From Prague to Salina

After enjoying the Sicily's 1001Nights event in Prague, Dagmar Šimůnková tries out the real thing - a holiday on the island of Salina

If you think there isn't much more to Italian food than pizza or pasta, I don't blame you; I used to be much the same. It took Sicily's 1001Nights, a cultural, gastronomic and tourism extravaganza, to prove me wrong.

Last month, I was given the opportunity to participate in this event, organized by the Italian embassy in Prague, the Italian National Tourism Board (ENIT) and the Sicilian Regional Tourist Board.

The spectacular frescos of the Instituto Italiano di Cultura di Praga, just across the street from the German embassy in Malá Strana, are an experience in themselves, but combine them with delicious food and wine, pictures of gorgeous holiday destinations and typical Italian friendliness and you have an evening to remember.

I do admit that I love Italy despite all the slight hiccups I have experienced during my stays in this historical and cultural jewel of Europe, mostly caused by the language barrier, lack of maintenance or the simple fact that I had the tenacity to expect food or even a drink during siesta time.

1001Nights made my love only grow stronger. I sampled wines that blew my mind for the bargain price of 250 CZK a bottle. I discovered that sheep's cheese and marmalade make an excellent mix, learned more than I ever imagined or cared to about capers, and felt a bit queasy at the end of it all -- likely caused by the mix of pesto, the whole grilled pig (nicknamed Benito), delicious sweets, liquors, red and white wine and some champagne on top of it.

Saying no to the enthusiastic participants, often presenting a product their families have been creating for centuries was literally impossible.

The relaxed-yet-classy atmosphere, overall friendliness and typical south European "no problem" approach almost made me feel like I was actually on holiday, even if only for a night.

Thanks to the main organizer, Salvatore Ciancimino, I hope to experience this sensation again soon in his café, wine bar and restaurant, Il Gattopardo on Šmeralova street in Prague 7-Letná.

Many of the described products are also available at the Sicilian shop, A Putia, across the street from the restaurant.

Apart from the food, attention was concentrated on Sicily and the Sicilian region as a holiday destination. (Nobody mentioned the Don Corleone all evening.)

A very special part belonged to the magnificent island of Salina, part of the Lipari islands, a fairly unexplored Mediterranean holiday destination. The lovely ladies representing Salina and its products described their home over a glass of sweet local Malvasia.

About Salina
Tour guides call it the island of green and gold. They must have forgotten that there's every imaginable shade of blue in the sea surrounding this small volcanic island. Salina, with an area of only 26.8 square kilometers and a population of just 3,000, is small but features a surprising variety of tourist pleasures.

You can admire the sea and volcanoes, bathe in hot streams, explore the crystal-clear waters for sea life, visit ancient archeological sites -- Salina was inhabited as early as 4500 BCE -- or simply lounge on a terrace and enjoy the variety of local specialties and wines.

Salina also boasts the richest flora in the Mediterranean region -- unlike its drier neighbors, where little more than wild lavender grows -- and the rocky depths of the sea are home to various species of fish and are suitable for scuba diving.

Salina doesn't have its own airport but you can get there by ferry or hydrofoil after flying to either Palermo or Naples and getting yourself to the port of Milazzo.

If you'd like to travel in style, you can take a helicopter ride but this costs between 2,000 and 3,000 euros.

According to the locals, the best place to be spoiled with luxury, spa treatments delicious food and breathtaking views is the Signum hotel.

Finally we have all agreed to let this wonderful night continue, to raise our spirits through the darkness and misery of Prague's winter by meeting up over a delicious glass of wine and dreaming of southern regions yet to be visited.

Maybe the Italian poet Ludwig Salvator of Tuscany was right after all -- you can see the sea from Prague.

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