This year has gone by like a high-speed train, rushing headlong into the future and carrying me along -- breathless and shaken -- for the ride. Exactly one year ago I founded my new tour company (Wild Sage) together with my long-time friend Manu, and since then we have run 12 amazing trips and are hard at work on 2024. It was a true jump into the unknown!
There were a number of "firsts" on my tours this year, including a thrilling paraglide sail from 2,000 m (6,600 ft) over the southern coast of Turkey. It was a perfect metaphor for the year: trust your instincts, align yourself with good people, take a leap of faith, and enjoy the ride.
It was also a beautiful year of sacred spaces, from mosques and churches to ancient holy sites in Sicily, Sardinia, Greece and Turkey. Here below: the Greek "Temple of Concordia" in Agrigento, Sicily; the Blue Mosque, Istanbul; the temple to Apollo in Naxos, Greece; the façade of the Cathedral of Lucca, Tuscany; the Santa Sofia church-turned-mosque in Istanbul; the Benedictine cloister in Monreale, Sicily. (click on each image to see it in full size)
The most fascinating archaeological moments of my year took place in Sardinia, an island that's so full of ancient sites you don't even know where to start! Here below is a sacred fountain from around 1000 BCE, built by the enigmatic Nuragic people. Water was channeled down from the mountains and flowed through ram's-head spigots into a central basin, highlighting the importance of water on an arid island.
Other astounding moments included: going inside an ancient tomb that had a depression in the center that may indicate access to the afterlife; visiting the archaeology museum in Cagliari which had bronze figurines like this warrior, who is so powerful he has 4 eyes and 4 arms; and visiting numerous "nuraghe" -- the fortified stone complexes that would have looked remarkably like Medieval castles:
The more I went back in time the more I realized how similar we are to our distant ancestors. We all have aches and pains, like these votive statuettes asking for divine intervention to cure various ailments (I just love how they're holding the affected area and expressing real distress!).
You can see much more of my Sardinia adventures in my previous blog post (click here).
I was lucky to have another Greek island trip this year, so I spent a few days in Athens followed by a week on Santorini and Naxos:
It was a true delight to return to Turkey after a long absence. There's no city like Istanbul!
I love the changing light-show in the underground cisterns, built under Emperor Justinian in the 6th c., when Istanbul (then Constantinople) was the powerful center of the Eastern Roman Empire.
And I love the explosion of colors and aromas at the Grand Bazaar:
After Istanbul we spent a week on a Turkish gulet, one of my favorite ways to travel!
The southern coast of Turkey was coveted and conquered by many civilizations, from the Persians to the Greeks and Romans, as it was a gateway between East and West, so you find lots of ancient ruins, like this Greek temple at Knidos (seen here in a riot of April wildflowers!):
Just before Turkey I spent 3 wonderfal days on the shores of Lake Como...
... including a visit of the grand Villa Balbianello. Its last owner was an Italian explorer who traveled the world and even climbed Mt. Everest! His collection of Inuit figurines made me very happy. 😍
In June I went to Corsica and got to do one of my favorite hikes: the Calenches of Piana
After Corsica I went to Naples, Ischia Island and the Amalfi Coast:
It was such a surprise to find a huge LGBT+ Pride parade in Naples, which is more known for its machismo. Nice to see taboos being broken!
There was also a "feminist wall," which was in line with the nationwide demonstrations condemning violence against women. Italy still has a long way to go!
I had an awesome week in Sardinia, with a day out on a river kayak, an adventurous walk into a cave, and an exciting hike into a gorge (and the hotel is A-MA-ZING):
One of the coolest visits was to see the Carnival masks of Mamoiada, where the men dress up as shepherds and fantastical sheep:
The place I went the most this year was Sicily: I had three trips and already have two on my schedule for 2024!
We begin in Palermo, which was a thriving center for the arts and religious tolerance in the Middle Ages: the 12th c. Palatine Chapel features glittering gold mosaics crafted by Byzantine artists, an Islamic carved wooden ceiling, and elegant Norman architecture. Towering palm trees harken back to Arab pleasure gardens. And the Cathedral holds the tombs of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and other Norman and Swabian rulers. There's more gold leaf inside the Norman Castle, plus rooms and rooms of hand-painted tiles at a private museum, and plenty of vibrant nightlife.
Palermo also has Italy's largest Opera House, and we even went to see a show! What a thrill to hear the thunderous chorus of "Carmina Burana" in this 19th c. temple to music!
And what a thrill to then visit an ancient theater, built by the Elymians in Greek style at Segesta:
Another astounding archaeological site I visited was the Ancient Greek city at Agrigento, in southern Sicily. Although mostly destroyed, some temples remain as well as this Atlas figure, who was one of 38 colossal statues holding up the Temple of Olympian Zeus. He's 25 feet tall and it would have been one of the largest temples ever erected! (see the little replica, bottom right, and try to imagine how big it would have been!)
Moving across the island we stop to see the vast Roman mosaics of the Villa del Casale, which cover an astounding 40,000 sq ft (!), then continue to lovely Siracusa and the tiny island of Ortigia.
Sicily was once the most important island in the Mediterranean but eventually suffered from neglect and poverty. Here is a photo of daily life in Agrigento from 1943 -- in the middle of WWII. It's easy to understand why so many Sicilians emigrated to the US and other countries.
Three last pics from Sicily: the Baroque towns of Modica and Noto, and our wonderful hotel in a restored country estate:
Of course I saw loads of cute animals, like this friendly Girgentana goat (native to Agrigento)
And here's a quartet of kitties ❤️
A trio of beauties that caught my eye: a marble copy of Canova's "Cupid and Psyche" (at the Villa Carlotta, Lake Como), a wild plant sculpture in Calvi (Corsica), and a 4,000 year old Mother Earth statuette in Cagliari (Sardinia).
My six favorite water shots: deserted beach, Agrigento (Sicily); bathers on the banks of Lake Garda, Italy; swimmers at Ischia Island, near Naples; my "best swim of 2023" on the west coast of Corsica; shimmering emerald waters on Naxos Island, Greece; and turquoise water in southern Turkey.
And last but WAY not least, the FOOD! 😋😁 Making tortelloni in Modena, a group "Cin-Cin" with cocktails, coffee granita and almond pastries in Sicily, fresh pacchino tomatoes and mozzarella at a wine tasting in Sicily, colorful produce at the morning market, a tangy orange, olive and caper salad in Siracusa, a ball of burrata in pumpkin soup for a chilly fall evening, learning to make "nonna's" special pasta dish, a garden of greens in Palermo, a special take on a Greek salad in Santorini, a plethora of 'mezes' in Turkey, and chocolate in Modica using the original Aztec recipe brought to Sicily by the Spanish. Buon Appetito!
It was an amazing season, as always (sometimes I can't even believe all I do in one year!), and I'm so lucky to have a job I love so much.
I'll end with three of me in my happy place: feet on the trail or floating around on a boat. Nice work if you can get it! 😎
These are just a small selection of this year's pics (I have 13,250 pics in my 2023 folder!!) so I hope you enjoyed them. I'd love to show you around these and other destinations in person so drop me an email if you'd like to join me. I'm mainly busy with private groups but we do have some open tours for 2024. You can see those here --> 2024 OPEN TOURS.