Janett of New York City wanted to give the love of her life, Ron the surprise of his life to celebrate his 60th birthday in October.

She asked him, "Would it be OK if I gave you a trip for your birthday?" Of course, it was!

"Would it be OK if I didn't tell you where you were going, if I just gave you the list of things to pack?" Sure, he was happy to play along!

In 2000 she'd had a fabulous time on a cooking and wine tour in Italy's Barolo wine country with Mama Margaret. The same tour company was offering a cooking, wine and walking tour in Sicily. Ron, a food importer, former Italian restaurant owner and avid cook, would love a Sicily cooking tour.

In May she contacted the tour company and booked a tour in Sicily with three cooking lessons in restaurants by the sea, in the Mount Etna foothills and on the island of Stromboli.

They'd also walk in the exotic, black and green volcanic foothills of Mount Etna and Stromboli, both with active volcanoes. They'd drink good Sicilian wines, eat lots of seafood and enjoy a historical tour and shopping in beautiful Taormina.

She invited Ron's best friend, Tom and his wife, Donna to join them for this special celebration of love, friendship and big birthday. Even though they see Ron about three times a week, they managed to keep the Sicily tour a secret from him for four months.

Ron took the list of what to pack to his office. "A flashlight, a wind breaker, a bathing suit", he said, "Where do you think I'm going?"

Some co-workers guessed the Amazon River. In his heart he hoped he was going to Italy.

On the phone with the tour company owner, Janett chortled, "We're going to Rome first. He'll think we're going to Florence and Venice as well. He'll never guess we're going to Sicily!! I love surprise parties!"

When Janett and Ron got to JFK airport, Ron realized he was going to Rome and threw his arms around her in a long hug.

After two romantic days in Rome, they went to the Rome airport for their next flight.

With a little grin, Ron asked, "Where are you taking me now, Janett?"

"To Catania," she replied.

"Where's Catania?"

"In Sicily."

"Oh, Janett, thank you!," he cried as he threw his arms around her yet again.

At the gate for their Catania flight, Ron saw Tom and Donna sitting in the waiting area. "What are you guys doing here?" he asked, his eyes open wide.

They burst out laughing, "We're going with you on the tour in Sicily!"

Ron stood there glued to the spot, mouth open, unable to speak for a minute or two. He couldn't believe how the three of them had kept this secret from him!

In Sicily Janett, Ron, Donna and Tom laughed all week long at the goofy antics of their guide, Maurizio who had them singing and dancing to "New York, New York" on their first day. They laughed all week at comical situations with chefs in the kitchens in cooking lessons and at their own jokes and foibles.

They ate delicious, fresh, local plates like sardines stuffed with breadcrumbs, tomatoes, raisins, pine nuts and capers, pasta with pistachio nut sauce and cannoli stuffed with ricotta, candied fruit and chocolate chips.

In Taormina, a lovely town perched on a hillside overlooking the Mediterranean, by day they rambled in and out of shops and explored the Greek theatre with a guide to discover layers of Sicilian history. In the moonlight, Janett and Ron held hands as they strolled in flower filled gardens with panoramas of Mount Etna and the sea.

At sunset time on the island of Stromboli, they walked in the foot hills far below the rumbling volcano up to a restaurant set above the sea.

There on the patio, they watched the sky turn orange and pink over the clear blue water, black volcanic sand and brilliant white houses below. When darkness fell, they marveled at the volcano hurling its fire like fireworks into the sky.

That week both couples forgot their "always on the run" lives and slowed right down. They went to bed early, partly to catch up on much needed sleep and partly to spend peaceful, quality time together.

At the gala seafood dinner on the last night, everyone made toasts. Janett made a toast to the love of her life, Ron.

He thanked her for such a fabulous birthday surprise and hugged and kissed her. She started crying and everyone had tears in their eyes. Ron said, "I've never seen Janett cry before."

About the tour Ron said, "It was a magical experience, one you have to live because it is impossible to describe." Especially if it's a surprise celebration you share with the love of your life.

Author's Bio: 

Since 1995 Margaret Cowan of Vancouver, BC has owned a cooking tour company, Mama Margaret & Friends Cooking Adventures in Italy. She and her tour partners offer cooking, wine, walking and cultural immersion tours in Piedmont, Riviera, Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Umbria, Le Marche and Sicily.

She first went to Italy in 1972, lived there three years, speaks Italian and continues her love affair with Italy in her twice yearly trips.

She's the author of Your Guide To 133 Cooking Holidays In Italy, and How I Fell In Love With An Italian Corkscrew.