Sicily is a world unto itself. While other countries speak to you directly, this island, like its dialect, is complex, polychrome, varied in shapes and tastes. Everything, from the blinding sunlight down to the locals, is more intense than elsewhere, and perhaps not just one visit will be enough for someone to understand it.
After almost 25 centuries of foreign domination, Sicilians are heirs to an impressive legacy that transcends the architectural aspect. This is an island to be visited with an open mind; be ready to take in small sips a reality overloaded with cultural and geographic contrasts. From the refined architecture of Magna Graecia to the Arab craftsmanship to the Norman austerity. This diversity of culture is coupled with a diversity of landscape that you can discover either by car, hiking or biking.
If you are nature lovers, you wouldn’t want to miss the unique opportunity to climb the volcano Stromboli or trek the equally majestic Etna. You can scuba dive along the aquamarine coastline and sunbathe on one of the Aeolian Islands. The natural reserves like the Madonie Natural Park can be visited in one day and, believe it or not, many ancient sites can be visited by bike (the Unesco-listed Villa Romana del Casale in central Sicily is decorated with the finest Roman floor mosaics existing).
Palermo can be explored with an extensive tour of the main attractions and sites. In Catania, Sicily’s other main city, its great markets are populated with characters worth to be hosted in a Commedia dell’Arte piece. The best show in town is perhaps the boisterous fish market, its stands displaying a myriad of sea life, mussels, prawns, trays full of clams, sea urchins… The other market, known locally as La Fiera, resembles the noisy moroccan ones, selling everything from fruits and vegetables to designer bags and glasses.
Sicily hosts a variety of lodgings, amazing hotels, old villas turned into charming accommodations, not to mention a large number of Agriturismo’s or farmhouses which in some cases can be rather luxurious.
Our brief overview about this magical island would not be thorough without a quick peek into the regional food culture, complex and articulate. Often thought to be the richest and most spectacular cuisine of Italy it shows tracks and contributions from all cultures that have settled in Sicily over the last two millennia. Fish and poultry entrees, rice and pasta dishes, even bread have all been interpreted and reinvented in all their possible forms. In the Sicilian gastronomy you can taste the influence of Greek civilization especially for grilling, the use of oregano, garlic and olives. However, much stronger was the influence of the Arabs, as under their domination, Sicily experienced a period of great development reflecting even in food, from the large use of spices such as saffron and mint to a predilection of fresh and dried fruits in the preparation of typical desserts, the most famous ones being the Sorbetto, the Sicilian Cassata, and of course the Cannoli.
Sicily is a journey into a unique world, and will stay with you for a long time. The monuments and cathedrals, fortresses and convents remain the silent witnesses of its incredible past, and make this amazing land a place unique in the world, seasoned with spices and perfumes, a reality that is not resembling to any place except itself.
Nicoletta Lucia Paganucci