Monaci delle Terre Nere ⏤ Living by the Pulse of Mount Etna
It was a calling: Guido Alessandro Coffa returned to Sicily after years abroad to become an agriculturist. With his partner Ada Calabrese, he turned Monaci delle Terre Nere, a former monastery, into a country hotel with a restaurant and a cocktail bar serving sustainable recipes straight from the garden. At the foot of the active volcano Mount Etna, Guido tells UNCOVR what makes the territory the kind of place to regenerate one’s views on the supremacy of nature over humankind.
Address: Corso Umberto I, 159, 97015 Modica RG, Italy
“To be a child of Etna’s at Zafferena means to be in daily contact with its territory. A volcano in the background, surrounded by acres of forest and centuries-old terraces for vineyards, gardens and orchards, dominate endless stories and myths. Fragrances and suggestions emerge from the wide-ranging vegetation, run through by black streams of cooled lava, all in the heart of the Mediterranean. It is the kind of nature that gives and takes, like a dutiful Greek god.
“Everything makes this place special: from waking up at dawn to take in the fragrance of the citrus blossom with half-closed eyes; to watching Etna and listening to her infinite morning murmurings and knowing what she has in store ahead of time to knowing what temperature it will be, whether to reap or sow, whether it will rain, whether the winds will blow libeccio, south-west, or sirocco, south-east, and whether the fishermen will be able to leave with their boats… and then, turning my gaze slightly to feel myself embraced by the gulf of Catania, that seemingly endlessly extends all the way to Siracusa.
“To savour the silence, to recognize sounds that now seem lost, to be surprised every day… I think that is the most moving experience. We are creating an estate that is both organic and sustainable, with 60 acres of earth where we cultivate 150 different varieties of fruit trees and five acres of gardens for the organic produce that ends up in the kitchen of our restaurant, Locanda Nerello.
“Visitors can’t miss the volcano’s dormant craters, 2 800 meters high, with its pleasant walks around the four slopes of Etna, extending into the 224 square miles of Etna National Park. Here rhythms are slower than in a touristic village: you can linger for hours in front of Etna’s summit crater, or stay at the table until four in the afternoon. You can lose yourself in the streets if a street sign, forgotten, is missing… but you need not worry. If you stop to ask for a direction, don’t be surprised to find somebody willing to drive you there.
"At Locanda Nerello, the restaurant adjacent to our structure, a great part of the agricultural production comes from our property’s kitchen garden – eggs included."
Drinking and Dining In and Around Zafferana Etna
“At Locanda Nerello, the restaurant adjacent to our structure, a great part of the agricultural production comes from our property’s kitchen garden – eggs included. Following the tenets of organic and sustainable cultivation, we are able to count on our production of raw materials, entrusted to the laborious hands of the agriculturists who work for the business. Even the bread is made in-house, of ancient grains like timilia (durum wheat) and perciasacchi (kamut). The Locanda’s staff summons this spirit and offers authentic, high-quality food, which has been recognized by the Gambero Rosso under the Taste and Health award, and has been prized by the Best In Sicily in 2016 under the category of New Entry (regional restaurants).
“The territory around Etna has seen an exponential increase in places where you can enjoy a good glass of wine, red or white, accompanied by some seasonal food; likely due to the international recognition of our DOC [quality assurance label for Italian wines]. However, should you want to try something new, well, you can stay with us. We have introduced the Convivium bar to our structure, where you can try a “zero-kilometre cocktail” like our Etna Rossini (mandarin juice from our production and lavender leaves), the Mediterranean Gin Fizz (herb syrup, sage leaf and lavender from our garden), or the Martini Monaco (drops of brine from Monaci olives and lemon rind), created with aromas from our garden, which counts 33 varieties of herbs and aromatic plants such as sage, mint, marjoram, thyme and lesser
calamint; creating a sort of “olfactory map” by which you can understand all of Etna’s undergrowth. That’s a rare experience, to be able to taste the territory in a glass.
“Zafferana Etnea is called the City of Honey, and beekeeping is a thriving business, having turned the town into a major honey producer at a national level. Pasticceria Russo, of 1880, prepares delicacies using original recipes that have been handed down for three generations. Cinnamon and carnation flower biscotti, almond marzipan paste and frutta martorana can accompany coffee in a Liberty-style interior.
“From October onwards, delicacies with mushrooms, meat, sausage or rabbit in sweet-and-sour sauce, accompanied by typical caponata, broccoli and cauliflower abound. In the springtime, eggplants are plentiful, as in the famous “pasta alla Norma,” the most Catanian of all recipes. Even macaroni becomes a work of goodness with simple ingredients suggestive of the Mediterranean diet: tomato, basil, fried eggplants, and a generous sprinkling of ricotta salata. We recommend the curious to find delight in the little things, and those who seek nourishing food, to take a regenerating walk through the woods, immersed in the silence of a place that becomes magical simply because you didn’t think it could exist.”
"Fragrances and suggestions emerge from the wide-ranging vegetation, run through by black streams of cooled lava, all in the heart of the Mediterranean."
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