Every town and city in Italy has its own Saintly patron or protector which has its own dedicated festa or celebration during the year with associated religious processions and events.
In Sicily alone, there are three hundred and ninety town halls which means many lifetimes of Saint day celebrations.
Apart from the religious celebrations, the locals take pride in celebrating the grandness of their particular Saints miracles and the intimate connection with their specific town. The statues of each Saint is a work of art, and the parades are filled with music, prayer and colour. The locals take their saints seriously and try to keep up the traditions.
Sicily’s nine major provincial capitals each have big celebrations which have been practised uninterrupted for centuries, and today each is a significant event in each cities calendar filled with holiday markets, art exhibitions, food preparations and epic fireworks.
Some towns have more than one Patron which means several celebrations throughout the year. While other cities whose Saints celebration happens in the dead of winter, so they have decided to have a summer version of the festa for visitors to experience too.
Here is a list of the important Patron Saint-day celebrations of the main cities in Sicily (Agrigento, Caltanissetta, Catania, Enna, Messina, Palermo, Ragusa, Syracuse (Siracusa) and Trapani.
To round the number up to an even ten I’ve included an extra location at Cefalu where the festivities feature the Saint’s statue being loaded onto a boat, the procession continuing out into the sea, something which is common for many celebrations around the island particularly with coastal towns.
La Santa Pasqua in Sicilia è ricca di antichi riti e tradizioni che sono tanto colorati e varigati quanto lo è l’isola stessa. La settimana che porta a Pasqua trabocca di celebrazioni religiose, preparazioni culinarie, processioni, parate guidate da antiche confraternite nei loro particolari costumi, rievocazioni del mortirio di Gesù Cristo e della resurrezione.
Ogni celebrazione fa parte di un elaborato spettacolo che mischia religione e paganesimo nelle festività che marca la fine dell’inverno e la rinascita della primavera.
Visitare ogni piccolo paese nell settimana di Pasqua sarebbe pieno di bellissime tradizioni religiose e di colore, ogni posto ha la propria versione delle stazioni della croce che richiamano i momenti finali della vita di Gesù e ci sono molte variazioni delle processioni religiose e delle celebrazioni. La settimana inizia con l’intreccio delle fronde delle palme che vengano benedette la domenica delle Palme, la settimana raggiunge un climax drammatico con le rappresentazioni della passione e finisce con il consumo delle delicate sculture di marzapane che raffigurano gli agnelli o ‘picureddi’, pane o biscotti decorati con uova dipinte, molti piatti tradizionali e infiniti desserts nell’usuale abbondanza della tavola Siciliana.
Se stai pianificando un viaggio in Sicilia proprio per provare le festività, qui ć è una lista delle 10 più spettacolari.
I Diavoluzzi di Pasqua ad Adrano
Il riflettore di Pasqua ad Adrano in provincia di Catania è la Diavolata, la rappresentazione di un antica ‘commedia’ religiosa. Scritta nel 1728, da un frate locale, viene messa in scena la sera della Domenica di Pasqua. La Diavolata rappresenta l’eterna battaglia fra bene e male. La parte principale della tragedia si focalizza sulla lotta fra diversi diavoli e San Michele Arcangelo, che non solo riesce a sconfiggere i procacciatori del male ma anche a fargli lodare Dio.
La sera prima Pasqua, c’e il volo dell’Angelo, dove una ragazza “terrorizzata” viene legata e issata lungo una corda tesa attraverso la piazza per incontrare la statua di Cristo appena risorto, dandogli il benvenuto e lodandolo. L’uso dei bambini è una parte essenziale dello spettacolo di Pasqua in Sicilia, essi infatti rappresentano la purezza in contrasto con la cattiveria dell’umanità.
Gli Incappucciati ad Enna
Goethe una volta disse che aver visto l’Italia senza aver visto la Sicilia non è aver visto tutta l’Italia, perchè la Sicilia è la chiave di tutto. Ma per capire la Sicilia bisogna andare nel suo centro geografico, perchè incarna l’identità dell’isola .
La provincia di Enna è conosciuta come l’ombelico di Sicilia, ed è la casa delle più antiche tradizioni. I sinistri incappucciati sono i personaggi centrali della celebrazione di Pasqua di Enna già dal periodo Spagnolo, dal 15° al 17° secolo. Soli i maschi membri delle quindici confraternite locali partecipavano ad una serie di ben organizzate processioni, preghiere nella Cattedrale.
