Yuletide Sicily

The festive season is always a beautiful time of the year to visit Sicily as it is filled with the colours, tastes and sensations of a traditional Sicilian Christmas.

A Yuletide Sicily offers visitors a unique way of experiencing the island which is inhabited by less tourists and is ultimately a more authentically Italian celebration.

December in Sicily is about traditions based around the nativity, Christmas markets with a little decadence thrown in.

I Presepi di Acireale (The art of the Nativity)  3rd December – 6th January Acireale (Catania)

The Christmas Nativity has always been a font of inspiration for folk artists who choose to represent the manger scene every year as part of the festive celebrations. Italian’s often put up their Christmas trees together with a home-made nativity and this art form is also reflected in the ancient art of the nativity construction in every form (from ceramics, papier-mâché, to theatrical representations of the scenes surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ)

Every year at Acireale there is the Itinerary of the Nativity in the Chiesetta della Madonna della Neve, which is an exhibition dedicated to depictions of the nativity dating back to the 1700’s. A series of churches display these traditional pieces of art, the papier-mâché nativities are displayed in the Church of San Rocco, the elaborate Neapolitan Nativities and high art nativities are in the Basilica Collegiata di San Sebastiano.

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The feast day celebration of Santa Barbara Paternó (Catania) 3rd, 4th and 5th December and 11th December

This colorful Saint day celebration begins gradually over the month of November and reaches its climax over a three day pageant celebration filled with formal ceremonies, processions and fireworks over the 3rd,4th and 5th of December, officially coming to an end on the 11th of December with the procession of the Saint’s relics around the town.

The style of the Santa Barbara celebrations at Paternó is reminiscent of the bigger celebration of Sant Agata at Catania in February, in fact both Saints are loved by the locals and both have saved their cities from a major eruption of lava from the Mount Etna volcano in 1780.

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Teatro Messina Catania Image from Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/mandarx/3173195407)

Natale a Catania 8th December – 31st January

The festive season brings the best out of the major cities for example the historical centre and squares of Catania are filled with the vibrancy and colours of many events including: Christmas markets, theatrical shows, art exhibitions, street performances and nativity displays.

The 8th of December is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Festa dell’Immacolata Concezione), the Madonna is also a patron of the city and the main celebrations in the Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi is filled with pomp and ancient religious traditions.

Festa dell’Immacolata Concezione: Termini Immerse (Palermo) 8th December

The celebration of the Immaculate Conception is an important celebration throughout Italy and other predominantly Roman Catholic countries, here in Sicily it is a public holiday and is filled with suggestive religious celebrations.

The most elaborate celebrations happen in towns where the Madonna of the Immaculate Conception is the patron saint, for example at Termine Immerse in Palermo province the Concezione della SS.Vergine Madre di Dio Maria has been worshipped since 1624. In almost all the churches of the city the icon of the Madonna is decorated with floral offerings including the first known wooden sculpture in the city dedicated to the Madonna, made in 1799 by Palermitano sculpture Francesco Quattrocchi. The sculpture is housed in the main church in the piazza Duomo and is the focus of religious processions and celebrations all around Termini.

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Image of Catania from Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/leandrociuffo/4200097689

Presepe Vivente Termini Immerse (Palermo) 25th – 6th January

Also at Termini Immerse there is the performance of the Nativity where the whole town participates to recreate biblical times and scenes from the birth of Jesus. It is a suggestive tradition which sees the entire community celebrate the central story at the heart of a Catholic Christmas. It also sees many old houses and palaces which are usually close, open up to display many folk traditions such as music and art.

Festa Immacolata Concezione: Caltagirone (Catania) 8th December

Another big celebration dedicated to the Immaculate conception is in the famous ceramics city of Caltagirone which hosts a colorful Medieval procession and a Sagra food festival (dedicated to the Muffuletta a traditional bread made with fennel seeds), besides the usual religious celebrations.

The Corteo Storico del Senato Civico dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries and includes a colorful procession in traditional costumes, flag throwing and drumming.

Longi in the province of Messina
Longi in the province of Messina

Natale a Longi e Sagra del Suino Nero: Longi (Messina) December 8 – 5th January

Christmas in Sicily is also dedicated to food, so the usual succession of Sagra food festivals are filled with the Sicilian’s rich source of culinary delights which are indeed never-ending.

One suggestive mountain town in the province of Messina organises a series of traditional and fun wintertime events over December. There is something magical about celebrating Christmas up in the mountains, around bonfires, surrounded by the sounds of traditional music, church services, processions, christmas carols and the promise of sipping a warming grappa liquor after a rich meal in a local Trattoria.

The Suino Nero dei Nebrodi, is a famous breed of pig which is perfect to taste in a hearty sauce in home-made pasta but also in hand-made salami hence making it perfect as the focus of this little village’s annual Sagra celebration.

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ChocoModica : Modica (Ragusa) 8th – 11th December

For lovers of fine chocolate the series of stands dedicated to the delicate preparation of the ancient recipe of Modican chocolatiers in the splendid historical centre of this Baroque town.

This world-famous high quality chocolate is showcased in this celebration organized by the town of Modica and is filed with many events including: guided tasting tours, demonstrations, exhibitions and other cultural events.

This Chocolate Show is dedicated to local chocolate artisans and seeks to showcase this local Sicilian product and the entire culture of the town. Many of the museums are opened during extended visiting hours, special concerts and shows are organised and local restaurants prepare special dishes and menus which show off the taste of their special chocolate.

Festa di Santa Lucia: Syracuse 13th – 20th December

The feast day of Santa Lucia is one of the biggest saint day celebrations in Sicily, along with St Agata of Catania, St Lucy is a native of Sicily which makes her a focal point in the local historic and religious culture.

The celebrations honor Santa Lucia as patron of Syracuse (Siracusa) with the traditions honoring the celebration of lights associated with other northern European celebrations for St Lucy day together with the  Fiera di Santa Lucia (markets of St Lucy).

Saint Lucy was born in Syracuse at the end of the third century and her celebrations include processions of her holy icon from the Cathedral (Duomo) to the Church of Saint Lucy’s tomb (Sepolcro), the procession is made up of a carriage from the 17th century, with people in traditional dress.

The celebrations in honor of Santa Lucia are one of the most ancient on the island, so seeing and participating these rituals you are witnessing a truly unique and authentic piece of islander heritage and tradition.

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 Reading Trinacria: novels by foreign authors

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This time around on Reading Trinacria the focus is on novels which have been written by foreign based authors, who have been inspired by Sicily or who have to set their works within a specific Sicilian historical period.

Sicily is a perfect place for lovers of historical novels, it is such an evocative place, bursting with the energy of a palpable history which seeps into everything on the island.

The Sicilian migrant diaspora is also one of the most creative spawning a genre which draws from Sicilian culture, family history and the collective migrant experience. First generation, second generation and even sometimes third generation Sicilian writers have been inspired by their heritage and continue to create beautiful literary works dedicated to Sicily.

To order the books featured on this post from Amazon feel free to click on the titles, that way you will be helping Sicily Inside and Out with a small commission.

