"Soul of Sicily is not a conventional tour company. It is the unique and personal creation of a remarkable woman’s vision and love -- love of life, and a love of Sicily that goes far beyond the surface. It is this depth that characterizes the experiences you can have with Renée. Her genuineness, her uncommon intelligence and attentiveness, her empathy and warmth, and an astute, practical competence and eye for every detail, are rare, invaluable and completely charming. For years I have gone on enjoyable holidays only to leave with the hope that next time I would actually be able to touch the places I had only glimpsed from a tantalizing distance -- that as good as it is to experience other worlds as an observant guest, how much better it would be to get in it, to feel it with a sense of immediacy and intimacy as part of you. I have yearned to stand in the fields and orchards I’ve seen only as a blur driving past, to understand more deeply the workings of a place, what grows there, how people live, what they are saying, what matters to them. Renée made this possible. She opened the door to Sicily for us, and we will never forget those few days we spent in her company, the value of which can’t be measured by time alone. She introduced us with such effortless grace to so many warm, generous, passionate people who were eager to share their worlds and their stories with a couple of strangers, and greet them as friends. Renée translated everything with the attentiveness and friendly ease of a UN translator, and this too made a huge difference. We experienced for the first time something of life beneath the surface of this beautiful, complex place. People’s obvious regard for her communicated itself into warmth towards us, too, and it was a delight to share her company, sit with people in their homes drinking espresso, spremuti and almond milk, crunching on almonds from their trees, on bruschetta brushed with the herbs and olive oil from their farm, tasting their lemon marmalade, watching the next pot being stirred in a ‘real’ kitchen… Life came to life there, full and rich and generous. This was a multi-layered experience of enormous generosity. Everyone, and everything about our trip, was generous. The energy was genuine and from the heart. Soul of Sicily is aptly named. We will be back.- Laura Donohue, Cambridge, England 2017
"Les cuisinieres ont ete exceptionnelles grande efficacite repas delicieux grande gentillesse et beaucoup de patiente pour nous enseigner les plats siciliens. C est un service cinq etoiles et je recommande la societe de Renee the soul of Sicily. The cooks were exceptional great efficiency delicious meal great kindness and a lot of patience to teach us Sicilian dishes. This is a five star service and I recommend the company of Renee the Soul of Sicily " -Noelle Mannara, Marseille, France 2017
"The Soul of Sicily with Renee Restivo was the perfect way to explore and experience all of Sicily's beauty. From the agriculture to life in the city, Renee provided guidance and daily itineraries that were flexible to our needs and interests as visitors, yet nothing we could ever replicate on our own. We did not need to do any extensive research before our trip because she had taken care of everything. This was a true luxury. Our adorable, old-world accommodations perfectly suited our needs as travelers who wanted to live and breathe all that Noto had to offer. We were a short walk from the Duomo and Porto Reale and had all of the conveniences of home, such as air conditioning and wi-fi. Renee's warmth and passion for food radiated as she instructed us during our culinary lessons and we became fast friends with everyone we met through the program, such as the charming owners of our bed and breakfast and our dynamic tour guides. I will never forget being invited into people's homes to be served home-cooked, authentic cuisine. One of the highlights was cooking at an agriturismo, and learning about the love and care that the owners and farmers put into their crops. We even helped harvest the first pick of the olives and pomegranates. I highly recommend the Soul of Sicily to anyone looking to experience the Sicilian lifestyle, learn about its rich history and culture, eat delicious food and be with such fabulous company in authentic ways. Since returning home, I have intentionally had company over every weekend so that I could cook our favorite recipes from the trip, including the festive beverages that come with each course. My friends and family leave our home yearning for the same trip we were fortunate enough to experience." Bravissima, Renee Restivo! Grazie Mille! -Shannon Rohlman, St. Louis, Missouri, September 2017
"We were 4 friends celebrating our 57th Birthdays. We were all born in 1957, so it just seemed fitting. We are all lifelong friends and of Italian/Sicilian descent and live in New Orleans. We contacted Rene and booked the Villa along with 3 cooking classes and 3 different excursions! Rene was amazing! She truly has a passion all things Sicilian! She was so attentive to all of our needs. The Villa exceeded our expectations in every way. When we arrived at the Villa, Sara Vento, and saw the unbelivable view, we all choked back tears! The breeze was indescrible...it was like none other we had ever felt! The cooking classes were so much fun and informative. Granted, like I said, we are all of Italian/Sicilian descent and we can ALL cook!! We just wanted to experience the Sicilian kitchen. The love and the passion for each meal that is prepared. And if, by chance, we learned something, then we were happy. We did the decadent Noto pastry tour, the market in Siracusa, which was truly a feast of one's senses. I still dream of that market. We also did the fishing village. The picturesque town was so relaxing to walk around and just take in the raw beauty. Our lunch on the sea was one of the most perfect days....the eating amazing fresh seafood just plucked from the sea and sitting on the water breathing in the fresh sea air and enjoying some local white wine!! I could really go on forever about this memorable trip." New Orleans,