Pashkët alla Piana degli Albanesi nella provincia di Palermo
A Piana degli Albanesi e nei paesi vicini nella provincia di Palermo, Pasqua prende elementi dalla fede Greca Ortodossa. Le celebrazioni si ispirano all’antica chiesa Bizantina, infatti in molti riti religiosi rappresentati durante la settimana Santa si usano il linguaggio Greco e Albanese. Anche le città di Contessa Entellina, San Cristina Gela, Mezzojuso e Palazzo Adriano donano questa particolare caratteristica etnica alle loro celebrazioni Pasquale.
I riti religiosi a Piana degli Albanesi finiscono con il Pontificale, una splendida parata di donne in sontuosi abiti tradizionali che attraversa le strade principali della città terminando alla Cattedrale. Alla fine della parata, delle colombe bianche vengono liberate tra le canzoni in dialetto e la distribuzione di uova colorate di rosso che sono simbolo di nuova vita e del sangue di Cristo.
Il ballo dei diavoli a Prizzi nella provincia di Palermo
A Prizzi nella provincia di Palermo diversi diavoli e la morte stessa disturbano le celebrazioni la Domenica di Pasqua con le loro macabre danze, finchè non vengono sconfitti da personaggi angelici che permettono alle celebrazioni di continuare. I diavolidai costumi sgargianti rossi e gialli e le maschere pagane celebrano la resurrezione in una delle più colorate e caratteristiche celebrazioni in Sicilia, indossano una tuta rossa, con una maschera rotonda e schiacciata completata da una lunga lingua di tessuto, coperta da pelle di capra e con una catena nelle mani. Mentre la morte è vestita di giallo con una balestra in mano. La loro turbolenta danza disturba le celebrazioni religiose, finchè non comprendono che la resurrezione li ha sconfitti.
I giudei a San Fratello in provincia di Messina
In cima ai personaggi grotteschi nella Santa Pasqua in Sicilia ci sono i Guidei di San Fratello. Il branco di uomini incappucciati vengono fuori dal paese e disturbano la solenne processione funebre la mattina di venerdì Santo e le altre processioni durante la settimana santa in generale.
Questi personaggi vengono dalla storia della Sicilia, con tutti i loro colori, i loro scherzi e le trombe rumorose. I costumi sono tramandati da padre in figlio,simili ad un’armatura,sono caratterizzati da un color rosso accesso, completati da elaborati elmi, strisce gialle e intricati lavori di perline, sono dei capolavori ‘viventi’ dell’arte folkloristica che rimandano allo stile del carretto siciliano.
La colonia Normanna di San Fratello è la casa di questi uomini che legano insieme i fili della storia in tutti i loro colori. L’assordante confusione che creano sembra spaventosa, ma questo pandemonio è un’affermazione della vita. Questa tradizione è ininterrotta da generazioni è continuata perfino durante le due guerre mondiali. Grazie a questi Giudei i Sanfratellani sono stati chiamati ‘non cattolici’ e ‘diavoli’ , ma questi personaggi sono una parte importante dell’ identità di San Fratello.
I misteri di Trapani
La processione di Trapani dei Misteri ricostruisce scene della passione di Cristo con una processione di statue di legno che raffigurano differenti scene di questa eterna storia. L’interpretazione dei Misteri di Trapani è la più conosciuta delle celebrazioni dei Misteri, semplicemente grazie alla dimensioni delle statue ed alla grande abilità artistica espressa nelle figure che sono estremamente emotive e dettagliate.
I Misteri rappresentano la passione di Cristo e gli elementi simbolici associati alla storia. A fianco le opere d’arte troviamo oggetti come, lance, martelli e corone di spine in una estesa metafora religiosa.
Le festività iniziano il Martedì dopo la domenica delle Palme con la processione della Madonna delle Pietà, conosciuta localmente come Massari. Un’ opera d’arte che risale al 16° secolo che è racchiusa in una cornice dorata. La tela mostra la Maria Addolorata, rivolta verso sinistra, su uno sfondo scuro circondata da varie reliquie sante.
Gli archi di Pasqua di San Biagio Palatani in provincia di Agrigento
Oltre gli elementi religiosi e pagani, a Pasqua si rivolge particolare attenzione alla decorazione e all’abilità artistica. A San Biagio Palatani nelle vie della città, prendono il sopravventoarchi, cupole e campaneche fanno da sfondo alle celebrazioni pasquali.
I mesi precedenti infatti, le due principali confraternite storiche di San Biagio lavorano per creare queste grandiose opere d’arte folkloristica senza dimenticare il simbolismo religioso. Vengono impiegati solo materiali naturali come bamboo, salice piangente, asparagi, foglie d’alloro, rosmarino, cereali, datteri e pane.