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Anthony Di Renzo: Trinacria: A Tale Of Bourbon Sicily.

One of the most surprising discoveries on my journey to know and understand Sicily better has been Anthony Di Renzo’s book Trinàcria which evokes the spirit of Sicily as eloquently as any Quasimodo poem or scene from The Leopard a Sicilian masterpiece penned by Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s.

Di Renzo gathers the threads of Bourbon Sicily and its most vibrant characters to bring their energy back to life. With the voice of the long dead ghost of Marchesa of Scalea he creates an eccentric aristocratic character filled with sarcasm, arrogance and shrewd observation.

Di Renzo has chosen one of Sicily’s most rich periods for his backdrop filled with social change, revolution and inevitable decadence. The eloquence of Sicilian history is enthralling and the Bourbon period speaks as loudly to us as any other part of Sicily.

I managed to interview Anthony Di Renzo, read our interview here.

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Angelo F Coniglio: The Lady of the Wheel.

A wonderfully personal journey into the poverty, misery and dignity of the insular world of Nineteenth Century Sicilian peasantry. This labor of love is passionate and detailed as it takes us deep into a Verga like realistic world of small village life with heartfelt pathos and a veil of ancient dialect.

The Lady of the Wheel is the story of Maria Rizzo who is left alone to birth and give up her fifth child. Hiding the pregnancy from the community, in the heart of a harsh Sicilian winter, Maria dresses her beautiful green eyed baby girl in the only fine clothes the family owns, a dolls dress and goes to the church to deposit the child in a special rotating door, designed to gather up foundlings for adoption. We follow the story of Maria and her daughter and their journey to find one another.

Tariq Ali:  A Sultan in Palermo

This is the fourth and penultimate novel in Ali’s celebrated Islam Quintet. Ali is a wonderful writer and recreates the Norman court of Frederick the Second in all of its political intrigue, illuminated glory and splendour.

Tariq Ali is a masterful writer who manages to weave the fascinating history of the Sicilian Arab period, which was considered to be a part of Sicily’s history filled with intellectual development which predated the Italian Renaissance, into a vivid tapestry which is a joy to read.

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Barry Unsworth: The Ruby in Her Navel.

Barry Unsworth’s novel has become part of the literary canon when it comes to historical novels set in Sicily.

Unsworth takes the Arab period in Sicilian history and brings it to life again in a vivid, sensual and spiritual dream.

This classic tale of exotic Sicily is currently out of print but is well worth tracking down in a local library.

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Venero Armanno: The volcano, Firehead, Black mountain, The Lonely Hunter, Romeo of the Underworld 

The Sicilian themed novels by Venero Armanno, the son of Sicilian migrants to Australia, are a homage to the Sicily of post world war two and beyond.

In the words of Armanno himself, each of these books are, in their own way, about family and love, the effects of the migrant experience on first and second generation migrants and the search for the self.

Armanno’s writing style is sensuous, lyric and heart achingly beautiful to read, a true joy for everyone.

The volcano is a novel of emotion, passion and fire set in the Shadowlands of Mt Etna and tells us of the epic journey Emilio Aquila takes from Sicily to Brisbane Australia.

Firehead is a wonderfully sensual story about Sicilian migrants to Australia and a young man’s obsession over the disappearance of his neighbor, the read headed Firehead of the title.

Armanno’s latest publication The Black Mountain tells the story of a boy sold into slavery to work in the sulphur mines of 1940’s Caltanissetta, Sicily.

While The Lonely Hunter and its sequel Romeo of the Underworld tells the story of Romeo Costanzo and the gallery of characters he meets in the seedy underbelly of Brisbane, sprinkled with strange haunting memories from a family past he can never shake.

I was lucky speak to Venero Armanno about his work and creative process,  read the interview here.

Ann Ward Radcliffe: A Sicilian Romance.

For lovers of well written rambling historical gothic romance.

A Sicilian Romance is a long, intriguing and winding journey through the picturesque Sicilian landscape with many surprises along the way.

Ann Radcliffe was an 18th Century English author and pioneer of the Gothic novel. Her style is Romantic in its vivid descriptions of landscapes and long travel scenes, yet the Gothic element elements create an intriguing blend of twists and turns through the plot and elements the supernatural make for an rich journey.

This fascinating little read is available as a free ebook on the Project Gutenberg page here.

Cecelia Holland: Great Maria.

Great Maria is about a woman living in eleventh century Sicily, the daughter of a fictional Norman robber baron.

To her credit, Holland makes no attempt to provide the reader with a broad-brush view of the region’s complex politics, a patchwork of Lombards, Normans and Saracens struggling for control over various pieces and portions of the land. She simply plunges us into Maria’s world.

Great Maria is the intimate story of a woman living in Norman Sicily making her way through life by a strategic marriage, guile, courage and love.

Unfortunately the Great Maria is out of print but I recommend tracking down a copy from your local public library.

What other great reads have you come across written in English and set in or inspired by Sicily? Let me know in the comments below …

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Karen La Rosa: an interview about Sicily

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Sicily exudes a special kind of magic which inspires people to fall in love with it. A subtle kind of intoxication which overwhelms its visitors, through its sunshine, its food, history, the people, its timeless quality and pace of life, often visitors become hopelessly enamored of this island.

With those of Sicilian heritage the connection is always more intense, there is something visceral which pulls you back and makes you fit comfortably into the arms of your own personal genetic history.

Over the years I have met many people who have made valuable connections to Sicily and one of the most passionate stories has to be that of Karen La Rosa who has turned her love for Sicily into her work.

She writes on her web page La RosaWorks about how she once took a bike riding tour of Sicily and how:

At one point, riding alone and completely surrounded by olives, I dismounted and sank my hands deep into the warm earth. It was rocky but soft, and tenderly cared for. It was an incredible moment and I began to have a real sense of place. In that pile of earth was Sicilian history, generations of olive growing, labor and obstacles. Rich indeed.

Later Karen started her own unique travel company which is dedicated to sharing Sicily and Sicilian culture with the world.

I was happy to hear from Karen La Rosa who happily answered my questions about her experiences and work in Sicily.

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Randazzo

Tell us about La Rosa Works, how did it come about, what kind of events do you organise and what’s your philosophy about Sicily.

Sicily is in my blood and it has fascinated me since I was little. I asked so many questions about my heritage as a child, and learned a lot, from conversation to what was on the table. It was on my first trip to Sicily that I recognized myself as belonging to that place. I felt a close bond, and each time I am there, that bond is reinforced, it grows deeper.

When our three boys were at the end of their school years, I decided to start a business to share what I love. The island is so under-visited by Americans that I thought I should do what I could to encourage visiting and experiencing the magic. It’s not the same place it was one hundred years ago! I organize tours for small and large groups. Some I accompany, others go on their own following my arrangements. I’ve done theme tours as well for artists and yoga lovers, for example, foodies and wine lovers, historians and music groups. It’s all fun and gratifying.