"If you don't have Sicilian roots before you sign up for one of Soul of Sicily's culinary programs, you'll have them by the time you leave. After almost a week of cooking with a Sicilian nonna (grandmother), visiting organic farms, meeting artisanal producers and environmentalists, I deepened my understanding for an island whose mixture of cultures and traditions run deep and far back into history. Renee's understanding--and celebration--of her own roots assure that her lucky guests see beneath the surface and are able to experience the real Sicily that most tourists will never experience. I know I will be back!" -Margie Gibson, Fall 2013
"Soul of sicily is an extremely well managed ,thoughtfully planned adventure that gives inside access to everything you want to see in the Sicilian culinary world.My wife and I enjoyed multiple hands on cooking lessons in one of Trapani's finest restaurants, visits to Erice's legendary sweetshops,behind the scenes tours and tastings at Donnafugata(a premiere winemaker in Marsala),visits to the salt flats in Trapani and idyllic 3 hour lunches in the Sicilian countryside(family style of course!).The operator of the tour,Rene is an organized, energetic (and flexible to individual preferences) woman who is passionate about all things sicilian. The group size(9) was just right and her tour attracts like minded individuals.the trip really puts life and sicily in perspective.Very few tourists in this region guarantee an authentic experience!" - Rich Lester
"Last October, I showed up in Noto and got the chance to sample Soul of Sicily's cooking classes (delicious and lots of fun) AND pal around with Renee. It was a joy to be by this passionate expert's side to get an insider's experience of this magical place. She has a wonderful talent for drawing back the curtain so travelers can have an authentic adventure that will bring them to a Sicily that's more enchanting than they ever would have imagined. "
-Susan Van Allen, February 2011 Susan Van Allen, Author of 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go
"So impressed by the "insiderness" of the trip, and the Oz aspect (peek behind the curtain--Wizard of Oz reference) of your tours. You are a big draw. You are personable, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Killer attributes in a tour leader!"
-Birdi 2011 Lemons & Oregano Tour
"We have just returned from the May 2011 "Lemons & Oregano" trip with Renee to La Bedda Sicilia and are still dreaming of those two fine flavors. Renee has many gifts, among them an ability to draw back the curtain to expose an insider's view of her corner of this beautiful island. She is warm, bubbly, knowledgeable, exceedingly well connected, and a pleasure to be around. We were treated to an early morning breakfast of warm ricotta stirred over the fire in what appeared a witch's cauldron; a day-long lunch with a large Italian family in their farmhouse--everyone from baby to grandparents--the table piled high with pizza straight from their wood-fired oven, grilled meats, salads of every kind, local cheeses, wine, and grappa; a visit to a fishing village followed by an exquisite lunch in a newly converted fish market; a guided walk through an herb farm and another in a lemon grove; a hands-on cooking lesson using local products in a small agriturismo; and much more. The resort where we stayed was lovely, the staff welcoming and helpful (we miss you, Mariangela!), and our local driver, Alfonso, was pure delight, delivering us safely from place to place, all the while sharing stories about his native region, its history and culture, often serenading us with his resonant voice."
-Jennie Schacht, Author of Farmer's Market Desserts & Sue Burish 2011 Lemons & Oregano Tour (http://jennieschacht.com/books.html)
"So pleased to receive the first recipes...will be eager to receive the multitude of others that we devoured. It was a wonderful experience that we will be talking about for years to come. Thanks for all your efforts to make it so special."
-Donna Whitaker 2011 Lemons & Oregano Tour
"Ciao Renee, I just wanted to thank you again for making my vacation wonderful! I made it home safe yesterday and my son was able to pick me up. To return the favor for him, today I took his pants to a tailor for alterations and ended up in the home of an old Italian tailor and his wife. They insisted I have Italian coffee and cake so I did! I will gladly give your name and info to anyone I know who wants to visit Sicily. Love to all your crew
-Alfonso, Enza, Cesere, Mary Angela, and the others. Looking forward to the recipes!" Fondly, Mary Dardani 2011 Olive Harvest Tour
"Renee, even for someone like me, who knows Italy and the Italians fairly well, I was completely satisfied and pleasantly surprised with all that you did to make it happen. It is clear to me that you love Italy, as I do, and your tours are an extraordinary opportunity for many people to see an Italy that they would never otherwise see."
