Sicily is the largest of the Italian islands, home to Mt. Etna, the greatest active volcano of Europe. An island overflowing with history and culture, bursting with art treasures, erupting with fertile landscapes and natural parks, and rich with culture and traditions.
Surrounded by the Mediterranean, Ionian, and Tyrrhenian Seas, Sicily has several UNESCO World Heritage and archeological sites like Agrigento, and the famous Valley of the Temples, the ancient Greek Temples of Selinunte and Syracuse, Taormina’s Greco-Roman theatre.
Adventures await with scuba diving and snorkeling at Sferracavallo , trekking at Madonie Regional Park, and horseback riding. Or just relaxing at thermal spas at Sciacca, Belpaese, and Therme of Acireale, or one of the several beaches on the island.
Green olive groves, almond trees, citrus orchards and vineyards abound on this fertile island. Sicily’s beauty is seen at festivals like the Acireale Carnival with colorful masks & floats of flowers parading down the street. Or the Festival of Saint Rosalia in Palermo and Saint Agatha in Catania.
There are 9 provinces in Sicily including the capital Palermo, Agrigento, Catania, Caltanissetta, Enna, Messina, Ragusa, Siracusa and Trapani.
This trip focuses on the Palermo region, and our future travels to Sicily will be highlighting these other regions. We will continue to add to this article and update it.
WHERE TO GO
Palermo is a vibrant city with a rich past, diverse architecture, verdant parks, and multi-cultural inspired cuisine. Once a Phoenician stronghold and a Roman trading center, traces of Roman, Arab, and Norman conquerors are seen throughout the city.
Overlooking the deep blue Tyrrhenian Sea, and dotted with orange and lemon groves in the Conca D’Oro Plain, this city is a perfect place to stay. Located in northwestern Sicily, it’s easy to explore the area, including Monreale and Celafu.
We docked into Palermo on our Holland America Cruise Ship, and were greeted by our local guide, Corinna Scaletta.
She said, “Let’s go experience what is called ‘the genius of Palermo’, it is to say its spirit or its real essence”.
Here are a dozen highlights from our visit to Palermo and some of the villages in the surrounding area.
- Walking tour of Palermo…see the monuments, historical center, local markets, experience the local life style and traditions, including a visit to the local tailor to hear him play the mandolin. And of course, taste some delicious Sicilian desserts!
- Parks: Some of the most popular are Parco della Favorita, Villa Giulia and the Garibaldi Gardens with exotic rare plants and trees.
- Palazzo dei Normanni: Considered Sicily’s greatest treasure, the Royal Palace for the Kings of Sicily, with the Palatina Chapel featuring ancient mosaics.
- Churches: There are several churches to see in Palermo, most notable are the Church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti with five red domes, housing the Royal Tombs. The 12th century smallest basilica Church of the Magione, and one of the most beautiful the Church of San Domenico. And visit La Martorana Church with Byzantine mosaics inside. Add to your list, Santa Zita, Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio with one of the most ancient mosaics of Sicily, and the Church of Santa Caterina, a Sicilian baroque masterpiece. Don’t Miss! The richly decorated interiors and mosaics of the church’s interiors.
- Piazza di Cattedrale with a blend of Greek-Roman, Norman and Arabic design influences, and Piazza Pretoria with its late-Renaissance fountain and nude nymphs.
- Public Buildings: Important landmarks in the city include Zisa, splendid example of Arab-Norman architecture; Steri/Palazzo Chiaromonte, 1300’s Sicilian architecture, and Teatro Massimo with its Neoclassical style, where they filmed part of The Godfather.
- The Quattro Canti “Four Corners”: Symbolic square in the heart of this old medieval city – each corner has elaborate fountains and sculptures.
- Museums: Galleria Regionale della Sicilia is an art museum, and Museo delle Marionette with a collection of very old, traditional Sicilian puppets.
- Capuchin Catacombs: A 16th century catacomb with over 8,000 mummies.
- Monte Pellegrino: If you want an excellent panorama of the city, go to the top of Monte Pellegrino at 1,800 ft. to get a view of the mountains and the sea.
- Palermo’s Street Market: Visit the lively local Mercato della Vucciria market where you’ll find produce, meats, and local goods.
Cooking with the Duchess: It was exciting to meet Nicoletta Polo, the Duchess of Palma, and tour her seaside villa & gardens. She offers “A Culinary and Cultural Experience in an 18th Century Palazzo by the Sea,” and we hope to be back for this unique journey through Sicilian culture and food. Keep a lookout for her favorite Sicilian recipes on www.GlobalAdventuress.com
Duchess Nicoletta takes guests to a local market to buy the seasonal vegetables and fruits, then welcomes everyone into her kitchen to create a Sicilian menu with the Duchess’ guidance. After everything is prepared, guests get to sit down in the elegant dining room and enjoy the meal, then retire to the terrace overlooking the sea to stroll through the garden. Guests have the option to reserve an apartment in the villa, last home of Prince Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of the world-famous novel The Leopard.
PALERMO’S SURROUNDING AREA
Celafu is located on the north coast of Sicily between Palermo and Capo d’Orlando. This medieval town is best explored on foot. Frequented by locals and tourists who stroll the tiny alleyways with hanging lines of laundry suspended overhead. Dine in quaint cafes in the main square in front of the 12th century Duomo dating back to Norman times.
Most everyone ends up on the beaches where the town ends. Best photos are taken as you approach the town so you can get the perspective of the enormous cathedral standing beneath the giant mountain of rock with the town spreading out to the sea.
Monreale is a hilltop town is famous for the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Nuova. A spectacular example of Norman architecture, with blended Arabic, Byzantine and Classical design elements seen throughout the interior and 68,000 square feet of mosaics of the life of Christ and the apostles.
There are seven islands that are scattered to the north of Sicily called the Aeolian Islands.
Of the seven islands, Lipari, Vulcano, Stromboli, Salina, Filicudi, Alicudi and Panarea, our favorite is Panarea! This island has beautiful beaches and coves, and winding streets that lead to the main village square.
Global Adventuress would like to thank the Palermo Tourism Office for the insightful tour of this fascinating city, and to The Duchess of Palma for introducing her villa and cooking class.
We also would thank Travelpro for the carry-on spinner suitcase, a favorite of travel crews and avid travelers, as well as DK Travel for the travel guide book.
Palermo Tourism Office: Contact Ermanno Cacciatore or Corinna Scaletta to help plan your trip, arrange a tour & other recommendations.
Our driver Giacomo Tartamella chauffeured us on a roundtrip transfer from Palermo to Celafu. He is prompt, professional, courteous.
TRAVEL PRODUCTS & SERVICES
DK Travel: Excellent travel guides with helpful maps, inspiring images, and lots of great information to help you plan your travels.
TravelPro: High quality luggage, preferred by flight crews, frequent travelers, and the Global Adventuress Team.
TRAVEL INFORMATION & ADVISORIES
U.S. Passports & International Travel: The U.S. Department of State provides helpful information at this site including passport & visa requirements, embassy locations, and safety & security.