This spring has been an exciting time for books with the release of the second edition of Moon Amalfi Coast followed by Moon Southern Italy: Sicily, Puglia, Naples & the Amalfi Coast. And then there were two! In Moon Southern Italy you’ll find an excerpt from Moon Amalfi Coast with brand new sections on Sicily and Puglia by my lovely co-author Linda Sarris – who you might know online as The Cheeky Chef. A food & wine travel consultant, private chef, and writer based in Palermo, Linda’s writing will make you want to book your next trip to southern Italy. I recently asked Linda a few questions so we can all get to know a little bit more about her and the new Moon Southern Italy guidebook.
You’ve traveled over 25 countries, but what first brought you to Sicily?
My adventures in Sicily first started in 2011, when I was awarded a scholarship in honor of the late Anna Tasca Lanza to work side-by-side with Fabrizia Lanza at her cooking school in the center of Sicily. Here on the vineyards of Tasca d’Almerita I truly fell in love with the island. Mystified by the food culture, warm southerners, and gorgeous landscapes, it felt like I came back home to a place I didn’t even know I was missing in my life. After several years of splitting my time between NYC and Sicily, I decided to transplant myself from Brooklyn to the Ballarò neighborhood of Palermo. A huge change … but unmistakably the very best choice I have ever made.
How did you know it was the place for you to call home?
My family is Greek-American so Sicily just felt like home to me. I felt instantly connected to the island. I chose to live in Palermo since it was a big city, I found people spoke English here (not often) but at least more than in a small village, and choosing to base myself right in one of the historic food markets seemed like a dream for a young chef.
You have an incredible energy and enthusiasm for Italy that’s contagious. What are some of the things you love sharing most with travelers in Sicily?
I enjoy being the person in between the tourists and the locals, helping to navigate where to go, what to see, and most of all what eat and drink. I want visitors to experience a real authentic Sicily, and love her for what she is, not compare Sicily to other Italian destinations they might be more comfortable discovering. By eating dishes that are typical here and learning about the layers of history through the food, every church, landscape, and dish has a story to tell. Sicilian tourism has grown immensely over the last 10 years and with the help of food/wine tourism, it has become a popular place for international guests to spend their holidays, not only for the beaches, but for the mix of culture it has to offer. Somehow people have been getting hooked on Sicily the way they were with Tuscany at first, wanting to come back again and again to explore a different part of the island.
What was the experience like writing Moon Southern Italy?
Moon Southern Italy is my first published book so it was exciting and scary all at once. Writing a travel guide book during the pandemic years was a challenge. I planned my research trips in between lockdowns but at least for a busy freelancer who is “on the road” most of the year, it was finally the perfect moment to sit down and write. It was fun to take some of my own photos for the book and work with a few professional photographer friends who generously contributed pieces of their work as well.
What was the most unexpected thing you learned while writing Moon Southern Italy?
Writing a book is much harder than I expected. I actually worked in book publishing for Random House before I started cooking but was always on the production end so I understood how the pieces came together and eventually made it to print, but was completely unaware of the editorial side of the business. We were somehow lucky that the publication date was moved out one year in order to go on sale in 2022 when international tourism was picking up again. This also gave me more time to finish my work.
What are a few “musts” for travelers exploring Puglia and Sicily?
I recommend basing yourself in one part of Sicily and exploring the small surrounding towns from there, whether it is Palermo, Catania or Siracusa. In Puglia, I suggest making it a road trip experience with a rental car. There are cultural highlights in both areas not to be missed whether it is the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, Sicily, or the charming Trulli town of Alberobello in Puglia. Both of these Italian regions offer a great mix of wild landscapes, nature reserves, swimming spots and bigger towns for a bit of nightlife. Sicily and Puglia are far enough south that they are beautiful destinations for a visit any time of the year.
Find out more about Linda and her tours and experiences in Sicily on The Cheeky Chef. You can also find her on Instagram at @thecheekychef. We hope Moon Southern Italy inspires you to head explore the southern part of the Italian boot!