Ciro Grillo takes the author on a moped ride through the terrifying streets of Palermo. (Photo: Jo Piazza)
My father likes to refer to Ciro Grillo as a member of our family.
“Ciro is my cugini,” he says with a flourish of his hand, gesticulating and using a thick Tony Soprano-accent in case you didn’t know that he is a proud Italian-American.
The author’s father, John Piazza, stands outside his family’s town of Caltabellotta. (Photo: Jo Piazza)
Ciro is not related to us. The truth is that Ciro (pronounced Cheer-O) is one of the most competent tour guides you will find in all of Italy, on the often difficult to navigate island of Sicily.
The streets of Taormina (Photo: Jo Piazza)
In the past decade that my family has known Ciro and adopted him as a “cugini” he has picked us up from the airport in Palermo well after midnight and taken me on a hair-raising motor-scooter ride through the city during the rush hour to get a scoop of the perfect Mandorla (almond) flavored gelato. On another trip I just told Ciro I wanted to go somewhere that no one spoke English and drive a boat. He shipped me off to a small fishing village in the Egadi islands to crash at his buddy Pippo’s.
Twice, he has aided my dad with an “adventure” that drove my mother Tracey to curse Ciro’s name:
1. About seven years ago my dad wanted to hunt down his long-lost Sicilian ancestors. This led to a wild goose chase wherein John Piazza attempted to solve the century-old cold case of his great grandmother Marsala Piazza’s murder. The case remains cold.
2. A couple of years after that Ciro helped my dad start importing organic olive oil to sell in the United States. My parents’ garage will forever be filled with organic Sicilian olive oil.
If you’re traveling to Sicily you need a little Ciro in your life. He will plan your trip/wedding/family reunion, help you get where you want to go, translate for you, find you delicious food in every town and introduce you to guys named Pippo.
A guy named Pippo. (Photo: Jo Piazza)
You want to be able to say that “you’ve got a guy” in Sicily. Ciro is that guy. We asked him 5 questions about what he does.
Yahoo: What do people pay you?
Ciro: All my tours are ” tailored” to my customer needs and wishes. My rates may vary depending on many things (number of people, kind of service, places where to go…etc). To give you an idea: For a group of four people a daily rate that includes the car and the English speaking driver/guide may vary from 250 to 350 Euro per day.
Yahoo: What is the craziest thing an American (besides my dad) has ever asked you to help them with?
Ciro: Asking me to find their relatives by only giving me two or three names and telling me they are from a town “somewhere near Palermo,” without knowing the name of the town.
Yahoo: What is the one thing you tell everyone they have to do in Sicily?
Ciro: Don’t try to understand what Sicily is. Just try to feel its history, its culture, its traditions.
Yahoo: What are some of the island’s hidden gems that you uncover for tourists?
Ciro: There are so many hidden villages, far from the most popular and tourist destinations, where you can walk around, meet the locals, get invited into their houses for coffee and visit a trattoria for the caponata pasta with the dried ricotta cheese or the cuddirini, this special kind of Sicilian pizza that is possible to find only in two or three towns. The islands are some of the real gems and most Americans don’t know anything about them—the Egadi, the Eolie, Ustica, Pantelleria and Lampedusa.
Maretimmo’s coves rival those of its northern neighbor Capri (Photo: Jo Piazza)
Yahoo: Are you sick of people asking you about the mafia?
Ciro: They don’t ask too much any more….but many ask to go to visit Corleone! I tell them it is a tourist trap. There is nothing special there. It is a town just like every other town and the Godfather wasn’t even filmed there.
Exploring the lunar-like landscape of Mt. Etna’s crater (Photo: Jo Piazza)
Yahoo: Tell me the perfect three-day itinerary in Sicily?
Ciro: From Palermo: Palermo, Monreale,Cefalu, Agrigento, Erice, Segesta, Trapani (with a stop at my secret “cannoli place”) and one of the many vineyards in the area of Trapani.
The secret cannoli. (Photo: Jo Piazza)
From Catania: Taormina,Siracusa, Noto, Ragusa and Modica.