I like to be involved in events because it is a fun way to reach many people who may not have yet made the commitment to travel to Sicily.  I have organized and collaborated on Sicilian themed dinners and wine tastings, on a large exhibit that incorporated many of the cultural aspects of Sicily, even exhibited some of my Sicily photos. I have created installations and displays.

Presently, I am involved in a major art initiative called Due South, involving more than 30 artists from Sicily and the US, including most recently, Letizia Battaglia, the famous Mafia photojournalist.  You can read about the project on my website, here.

I am the Sicily consultant, working on press, sponsorship and tours for museum supporters and art collectors. Over the course of the 3-month Delaware Contemporary museum exhibit, which will show the result of 3 years of artists’ work focused on Sicily, we will also offer events that spotlight many aspects of Sicily life and history. I’m excited and honored to be a part of this.

Duomo Taormina
Taormina

Why should someone come to visit Sicily on their vacation?

The reasons to come visit are many. The island has something for everyone. It is a wonderful place to unplug and relax by the sea, or play golf, or hike. But if food and wine is your passion, you can find fabulous food, in Michelin starred restaurants, or at small home style trattorie, chefs and cooking classes, too, and you can visit some of Italy’s best wineries, each one of which is unique. The historical canvas is so wide in Sicily, and each of the people’s who visited Sicily over the centuries left their mark, certainly in the food. At every turn, their richness greets you – Greek ruins, Roman mosaics, Byzantine mosaics, Arab ceramics and inlaid, woodwork ceilings, Norman architecture, and Spanish palazzi. The destructive forces of Mount Etna, were the catalyst for building some truly fanciful and ornate Baroque structures. This is just a little nod to what is there. It is truly spectacular to see Sicily up close! Its history surrounds you in the most wonderfully overwhelming way.

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Image c/o Karen La Rosa

What is the best thing to do in each season? Could you break it down for us, what should we be doing in a visit in the summer/fall/winter and spring?

Another tough question! It is tough because there are many things to talk about. Sicily is a semi-arid climate but within that there are many microclimates. Harvest begins in late summer in certain places, and continues all the way into November on Mount Etna!  Since so much of Sicily is still agricultural, that means a lot of hustle, bustle and fun. The freshness and intense flavors found in the markets all year round is special and at times, there are harvest festivals all over the island. They celebrate crops such as chestnuts or artichokes, prickly pear or grapes. They are always great community events.

Then come the Christmas holidays, full of food and celebration. If you go in winter, you may not need a jacket in the cities, but go into the hill towns and the wind will make you shiver. Church bells ring everywhere.

In February and March, the greening once again begins, and the earth is covered in a blanket of yellow flowers with the gentle pink and white almond blossoms dotting the landscape. Oranges and lemons are everywhere. Agrigento hosts the Almond Blossom festival, a big cultural celebration with music and dancing.

The biggest winter event is in Catania, in the first week of February, when the Feast of Sant’Agata commands everyone’s heart. It is a 3-day event that is unparalleled in its spectacle. Religious and traditional, it is an opportunity of a lifetime to witness. 

In the north, Acireale hosts one of Italy’s best Carnevale celebrations, and it continues for a month of costumes and children, music and fun.

In some years, these three events coincide and what an exceptional opportunity is that!

I think spring is the most visually exceptional, with flowers in every color imaginable and in their most intense version, visible everywhere.  Sicilians are people who love to let the wild grow and cultivate the rest. Natural beauty abounds.

Summer can be warm in Sicily, but there are many hills where the breezes blow cooler air and the sea bathes you in the deepest azure blue waters. Sicily boasts more than 300 days a year of sunshine. I think the sky and the sea are rivals for their blueness.

And then, by the end of the summer, we begin again the harvest. Grapes drip from vines everywhere. The air is redolent of wine. Olives are big and juicy, leaving your hands with a subtle smell and oily film. There is nothing quite like participating in these harvests.

That’s a long way of saying that I love all the seasons in Sicily, but Spring and Fall especially.

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Dancing Satyr, Mazara del Vallo. C/o Karen La Rosa

What is your own personal favorite site to visit?

I honestly cannot say that I have one. I love the streets of Palermo and Catania, too, where I feel so at home! I have had a couple of Stendhal moments, visiting both the Charioteer statue on Mozia and the Dancing Satyr in Mazara del Vallo. Both experiences left me speechless. They are jaw dropping works of art, so advanced for their time. I am ever amazed that Sicily is not as well visited as the other areas of Italy.

Sicilian Prickly Pears

What is your favorite taste of Sicily?

Wine and olive oil. Eggplant. Blood oranges. Pistachios. Almonds. Fennel. Ricotta….I could go on.

The deep blue sea near Capo d'orlando

What is your favorite off the beaten track destination or experience?

For me, eating freshly made and warm ricotta cheese is like a religious experience. It is simply heaven and wherever I am, I seek out the sheep farmer.

I also love visiting wineries and I have visited many. To me, a winery reflects nature, a philosophy, and a history. It is a testament to perseverance and hard work, to passion, and perhaps a little craziness. Each is unique except for one thing: they all work with grapes. I find that meeting the wine growers and makers is endlessly fascinating. They appreciate my enthusiasm and love to share. It’s a great day.

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Image c/o Karen La Rosa

Sicily is filled with works of art, if you can choose one emblematic piece of art from La Trincaria which would it be?

You’re going to laugh, but I really love the statue in the Piazza Duomo in Catania – the Fontana dell’Amenano. It has so much going on that represents Sicily. The boy is youth, strong, with a beautiful sculpted body. He bears a cornucopia, representing Sicily’s agricultural gifts. The two on their knees are older and carry the weight, pouring the rushing water into the river, the great river that once flowed through the city and was submerged by an eruption, the water representing to me the fast passage of time. The statue is big, graceful and proud, and yet it sits at the entrance to the fish market rather than in the center of a big piazza. Something about it says Sicily to me.

Antiques at Taormina

What is your personal connection to Sicily? Why have you decided to set up a business based on the island?

It is my heritage, and my passion. When my husband first went to Sicily, he said “I will never refer to you as Italian again.”

Markets at Noto, Syracuse

How would you describe Sicily in one sentence.

On my website I have a whole page dedicated to quotes I’ve collected about Sicily – words written by great writers, poets, historians and philosophers, from across the centuries. See the quotes page here

What could I say that they haven’t?

Sicily is in my heart, plain and simple. The island fills me with happiness and I try to give back.

Thanks so much to Karen La Rosa for taking the time to answer my questions.

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Culture Shock in Italy: Friendship

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According to UN statistics there are 232 million expatriates in the world a steadily rising number of people who have chosen to move overseas from 154 million in 1990 and 175 million in 2000. The motives for becoming an expat are quite varied whether it be economic or personal there are many people who choose to move out of their comfort zones and freely live in another country.

It’s a brave choice to become an expat, leaving behind friends, family, culture and even a mother tongue can be the biggest adventure imaginable yet it most certainly not all smooth sailing. The biggest boundary to settling into life in a new country has to be culture shock, which is when your own personal habits and values are diametrically opposed to those of your new home. It can be emotionally isolating and depressing to hit head on with conflicting opinions and ways of life. There is no way around culture shock you just have to be aware of it and either accept it or negotiate yourself around it.