-Stephen S., Scotch Plains, NJ 2004 Wine Tour, 2007 Olive Harvest Tour, 2010 Lemons & Oregano Tour
"Traveling with Renee is an extraordinary experience. She knows all the right places to see, and gets you there with stories and smiles and wit and intelligence that makes every moment a revelation even for the most seasoned travelers. This culinary adventure taught me more than a few things, and I brought home the philosophy of Sicilian cooking. No stranger to Culinary arts, Renee makes the trip come alive with the right people in their own homes showing us the way to live with the land. Most important, Renee understands people and creates a group dynamic from absolute strangers in a very short time. And you get to eat! What could be better?"
-Camille Cacciatore Savitz, May 2008
"There were many moments scattered throughout the trip that made it fascinating and memorable. I felt our accommodations were wonderful, the breakfasts were more than the average continental breakfasts that B&Bs usually provide. And the view; just being outdoors first thing in the morning, chatting with like-minded folks listening to the birds talking to each other was special for me. The welcoming, loving nature of the Sicilians was very heartwarming to me. I loved the organic food that was Sicily, the gelato, and fresh pasta, and marvelous sauces. I will miss it. The welcoming, friendly nature of the people was lovely, you could see that Renee had made a special point of introducing us to different types of Sicilians, and their lifestyles. She really did show us a hidden Sicily."
-Devya 2008 Hidden Sicily Tour
"As one who specializes in Heritage Tourism, I was moved by the invitation to join Renee last year in her beloved Sicily. After spending a week sightseeing, dining on organic foods and wines, now I understood why Renee is so passionate about this island off the boot of Italy. What makes her program a success and Sicily a great destination? Renee makes sure you are in touch with the pulse of the Sicilian people, through its art, history, music, and landscapes. And so when you add all of this, with the hundreds of years blending African and Mediterranean food preparation, it's no wonder Renee's trips are called the "Soul of Sicily"." Warm regards,
-David Moody, A.C.C., C.T.A. 2008 Hidden Sicily Tour
"Your passion for Sicily is contagious. This was one of the most inspiring, beautiful, soul-searching vacations I've experienced (... and I've done a lot of traveling). Definitely one to treasure, with wonderful memories. Sicily's connection with nature is palpable. Sicily touches and nurtures the traveler's soul. Looking forward to the next one. Kudos to all of you!!!!"
-Ruby Harmon, April 2008
As we were leaving the happy sprawling home of Pippo and Elena after our cooking lesson, someone in our little group said "I think that was the best day of my life". I believe we all felt that way."
-Ruth Kramer, May 2008
"As a general comment, when asked about the trip I respond that the week in Sicily was the best vacation week we have had. Like small groups? Like learning? Want to avoid tourist traps? Want to laugh? Want to laugh some more? Maybe eat great food? Want to say you've never had an experience like this. Join the group!
-Bonnie and Jerry Herbolsheimer, 2007 Soul of Sicily Olive Harvest
"Sicily was a place we might never have thought to visit on our own. We are so glad we went on your Sicilian Harvest Tour. Your love for Sicily made the people, the history and the beauty come alive in such a personal way. It was great!"
-Shari & Curt Hamre, 2007 Soul of Sicily Olive Harvest
"Her programs in Sicily are great because she takes the work out of touring in a foreign country. Every day after sleeping well in a clean and comfortable room, you will just follow her lead while she enthusiastically introduces her guests to unique cultural and culinary experiences. There is no need to read maps, figure out train and bus routes because Renee ensures that you will be guided through a surprising and unusual journey that she has carefully and reliably arranged. I recommend traveling with Renee if you want to have a fulfilling Italian vacation with maximum relaxation as well as sophistication."
