Why Soul of Sicily?

After visiting our website, you will just know if you are a match for our program style or not. Take a close look at our photo galleries and mission to get to know us better. Soul of Sicily was founded by Renée Restivo, and is a network of Southeastern Sicily's most talented Sicilian artists, wine makers, art lovers, historians, geologists, writers, Chefs, agricultural specialists, herbalists, foragers, musicians, farmers, home cooks and experts. During our adventures, you may meet cheese makers, olive oil producers, shepherds, pastry masters, painters, photographers, singers, Sicilian mammas, historians and even map-makers and explorers in our corner of the island! Our programs benefit the local economy and a portion of your program admission fee goes towards our documentary projects, and to support local artisans, local farmers and fishermen and to preserving the countryside and educating the public about Sicilian art and culture. 

How small are your groups and what are accommodations like?

Please visit our photo galleries to see the space where lessons for our private customized programs take place.
Private (week-long) cooking programs are located at the villa (available for weekly rental with a week-long cooking program) are for groups of 2 to 6 friends of family members who already know one another and who want an intimate home setting in the countryside. Group cooking classes are located in the heart of the historical center of Noto.

How do your programs compare to those offered by large tour operators?

There is no comparison, because no one else does what we do -- the way we do it -- in Sicily! We offer the chance to experience the Southeastern corner of Sicily in depth, through family and friends and to step into their way of life for a week. What we do is very personal and customized.

When comparing experiences and prices, please note the maximum amount of people in the program group. Many large tour operators offer trips for 25 to 50+ people in a large bus and consider that to be a "small group tour."  For other tour operators 15-18 is a "small group." 

Our groups are generally from 8 to 12 (max).   

When comparing cooking programs and prices, what should I consider?

If you are shopping around, we recommend that you ask how big the groups are, how many courses are prepared, how long the company or school as offered cooking classes, how long the instructor has been teaching classes there and if the classes are hands-on or demo classes. 

How long has Soul of Sicily been established?

Over a decade ago, at a time when everyone in the culinary and travel industry had their eye on Tuscany and Northern Italy, Renée founded Soul of Sicily and launched her first culinary programs in Noto. Renee offered her first culinary tours in Italy in 2004 and she worked as an instructor teaching cooking classes in Northern Italy in 2000. In 1999, Renee managed cooking classes and assisted Chefs in New Yorks top cooking schools and at La Cucina Italiana magazine's culinary education center. Renee has over 17 years of experience in culinary education!

Our classes are professional, organized classes, with lots of information about the history and tradition of Sicilian food, but most important ... we have fun, laugh a lot, learn how to taste and cook like Sicilians do! Of course, the food we teach is authentic, traditional Sicilian!

So your classes feature authentic Sicilian food that is presented in an artistic way... what does that mean? 

Please see our photo galleries

Who teaches classes at Soul of Sicily?

Most classes at Soul of Sicily are taught by Renee Restivo, the Director of the school and programs. Many classes are taught in collaboration with home cooks or Chefs. Renee is proud to celebrate the heritage and traditions of her ancestors, who were honest, wise, hard-working farmers. Renee is a self-made entrepreneur who started and funded her business on her own.

Are cooking classes in Italian or English?

Our cooking classes are taught in English, and most have a local home cook who speaks Italian and Sicilian during the class while showing techniques, tools and ingredients. You will improve your ear for Italian and have a chance to practice speaking it.

What should I wear?

Wear casual clothes you feel comfortable wearing. Bring walking shoes and hiking shoes to explore the countryside. 

Do you provide recipes? Do I need to take notes during the class?

We provide recipes for all cooking classes but not for any of meals you enjoy during the culinary tours. We suggest that you do not take notes, so that you can see and experience more with your senses during the class. We will provide all tips and notes to you with the recipes.

What are the ages of people in cooking classes? Do more women than men attend?

The ratio is usually about 60% women to 40% men, but it varies. We have a non-cooking option for those who just want to eat! Ages are from 18-65 and we have had a student that was 85 come to cook with us and find her roots later on in her life!

Where are your week-long cooking programs located?

For our week-long, private, customized programs, classes are located in a private villa in the heart of the countryside, just minutes from Noto.  For our group recreational programs, classes are in the historical center of Noto, with occasional classes in the countryside (upon special request).

Does Soul of Sicily offer private day classes?

