Just recently, the winner of the Tour de France, the “shark of the straits” Vincenzo Nibali, had me thinking about his hometown of Messina and the Sicily tour. The city celebrates his Tour de France win, but also his incredible accomplishment for becoming one of six cyclists to win the three races of the Grand tour: Vuelta a Espana in 2010, Giro d’Italia in 2013, and the Tour de France.

Messina is the birth place of many influential people like Greek philosopher and mathematician, Dicaearchus, Renaissance painter, Antonello da Messina, Baroque architect, Filippo Juvarra as well as actors, musicians, composers and saints. The third largest city in Sicily and thirteenth largest in Italy, Messina draws its creative inspiration from an eclectic group of people from all over the world. The destructive earthquake of 1908 catapulted the city structure and design into the 20th century. Over a 100 years later, the residents of Messina drink their morning coffee and settle in for the night with the imminent threat from their beloved Etna. It is a way of life for messinese to live day by day. A planner of sorts, I would often get upset with my messinese parents, who are unable to make plans. I would often hear, “I don’t know, tomorrow we’ll see.” At the time, I could not understand their comment or appreciate the reason.

Many blog posts and articles discuss Sicily’s famous towns such as Siracusa and Agrigento, but there are very few travel itineraries, blog posts, or articles that mention Messina. A gateway between East and West, Messina has always been a strategic military port and an important trading post, but no one has truly uncovered its secrets until now. To experience the Sicilian culture, we journey to small residential towns where tourists are unknown and foreigners are famous. Travelers to this area are family members like myself, who selfishly return to the origin of the slow food movement admired by many mainland Italians. There is no need to know how to cook when the selection and quality is this fabulous. The views are overwhelmingly sweet and the slow pace is meditative, a chance to sip and savor the local lifestyle. I’ve come to appreciate the way of life: mountain hikes, sea dives and festivals laced with music, dance and, of course, food. The disruptive and explosive nature of the environment affects the way of life. Messina is where the roar of the land meets the breathless sea, where magnetic forces ignite and where opposites collide. Hot summer months yield to mild winters and rich agricultural land produce savory dishes. The passion and drive that flows in their veins is comparable to eruption and outflow of lava from Etna. This is what makes Sicily, and especially Messina, so memorable. They live each day as if it’s their last.

To truly love and understand Sicily, a visit to this part of the island is a must. To hear Messina ring off the tongues of so many people is delightful. I am grateful for my messinese roots and the foresight to expose Messina’s brilliant gems.