Read any guide to Italy and you will find no mention of dealing with the police. Ask any local and you will learn that police encounters with tourists are rare. That wasn’t the case for me. In Naples, I was stopped by an undercover cop. In Sicily, I was shaken down for 50 euros by ‘government officials’. Before I get to the incident in Mt. Etna, let me describe one of the best days of this trip, the wine tour up the biggest active volcano in Europe.
The Panda began at the base of the mountain at 2PM and attempted to reach the summit before 5PM when most of the wineries closed. Directions are not needed. Simply go up the mountain and look for vineyards along the way.
Milo (Bottom of Mt. Etna)
The first stop was the town of Milo which has the best white wines. We visited Barone di Villagrande. Reservations are not needed but are recommended. For 20 euros per person, we were able to sample a variety of wines and have a light lunch on the terrace.
Driving (Quarter Way)
It was really fun hustling up the mountain. I do regret that we did not have more time to spend in so many of the towns we passed along the way and to take more pictures of the vineyards.
Linguaglossa (Halfway or so)
In a hurry, we hopped back in the Panda and made our way up the mountain. We passed a sign that said Gambino. It reminded of my legal idol, Vinny Gambini. We made an abrupt u-turn and headed up a small hill. There we found the Gambino Winery. Short on time, we asked how long they were open. The waiter said, “This is not a post office, we do not close at 5. Make yourself at home.” And that’s what we did. Bread and olive oil was provided along with countless bottles of wine. If we wanted more wine, we could help ourselves. There was no limit. This was less wine tasting and more wine consumption. I’m certainly happy we stopped in.
Randazzo (The Top)
Milo is known for whites and Randazzo is known for reds. Well past business hours, we gave up looking for another vineyard and luckily stumbled upon a small shop called Il Buongustaio in the town of Randazzo. This was the best find of the day. The owner let us sample whatever we wanted. Ready for a full glass, I purchased a bottle of wine along with the best cheese and meat tray. I’m usually not a fan of tomatoes but these were fantastic. With a beautiful backdrop, we drank and enjoyed ourselves.
The Journey Home
Somehow it was very easy to find our way up the mountain. Going down was an issue. If you do the full hike up Mt. Etna, you come up one side and down the other. Following Google Maps, we took a different route that led us to a highway and a toll both that kept rejecting our coins. With traffic lining up behind us, I finally got it to work and away we went.
That stressful situation pales in comparison to what transpired an hour prior. As we were zipping down the mountain, trying to keep up with other Pandas that were driving at higher rates of speed, a man stepped into the middle of the road with a small sign that he raised in the air. We thought it was construction and began to slow down. Stopped, our Panda was approached by two police officers. One asked for our documents and the other stood behind the car. We gave him our American driver licenses and registration. As we sat there in suspense, I was wondering what to do if I was locked up abroad (even though I had written The Points Guy article on the subject). After fifteen minutes he came back to the Panda, handed us our driver licenses and said have a good night.
I have no idea what information he can get from my Arizona license or why we were stopped in the first place. I assumed, given my experience on the Palermo bus, that I was going to have to pay another 50 euro ‘fine’. That was not the case.
Back to the Insane Asylum
After that sobering experience, we made it back to our sleeping quarters. What happened next was even more bizarre.
- Channel your inner-alcoholic and start the day as early as possible. There are far too many towns to visit in only a few hours.
- Get a list of vineyards ahead of time. We were lucky to end up at such great ones with no planning.
- Bring a coat. It gets cold at the top.
- Carry extra cash and your ID. Who knows if you will need it.