Stepping off the airplane after a long journey consisting of 3 flights from San Francisco, the weather was surprisingly warm and humid for October. Instantly I felt that relaxed and comforted feeling you get when landing in a new exotic place miles away from the routine of your everyday life. At the arrivals, a Sicilian man with a brightly shining smile runs over to greet me with big loving and open arms. “You’re here”, “you’re here”, he shouts with joy! “After all this time, it’s like a dream come true.” Concetto and I met briefly in Australia six years ago while he was shopping for stylish high heals for his beautiful young niece. After chatting up a storm for over an hour, I said “One day I will come to visit you in Sicily.” Finally, that day came and my adventure in Sicily for 2 weeks began.
To share every detail of what I did on my trip with you would take way too long. Therefore, I will highlight for you the best of where to stay, things to do and what to eat. The most notable for me were the summery weather (in October!!!), the charming old towns made up of a maze of little cobblestone streets, the delicious Sicilian food, and most of all the friendly local people with the biggest hearts. Visiting Sicily is like stepping back in time… slower pace of daily life, endless hospitality, traditional values and affordable to visit. That’s right, I found Sicily to be much more kind on the wallet to travel to than most other parts of Europe. What a relief. An espresso = 1 Euro, a street food feast for 4 people = 30 Euros, and a cocktail at a hip bar in the heart of the city = 5 Euros. I felt like everything at the supermarket was 1 Euro something.
First stop was Catania, where my friend lives in a nice neighborhood in a quaint apartment with a terrace and his Siamese kitten, princess Maya. While Catania is not particularly stunning, the vibrancy of this city can be found in the colorful markets filled with spectacular cheeses, meats, olives, fruits, vegetables, seafood, spices and other mouth watering condiments. Not to be missed, the seaside is beautiful and just a short car ride away. Put the scenic town of Acitrezza on your list for a peaceful stroll witnessing the beautiful Aci Castello followed by a little indulgence with the popular granita served with a brioche at Gran Cafè Solaire. Everything is proudly local and, of course, seasonal. In Sicily, people eat food grown and raised from their own land and waters. The volcanic soil provides the perfect blend of nutrients for vegetation to thrive. For this reason, the color of the produce is that much brighter and the taste far more pronounced.
As a visitor to Sicily, every member of the family wants to meet you and, before you know it, they welcome you into their homes for wholesome meals made with love and a heart warming browse through countless family photo albums. In Sicily, eating out at restaurants is always a great experience, but there is nothing like Mamma’s cooking! Memorable dishes for me included: porcini risotto, grilled calamari and the caponata, a typical Sicilian dish consisting of eggplant, celery and capers seasoned with sweetened vinegar. Being gluten free was a little bit of a challenge, particularly when it came to breakfast and dessert. Sicilian fare includes such not so gluten free delights such as the cornetto (an Italian relative of the French croissant) and the cannoli (a tube-shaped shell of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy ricotta filling that’s sure to send your taste buds straight to heaven).
Ok, so I have raved about the amazing prices, gorgeous people and decadent food, now it’s time to tell you where to go, what to see when you get there and importantly where to stay. Please note that in the first half of my trip, I was mostly enjoying Sicilian hospitality with a more homely lifestyle consisting of delicious home cooked meals rather than going out. In Palermo, I was able to try different restaurants and bars. I invite you to contact my dear friend Concetto via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you wish to arrange local accommodation or authentic private tours in and around the Catania area of Sicily.
WHERE TO GO + WHAT TO SEE
NEAR CATANIA + AROUND THE SOUTH EAST:
“Packed with Unesco World Heritage sites, sandy Mediterranean beaches, and hills striped with dry stone walls and dotted with carob, almond and olive trees, the southeastern corner of Sicily has a character all of its own.” – Juliet Rix, Lonely Planet
*Taormina: Taormina is a hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily. It sits near Mount Etna, an active volcano with trails leading to the summit. The town is known for the Teatro Antico di Taormina, an ancient Greco-Roman theater still used today. Near the theater, cliffs drop to the sea forming coves with sandy beaches. A narrow stretch of sand connects the mainland to Isola Bella, a tiny island and nature reserve.
*Hiking beautiful Mt Etna over the black volcanic rock and ash to enjoy a pre-packed picnic at the top with spectacular views (dress like an onion / wear layers – we were fortunate to have a warm sunny day when we went – I suggest only going if the weather will be pleasant for maximum enjoyment and comfort)
*Modica: the town for dark chocolate addicts like myself. Put Antica Dolceria Bonajuto high on your hit list. It’s the oldest chocolate maker in Modica. Sample to your hearts content. We also had a lovely traditional style lunch at Osteria dei Sapori Perduti and dinner at La Contea where they serve gluten free pizza!
*Noto: “an architectural supermodel” – Lonely Planet. The pièce de résistance is Corso Vittorio Emanuele, an elegant walkway lined with beautiful baroque palazzi and churches. Gorgeous during the day and especially dazzling in the evening whilst sipping on a glass of local vino or a festive cocktail. I loved Anche Gli Angeli, a cool bar in an old building that's been revamped with modern finishes, located down one of the quieter side streets. It's also a Sicilian concept-store and restaurant.
*Ragusa Ibla: step back in time to the magnificent historic center and explore this sloping old town filled with tangled alleyways, grey stone houses, lively squares and baroque buildings
*Scicli: Scicli is the smallest and most chilled of the region’s four main Baroque cities
*Syracuse: sadly I didn’t make a pit stop here but I hear it is wonderful and worth a visit.
