Coming into land at Palermo’s small modern airport the first view that strikes most travellers is that of the beautiful mountains. This is an island full of surprises – welcome to Sicily.
Palermo, the capital city of Sicily, can be a fantastic base from which to explore the stunning northwestern region of Sicily. However, it is Palermo itself which gives you an introduction and insight into Sicilian life – and driving. It is considered completely normal – and indeed expected – to double park, and certainly, scant attention is paid to any form of obstruction reducing the speed and flow of the already heavy traffic, yet further. It is a buzzing traffic-filled and chaotic place, day and night.
A wonderful oasis of peace, luxury and calm are the Villa Igiea tucked away on the outskirts and offering harbour views, a gorgeous garden with citrus trees and Bougainville – and a grand wedding dinner on the night of our arrival. To see the guests arriving, immaculately dressed with a touch of discreet sparkle for a formal evening was a treat. This was our second and equally colourful introduction to Sicilian life.
In Palermo, We walked in the old town within the Quattro Canti from where most of the sights can easily be reached on foot. We spanned history and admired the Arab Norman art, baroque buildings and exquisite mosaics. We also enjoyed some of the delicious “street food”, much of which included locally caught fish. However, also To be found was another local speciality: finely sliced spleen, which is marinated then fried and served in a roll with a little cheese. Your turn next.
Cefalu, approximately one and a half hours east of Palermo, makes an equally good base for exploring. Here you will notice the red-tiled roofs and twin-towered cathedral. From almost everywhere you will have differing views of the sea.
Nearby Monreale should also be visited with its stunning cloisters and 12th-century cathedral in the old hillside town, displaying some incredibly fine mosaic art.
As soon as you are out of the Palermo district the landscape changes completely. Gone are the concrete suburbs and dense building, replaced by lush green rolling countryside and both olive groves and plentiful vines.
To the west, Segesta has a stunning Doric temple and theatre, whilst the view from the top of the mainly pedestrian Erice is absolutely stunning – in fact unbeatable on a clear day.
Heading south and east with few signs of habitation and a multitude of crops growing it is hard to believe that such densely populated areas exist so nearby. Wheat, tomatoes, oranges, tangerines, artichokes, fennel as well as almonds, grapes and vines grow in abundance. Gone is the glitter, this is farming country.
Not far from Agrigento on the south coast lies the spectacular Valley of the Temples. Not to be missed if at all possible. Or spend a night in the area and wake up to the most amazing view.
Continuing to the east coast via Ragusa the landscape changes again and you are on a plateau, which like the mountains can get snow in the winter. There is also apparently good skiing on Mt Etna – yet another surprising fact about Sicily.