-Melenie Krebber, October 2006 Olive Harvest in Sicily
"Many thanks to Renee and her team in Sicily! My sister and I spent a week with Soul of Sicily in October 2011 in an attempt to rediscover our grandmothers roots. The logistics were seamless, the people were friendly, the scenery was beautiful, the weather was ideal, the wine was plentiful, and the food was delicious. Each day started with a view of the ocean from our hotel, followed by alternating days of cooking lessons (Sicilian meatballs) or touring (my favorites were the fish market in Siracusa and the ancient tonnara near Marzememi). The authentic, home style food was fun to prepare (especially with lessons led by Renee and local home cooks) and delicious. So much so that we brought our new skills back to the US and cooked all the dishes at our last family reunion over the Christmas holidays. Being based at the same hotel for the entire week really simplified the trip, allowed us learn about the Noto area in more detail, and made for more fulfilling stress-free days. I felt so comfortable in Sicily, I am now taking Italian lessons so I will be better prepared when I next return. "
-John Pazienza 2011 Olive Harvest Tour
"Thank you for organizing a wonderful tour of food, fun and surprises! We tell everyone about our fabulous time in Italy. We have traveled the world but we both agree this was our best vacation ever. THANK YOU!"
Sharon H., Plymouth, MN 2004 Tour
"We had the best week of our lives! Just fabulous! Thanks"
The Newman's and The Ailleo's A Taste of Sicily 2006 Tour
"Barbara and I are still savoring the good times and new friendships we made during our tour. The small size of the group combined with the unique up close and personal contacts with the wonderful people and sites of Italy make it a truely grand time."
Barbara and Alan Tennessen, 2007 Soul of Sicily Olive Harvest
"Each day spent with Renee increasingly became more amazing.
One such day began with touring an old flour mill still powered by water.
There we purchased whole wheat flour to be used to make lunch.
We then journeyed up into the hills outside of Noto, to join our hosts Pippo, his wife Elena and daughter Flavia lived.
Elena and Flavia showed us how to prepare our flour into dough and roll out to make calzones. While Pippo told stories of the family and the land his family owned for generations.
The group took turns rolling dough, filling them with fava beans, broccoli rabe and mozzarella. Then we placed them in the brick oven until golden brown.
What a fantastic time we had swapping stories in Italian and English, baking, eating our lunch, while sipping on homemade wine, lemon cello and grappa.
Fava beans never tasted so good."
David Moody, ACC, CTA, David's Cruise Vacations
"One of my purposes for joining the Sicilian Food and Culture Club was my desire to explore my roots, the beautiful, complex and often misunderstood island of Sicilia was always a bit of a mystery to me. I thought the club a great place to research my trip. It turned out I found my opportunity through Soul of Sicily with Renee and not with my family in Palermo. In addition I have been looking for an authentic cooking experience in Italy for many years. The Soul of Sicily met all my expectations. I brought my 3 daughters to experience our cooking heritage. We all left with a greater understanding of our ancestors and heritage their joys and their labors. Renee expertly weaves the Sicilian culture,language and family traditions into the The Soul of Sicily experience. In Sicily the family table comes first and we were warmly welcome guests at our hosts homes and kitchen. I was taught there is always room for one more at an Italian table in Sicily there is room for 10 more. The art and joy of communal cooking is alive and well in this farm to table experience. Renee creates a connection between the "old ways" and the people of modern Sicily. Her passion for keeping these family traditions alive is infectious. Renee has forged a relationship with theses families and joins them in their commitment to to organic and sustainable farming. Preserving the land as it still exists today is labor of love for the traditional farming citizens of Sicilia. This is a full sensory experience the smell of the sea and the warmth of the Sirocco winds, the sounds of the market place,the touch of handling pasta dough,the heat of the home wood burning pizza oven and the ochre color of the Baroque buildings in Noto. Oh yes did I mention the delicious food we all prepared with the instruction of these expert home cooks. We drank bottles of Nero d'Avola and ate our mid day lunch with our hosts. We ate like men and women who had labored hours in the orchards picking olives from the 200 hundred year old trees right outside. Actually we did pick some of those olives! I grew up in a family that enjoyed communal cooking (regardless of the light hearted bickering about how mama prepared that particular dish). I have instilled that tradition in my own family with a little less bickering. We are a family of foodies and we often (not always) defer to the graduate of the French Culinary Institute. I think she was the only one who got a "perfetto" from our Nonna instructor. We documented every dish on film and anxiously await our recipes for our first reunion cook off. I think it will be the ravioli. Only this time we won't be serenaded with silly Sicilian folk songs by our driver Alfonso. We will serve the pumpkin ravioli as our first course Thanksgiving. Very appropriate. Communal cooking is an important part of our heritage now more firmly instilled by our experience through The Soul of Sicily. The tradition will continue! Yes Renee there are a few tears just now. Thank you." -Donna Trinko 2013