*Catania markets: a total feast for the senses: vibrant colors, lively people and tantalizing aromas
*Marzamemi: you must check out this tiny little fishing village that has recently been revamped with little shops, cafes and eateries... here you can find the best quality local cherry and date tomatoes (dried)
PALERMO + THE NORTH WEST:
The city of Palermo is perfect for walking around both during the day and at night, and it even has free wifi zones, which I found really helpful to be able to message and call my Sicilian friends for free while out of the US.
Start the day the right way and grab a healthy breakfast at Vitaminika – via dell’Artigliere, 24/26 Palermo. Not at all an authentic cultural experience, but definitely part of the growing health scene in Palermo, Vitaminika is a bar serving freshly squeezed juices, an assortment of fruits and vegetables, salads, vegan dishes, and other freshly prepared foods.
Lunch at bustling Fratelli Testaverde is a must – via Lorenzo Landolino, 8 Partanna Mondello. Located in Partanna Mondello, a seaside resort close to Palermo, here you can find all the typical Sicilian dishes you have fallen in love with. Everything is made fresh but the hardest part is picking what you want to eat, as there is so much mouth-watering food on display to choose from. Dine in or take your food away to enjoy on the sandy shores of the nearby beach. I suggest dining in if you can score a table in the busy eatery to enjoy people watching (all locals).
Dainotti’s Street Food – via Porta Carini, 45 Palermo. This is THE place to go situated in the Capo market. It’s a cheap and casual eatery, but one of the best in Palermo for street food where you can enjoy typical Sicilian dishes such as pasta al forno, calamari, pasta con le sarde, panelle, crocchè, and caponata etc. I came here on a regular basis for a simple, easy and tasty lunch in a rustic yet vibrant setting.
Palermo markets (Capo, Ballaro and Vucciria) – a total feast for the senses: vibrant colors, lively people and tantalizing aromas
The charming church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio is a must, the design is seriously breathtaking
If you are into it, there is also a modern art gallery you can check out
NOTE: You will naturally find all the touristy monuments and attractions in town, that’s why I have not mentioned them in this post.
Enjoy dinner at Antica Focacceria S. Francesco – via A. Paternostro, 58 Palermo. Antica Focacceria S. Francesco is another popular street food eatery in the heart of Palermo. They have been proudly serving the very best local dishes since the 50’s, including the special “spleen burger” / “panino con la milza” (“pane cà meusa” in Sicilian). Basically, this is a unique yet tasty sandwich made of fried beef spleen served with a slice of fresh Sicilian lemon and some grated local caciocavallo cheese.
Another great place to have dinner is at Fud Bottega Sicula - piazza Olivella 4, Palermo. This is a cool eatery that’s always busy with hungry diners flocking in numbers for the hearty burgers made proudly with Sicilian flare. The service is fast, the interior design super trendy, the crowd hip, the music contemporary and the menu delicious. Plus you can order gluten free!
You must grab dinner one night at Mercato San Lorenzo – via S. Lorenzo, 288 Palermo
Located in the modern zone of Palermo far away from any tourists, this unique place is a food market with different specialty restaurants located inside serving a big selection of meat, seafood and vegetables. Often there are performances and special events providing entertainment for shoppers and diners. Here you will find Italian and Sicilian products and dishes. I fell in love with the architecture and design, where an industrial space has been made to have a fresh modern style.
Nangalarruni isn’t cheap but it’s definitely a unique dinner experience worth having – via delle Confraternite, 7 Castelbuono (PA). Located in the heart of Castelbuono, this is a super charming restaurant with a warm and intimate atmosphere. Enjoy the finest service surrounded by traditional décor and romantic jazz music playing in the background. Here you can taste the local porcini mushroom and wild boar prepared in various ways. Hosteria Nangalarruni was mentioned in the 2016 Michelin guide.
Nightlife: Bolazzi - piazzetta Bagnasco n.1 Palermo. This is the place to sip on a cocktail and watch local and international bands play the very best independent and alternative music. Ps… the cool, hip and trendy kids like to hang out here.
Healthy food shops:
True My Balance & Wellness style… every health food addicts dream come true (welcome to the world of organics in Palermo):
*Erice: is a mesmerizing walled medieval town that watches over the port of Trapani from the mountain of Eryx and has extensive views of the sea and the valley below.
*Castelbuono: a little hill top town away from it all, famous for porcini mushrooms, wild boar meat and the Panettone by Fiasconaro which is exported world-wide.
*Saint Rosalia Sanctuary: an impressive small church isolated miles away from it all inside a cave up on Monte Pellegrino
*Mondello: the beach town most loved by the locals of Palermo
*Sferracavallo: another popular beach town near Palermo
*Gibilmanna: a Sanctuary with a small church at the top of a peaceful mountain on the way to Cefalù
*Cefalù: a very important seaside town, with one of the most beautiful beaches in Sicily and an Arab-Norman Dome in the main square
WHERE TO STAY IN SICILY
Casa Tudisco - via Nicolò Tudisco n.1 Palermo. Contact the one and only Francesco, a kind hearted local man who knows Palermo inside out and is happy to share his tips on where to go and what to do in the area. He will be sure to tailor your itinerary to your personal interests. Francesco is the proud owner of a new apartment in the center of this vibrant city that is modern, secure, comfortable and well equipped with everything you need for a memorable stay. For enquiries, email: email@example.com