You’d think moving to your dream home in Tuscany or Villa in the South of France or any other place on your bucket list would result in instant happiness but the reality is one filled with endless daily adjustments. I’ve written extensively about my own personal struggle in a light-hearted and comical way like in this recent post for COSI’ .

I have adapted well to life in Sicily, Italy but I still find myself stressing about the smaller things which I’d still like to share with anyone who is contemplating shifting their life to Italy which is probably one of the most idealised places in the world for potential expats. So I’ll be occasionally sharing my acquired insight into daily life in Italy with everyone. This time let’s talk about Friendships in Italy.

Socially Sicilians are very closed in and insular people. Not to say they are dull, on the contrary they are warm-hearted and vivacious, but basically they have a reserved nature. Their distinct dialect can keep foreigners firmly locked outside of a conversation.

Even as you open the code of their language there is precious little small talk in their lives other than the everyday gossip that keeps society’s wheels oiled, no sharing of real emotions or opinions with others unless it involves politics or sport, then you can posture and yell as you please.

I’ve always struggled with making friends here in Sicily, simply because those around me have already formed their friendships and seldom look out of their family or established community to make new connections.

It is usual for Sicilians and Italians to grow up with the same people around them, school mates and classes are formed by the same group of people from kindergarten to primary school and often through to high school. At University or work there are new bonds formed but they are more professional connections.

People are quite formal, when you first meet someone you need to use the polite ‘lei’ form which is like calling someone Madame or Sir. Quite often the formality is maintained permanently of someone is older, more qualified or holds a more important position than the other. Usually a mutual agreement is reached between the two parties so the casual ‘tu’ or ‘you’ can be used to address one another after a few weeks of working together but if it your superior it will usually mean a lifetime of using this complex formal tense.

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One disturbing aspect I find in the social life here is the fact Italians believe friendship between a man and a woman can never truly exist. There is no word to describe a male friend or female friend that doesn’t have connotations of a sexual nature. There is no way I can justify having male friends, my husband once said to me, ‘all men want is to have sex, not friendship.’  There are work colleagues, acquaintances, relatives and school friends, yet male friends outside of these contexts are considered boyfriends or lovers.

Perhaps I am generalising here but particularly in Sicily I find women tend to socialise with women and men with men, unless it is a school or work situation. For example if there is a party women will often stick to their friends, unless they have a boyfriend or are engaged and them even after people get married, they go back to their old habits, husbands with their male friends and women with their female friends.

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The lack of platonic male female friendships in Italian culture is a real problem, particularly when it comes to issues such as equal rights between the sexes and feminism. How can a women be considered an equal to man when she is still seen as a sexual object and not simply a friend or equal? Italy has many problems with violence against women, women’s rights in the workplace and professional world all because of the predominance of this latent machismo in society.

At times the culture shock for foreigners in Italy can be crippling but it is something to negotiate everyday. The most frustrating thing is wanting to change things yet realising it is impossible. I began to feel happy living in Italy when I let go of trying to change the culture and accepting things the way they were.

You can never make Italy the way you want it but you can live and take what is best for you. As a foreigner you are lucky to be able to pick what is best for you while being aware of the problems. Any culture is in constant evolution so who knows, things may gradually change, but it is all beyond one person.

Personally I try to be polite but I am above all upfront and explain to people I am a foreigner and may make mistakes with the formal tense, so to an extent I am tolerated or forgiven for breaking protocol. As for the way I socialise, I don’t get intimidated and often will get up from the women’s table and go sit by my husband to talk with the guys, which really isn’t worth the trouble as they mainly talk about sports and politics anyway ;-(

The best way to socialise in Italy is through the food, everyone loves to eat so throw yourself into the cuisine, a bottle of wine helps and the friendship issue usually sorts itself out after everything is digested.

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Sicilian Sisters Travel: an interview

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Tourism in Sicily is an exciting and constantly developing industry to be involved in with many new companies coming up with new ways in which to experience the island.

Recently one exciting new company has been founded by two Sicilian sisters born in Sicily. Francesca and Giovanna have returned to their island home after several years of education and work in the USA they have returned to help people discover their beloved homeland.

Sicilian Sisters is an online travel boutique which offers dream vacations to Sicily and Italy. Based on a unique connection to the island, the two sisters and best friends want to share the beauty of their heritage to the rest of the world.

Francesca and Giovanna kindly agreed to answer a few questions in a recent interview:

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Tell us about Sicilian Sisters Travel. How did it come about and what’s your philosophy about Sicily?

We were born and raised in Sicily. Our Papa’ is Sicilian, our Mamma Sicilian-American.We were born in a bi-cultural, multilingual home. This defined immediately the course and rest of our lives. We welcomed and entertained international visitors in our home in Sicily from an early age and traveled often to the USA and around the world to visit family and friends. 

In 1997, we moved to the USA to pursue higher education and spent 18 years there. Until this year (2016) when, longing to indulge in the beauty and slow paced lifestyle of our beautiful native island (Sicily), we decided to move back to our home here. Whether we had planned or not, it was always our pleasure to advice, suggest, accompany visitors around our island and slowly throughout all of Italy. 

Travel is in our DNA and through the years, we have been fortunate and grateful to be able to travel the world, develop a sensibility towards the needs of the international traveler, learn a few languages and expand our portfolio of connections.

We are delighted, honored and truly happy to be able to share our love, passion and knowledge of all that our island and country can offer to the senses of all embracing visitors!    

What services do you offer?

We can work with clients in a number of ways:  you can either join one of our group tours….or we can design a journey especially crafted for you, your family, business, etc…..or if you have already booked a few services (for example flights and hotels) we can assist in the planning of all other additional travel services such as cooking classes, wine tastings, Italian language courses, private guides, entrance tickets, train tickets, lunches, dinners, pastry demonstrations, tastings, cycling, sports, wellness experiences…..we are really creative and flexible and can assist really in anything related to travel in Sicily and Italy to match your exact wishes and desires and budget.  

Why should someone come to Sicily for their holiday?

Many people know or have traveled to Italy already – and though it’s a country of immense beauty, of poets, artists, musicians, ideal for foodies and wine lovers as well as scholars of the expressive Italian language and it will always offer peculiar experiences to its visitors (….and we can help you in the design and planning of your first time or a returning journey to Italy by the way with our connections throughout the boot)……we were born and raised in Sicily, it’s our native island and it has been a personal commitment through our entire lives to simply share the most beautiful and unique layers of our island with others.

We believe that Sicily is the “island of a thousand scents and colors.”  It is an island whose complex and extraordinary natural beauty mixed with a multitude of dialects and traces left from many civilizations has created a kaleidoscopic culture, people, history, language and cuisine.

Our island functions on “island time” and to best understand it, we always recommend that you have a different “tempo” when you come here to allow yourself to be immersed in its layers, to get a glimpse of a powerful history, to have your palates ignited with a “gusto” developed over centuries and your eyes filled with colors and senses inebriated by natural scents such as jasmine, orange blossom, pistachio, honey, pomegranate, prickly pears….

