Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town. The following interview was originally published in my Italy guide.
Today I’m happy to introduce you to Salvatore Bate, an engineer, party planner, and tourist website curator here to tell us all about Santo Stefano Medio – the place to be for castles, churches, and fried rice balls to die for.
First, tell us about you.
I am a 34-year-old civil engineer. I studied at Messina’s University and have always lived in Santo Stefano Medio. My family arrived in this village in 1926 and my great grandfather bought a big plot of land from a noble family, De Gregorio Alliata.
When my friends and I have free time, we organize events in the village. We have an association that researches information on the history and tradition of the village and I manage a little website. We organize part of the Saint Anthony party on 17 January.
If someone is visiting Santo Stefano Medio for the first time, what do you recommend they see or do?
Visit the church, where there are some beautiful paintings. The most important is a painting by Girolamo Alibrandi, a local painter and one of the most important students of Antonello da Messina. The painting was created between 1514 and 1516 and there is a beautiful picture frame (though that is not original, but from the 17th century).
I also recommend a visit to the castle, which has only three towers. It was built in the 8th century and is now a ruin.
In a village near Santo Stefano Medio, Santo Stefano Briga, there is a Byzantine church, where it is possible see original paintings, though it is a ruin, too.
In other villages, such as Mili San Pietro, it is possible see a monastery built sometime around 1100. In Scaletta Zanclea, you can visit a castle with a museum of arms.
What neighborhoods or parts of town are best to stay in?
It’s best to stay in the center of Messina if you are young or in winter when things are quieter. In the summer, though, you can choose to stay nearer to the sea. There are some hotels in the north of the city near Ganzirri, Torre Faro, and Paradiso.
Let’s talk about day trips…what nearby places should everyone make sure to visit?
I think that you must visit Taormina (which is called the pearl of Messina because of its beautiful views), the volcano Etna, Tindari, Castelmola, Montalbano Elicona, Savoca, and Forza d’Agrò. If you have more time you must visit Siracusa, Noto, Catania, and the Temple Valley in Agrigento.
Tell us about the local dishes. What should people try here?
In Santo Stefano Medio, you can eat the best arancino (fried rice balls). They are particularly good at Pizzeria Tony, located at Via Comunale 163, which also offers focaccia, pasta sapori dell’Etna with bacon and pistachio of Bronte, pasta alla norma with tomato and eggplant, and funghi e salsiccia with mushroom and sausage.
Another favorite place is Bar De Stefano, located in Piazza S. Giovanni, which is in Santo Stefano di Briga and has very good nougat ice cream.
Then there’s Pasticceria Crupi, which is located at Via C. Battisti 374 in Messina and has the best cannolo Siciliano (Sicilian cannoli) in the city.
One other typical dish is pisci stoppu a ghiotta (stockfish with potatoes and capers) and the best place to eat it is in Trattoria Don Nino, at Viale Europa 39, or in Trattoria Al Padrino, at Via Santa Cecilia 54 (both in Messina).
Is there anything tourists do that locals find rude or strange? What can we do to better fit in with the culture?
Arrive with a smile on your face, have the desire to speak with the people, have patience if you wait for a bus or a train, and don’t worry about dieting.
What is the best way to meet locals and make friends?
You can find always people in the bars or in the village square.
What is the best place to go take beautiful photos of the city?
You can take photos from the Saint Gaetano Church and square.
Anything else you want us to know?
If you come in Messina, you must taste the granita—a typical breakfast in Messina with many different flavors. Also, in my village and the neighboring village, there is a local DOC wine called Faro, which you should try.