Yes, we offer day classes if there is availability during the months of March, April, May, June, July, August, September and October.

Where is Noto?

Noto is located in the South Eastern corner of Sicily, in the province of Siracusa and is about a 20 minute drive south of Siracusa and its vibrant markets. 

Why Noto?

Renee made Noto her base for Soul of Sicily after she fell in love with the town, its people, its ingredients, its culinary traditions and agricultural history and patrimony. Her first trip to Noto was around 2003 when she made a trip there to research pastry making. Noto is a UNESCO world heritage town, famous throughout the world for its baroque architecture, and has pristine beaches, ancient archeological sites and some of the most beautiful countryside in all of Italy. Farming traditions are still strong in Noto and that makes it the perfect location in Italy to learn about food and ingredients. For more information on Noto, please see our About Noto page.

To read highlights about Noto click here.

How much experience does Renee Restivo have as a culinary educator?

Renee began her professional career in regional Italian cooking over a decade ago when she worked as a recipe tester and in close collaboration with Chefs from all over Italy for special events for La Cucina Italiana magazine in New York. After a trip to discover her roots and visit the Restivo family farm in Agrigento, Renee began to research and write articles and specialize in Sicilian culinary travel. Since Renee wanted to learn authentic Italian cooking in the homes of Italy (instead of studying at a professional cooking school in the states), she landed a culinary job in Italy. Her first job in Italy was at a well known cooking school in Tuscany. Over 40 people interviewed for the dream job, working at a school surrounded by olive trees. At that school, she learned that when teaching cooking lessons, it's important to be informative and professional but entertaining at the same time -- you must have fun while learning... after all you are on vacation. In 2004, a group of students asked her if she would take them along with her on her culinary adventures, to show them authentic places to eat, taste wine and see how artisan food was produced. So, she offered her first tour in Italy which was a wine tour. Renee created her first culinary tour in Sicily in 2006 when most people where obsessed with Northern Italy and did not pay much attention to Sicily. In 2007, Soul of Sicily offered its first olive harvest tour.

Why is the focus on the land and agriculture so important in Soul of Sicily cooking programs and culinary tours?

Without the land and preservation of the landscape we would not have our farms which are the source of unique culinary ingredients found on the island. Sicily is famous for its excellent almonds, artisan cheeses, grains, heirloom grapes, figs, pomegranates, pistachios, fava beans, wild fennel, herbs, seafood and tomatoes among other things. Ancient wisdom of generations old farming methods combined with some of the most fertile land in the Mediterranean, make Sicily a culinary paradise.

Sicilians cook with local ingredients and seasonal traditional cooking methods. This way of life is being replaced by one that is more convenience oriented, as large supermarkets replace small markets and golf courses are made in place of grazing land for cows and sheep. Mass tourism and careless real estate development are transforming the Italian countryside in Sicily. Pirates once invaded the island, but today the island is threatened by other types of invaders... foreign interests who want to turn a quick profit without considering the future of the land and agricultural traditions here.

What airport do I fly into to get to Noto?

Noto is about an hour and a half from Catania airport in Sicily, which has direct flights from Rome, Milan and most other major European cities. There are some direct flights from New York to Catania.

How do I get to the cooking classes in Noto?

For day courses, the transportation to Noto is on your own and we provide directions to the class location once we confirm your reservation.

Can you help me to plan an extended stay or a visit to another part of Sicily?

Please send us your special requests to us for consideration.

What kind of food can I bring back from Sicily to the USA in my suitcase or in my carry on bags?

Please visit the website for the USDA for complete information.

What is the weather like in Noto, Sicily and the province of Siracusa?

Please click here for current weather conditions and maps of the area.

Do you have a recipe book?

We have a Recipe Booklet that can be ordered via this website here. 

Does Soul of Sicily organize special events?

Yes, we organize culinary events upon request. We have organized events for large corporations and for celebrity Chefs.

What is the meaning of the name Soul of Sicily?

The search to find the soul of the island, its flavors, its ancient traditions and the to gether as much wisdom from Sicilians during her travels as possible over the past 12 years, led her to want to share those experiences and findings with other English speaking travelers who did not have family on the island or who could not speak Italian. The search for the Soul of Sicily is at the heart of every program. You will benefit from the many years of research, relationship building, scouting and program development when you join a Soul of Sicily program. It is not unusual for students to tell us that their trip with us was life-changing in some way and that they hope to return someday.