And anyone who has once known this land can never be quite free from the nostalgia for it.
D H Lawrence was right. Sicily does have that effect on you. It's been a year since I was in the largest of all the islands in the Mediterranean Sea. And I miss the charm of Palermo, the laid-back vibe of Ortigia and the medieval feel of Piazza Armerina.
Sicily may be a part of Italy, but it seems like a whole different world. More chaotic, more colourful, more voluble, more generous...
... for Sicily is the clue to everything said Goethe. It is certainly a clue to living la dolce vita to the fullest, for in Sicily you find the true meaning of that phrase.
For us, Palermo was a place to relax, to take a breather from travelling around Italy for two weeks. Our days were spent largely without agenda, just wandering about the old town, sitting at cafes, watching the Sicilians go about their lives...
Palermo is a bit like Mumbai - large, noisy and with people exhibiting some crazy driving skills, especially at Quattro Canti, a Baroque 'square' where two principal roads in Palermo cross.
We took a food tour of Palermo's historic markets, sampling street food that really made us wonder if it was actually Italian, while walking down narrow streets and alleys that seemed more Arabesque than European.
But then, Sicily has had a significant Moorish influence, which is apparent not just in its food, but also in its architecture.
Large parts of the old city were bombed during WWII, and many buildings still bear the scars. That's part of the reason Palermo seems stuck in a time warp. Only recently has restoration begun...
Trust the Sicilians to take the gelato and combine it with the other Italian staple - bread. We had gelato con brioche, a warm brioche bun stuffed with creamy gelato of dark chocolate and gorgonzola with walnuts.
I love blue cheese and gorgonzola is my favourite; combined with chocolate it was like a party in the mouth! Try it at Al Gelatone in Palermo.
Life is too short to drink bad wine said Goethe.
Until I travelled to Sicily, I was firmly a white wine person. But the Sicilian reds won me over, especially the Cerasuolo di Vittoria, the only DOCG wine from Sicily, a cherry-coloured, fruity red. I had it for the first time at a degustation at Cana Enoteca, an intimate little bar on Via Alloro, in the Kalsa district of Palermo.
The degustation included a platter of chilometro zero (local) meats and cheeses.
Sicily knows how to treat ricotta well, primarily by stuffing it in all manner of sweets (I couldn't get enough of the cannoli!). But another dessert you must try is the Cassatina Siciliana, a lurid (but heavenly) concoction of ricotta, sponge cake and marzipan, topped with candied fruits.
We took a domestic flight from Rome to Palermo on Alitalia. There's an overnight train as well, but the flight is reasonably priced and much more convenient. It's just over an hour from Rome to Palermo. Other Italian cities are also well-connected (we flew out of Palermo to Venice). From the airport, there are Prestia Comandé shuttle buses that run every 30 minutes and bring you to the city centre for around €7. The journey is about 45 minutes and the route is very scenic, mostly hugging the coastline and giving you a gorgeous view of the Mediterranean.
Where to stay
When we started researching Sicily, one of the first websites I came across was Visiting Sicily. I connected with Maurizio, the owner, via email and then over Skype, and I cannot recommend his company's services enough! Not only did he give us tips on what to do in Palermo, Siracusa and Piazza Armerina (the three destinations we chose to visit in Sicily), but he also arranged for our stay in Palermo itself. His company's sister concern, Visit Palermo, will help you find a lovely apartment to stay at in the city - so much better than staying at an impersonal hotel.
We stayed at Casa Dante, Maurizio's former home, which is a 10-15 minutes' walk from the city centre. It's a large one-bedroom apartment, with a big living room, lined with bookshelves. The kitchen is fully equipped, including a refrigerator, washing machine and microwave oven.
The bedroom, done up in bright blue, is very comfortable, with plenty of storage space. Bathroom is a bit small (for tall people). The best feature of the apartment is the pretty terrace, perfect for summer drinks or for working al fresco on a balmy autumn morning. I loved it!
The only downside is that the apartment is on the third floor of a building with no elevator. We had no problem lugging our bags up, but if you are an over-packer, you might want to consider another apartment from Visit Palermo's wide range. There's a small supermarket, a cafe, a bakery and a nice pizza place nearby. We also received a welcome basket of organic fruits and vegetables, plus some bread and local marmalade.
So check out Visiting Sicily (and Visit Palermo) if you're planning a trip to one of Italy's most beautiful regions!
Disclosure: Our stay in Palermo was courtesy Visiting Sicily.
Labels: Italy, Palermo, Sicily, travel