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Benny and Sara Cate Scaduto own Sicily South, a travel company that offers small group trips to Sicily, Italy.

SARAH CATE PATTEN SCADUTO

Age: 31

Hometown: Signal Mountain, Tennessee

Occupation: Co-owner of Sicily South tour company

BENNY SCADUTO

Age: 37

Hometown: Bagheria, Sicily

Occupation: Co-owner of Sicily South tour company

For most people, the idea of traveling to Italy twice a year sounds like a dream. But for Signal Mountain residents Benny and Sarah Cate Patten Scaduto, it's work.

The couple recently launched Sicily South, their business offering boutique, small group tours of Benny's native Sicily.

From taking a private cooking class at the country home of a real Sicilian grandmother to enjoying a custom tasting menu prepared by one of Benny's old friends — now one of Palermo's top chefs — the Scadutos provide travelers with an authentic experience only someone with the business owner's hometown connections could provide. Benny was born and raised in Sicily, in the Palermo province.

His local status also means he knows all the best places — which aren't necessarily the most popular. For example, he and Sarah Cate count the island of Ortygia among their favorite spots. "It has kind of a New Orleans vibe almost. It's just really fun and super-charming," Sarah Cate says, adding that the island's history, which dates back to ancient Greece, is apparent in the range of architectural styles present; sometimes in a single building.

They also love Ragusa Ibla, a city located on the southeastern corner of Sicily, where most of the architecture is in the Baroque style. The entire area had to be rebuilt following an earthquake in 1693, so it's much newer than everything around it, she says.

Both are included on the company's signature trip, the next of which is planned for October. The Scadutos are also working on more specialized itineraries, with a wine-focused trip being the first they plan to introduce.

» Sarah Cate: I have always wanted to do this. I studied abroad in high school, which is where I met Benny. I always loved traveling anyway, but just thought it'd be such a fun way to use my Italian language skills and my love for travel.

» Sarah Cate: We met in a town about an hour and a half north of Rome when I was studying abroad there my junior year of high school. He was one of the military guards that they placed outside the school after Sept. 11 happened. I lived in Sicily for about six months after I finished high school in 2005, 2006.

» Sarah Cate: We're working on doing longer stretches every time we go to allow us to scout out new places and make new itineraries and everything, but twice a year, we go in [the spring and fall] and spend a little family time and then do a trip.

» Sarah Cate: My favorite part about Sicilian and Italian culture really is their happy hour. In Italy, and especially in Sicily, it's really just a part of their culture. And so, around 5 o'clock, when people are starting to finish work, you can sit in the piazza at a table and they'll bring you a really amazing glass of wine for not very much money. And they bring you free food, and not just like "Here's some chips," or whatever. Most of the time you're sitting outside and in the open, and get some great people watching in. And so we're going to work on introducing people to that experience in our trips, and focusing on native Sicilian grapes and the wines that they make with them.

More Info

Want To Go?

To learn more or reserve a spot, contact Sarah Cate at 423-619-7566 or sicilysouth@gmail.com, or visit sicilysouth.com.

» Benny: I can talk for hours about the variety of the wine. There are so many indigenous grapes — grapes that people have never heard about. I know a lot of people have heard about Chianti, but it's so much more in Sicily. We want to focus on that, and we want to educate people on the different variety and the pairing with a particular style.

 

» Sarah Cate: Sicilian wine is just kind of now, over the past few years, getting the recognition that it really deserves. For a long time it just had this reputation as being not so great and nothing special, but really, it's amazing, and especially around the area of Mount Etna. They have all the volcanic ash in the soil, so it creates this mineral quality of the grapes and that translates into the wines, and they're booming right now.

» Sarah Cate: I think our trips are probably most appealing to people who have maybe been to Italy before. Sicily is one of those places, even people who've been to Italy repeatedly, they're like, "I've been to Italy so many times but I've never made it to Sicily."

» Sarah Cate: But we also encourage first-timers to check it out, too, because it has everything: It's got ancient Roman ruins, it's got ancient Greek. It's got beautiful art history. The food and wine is — I'm just going to say it's the best in Italy, period. There's no contest.

» Sarah Cate: In Sicily, people always say they're Sicilian before they say they're Italian. And so there's a really strong sense of pride in being Sicilian. And for good reason.

» Sarah Cate:  The owners of the hotels and bed and breakfasts we stay in, they're just so warm, and their hospitality — you feel, in the best way possible, like you're staying in their home. The bed and breakfast that we stay in, it only has six rooms, and so we take over the whole place while we're there. And the breakfast that they put out, it's just like farm to table, and they have everything you can possibly want.

» Benny: And of course everything local, all the cheeses, all the meat.

» Sarah Cate: Sicily literally has everything. You've got the Mediterranean, you've got mountains, you've got the countryside. And we hit all of that in our signature tour that we're doing right now. We start in Palermo, which is a big city; we do a night in the countryside, kind of like a farmstay; then we do three nights in Ragusa Ibla to be up in the hills, a little bit of elevation; and then we end in Ortygia, which is on the sea. So it really hits all of it.

» Sarah Cate: Our trips are, I hesitate to say "all-inclusive" because they're really not, but they're so close. All the ground transportation is included. So once you arrive in Palermo, you're taken care of — all the hotels, all your breakfast, I think all the lunches. If not, it's just one or two that aren't included, and the same for dinners. And then we do two winery tours; we do a boat trip around Ortygia.

» Sarah Cate: We have tried to strike a really good balance between structure and free time. We're not like "go, go, go," like every single minute is planned out. We have free time built into just about every single day.

» Sarah Cate: You stay three nights in Ragusa and three nights in Ortygia, so you really get to unpack and relax and enjoy and get to know the place, versus just kind of rushing through on to the next place.

» Benny: What we really hate, and that we don't want to be, is the classic huge, big tourist group with the classic lady with the big umbrella

» Sarah Cate: Leading people with their headsets listening to everything she's saying — we're not that. The maximum number of people we can take is 12, so we keep the group small, and we like that size the best.

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