Insider addresses in Northern Sicily, esthetician Joanna Czech’s beauty and wellness travel tips, and a summery cocktail with a Greek twist
A MOSTLY NORTHERN SICILY LIST
On my recent trip to Cefalù, the designers behind the very chic minimalist Italian brand Asciari, a brother/sister/mother team, reached out to me and offered a few recommendations as they know the area quite well. When I found out they are based in Milazzo, I asked them to share their favorites in the area since it’s the town that most people pass through on their way to the Aeolian Islands. They also shared some great spots along the northern coast, south of Etna, and a guest house they love outside of Ragusa.
Cappereto del Capo - A small caper farm on the capo, the highest part of the Milazzo peninsula, offering not only the endemic rare small capers of the region, but an array of delicious caper-based sauces and creams.
Siké - Award winning ice-cream in the center of town, made with seasonal raw natural ingredients
Bagatto - A 30-year-old bistro impeccably managed by chef-owner Chiara Surdo. Mellow music, soft lighting and a bohemian crowd complement a strong wine list and a Slow Food menu with local ingredients. In the last few years, a locanda with more refined rooms has been added to the bistro.
Asciari - The brand’s headquarters are in the center of Milazzo. Everything we make is artisanally crafted in Sicily using natural materials and with traditional principles of Italian craftsmanship and heritage.
CASTEL DI TUSA
Atelier sul Mare - A contemporary museum-art hotel conceived by the visionary mind of Antonio Presti. The room itself becomes a work of art—and the artist's work is at the guest's disposal in order to awaken emotions and meditations: by staying in a room, the work of art will be completed. Apart from the hotel, Presti has created the Fiumara d’Arte foundation with landscape art placed all around the hotel area and grounds.
Qualia - A modern bistro with a curated and minimalistic design managed by a young couple who spent time in Northern Europe before returning to Sicily. The food is based on fresh and organic seasonal ingredients from local and small suppliers, reinterpreting Sicilian cuisine with an international twist. They also have a great natural wine selection. Definitely one of the best not-yet-Michelin-starred restaurants in Sicily.
Bar Russo - One of the oldest family owned bar-patisseries in Sicily, featuring a true local experience via three generations of heritage recipes.
Locanda Milia - At the heart of a chestnut forest 5,000 feet above sea level, this property lets you explore Etna’s last wilderness area from a refined mountain lodge. The owner also owns Santa Barbara Refuge, about 6,000 feet up in the heart of Piano Vetore, so customized excursions can be arranged.
N’orma - Andreina, an interior designer, and Maurizio, a former journalist, are the amazing couple behind this soulful place built on an original old Sicilian masseria. The ancient roots of the building are well integrated with a contemporary re-design, featuring a square courtyard with just two guest rooms around it. The idea is to enjoy the space and the landscape, pampered and unhurried, with delicious food, a pool, and a small library with a great book selection. One of the best parts of staying here is chatting with Maurizio and Andreina over a glass of wine on the terrace, with a view of Chiaramonte Gulf’s incredible landscape. It’s off the path from Sicily’s most touristed destinations but a perfect location for visiting the Baroque cities of Ragusa, Modica, Noto, Syracuse and the coast.
We were just in Patmos at our friends’ new guesthouse, Pagostas (more to come on that very soon!), and Matt came up with a house cocktail for them, inspired by mostly Greek ingredients (largely from their garden!). It’s essentially a julep, and you can watch him making it here:
1 oz ouzo
2 oz gin
1 oz lemon juice
5-6 leaves of mint and 5-6 leaves of basil
Crack of black pepper
In a metal cup or glass of choice, add basil and mint with ouzo, and muddle. Fill with crushed ice. Add gin and lemon and stir. Add crack of black pepper on top and serve.
Tell us about you and your company—what do you do and how did you start down this path?
I have been an esthetician for over 35 years. I became one because I did not pass physics and needed it to apply to medical school, which was my plan (and my parents’ dream for me). While I was studying to take the physics exam, I enrolled in the beauty institute in my town in Poland and fell in love with it. In Poland, we had to do over 2.5 years of training, and it was quite rigorous and holistic. I always loved taking care of people—when I was very young, I would bandage my dolls and help “fix” them.
