Seen in Sicily

The Mafia gets points

for having

the best restaurants.

David Beard

Italy-Sicily-map-Sharon-Birke

A tour of Sicily for 11 days? I imagined this island to be just a bunch of rocks so I had serious doubts. Sarah Murdoch, the Goddess of Packing Light and honorary Sicilian, won me over with her enthusiasm and passion, swearing 11 days is not enough to see all of Sicily’s best.

Turns out, Sicily has always been the bread basket of Italy and driving through the island revealed a rolling landscape of fertile farms, vineyards, citrus and olive groves. Even if you don’t have 11 days, here are more than 11 things worth seeing and doing:

1. Visit the charming Contessa of the Palazzo Conte Frederico. Her family converted their Palazzo’s stables into Palermo’s most royal B&B.  She will be thrilled to host your private party and her love story with her husband will make you swoon.

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2. Take the local pulse at bustling open markets and catch quaint domestic street scenes like this genius manual elevator.

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3. The Cathedral of Monreale has 68,000 square feet of mosaics illustrating various passages from the Bible. Each tile measures about the size of the fingernail on your little finger. What’s even more amazing is  that the artisans of this Catholic church were Muslims imported from Constantinople–which explains why the work is similar to the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul.

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4. The Sicilian Goddess of Pastry, Maria Grammtico, hosts group lunches and pastry baking demonstrations. Signora Maria was orphaned very young and had to work at a convent crushing almonds as a little girl. Her biography Bitter Almonds: Recollections and Recipes from a Sicilian Girlhood tells how she turned the difficulties of her childhood into a literally sweet life.

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5. If the kids tag along, this family of puppeteers in Ortigia will remind you of the Von Trapp family of the “Sound of Music” with their Italian productions.

Italy-Sicily-puppet-show-Sharon-Birke

Trivia for lovers of antiquity: Where do you find the world’s best preserved Greek ruins? Sicily, of course!  In the very long history of this strategically located island’s revolving door of ruling powers, the Greeks had their turn and a few of Sicily’s hills are littered with their art and architecture.

6. Sing an aria at Segesta’s amphitheater. With its incredible acoustics, you can hear the person on stage whisper even when you’re this far. And do notice the backdrop of mountain, sea and neighboring island off the horizon.

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7. On the rolling hills of Agrigento, the Temple of Concordia stands majestic, looking out to the sea. If you’d rather not melt your wings in the heat like this fallen Icarus, visit Sicily off season. At night, this temple and its neighboring ruins are lit for your viewing pleasure as you sip a granita at your hotel terrace.

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8. From the Roman chapter of Sicilian history remains the mosaic floors of the Villa Romana Del Casale from 500 BC. Carpet sellers could not possibly have made a penny from this family who had every inch of their 4,000 sq. feet covered with a variety of scenes and patterns. My favorite was the long hallway of now extinct exotic animals captured in Africa for the Roman extravaganzas at the Coliseum. The “Bikini Girls” in the next room are actually  female athletes of their time.

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9. “Passeggiata” is for people watching. In the early evening at every town especially on Sundays, locals meander down Main Street to say hello to each other and catch up with daily gossip.  Dress well for La Bella Figura, a good first impression and photo opportunities.

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10. Eat well and/or cook better! Learn how to make Arancino rice balls, caponata, fresh gelato, Sicilian pizza,… at the Nosco Culinary School in the hillside town of Ragusa.

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11. Can chocolate be made without heat, butter or artificial additives? Solve the mystery while chocolate tasting at Antica Dulceria Bonajuto in the town of Modica. Had to bring home their pistachio chocolate Easter Eggs.

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12. Wine tasting does not get more charming than in the company of the handsome father and twin sons who run the Benanti vineyard on the slopes of Mount Etna. I love how the labels of their wine bottles  combine the family patriarch’s love of wine and Renaissance art.

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13. In Siracusa, whisper in the Ear of Dionisio or sing your heart out with a grand chorus.

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I didn’t even make it to Sicily’s beaches! Taormina is popular with its pebbles and if you prefer sand, head towards the Southern coast facing Africa.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to add your Sicily travel tips.  La Dolce Vita Easter to you!

xoxox

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