Recently, I was speaking by phone to one of our most popular guides, Sergio, who lives in southern Italy. He’s leading a walking tour of Sicily right now with a group of eight guests, and they’d just returned from a visit to the Aeolian Islands.

You’ve probably heard of the Aeolians, even if you don’t realize it. They’re an archipelago of seven cone-shaped volcanic islands, just off the northeastern tip of Sicily. Stromboli is probably the most famous of the group. (If you’ve ever read or seen Pinocchio, you may remember the bad guy is Stromboli, named after this tempestuous island.)

During our conversation, my mind momentarily wandered back to my scouting trip with Sergio a dozen years ago. Dazzled by the beauty of the main island of Lipari, the day simply got away from us (as it tends to do with adventure travel to Italy). We hadn’t had any lunch, and at about 2 p.m., found ourselves on the back side of the island along an unpopulated stretch of coastline. Seeing that this was early December—not heavy tourist season—it looked like food might be out of the question for several more hours.

Until Sergio took the situation in hand…


He mentioned that he knew of a little trattoria just around a headland, owned by a couple who knew his family. If they weren’t on holiday right now, they might still be serving lunch.

We arrived at the trattoria to find they opened only for dinner. But when Sergio informed the wife that he had friends with him from the US, she invited us in. They had fresh baked rolls just coming out of the oven, and with some eggplant, tomatoes and olive oil left over from the family’s lunch, she could make some sandwiches for us if we wanted to relax on the terrace for a few minutes.

Gratefully, we sat. Under a cloudless sky, overlooking the sea, we savored our makeshift meal, accompanied by the family’s young white wine, served in a terra cotta jug. I’ve enjoyed many gourmet meals in Europe and elsewhere over the years, but to this day, that simple meal is still one of my favorites.