the occasional appearance from the owner, who showed us some old snaps of himself as a drummer.

In the center of Sambuca, we took a look at Palazzo Panitteri, a majestic 17th century building that once belonged to a noble family, which became the property of the municipality after the devastation of the Belice earthquake in 1968. One of the wings of the palace houses an archaeological museum displaying Greco-Punic finds from the ancient city of Adranon, at the top of nearby Monte Adranone.

The €1 house has contemporary interiors

The €1 house has contemporary interiors

AIRBNB

The palace is also the headquarters of La Strada del Vino Terre Sicane, a wine route towards Sciacca on the coast that takes in Sambuca and the pretty towns and villages of Contessa Entellina, Menfi, Montevago and Santa Margherita Belice.

Chiara Planeta, whose family runs the Planeta winery, led us on a tour and tasting at the Ulmo estate around Lago Arancio, a ten-minute drive from town. The Planeta family has owned this land for more than three centuries. We tasted four wines, including the locally grown chardonnay that made the winemaker’s name in the 1990s, while tearing down platters of sfincione (Sicilian cloud-shaped pizza), local nocellara del Belice olives and artichokes. fried.

You can borrow bikes for leisurely cycling around the 222-acre estate, while April through June are the best months for hiking in the surrounding hills, Bosco della Risinata, according to Planeta.

For breakfast the next morning, we ate Alessia Pasini’s still-warm ricotta, freshly made from her flock of local sheep. The Caseificio Pasini family of Planeta, an artisan cheese maker in the hills surrounding Sambuca, offers cheese tastings and tours.

Sicilian hospitality is legendary. We were offered a glass of wine for breakfast (we opted for freshly squeezed Sicilian orange juice instead) and were served with primosale and stravecchio di pecora cheeses, a homemade caponata (a mixture of vegetables cooked with featured fried eggplant) and the best filled ricotta cannoli I’ve ever had.

The bucolic views (with roosters crowing in the background) were almost endless, over Lago Arancio, across the sea and up to Pantelleria, a volcanic island 37 miles off the Tunisian coast.

Sicilians love Pasini’s ricotta – while we were browsing a steady stream of people came for their daily help and asked how we enjoy Sicily – and we felt entangled in the Sambucan community when we spotted it in town the next day and waved at him.

The ricotta-stuffed cannoli that Victoria tried in Sambuca

The ricotta-stuffed cannoli that Victoria tried in Sambuca

VICTORIA BRZEZINSKY

Sciacca (pronounced “shack-a”) is a pretty port town about a 30-minute drive from Sambuca. It is home to the second largest fishing fleet in Sicily, so there are many excellent seafood restaurants serving the daily catch. At Hostaria del Vicolo, we sampled raw prawns and local fish, as well as a pasta dish with palpable Arabic influences: tagliatelle with red mullet, saffron, wild fennel, pine nuts and raisins.

Two of Sciacca’s best (and relatively uncrowded) beaches are at San Marco and Contrada Sobareto, or take a short drive west for more unspoilt stretches of sand around Menfi. I found the city vibe and fun; our Sciacca tour guides were Desiree and Anna, the contagiously energetic volunteers of the Museo Diffuso dei 5 Sensi, a sort of open-air museum offering cultural experiences throughout the city with a dash of history, mythology and magic.

We tried to make jewelry from Sciacca coral, sustainably sourced from Ferdinandea, a submerged volcanic island halfway between the coast of Sciacca and Pantelleria. And as the sun went down, Desiree and Anna showed us around the Dedalo Caves, which according to local legend was the home of Kronos, the father of Zeus. For centuries, steamy caves have been revered for their healing properties. The scorching heat was like stepping into the bowels of the Earth. It was one of the many highlights of our trip.

With pristine countryside, abundant food and wine, and a beautiful coastline to explore, this part of southwestern Sicily may be secret now, but I don’t think it will be for long.

Victoria Brzezinski was a guest of Airbnb, which offers overnight dining at Casa Panitteri (sleeps two) from £101 (airbnb.co.uk). Stay at Airbnb’s €1 self-contained house from June 30 (price TBC). The winner of the competition will be announced in April. Wine tours from £30 pp (planeta.it); for guided coastal hikes, cooking classes and other tours, see sciacca5sensi.it. Fly to Palermo

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