The bistro of second chances: get to know the focus of our Sicilian MAKE TRAVEL MATTER™ experience
Meet Al Fresco Giardino e Bistrot, a charming restaurant in Palermo all about second chances.
Dinner here is part of one of Contiki’s MAKE TRAVEL MATTER™ experiences, an initiative we’ve taken to promote local and empowering businesses at each of our travel destinations. Our experiences are also in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and the Al Fresco dining experience conforms to goals 10, ‘reduce inequalities’, and 12, ‘responsible consumption and production’.
We believe that travel is about giving back to the communities we visit, and as it turns out, giving back to the community is what Al Fresco Giardino e Bistrot’s is all about as well.
Al Fresco Giardino e Bistrot
As our Contiki travellers arrive for the evening, they are welcomed by Al Fresco’s beautiful setting: the heart of an aged courtyard, dotted with pomelia trees and fairy lights strung around to create the perfect ambiance. A live band is sat atop a small stage and accompanies a meal of fresh, local food. After the meal, guests are invited to step into the spotlight and dance the night away amongst friends and family.
Before it became a garden bistro, Al Fresco, located inside Casa San Francesco, was an abandoned seventeenth century convent. You can tell by the yellowed stone, reminiscent of classic Italian architecture, that the structure has a storied past, but with time some of its lustre faded. It was in 2018 that Lucia Lauro and Nadia Lodato decided to clean out the dump it had become and breathe life into the site once more, and in 2020 the restaurant was founded.
From the Bare Bones
For Laura and Nadia the goal was to give this old site a second chance, but also to give some of the people of Palermo a second chance. Both women are heavily involved in social work, and specifically, they have been crucial in aiding ex-convicts of the local juvenile prison find their footing again. Together the young boys and these two women started Cotti in Fragranza, a bakery and social project whose first product was biscuits called Buonicuore: Good Heart.
When the boys are released from the juvenile detention centres, they come to Al Fresco dining, and are given the opportunity to work. “Feeling like you’re useful to society, that’s very important,” says Laura, who describes the restaurant’s history. She also goes on to mention that Al Fresco started as a kitchen that prepared meals for the homeless, and this is something they still do every morning.
Keeping it Local
The importance of keeping things close to home is part of Al Fresco Giardino e Bistrot’s ethos. All the staff employed at the restaurant, from the chefs to the waiters, are local to Sicily and cook the most exquisite regional dishes.
“We want to offer the best meal,” says Laura, who goes on to explain that the restaurant is a part of the Slow Food alliance of cooks, an organisation dedicated to curating sustainable menus and reducing food waste. This involves a commitment to using only locally sourced ingredients and having a menu that changes with the seasons, to ensure the ingredients are of the highest quality, and to avoid any unnecessary travel through food exports.
All the food, and baked goods as well, are made right here on the premises, and enjoyed by the community.
A Love Letter to Sicily
Al Fresco Giardino e Bistrot is not only a restaurant but it’s also a park, a café, a place of relaxation, a place of study, and a place of hope. Board games are available for people to play at their leisure, and a free library full of books as well, if you fancy a read in a hammock under the trees. The courtyard is open to everyone with full welcome arms.
In our searches for our MAKE TRAVEL MATTER™ Experiences we always look for businesses and people whose main goal is to empower and uplift those around them. We think that the best way to travel is to travel with people and to make connections. We hope that when our travellers come to Al Fresco they are able to form these connections there as well and share in the touching stories of Laura, Nadia, and the boys who run the restaurant.