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Discovering family heritage in Sicily

Jan 23, 2017 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

One of the many reasons to travel abroad is to trace your ancestry and visit the places where family members once lived. On our Rome, Sorrento & Sicily tour, Go Ahead Quality & Reviews Specialist Katina—who replies to all of your online trip reviews—discovered that this sometimes means a brand-new destination can feel quite familiar. Here, she shares how she connected with her Sicilian heritage during her trip.

buildings on top of hill in sicily italy

Some of my fondest memories are of my Sicilian great grandmother, or Mimi as we all referred to her. Mimi was a force of good—a bold, fiercely passionate matriarch who practically lived in her kitchen and had an unbelievable zest for life and love for people. She taught me many things, like “one man’s weeds are another man’s salad” and “one should always help those in need.” On any given day, you could enter her house and smell eggplant frying in the pan or find a handful of her many friends and family members arguing loudly at the kitchen table (and by arguing, I mean talking, but at a decibel level that sounds a lot like yelling). She made everyone around her feel important and valued. She held the fabric of our family together in the present, while remaining a constant reminder of our past.

Perhaps what stuck with me most throughout the years, though, is how proud she was of her heritage. She lit up when we talked about anything Italian: the homeland, our relatives, the impossible freshness of the food. For her, Sicily wasn’t just her heritage; it represented a way of life. Yes, her passport was American, but her heart was always Sicilian.

Since we laid Mimi to rest in 2002, it had been a personal dream of mine to travel to Sicily to both honor her and learn about the island I heard about my whole life, the island I have ties to, yet never knew. So, when I joined the Go Ahead team and had the opportunity to visit my homeland, you can imagine the joy and gratitude I felt. This wasn’t just another travel experience; it was a chance to discover my roots.

Katina in Sicily

What awaited in Sicily was more than I could have anticipated. Of course, there was the indescribable beauty of the island, the sites that are hard to believe even when you see them with your own eyes: smoking volcanoes, sparkling water, precipitous cliffs, striking flora, and picturesque coastal villages. Appreciating the magnificent natural surroundings was certainly a highlight for everyone in our group. And then there’s the world-renowned cuisine in Sicily

The most remarkable thing I discovered about Sicily was the distinctive passion with which the people live, eat, and love. It was the same passion that defined Mimi’s life. It was the passion that drove her to protect and honor the things that mattered: family, tradition, history, and food. Seeing how much these components of life were treasured here not only reconnected me to Mimi, but also put a lot into perspective as a fifth-generation Sicilian.

purple italian grapes handing from leafy vines

Every trip has an aha moment. That moment for me was when we visited a breathtaking vineyard located on the slopes of Mount Etna. Founded in 1727 by the Nicolosi family, the vineyard passed through 10 generations of family members over the years. To this day, it remains a family-owned operation. The distinctive climate and volcanic soil produce extraordinary wines, but also present unique challenges. Despite these challenges, the same family succeeded in preserving and protecting these lands for almost 300 years. How many things can you think of in your family that go back three centuries?

That’s when I realized that, in some ways, this trip was my way of preserving a few things. It was a means of preserving my connection with my great grandmother, as well as the insatiable curiosity she instilled in me. While personal growth can be brought about by many different things, travel has proven to be the most powerful for me. I’m eternally grateful for this opportunity to learn about my heritage in Sicily, which brought me closer to Mimi, all these years later.

Have you ever retraced your family’s roots while traveling? Share your own heritage story with us on Facebook, or send it to us at

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About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

Tours that visit Sicily

Sicily: A Cultural Journey
12 days | 14 days with Taormina Region extension

4.7 out of 5 stars

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The Go Ahead Travel Guide to Sicily