To travel to Sicily means to be exposed to Sicilian hospitality and generosity, to live a few days like Sicilian kings and queens did in extraordinary noble palaces or villas, to soak in the Sicilian sun and sea, and lavishly be reminded of the meaning and significance of eating well and feasting together around the dinner table, to learn about a rich archaeological and cultural history and much much more….

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What are best things to do in Sicily in each season? Could you break it down for us, what should we be doing in a visit in the summer, fall, winter and spring?

We will answer this question in reverse.

Sicilian summer lasts from about May through October so in these months, we certainly recommend planning a vacation that focuses on a location by the sea in one of the numerous stunning beaches around the island or in its surrounding islands (Aeolian, Aegadian, Pelagian, Pantelleria) – and intertwine cultural as well as other fun experiences.   

In our late fall (October and November) – you will certainly enjoy partaking in vineyards visits, wine tastings, cooking classes, pastry demonstrations and Italian language courses perhaps….always a must are cultural highlights as well.

In winter and spring….slower tourist season here, you would enjoy “living like a local,” travel is cheaper, the weather still so pleasant – the perfect time to enjoy all of the above at slower pace, with tourist attractions less crowded.  

What is your own personal favorite site to visit?

This is a very difficult and nearly impossible question to answer because we appreciate all seasons and all destinations for their uniqueness and diversity……but if we had to highlight a few “musts” while in Sicily…..you must visit at least once in your lifetime:  Taormina, the Baroque corner in South Eastern Sicily (Modica, Noto, Ragusa, Scicli, etc.), you must taste pastries and street food in Catania, you may enjoy a romantic sunset walk in the idyllic ancient city of Ortigia, also salute Mount Etna, learn about the history of Sicilian Kings and Queens in Palermo, visit the magnificent Valley of Temples in Agrigento, deepen your knowledge of Sicilian wines and cuisine, and take a few extra days to explore the Aeolian Islands – one of our favorite destinations in the whole world. 

What is your favorite taste of Sicily?

This is another very difficult question because our Papa’ was a Chef in the USA and our Mamma is an incredible cook…..we love fresh seafood prepared in a number ways, we love eggplants and fresh basil, tomato sauce made with Pomodori from Pachino, we enjoy a good glass of Nero d’Avola or Shiraz or dessert wines like Zibbibbo and Passito, we adore ricotta and pistachio and honey, we love almond or lemon or prickly pear “granita” (Sicilian ice) for breakfast in the summer. 

What is your favorite off the beaten track destination or experience?

We love to share the picturesque fishing village where our maternal grandparents were born: Brucoli.  It is literally a three street village but so restorative for a day out:  enjoying some time at the beach….lunch in one of the few delicious seafood restaurants overlooking the Mediterranean Sea….. a refreshing mid afternoon granita…..and an aperitivo by the water at night………….Mt Etna at a distance, the entire Bay of Catania before your eyes. It is a very simple, tranquil yet idyllic destination.

The autostrada to Messina as seen from Taormina

Francesca, tell us about ‘My Sicily’ …

In 2012, my first book “My Sicily” (255 pages) was published in the USA.  It is written in English with a few Sicilian proverbs, extracts of language.  It was a travel memoir where I intertwined personal childhood memories and cultural, culinary, identity, linguistic notes on my favorite places around the island.  Sicily is not mine, it belongs to the world and all those curious or interested in learning more about our culture and island….and to all the sons and daughters of Sicilian immigrants worldwide.  I entitled the book “My Sicily” because I narrate “my” personal reflections as I associate them with each individual place.  Thanks to the book, I enjoyed traveling across the USA on a 55 stop book tour, was invited at the Sicilian Festival in San Diego, received two Sicilian Literary Awards (in 2007 and 2013), met extraordinary people and learned even more about Sicilian culture and identity in the USA.  During the journey, I launched a blog to document it and through the years it has grown to welcome almost 39,000 followers worldwide who follow my writings and literary experiences.  I am so grateful.  My sister who has a passion for photography and her own business (https://giovannamignosa.smugmug.com/) designed the book cover, map of Sicily and entire book. There are a few literary projects brewing at the moment, but I can’t reveal them just yet. I invite anyone interested to follow my facebook page:  Francesca Mignosa Author or my blog  https://francescamignosa.wordpress.com  

How would you describe Sicily in one sentence ….

“Sicily is the island of a thousand scents and colors” (My Sicily, 2012) when you think you know all of them….its charisma will show you a few more….we look forward to sharing and discovering more with all of you.  Grazie.   

We invite you to visit our website   www.siciliansisterstravel.com and our Facebook page:  Sicilian Sisters Travel.        

You can also email us at siciliansisterstravel@gmail.com 

Thanks so much to these charming Sicilian Sisters for finding the time to talk to Sicily Inside and Out.

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Images c/o Sicilian Sisters, Sicily Inside and Out library, Flickr and Sicilian houses image from Tibor Janosi Mozes 

Novembrando in Sicily

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It’s already November in Sicily but this doesn’t mean things have slowed down on the island there are always many events and festivals going on in every province throughout the year. I thought I’d share some of the most colorful for visitors to experience this month.

Festival di Morgana 3rd – 13th November

The Museo Internazionale delle Marionette Antonio Pasqualino is a Palermo based museum which is dedicated to traditional Sicilian marionette puppet theatre which narrated the history of the Crusades, the Norman period and featured some masters of Italian Literature from Ludovico Ariosto, Matteo Maria Boiardo to Torquato Tasso.

The International Puppet Museum also collects objects from puppet theaters from all over Europe and the world including puppets from France, Spain, Thailand, Vietnam, and Burma.

The Morgana Festival features artistic performers from all over the world – as well as cultural exchanges with similar associations in the five continents and helps the Museum to safeguard this form of theatre which is seen as a prized part of Sicilian history.

The annual Festival has given the museum the opportunity to acquire new objects and expand research into non-European traditions and theatrical practices through collaboration with other major national and international cultural institutions.

Ortigia Antiquaria a Syracuse (Siracusa) 7th to the 9th November

Sicily is a wonderful place for lovers of antiques and art such as ceramics. In November Syracuse hosts the largest antique fair in southern Italy in one of it’s most suggestive neighborhoods. Ortigia is a small island which is considered the heart of the most ancient part of the city and hosts the Antico Mercato (antique markets) on via Trento at various times of the year, including this November.

Collectors and those passionate about antiques can browse through furniture, prints, books and other objects which make up the rich collection of antiques collected from six different Sicilian provinces (Palermo, Trapani, Catania, Messina, Ragusa and Siracusa)

Ortigia Antiquaria – Antico Mercato, Via De Benedicts angolo Via Trento

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San Martino

The feast day of San Martino is usually where the new wines are first tasted, this year wineries all over Italy host Cantine Aperte a San Martino a regular autumnal appointment organised by the Movimento Turismo del Vino on the Sunday the 13th of November which invites everyone to visit and taste the new fruits of the fall. For a list of participating wineries throughout Italy see the Movimento Truism del Vino’s web page for details.

