Karen La Rosa has turned her passion for Sicily into a profession with La Rosa Works, a boutique tour company for the Italian island. In this week’s Women Who Travel Solo, Karen shares advice for a solo trip to Sicily.
How did you get your start traveling?
I started traveling as a teen, with hard earned money. Though I traveled mostly with my sister, I’ve never minded being in my own company. I lived in England for a year and spent all my spare time driving to the small picturesque Cotswold towns, to Scotland and Wales. I have biked in Beijing, stayed in a garret in Amsterdam, and visited many places in Europe. After a long awaited trip to Sicily, my ancestral homeland, I began visiting twice annually and exploring every corner, and mostly solo. I couldn’t get enough.
One advantage of being alone is that interactions are with locals by default. The opportunity for adventure is actually greater than when you are not traveling alone. Some of my stories are included on my website, powerful, meaningful and delightful adventures.
Tell us about your first trip as a solo traveler in Sicily.
After seeing Sicily for the first time, I stood on a balcony under a full moon and opposite a street bearing the name La Rosa, and promised myself to make the island part of my life. I’ve kept my promise and more. Sicily has two main airports. The first trip I flew into Catania, on the east coast. I stayed in an apartment that someone had recommended, shopped in the market, went to the opera, and took day trips to nearby towns. The highlight was spending 3 days experiencing the Feast of Sant’Agata, Catania’s patron saint. The feast wass one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed: pagan, historic, religious, inclusive, emotional, colorful, and thrilling. I’ve been back three times, each time intentionally alone with my camera.
What is it about Sicily that touches your spirit?
In my opinion, there exists a collective soulfulness among Sicilians, complex and very endearing. The people of Sicily have endured so much over the millennia. Because of their enviable location in the Mediterranean and natural and agricultural riches, they are ever wary of and vulnerable to the next ‘invader’ and yet, they are a most generous and warm people. Even in the face of the current European economic crisis, they are perseverant, resilient, and proud. There is always room at their table, both literally and figuratively. Additionally, I am constantly moved that every Sicilian I have ever met feels such a profound love for and attachment to their land.
What are your favorite things to do in Sicily?
Driving in Sicily intimidated me at first, but I now love to move around in the car. The scenery is breathtaking and outside of the main cities, I have never found the roads crowded. The island is hilly and sometimes stark against piercing blue skies, surrounded by the bluest waters, vibrant floral displays, grazing sheep, and farms. In the car, I am at liberty to stop wherever I desire to soak it all up. Sicily is a place best experienced by doing. Embedded in the architecture, archeology, city and landscape, is a very rich story.
The story goes deep and by tasting what the land produces and how dishes are prepared, you begin to understand Sicily’s evolution. I enjoy visiting wineries. It is a wonderful way to engage with locals, understand history, and learn about wine and food. I have studied wine and appreciate that wine is an art. The heart and soul of its makers are in every glass and even a taste can give you some insight. How exciting to be living through Sicily’s wine renaissance! Tasting freshly made and warm ricotta cheese at a farm is almost a religious experience. Visiting the lively markets is a photographer’s dream, especially the ones in Palermo and Catania. The list goes on. Mount Etna as the sun is setting? The back roads of Marsala? The wild wind and ruins at Selinunte? The very Arab flavored Mazara del Vallo? You see I have many favorites all over the island.
What makes Sicily a good destination for solo travelers?
There are three main tourist cities, Palermo, Catania, and Siracusa, from which many other places can be reached by the excellent bus system. You can see a lot this way, and quite inexpensively. The people in Sicily are very warm and generous. Generally, an effort to communicate or show appreciation results in an exchange. Hotel owners are very helpful too, offering suggestions and directions for visiting their area. In hotels and B&Bs, they usually include breakfast at which a solo traveler can meet others, but I have also experienced congeniality in restaurants, have started meals alone and ended up in the company of others. In Sicily you can enjoy a small town, go to the beach, hike the hills or even a volcano. There is quite a varied list of things to do.
What advice do you have for women who are traveling alone to Sicily?
In the cities, solo travelers and women in particular should use common sense and be alert of their surroundings as they would in any big city. Dark alleys, late night strolls, dressing inappropriately or like a tourist, and wearing big jewelry is generally not a good idea. Men in Italy like to admire women with whistles and comments. They should be ignored. Petty crime is a problem in many places worldwide and whenever you are in crowded places, from the airport to a festival or even the market, take care to mind your purse. I travel with minimal things in my purse. If I don’t need it, I leave it at home. If you drive, do not park in the city with exposed luggage. The rule of thumb is don’t invite trouble. Courtesy and polite behavior go a long way. Stow the electronics so you can be in the moment.
Tell us about your tourism services with La Rosa Works.
With La Rosa Works, I arrange tours to visit Sicily my way. My resources are deep and I can create a trip that will enable assortments of people, a group from an organization, a family, friends, or those with a particular interest, to experience Sicily, not just to see it. I also host my own tours to see the island in unique ways. I like to work very closely with my groups to give them richness, education, fun, and lasting memories. My website is a good place to begin exploring.
Presently I am hosting a Draw and Tour trip and a Yoga trip for this coming fall. Both are detailed on the website. On these tours, we combine sightseeing with the activity, and always include food and wine. They are a very special way to learn, see and experience Sicily. Next spring I will host wine and food tours.
How did you turn your passion for Sicily into a profession?
Slowly, after traveling around, doing an enormous amount of reading and research, and building connections, I investigated how I could put my passion to work. More research and time, some investment, a great family and web designer, some networking and here I am.
Do you have anything else to add to inspire women solo travelers?
Yes, I would say do not hesitate. Traveling is perhaps the best education, the most enriching and rewarding activity. Use money wisely so you can embark on many journeys and satisfy your curiosities more often. Traveling with friends and family is wonderful, but exploring on your own can make you feel liberated, give you time to think, to learn about yourself, and be mindful. It is an especially wonderful way to take a deep breath from a busy life. And, remember, joining a group as a solo traveler is also a great way to have fun and meet people, offering both alone time and group time.
About Karen La Rosa
In addition to raising children, Karen spent her adult life in the non-profit arts and education world. Once her kids were off to college, she followed my passion and began to share all the great things she has learned and experienced in Sicily. When she am not traveling, she sings with the New York Choral Society. Karen loves to bike, walk, and be outdoors, and the world of wine is a big part of her life. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Women Who Travel Solo
Women Who Travel Solo is a weekly column that shares the stories of women’s solo travel adventures in hopes of spreading the message that traveling alone is not only safe, but wildly rewarding. Inspire other women to travel solo by sharing your story with Something In Her Ramblings. Email Lauren at firstname.lastname@example.org.