Sicily is, of course, the largest island in Italy. A sun-drenched Mediterranean land, steeped in history, culture and unique local traditions.
It is a place where Baroque architecture, art and culture intertwine with an abundance of outstanding natural beauty ranging from brilliant blue seascapes, golden beaches to majestic mist-covered mountains rising from the rugged shores.
Then there’s Mount Etna, the 3,335-meter-high active volcanic leviathan that continues to pour out glowing rivers of molten lava. Mount Etna regularly spews vast plumes of ash and steam from rumbling vents and fissures near the summit. Europe’s most active volcano may not be for the faint-hearted, but it nonetheless offers a spectacular sight that attracts thousands of eager visitors each year.
Sicily also has many serene, postcard-worthy fishing villages, as well as rustic mountain villages that cling precariously to cliffs and rocks. These impressive locations make excellent reasons to visit this unique place. It’s an island getaway that will undoubtedly leave you wanting more.
During my visit, we stayed in Terrasini, a town in northwestern Sicily. It is only about twenty kilometers west of the capital, Palermo. Terrasini proved to be a relaxing base from which we could explore the island with easy access to the highway. This meant that car tours were simplified. We often scheduled outings so that we could return to our centrally located apartment in time to ditch the car, freshen up and set out on foot to spend balmy evenings enjoying light meals and a few convivial drinks in the Piazza Duomo. This is the bustling central square of Terrasini which offers an excellent choice of bars, restaurants, cafes and gelaterias. Piazza Duomo is a short distance from seafront amenities and the promenade. Perfect for peaceful late evening strolls.
Palermo is a must for many visitors to Sicily and has proven to be a great sight in itself. Like most capitals, Palermo bears little resemblance to the rest of the island. It’s a vibrant, self-reliant, and often chaotic metropolis that constantly buzzes on super high octane. But his many qualities and his charisma will never fail to impress.
We chose not to drive to Palermo but decided to take the train instead. If you’re not used to Sicilian driving, I highly recommend following this example. The trains are regular, punctual and cheap – not to mention safe! Palermo Central Station is an ideal starting point to explore the city on foot. Beware of tuk-tuk thieves! Always agree on a price before using their services.
The city of Palermo is famous for its street markets, such as the Ballaro market. They are quite different from other European street markets as they have retained much of their distinctly Arabic character. They definitely offer a bazaar vibe which is not only reflected in the seemingly chaotic way in which they are laid out, but is also evident in the abundance of exotic goods on offer. This includes spices, different types of nuts and legumes as well as a bewildering array of sun-dried fruits such as apricots, figs, dates and papaya. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many fresh tomatoes in all my days and there is such an amazing variety.
Scooters and pedestrians miraculously intertwine, seemingly without incident. This chaotic melee means Palermo’s street markets really don’t feel remotely European. In fact, Sicily is geographically further south than some of the North African coasts, making it a quirky island that seems, in many ways, to have a foothold firmly in North Africa, where much of of its rich history and culture.
Street food at Palermo’s markets seems like a staple among many tourists, but it’s often best not to ask what some of the specialties actually are if (like me) you’re a little reserved.
The fruit and vegetable stalls are a veritable blaze of colours, freshness and fragrance. We’ve seen fresh pomegranates, melons and oranges squeezed and poured over ice to create deliciously refreshing drinks. It helped quench the thirst of many of our fellow travelers as we sizzled through this bustling city. We found a great beer garden to sample some of these tasty juices. We took time to sit back, relax and just enjoy all the charisma and drama that makes the markets of Palermo such a magical experience. You can easily spend an hour or more watching people go about their daily business. There will be no dull moments to taint your Sicilian adventure in the surroundings.
During our road trip to visit Etna, we came across the annual pistachio festival in the town of Bronte. Here, the pistachio harvest is called “the green gold of Sicily”. It’s easy to see why, because in Bronte pistachios are sold in all kinds of forms. Pistachios are a key ingredient in centuries-old Sicilian culinary traditions. There are many interesting recipes that include this tasty heritage from the ancient Arab domination of Sicily. Especially the incredibly creamy and delicious pistachio ice cream.
Bronte is one of the ancient rustic towns of Sicily. It is located on the beautifully scenic slopes of Mount Etna and is within the Etna Natural Park. Bronte is the world famous “capital” of pistachios. A place where friendly locals like to celebrate their “green gold” harvests. This festival takes place at the beginning of October when the whole town comes alive. There is a jovial and festive atmosphere that lasts until late at night. It is a surreal experience. People just go crazy for pistachios and it made for a very enjoyable part of our stay in Sicily. I absolutely recommend some of the unique pistachio brittles. You really have to stop to see it being done with such dexterity and skill – not to mention a whole bunch of pistachios!
We spent our time exploring as much of the island as possible. One of our tours took us to another unforgettable medieval town, Erice, which overlooks the port town of Trapani on the west coast of the island.
Erice is surrounded by ancient defensive stone walls. It is crowned by a medieval castle which dominates the surroundings from its high vantage point at around 800 meters above sea level. The views alone are worth the trip. No words can adequately describe these views. I was left speechless, devoured by the delights of life in Sicily.
I will therefore end with the words of Frederick II, formerly King of Sicily. It is said that he declared with fervor: “I do not envy God’s paradise because I am very happy to live in Sicily. I can definitely appreciate those feelings, which is why I can’t wait to go back.