The actual feast day celebration for Saint Martin is the 11th of November which celebrates the Saint’s miracle of a brief reprieve from the once harsh European winters.

There are literally hundreds of San Martino parties throughout Sicily to celebrate the wine season as they say: ‘a San Martino ogni mosto diventa vino’ (for Saint Martian every grape juice becomes wine) so there are many Sagra food festivals dedicated to wine and pork based products such as salami and other traditional luncheon meat’s made throughout Italy.

Some typical events organized every year in Sicily for San Martino include:

Festa di San Martino at Linguaglossa (Catania): with traditional Sicilian folk music performances and stalls offering a taste of typical regional food.

Festa di San Martino at Ragalna (Catania): with the Sagra of the Salsiccia e vino. 

San Martino Odori e Sapori at Valle del Ghiodaro at Mongiuffi Melia (Messina)

Festa di San Martino at Aci Bonaccorsi (Catania): with sampling of the traditional fruit of the prickly pear which is considered a special delicacy.

San Martino funghi, salsiccia, castagne… e vino (mushrooms, salami and chestnuts) at Castell’Umberto (Messina).

Festa di San Martino at Palazzo Adriano (Palermo): an unique folk celebration dedicated to married couples who have celebrated their wedding over the last year.

Festa di San Martino at the L’Osteria in Piazza a Villarosa (Enna): which is a traditional mixture of stalls offering typical products, music and folk music.

The opportunities to make the most of the new wine are literally never ending.

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Expo Food and Wine 26th to 28th November, Tremestieri Etneo (Catania)

This food expo showcases the best of Italian food and wine with a particular focus on Sicilian producers.

 The three day event is packed with training workshops, taste itineraries: which show off various combinations between wine, oil and food, alcohol, chocolate,
cheese, cured meats and sausages , seminars and company presentations, demonstrations from well known Italian chefs and pastry chefs, book presentations and a focus on digital marketing in the food & beverage industry.

For more information email: info@expofoodandwine.com. Tel: 095 497008. Cell: 328 4312629. Address: Via Idria 54/A, Tremestieri Etneo (CT). 

Patron Saint celebrations at Salemi 29th of November to the 8th of December (Trapani)

This big celebration celebrates the two patron saints of the city, San Nicola di Bari and the Maria S.S. Immacolata (also celebrated on the 9th of May). San Nicola has been the patron and protector of the city since 1290 and so the celebrations are filled with traditional processions, church services and local colour. While the celebration of the Immaculate conception on the 8th of December is dedicated to the city’s other patroness who has been associated with the city since 1740.

For the ultimate list of events in Sicily see Sicilia in Festa an Italian web site where you can search for events by location throughout the year.

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Bones and fruit of the dead

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My son has recently begun the school year in Sicily, which is proving to be quite an experience for both of us. I like how school life in a small town is wonderfully protective and comforting for young boys and girls who are literally smothered by the community.

While at the same time I am frustrated by the posturing of the local mothers who seem more concerned about putting their children on display rather than bettering their education and the closed-minded teachers who are stuck in the habits of their traditions which sees my son being tortured by attempting long-winded old-fashioned handwriting exercises from the first week of first grade.

Now he’s in second grade and does cursive better than me! I will bumble my way through the rest of the school year avoiding conflicts, ignoring frustrations and deep breathing through all the difficulties.

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My son’s homework for the first of November is to copy these lines:

Novembre é il mese delle morte

Abbiamo pregato per loro

I morti dormano nei cemeteri.

(November is the month of the dead.

We have prayed for them

The dead sleep in the cemeteries)

I found this to be an interesting type of homework to give a six year old, it reflects the importance of the major religious holiday of All souls day on the second of November, which sees people paying tributes to their ancestors on and seems to run over through into the whole month.

While part of the world is trick or treating, others are visiting their ancestors in the cemeteries, lovingly cleaning and maintaining the tombs and decorating them with lights and bouquets of flowers for the feast day of the defunti.

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I’ve never celebrated Halloween, it’s always been foreign to me even though the entire world seems to love to celebrate this holiday with all of its colour and masquerade. Instead of doing Halloween, I’ve been celebrating I morti and tutti Santi (all souls and all saints) which are distinctly religious celebrations yet are more sombre and have become a part of my annual routine.

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When I first came to Sicily I thought All souls was macabre, yet there is a subtle underlying affection to it all, everyone visits the tombs of their families deceased bringing flowers and lighting up the cemetery with hundreds of little light globes. It is about honouring your ancestors, remembering where you came from, the stepping stones which led to you and it feels like an honourable ritual to follow.

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The connection to a families dearly departed used to be more intense, bordering on fanatical. in the past the living used to prepare special treats and leave them at the resting places of their family. At the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo up until the early twentieth century people used to visit their mummified relatives, to talk to them and bring them elaborate treats.

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Ossa di morto

These days the only thing that remains of this macabre tradition in Sicily is the preparation of biscuits called Ossa di morto (bones of the dead) and delicate little artful marzipan fruits called Frutta Martorana which are often given as gifts to children, who are left little sweets as presents, which the souls of their departed grandparents leave for them on the night between the first All Saints (Ogni Sante) and All Souls (defunti) on the second of  November. 

Ossa di morto are delicate sugary biscuits flavored with cinnamon and cloves which are left to rest and leavened for two to three days, when they are finally baked a delicate little biscuit mushrooms out from under the whitened bone colored biscuit. The traditional version is very simply and sweet, often the pastry is flavored with different aromas like orange, lemon and chocolate.

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While the traditional Frutta Martorana are sculptured out of marzipan and are often enriched further by being filled with chocolate or hazelnut Nutella. These marzipan delights are said to have originated at the Monastery of Martorana, Palermo when the nuns decorated bare fruit trees with the fruit sculptures to impress a visiting archbishop. Today these tiny works of art are found throughout the provinces of Messina and Palermo.

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Throughout the year these unique baroque sweets, made from almonds and sugar are moulded into anything imaginable and are sold to tourists visiting the island, but they are really associated with November and the many generations who populate the cities of the dead.

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How to explore Sicilian towns

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When people come to Sicily they tend to go along the well followed tourist road, sticking to places like Palermo or Catania or visit coastal resort towns like Taormina or Cefalù which are all beautiful and worthwhile but the island can offer so many more unique experiences.

I always advise people to go and visit a smaller town, whether it be tracking down the village where long-lost Sicilian ancestors came from or simply hiring a car for a day and heading  up into the mountains, along the coast or into the interior of the island. There are literally hundreds of smaller towns to see. In the province of Messina alone there are 108 towns each with their own unique history, sights, sounds and tastes.

Small towns aren’t going to be as bustling and vibrant as the bigger cities but visiting them will give you a sense of the real colour and pace of day-to-day Sicilian life which is much more satisfying than merely crossing things off a bucket list.

