Monday, February 15, 2010

Snow, sun sea. What else? Winter time in Taormina

A view from the terrace of the Grand Hotel Timeo in Taormina.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Vortices, saltpans, windmills and a Relais

Most of my clients are very demanding but this was one of the most bizarre requests I’ve ever had in my 14 year-career in the event industry.  The easiest thing was to ask her what exactly she meant. Forget it, Doriana, she is not that kind of client. You have to see it for yourself.
 I don't have qualms about admitting my ignorance. Three key-words: life-coaching, vortex and Sicily. Then, an inspiration. God bless friends!  

“Life coaching is a future-focused practice with the aim of helping clients determine and achieve personal goals. A vortex is a centre or a source of energy a certain territory is able to give off.”
Gerry, psychotherapist, summed up with his great gift of clearness, indulging soon after  into a passionate phone-class about both subjects, for my skeptical ears. A real eye-opener one into a new world!  If Sicily has thirteen places included in the Unesco World Heritage list, those reported as vortex sites are even more!

The next step was to design an event for a group of 20 Californian VIPs. They wanted everything. Two weeks in Sicily, life-coaching, astrology sessions (!), a cosy and warm boutique hotel with a touch of design and style placed right in the middle of one of this vortex areas, a true immersion into Sicilian life, cultural daily-trips, time for private meditation, time for  shopping, goof food and great wines. Ok guys, what a life-coach for? Better have a psychoanalyst!
 I could imagine myself dressed as a fortune-teller, predicting their future and having great fun, if only I had a typical Mediterranean look. Unfortunately, I’m more a Norman kind, blond and blue-eyed. No way to act, back to my usual job.

I accepted the challenge.

Vortices. The list was impressive.  Unusual places, magic and mysterious ones, all sharing a strong energy potential. Some of my favourite places were mentioned, this was surprising and explicative at the same time. Can you tap the energy potential of a place?  Can you feel something seizing you  right there at the stomach? Fear? Calm? Exuberance? Strenght? Exhaustion? Weakness? No matter if positive or negative, it’s that energy. It’s that vortex.

I focused immediately on Mothia, a tiny island being part of the wetland area of the Stagnone Wildlife Reserve. Western Sicily, an area I love. A sort of ultimate frontier in the island.

Driving north along the SS 115 coast road between Marsala and Trapani you find yourself in the bleached landscape of the saline (saltpans) and shimmering heaps of sea salt, considered the best in Italy and a big business for the area since the 12th century. Here the land is flat and featured only by vineyards estates,  saltpans and the small mulini (windmills) once used to grind the salt. Mothia and the Stagnone islands lie undisturbed opposite the glittering Saline of Ettore and Infersa and the Salt Museum housed in an old windmill. 
Connected to the mainland by a Phoenician road which can be seen below the shallow waters of the lagoon at a depth of about 1 mt, at the beginning of the XX century Mothia was bought by Joseph Whitaker, archaeologist and heir of an English family who moved to Sicily and grew richer thanks to the production of the Marsala, a delicious local dessert wine. Intrigued by the unusual fragments of pottery found during excavations, he built a villa and spent decades assembling a unique collection of Phoenicians finds that now appear in the homonymous Whitaker Museum placed in this tiny island. 

Small private boats lead you from the pier surrounded by the saltpans to Mothia. Try to visit the area close to the sunset. The silence reigns obstinate, deafening at times, ennobled by the singing and annoyed only by the engine of the boats. Close your eyes, free you imagination and evoke ancient and bold times. The famous naval battle between the Romans and the Carthaginians back in 249 b.C. which we could only image been massive and spectacular. The last intense gleams of the sun sinking below the horizon infuse courage, instill hope, give power to quiet.
Feel the history. Feel the energy. Feel the romance.

Proceed driving north along the coastline and you enter the area of Trapani. You feel you are in the middle of nowhere, no road signs, only sporadic modest built-up areas, uneven byroads. Look for Nubia, the area just opposite the Egadi archipelago. A sixteenth century tower still stands proudly behind my transitory port of destination, as a record of the cruel Saracens' attacks.
The landscape surrounding the Antiche Saline has something unusual and magic at the same time. Contrasts are evident. More saline built during the Arab domination standing out imperturbable. Again, their silence is deceiving, intimidating and peaceful. Salt twinkles regularly piled up along strips of land coming afloat from the sea. Hard labour, skillful hands, salt is still cultivated manually.

"Antiche Saline is a small boutique hotel, once an ancient baglio, a rural building whose architecture is typical of western Sicily. The estate belonged to the Platamone Marquis and was restored in 2005 into refined relais thanks to accurate works of restoration”
tells the manager. Young and proud, he conveys a sincere and open character, confidence without arrogance. Good for me and my clients. 
Vineyards, orchards, a stretch of bare land and then the sea, blue, crystal and calm. The outlines of the islands of Favignana and Levanzo appear back on the horizon, exciting curiosity and imagination.
The colours of the Antiche Saline are typically Mediterranean, white, blue, ochre. Exteriors and interiors are bright, places are suffused with light. Rooms are warm, sober and comfortable, some on the first floor with a better view over the saline and the sea.   

Taverna Paradiso (Paradise Tavern), the name of the restaurant, persuades foodies into sampling dishes of the local Trapanese cuisine. Cous cous is a savoury heritage of the Arab domination in this part Sicily for two centuries in the aerly Middle Ages. The Arabs changed Sicilian agriculture and cuisine. Food for thoughts. The wine list shows the best wineries of the area, the most important in Sicily for wine production. Wine for thoughts.  

The swimming-pool looks forward to share in, donating relief during the torrid summer days and a comfortable chaise-long to listen to the music of nature and silence.
At the sunset, when the sky turns polychrome, red, orange, purple and blue the relais lives its magic moment and during warmest months salt reflects all colours, creating poetic plays of light. In this fairy-like atmosphere, I feel light years away from our frantic and raving modern life. I wish I could join my life-coaching VIPs.
Vortex. I feel it, I found it.
Vortices. A new way for travelling?  

Mothia & Withaker Museum
Isola di San Pantaleo - Riserva Naturale dello Stagnone
Tel. + 39 0923 712598
Opening time: 9-13 and 15-one hour before the sunset
Entrance fee: Eur 6,00 per person, inclusive the boat transfer from/to mainland

Relais  Antiche Saline  Hotel  ****
Via  Giuseppe Verdi   -  Localit√†  Nubia
91027   Paceco  (Trapani) - Sicily - Italy
Tel +39 0923 868029