By Jenny Freedman
Memories of an Easter weekend in Sicily ten years ago had never been forgotten and we were determined to return and explore this beautiful island more thoroughly.
With the travel agent’s hat of a previous life well and truly on, and pen and paper in hand, the planning was quickly under way. The more I read, the longer the trip became. Three weeks turned into four which very quickly turned into five weeks… there was so much to see.
Our first stop, Siracusa, was more than I expected. Ortigia, the small island attached to the mainland by a bridge, is Siracusa’s historical centre. Stay here and you won’t be disappointed. We walked around the island and wandered the streets within finding beautiful baroque buildings on Piazza Duomo and a maze of narrow alleyways in the Jewish quarter.
By Jenny Freedman
We returned several times to the lively markets to listen to the friendly banter of the store holders trying to entice everyone to buy the locally grown vegetables and fresh fish. Shopping for picnics of mozzarella, prosciutto, sweet pachino tomatoes and new seasons stone fruit gave me the opportunity to practise my beginner’s Italian.
We stayed in this south eastern corner for a week basing ourselves in Modica. From here, day trips took us to the baroque towns of Noto, Ragusa and Sciacca, shopping for ceramics in Caltagirone and marvelling at the mosaics at Piazza Armerina. We even had time for a cooking class.
Being at the right place at the right time meant we were able to join the locals in Modica celebrating the life of their patron saint, San Giorgio. We joined in their chant of Giorgio, Giorgio, Giorgio as rockets fired streams of coloured paper and forty men in red t-shirts carried the heavy statue down the steps of the Duomo and into the town. The celebrations continued for five hours until late in the evening when Giorgio, with fireworks exploding around him, was returned home. Local festivals are always a joy.
Whilst Taormina may not be my favourite town because of its popularity with tourists, it’s views are incredible and a quick trip was planned to meet friends for the weekend. I couldn’t wait to be on the road again, heading south to steep ourselves in the history of ancient ruins and eat fresh fish at the coastal towns of the south.
Trapani proved to be another wonderful surprise. Full of interesting characters, we loved our morning walks around the town watching the locals go about their everyday business. Marino, the net repairer, will stay in our minds forever.
It was the perfect base for a day trip to Favignana, a visit to the well known hill top town of Erice, a hike in the Zingaro Reserve and a lazy day on the beach at San Capo de Vito.
Where ever we went, we were spoilt with the food. The simplest tomato salad show casing the sweet Pachino tomato was, in its own way, as enjoyable as the Michelin starred food of The Duomo restaurant in Ragusa and the fabulous, La Madia at Licata. Simple fresh seafood at Il Sakalleo in Scoglitti and Da Vittorio in Porto Palo were also highlights.
Food was on our mind again as we headed for the hills. We stopped at Piana Degli Albanesi to try their cannoli, which are reputed to be amongst the best in Sicily. From our base just outside Castelbuono we spent the days exploring the beautiful hill top towns of the Madonie mountains and joined a local shepherd to make cheese and ricotta. We went in search of the black pigs of the Nebrodi Mountains.
But the Aeolian Islands beckoned. With a couple of nights in Lipari and five nights in Salina, a week disappeared very quickly. We planned our stay on Salina to coincide with the caper festival in the small village of Pollara. This was held in the piazza in front of the church made famous in the movie Il Postino, As people were arriving, the band started playing and the dancing began. With a brief stop to enjoy the long table of dishes all featuring the humble caper, the dancing continued well into the night. The Italians love to party!
Wherever you go in Sicily, history prevails. From the Greek and Roman theatres in Siracusa to the ruins of Agrigento, Selinute and Segesta there is no escaping. In Palermo it is the mosaics of the Cathedral at Monreale and the Palantine Chapel that blow you away. Our little B&B was in a perfect spot in the heart of the old city very close to the Vucceria market. Though this market has lost its authenticity, the Capo and Ballaro markets were both in easy walking distance.
Street food stars in Palermo. Arancini became a mid morning snack and somehow we often ended up at our favourite stall in the Ballaro Market in time for a pane con panelle, a chickpea fritter in a panini. I could not bring myself to try their pane con meuza, another popular snack of spleen and cheese in a bread roll, though I am told it is delicious!. Gelato con brioche or a cannoli was a great way to finish a meal.
All too soon, time had disappeared and we had to leave this wonderful island, its beautiful people, stunning sights and delicious food.
But one thing is for sure, we’ll be back. There is still more to see in Sicily!
About the author:
Jenny Freedman loves to travel! It has always been a part of her life and she’s seen many interesting places and cultures. Her travels are often based around food, and you’ll find her at markets, local trattorias and in restaurants wherever she goes. Jenny shares her stories on her blog to inspire others to experience their dream trip or simply enjoy the escape with her.