You can easily hire a car from any major airport in Sicily and with GPS technology it is easy to get off the Autostrada and explore.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

Bring a phrasebook

Once you get out of the tourist areas the frequency of spoken English disappears so you will need some Italian to make yourself understood. Some guidebooks will make you believe you will be hearing mostly Sicilian dialect, but the reality is most people are well versed in Italian although it will be spoken with a thick Sicilian accent. Once the locals see you trying to make yourself understood in their language they will do everything to accommodate you, as they are proud of their town and will do anything to show it off.

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Get there early

Get going early as most towns tend to slow down after midday and you will have to avoid any traffic heading out of the bigger cities. I suggest arriving in time to have breakfast (strictly a coffee/cappuccino or fresh orange juice and croissant which most cafe’s/bar offer regularly) and that way you can ask the waiter or barista what you should be doing in their town. Bar owners are fonts of great local knowledge as they are usually located in the centre of town and are always in the know. Sicilian’s freely give information on local events and the best local places to eat, so you can’t go wrong by simply asking.

Chiesa Madre, Sinagra

 Start with the churches

The best place to see traditional Sicilian art is in Sicilian churches, the Roman Catholic church once engaged the best local artists and artisans to beautify their places of worship and so you will literally find a treasure trove of sculpture, architecture and paintings.

Even the most run down looking church will give you the best surprises. Most churches are open throughout the day, they don’t cost you anything and you can walk around without any problem just as long as there are no religious services and you are respectful and don’t take too many photo’s especially of the altar. If you are feeling generous you can slip in a donation into the Offertory boxes which usually go to the upkeep of the church.

Castello Sinagra

 Castles and palaces

Every town with either have a Castle/Fortress (Castello) or historical aristocratic Palace (Palazzo). Many have been turned into museums and most will be opened to the public. They are always fascinating places to visit as they are focal points for local history. Sicilian small town are places with many centuries of history, the island has been inhabited since prehistoric times so there are endless fascinating historical sites to see. Once again be sure to ask the locals for advice.

Small town Sicily

 By foot

The best way to see a Sicilian village is to park the car and walk around the town focusing on little side streets, suggestive abandoned houses, tiny little stores and hidden courtyards. If you are visiting a mountain town this walk with mean hiking up, discovering new perspectives and picturesque views. While coastal towns will give you romantic strolls along the seaside or panoramic outlooks carved out of the landscape. Sicily is perfect for slow travel as Sicilians always take the time to savor the moment.

 

Feste, Sagre and Market time

If you want to see a Sicilian paese with it’s best face on, then you must visit when there is a local Festa (saint day celebration) or Sagra (local food festival). Each town has its patron Saint and protector which is celebrated with elaborate markets and processions during the year, so it is always great to see this celebration which is usually accompanied by other events like art exhibitions and concerts.

Sicilian’s are great connoisseurs of food and always love to promote their own local products, throughout the year each town celebrates their food by offering visitors a taste. For a few euro’s you can often enjoy a full meal. There are food festivals dedicated to everything from ice cream, to pistachio’s, sardines, salami, roasted pork, chestnuts, ricotta and oranges, the list is endless. Most are advertised through large posters fastened to walls on the side of the road or on billboards and above all by word of mouth. So if you see one be sure to swing by. These are usually evening events so you may have to arrange accommodation for the night.

The market day tradition is still very much alive in Sicily and each town has its own open air market day during the week. You never know what you will find at the markets, there can be anything from cheap Chinese clothing, fabrics, local fruit and vegetables, cheeses, food carts, folk art and antiques. It will always be worth the effort even if you simply grab a few local products to taste for a picnic lunch.

San Rocco

 Eat local

Food is never a problem in Sicily, even if you hurriedly run into a small supermarket just before they close for the lunchtime siesta you will still be able to ask them to make up a quick panino and deli lunch which you can wash down with a beer or wine easily available from the store.

If you are shrewd enough to have follow my advice and asked the local barista where you should go for lunch you would already have a selection of recommendations for a place to enjoy a local meal.

Generally if you want to taste fresh local fare the best bet is to eat at a Trattoria (family run restaurant) or Agriturismo (agricultural tourism hotel) rather than a Ristorante (restaurant) which will charge you more and give you less.

 

Tourist Information

Each small town has a local tourist information office which is usually associated with the local town hall. If you decide to find a place to stay and experience the town over a few days they will be the place to go for recommendations about local bed and breakfasts and other places to stay overnight. The Pro loco will be a great font of knowledge as each town is connected through a network of other tourist information centers so they can give you in depth information about the surrounding areas too as things like web pages and online information is hard to come by.

Sinagra from Castello

There is no reason not to go forth and explore.

Sicily has had a bad reputation in the past but if you use the same level of caution you usually use while traveling overseas there is no reason to be afraid. Keep in mind things like controlling your change while shopping so you don’t get short-changed, don’t leave cameras or expensive equipment in your car, keep valuables either at home or close to your person, don’t take too much cash and keep your documents in a money belt under your clothes to avoid falling victim to pickpockets. Don’t be ostentatious in the way you dress as it will identify you as a foreigner and you will become a target for a mugger or tourist fraud.

Generally avoid run down neighborhoods or isolated areas like train stations or abandoned city squares late at night, if you don’t see people around it means you shouldn’t be there either and simply be aware of any potential danger.

These are the general rules to follow if you travel anywhere around the world, Sicily is no different to any other international travel location.

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Dividing Sicily into bitesize pieces

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There are many ways of exploring Sicily, from visiting the bigger cities and tourist centres, food and winery tours or seeing the major historical sites from Greek temples to endless museums.

Logistically moving around Sicily is difficult simply because of the mountainous landscape, bad infrastructure, lack of reliable public transport and really confusing or absent signage. Rather than attempting to see the entire island in one weekend (which I assure you is impossible), the best thing to do is simply break the island into smaller pieces and explore a smaller part of it.

It is easy to hire a car from any major airport and together with a reliable GPS, a guide book, a little research and some Italian, you can easily negotiate yourself around a particular area.

One trip or vacation to a concentrated part of the island is a perfect way to soak up the culture and colours associated with each of the nine different provinces (Palermo, Catania, Messina, Siracusa, Ragusa, Enna, Caltanissetta, Agrigento and Trapani.)

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Western Sicily  for example includes Trapani, Marsala and basically everything west of Palermo from Castellammare del Golfo around to the Aegadian islands, down the coast to Mazara del Vallo, if you want to be particularly challenged you can make it down as far as Agrigento (but I think Agriento deserves more time to be savoured and is best to be grouped together with central Sicily).

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Sicily can be sliced down the middle from Palermo into its heart to Piazza Armerina, Enna, Caltanissetta down to Agrigento which are filled with much history, archeological sites and festivities during the year.

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Then there is North Eastern Sicily which can be done by car from Palermo along the coast towards Messina and can include visits to places like Cefalù, the Aeolian Islands, many small coastal and mountain towns around to Messina and the resort town of Taormina.

If you decide to arrive at Catania airport you can start from there and explore along the coastline as there are many fascinating fishing villages and resorts all the way down to Siracusa and Ragusa.