After graduation, my parents gave me the money to open a small studio and when I was 25, I came to the US. My real break came when I went to work at The Reebok Sports Club in Manhattan, which at the time was the hottest new fitness club, and I began to see celebrities regularly. I then opened my own spa uptown and in 2011, my husband’s job took us to Dallas, where I opened a flagship studio. In 2018, I opened a studio in New York. Now I’m building a larger flagship studio in NY and I launched Joanna Czech Skincare 6 months ago.
Where in the world do you feel most grounded/at home?
I would say my New York apartment. It is small and simple with large windows throughout that look out onto my favorite city. I also love being in Petaluma, CA where my brother lives. I love the smell of nature and taking walks in the neighborhood with his 3 dogs, whom I love. I also like being close enough to San Francisco, but far enough to be surrounded by nature.
Where in the world do you go to feel revitalized?
I love a beach. The combination of ocean, sun, sand and air makes me feel relaxed and happy. I also get a similar feeling after a workout. Sports and exercise have been part of my life since I was a small child, and the endorphins are real. Some of my favorites: the local Hamptons Beaches (Flying Point, Coopers Beach, Ditch Plains), Xpu-ha on the Mayan Riviera in Mexico (Esencia’s beach), the Riccione and Rimini beaches in Italy on the Adriatic Sea.
What are a few other favorite wellness destinations?
Cheval Blanc in Paris, a beautifully designed hotel with a great gym and beautiful spa, which has an incredible snow room and swimming pool.
La Reserve in Ramatuelle, France. The sea looks beautiful from every room.
Hotel Nun Assisi in Umbria, Italy. It’s quiet and intimate—you feel the history of the city.
Hotel Esencia in Tulum, Mexico. Great beach, great food and every detail is so thoughtful.
How do you approach staying healthy and relaxed when you travel by plane?
I always wear my sexy compression socks. I also try to stick to healthy food choices. I drink a lot of water. And my skincare routines are abbreviated on a plane: I use The Cleansing Wipes, The Toner, and a thick layer of The Balm, as planes are incredibly dehydrating. I do puzzles, I read books, listen to music, watch movies, and try to sleep if it is a long flight.
Any strategies for dealing with jet lag?
I find that as soon as I get to my hotel or place I am staying, I take a short 1-2 hour nap and then I join the world at whatever time it is. If I arrive in the evening, I have dinner and go to sleep. Espressos help keep me going.
What are a few things you always pack for your routine on the road?
How to care for summer skin while traveling?
This depends on many factors, like the climate where you are based or traveling to, your skin conditions, your lifestyle etc. Some general tips if you are in hot, sunny climates:
Use lighter moisturizers; the heavier ones mixed with high humidity and sunblock can cause breakouts.
If your skin is on the oilier side, switch to lighter water-based products.
Don’t forget SPF on the face and body if you are spending more than 20-30 minutes in the sun. Look for a formula with an SPF 30 minimum. A broad-spectrum sunscreen offers protection from UVA, UVB and infrared rays.
Use Vitamin C during the day. It not only boosts your immune system, but it also acts as an antioxidant, helping to stimulate collagen and elastin production, minimize the appearance of sunspots and protect the skin from damaging free radicals.
Do you pack any specific tools for exercise?
Resistance bands—they don’t take up any space and are light.
Do you have a favorite city with a wellness scene?
New York, which seems like a weird choice, but there is so much of everything in this great city. You can have healthy food and juices delivered at any hour of the day. It is also a walking city, and I love to take long walks.
Where do you dream of going next and why?
Australia. I have not been and have heard great things about the people, the food, the healthy lifestyle.
EGYPT RETREAT ALERT!
Our friend J.J. Martin recently returned from a spiritual adventure to Egypt on a trip led by Dee Kennedy (@awakeningthedivine), and now the two are co-leading a similar journey this October 14-26, focused on the Ancient Egyptian Mystery School. Dee has spent 16 years honing this idiosyncratic 10-day itinerary, which includes private access to temples and sites beginning with the Sphinx in Cairo, then flying to Aswan and floating north along the Nile aboard a traditional boat. Each visit will incorporate meditations, energy rituals and history lessons—more information here. -A.P.