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A few days to explore the Val di Noto towns inland from Catania will give you the chance to experience the eight Baroque treasures of south-eastern Sicily: Caltagirone, Militello Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo, Ragusa and Scicli, were all rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake and are filled with ostentatious architecture, breathtaking scenery and equally rich culinary landscape to taste.

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From Catania it is easy to catch the Circumetnea an historic railway which takes you leisurely around the base of the Mount Etna around to the picturesque seaside town of Riposto. From Catania airport it is simple to explore Etna itself and the endless small towns near and around the Mount Etna regional park, this area also boasts world class wineries, restaurants, historical sites endless farm stay or luxury bed and breakfasts, spas and a golf course. 

Sicily is a multifaceted place with endless things to explore, simply do some research into whatever you may be interested in and see if you can explore the island through your hobbies and passions.

There is something for everyone Sicily is a paradise for people interested in hiking, mountain biking, nature photography, snorkelling/diving and windsurfing.

Sicily boasts some of the best beaches in the Mediterranean, if your family is originally from Sicily you can visit the town of your origins, foodies will have endless things to taste with a succession of Sagra food festivals throughout the year and the island has some of the best wine in the world.

There are literary parks to explore Sicily through its greatest artists, if you are after a luxury holiday there are many five star hotels and resorts, you can take a helicopter ride around the island, sail around the coast and hop around the surrounding islands, take archaeological tours around the most well preserved Greek temples outside of Magna Grecia, immerse yourself in the thousands of museums, palaces, castles, markets, religious or food festivals, squares, do an inspector Montalbano, Mafia or Caravaggio inspired tour.

The possibilities are endless simply break off a piece of Sicily and have a taste.

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Reading Trinacria: History

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 Reading Trincaria is an evolving cornucopia of discovered writings from native Sicilians, Italians and foreigners who have dedicated works to this multifaceted place. This inventory is based on my long and ambling interaction with all things Sicilian.

I have been adding book reviews with the hope of creating a definitive quality reading list for anyone who wants to learn more about Sicily. I don’t think the list will ever be finished because the subject of Sicily simply creates a never-ending stream of books, which have increased with the advent of ebooks, so there are literally hundreds of travel memoirs of varying literary value to be downloaded from the internet.

So over the next few weeks I’ll try to give you a sense of what I have discovered to be useful, feel free to browse around and if you like to buy something use the links in the posts and I’ll get a tiny commission which may result in me being able to buy still more books about Sicily, sooner or later.

There are endless history books about Sicily, many are quite academic but the best texts are those which combine the historical facts in an absorbing narrative. 

Here are some of the best reads possible with a mixture of fascinating historical focus and an entertaining style.

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John Julius Norwich. The Normans in Sicily, The Normans in the South 1016-1130 and The Kingdom in the Sun 1130-1194.

This is the ultimate Sicilian history trilogy dedicated to the Norman period in Sicily which was like a medieval renaissance, a golden age of enlightenment despite the backdrop of darkness in Europe. John Julius Norwich is a formidable historian and story-teller, these book read like a charming historical novel, a pleasure to read. Norwich is one of the best English historians and authors to write about Sicily and his subsequent books simply confirm this, so if you are looking for an approachable way to understand Sicilian history, his books are a prefect place to start, adding to this trilogy there is also: Sicily: a short history from the ancient greeks to casa nostra and The middle sea: A history of the Mediterranean (a more general history of the whole Mediterranean) which continue to explore Sicily through a charming conversational voice.

Finley M I and Denis Mack Smith. A short history of Sicily.

This ageless classic is a wonderful introduction to Sicilian history for anyone wanting to begin a journey through the epochs of Sicilian history. Written in clear, precise and evocative style which encourages you to hear more about this fascinating place. A short history of Sicily is out of print but you can easily to pick up a copy from a public library as it was the main authoritative text on Sicilian history in English for many decades.

Giuseppe Quatriglio. A thousand years in Sicily and Sicily: Island of myth.

I really enjoy the way Quatriglio is able to tackle such heavy topics like Sicilian history and mythology and turn it into a fascinating and joyful read. His insights are so valuable and point of view masterly. Quatriglio is a famous name in the academic world and his books are filled to the brim with historical detail dealt out in delectable portions by an amazing storyteller.

Connie Madracchia Decaro: Sicily: The trampled Paradise

This work really gives you a sense of the relentless barrage of invasion, subterfuge and misfortune of Sicily’s violent history as a pawn in the battle for control over the Mediterranean. Ultimately it is a testament to the tenacity and stoic nature of the Sicilians who despite being continually attacked by foreign powers, stripped of their agricultural wealth and becoming relentless victims of misfortune continue to struggle and love their island.

Jeremy Dummett: Syracuse: City of legends  and Palermo, City of Kings: The Heart of Sicily

Jeremy Dummett is a lover of history, a dedicated Italophile and frequent visitor to Sicily. It was while on a visit to Syracuse in 2005 that the seeds of this book were planted. Dummett became interested in the history of ancient Siracusa, he discovered an immense amount of literature referring to this city and surprisingly found there had been no recent publications about this amazingly rich place in english, and so Syracuse: City of Legends was born. His subsequent book about Palermo published in 2015 is equally as rich and fascinating, I spoke to Jeremy Dummett while his was promoting his new book, click here to read the interview.

Louis Mendola and Jacqueline Alio: The Peoples of Sicily: A multicultural legacy.

Mendola and Alio are dedicated Sicilian writers, historians and promoters of their island, both are well-respected as experts in their field. This book is an ambitious undertaking to document the many conquerors of the island and the influence they have had on Sicily through extensive research and the use of newly uncovered historical documents. The result is a wonderful introduction to the history of Sicily but written in a very stifled academic language, with some repetition. Unfortunately Mendola and Alio lack the storytelling skills of other well-known English historians yet their work is a wonderful testament to the work of local historians. 

Jacqueline Alio: Women of Sicily: Saints, Queens and Rebels

This fascinating historical textbook represents one of very few works dedicated to great women in Sicily’s history. It is a lovingly researched book, filled with insight into powerful women who have often been pushed to the side by history, but who have contributed immensely to the islands culture. Some chapters are a little scant with information simply because of a lack of historical documentation available, but nonetheless this volume still sheds some light onto more subtle aspects of how powerful women influenced Sicily’s history.

Sandra Benjamin. Sicily: Three Thousand Years of Human History.

This is another pleasant journey through Sicilian history, which takes us up to modern times. Benjamin does such a wonderful job of wading through more than three thousand years of historical material, bringing us through to today in an effortlessly entertaining style. This is the way history should be written with a vivid and engaging voice.

As I mentioned before there are literally hundreds of history books about Sicily but these are some which I’ve particularly enjoyed reading.

What is your favourite history book about Sicily? Let me know in the comments section below if I’ve missed any which should be on this list.  I’m always open to suggestions.

And if you’ve written a book about Sicily, send it to me (rochelledelborrello@gmail.com)  I’m continually searching for new books to read.

I look forward to suggesting more books over the next few weeks…

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