Gli archi vengono disposti in successione, diventando più elaborati man mano che ci si avvicina al centro della città, punto in cui durante la processione della domenica di Pasquala Madonna e il Cristo risorto si incontrano.
Lu Signuri delle Fasci a Pietraperzia in provincia di Enna.
Una delle più complesse processioni dell’isola è quella di Pietreperzia, dove il ‘Signuri di li fasci’ è il protagonista di un elaborata rappresentazione liturgica.
Dopo la proclamazione della morte di Gesù il Venerdì Santo, un antico crocifisso viene fissato su un lungo tronco da cui una complessa serie di lunghe tele di lino vengono sciolte lungo le vie, accompagnate da preghiere in dialetto. Le strisce di tessuto sono resti di usanza medievale, ma l’esibizione è unica in Sicilia.
Di solito coloro che tengono le strisce di tessuto,lunghe 40 metri, stanno chiedendo una grazia, ringraziano Dio per un miracolo che è già successo o mantengono una tradizione di famiglia che li collega a Pietraperzia.
Il corteo è anche accompagnato dalla confraternita locale nei loro costumi da frati incappucciati, ć è chi porta la statua della Madonna Addolorata, chi piange la morte di Gesùtutti accompagnati dalla banda del paese.
La Settimana Santa a Caltanissetta
La settimana santa a Caltanissetta è veramente bellissima, dalla Domenica delle Palme alla Domenica di Pasqua c’è una settimana piena esibizioni, processioni Barocche, rievocazioni dell’ultima cena, le stazioni della croce e riti tradizionali che riflettono l’antico e a volte aristocratico passato della Sicilia.
La Domenica delle Palme vede la processione di Gesù Nazareno, una statua di Cristo è posizionata dentro una barca decorata con fiori e portata per la città per ricreare il trionfante arrivo di Gesù a Nazareth. Il lunedì di Pasqua si può assistere ad una rievocazione dell’ultima Cena.
Mentre mercoledì si tiene una parata militare,la processione della Maestrina, le famiglie nobili e un’associazione di artigiani della città creano un miscuglio di elementi civili e religiosi. La sera poi avviene la processione della Varicedde, piccole statue fatte di argilla e terracotta che raffigurano le varie stazioni della croce.
Nel triste giorno del funerale del venerdì Santo la città è in lutto e il Cristo Nero diventa il centro di una profonda processione religiosa. La statua del Cristo crocifisso utilizzata per il corteo è un’opera molto antica che viene conservata dal 14° secolo nella chiesa di San Francesco.
Mentre il corteo della via Dolorosa e della Resurrezione, che si tiene la Domenica di Pasqua, proclama la resurrezione di Cristo in una colorata parata attraverso le strade.
La corsa di San Leone a Sinagra in provincia di Messina
Non posso fare una lista delle usanze di Pasqua senza includere la caratteristica festa del mio piccolo paese, Sinagra, che comprende l’amore per il santo patrono San Leone e la gioia della Domenica di Pasqua.
Il giorno di Pasqua,la statua di San Leone parte dalla sua chiesa di campagna in cui trascorre l’inverno, per arrivare alla chiesa madre San Michele Arcangelo nel cuore del paese dove trascorre la restante parte dell’anno. La grande statua di legno è montata su una pesante struttura di legno (la vara) portata dai devoti della commissione di San Leone.
La sera quando il Santo arriva sul ponte all’inizio del paese, i fedeli iniziano a correreportando la statua,accompagnando la corsa con grida e preghiere, il tutto incorniciato da suggestivi fuochi d’artificio. La corsa del santo ha lo scopo di celebrare uno dei miracolidel Santo. Si narra infatti che quando era vescovo di Catania San Leone persconfiggere uno stregone che affermava di essere più potente di Dio, decise di sfidarlo proponendogli di attraversare il fuoco, la sfida vide il mago morire bruciato mentre San Leo rimanereilleso attraversando le fiamme.
Per una lista più completa dei posti da visitare vedi la pagina Pasqua in Sicilia 2018, ć è una meravigliosa lista che puoi usare come riferimento per qualsiasi parte dell’isola tu voglia esplorare.
Santa Pasqua in Sicily is filled with ancient rites and traditions which are as colourful and variegated as the island itself.The week leading up to Easter is brimming with religious celebrations, food preparations, processions and parades. Each celebration is part of an elaborate pageant mixing religion and paganism in the festivities which mark the end of Winter and the rebirth of Spring.
A visit to any small town has its own versions of the Sicilian religious traditions. The week begining with intricately woven palm fronds which are blessed for Palm Sunday, reaching a dramatic climax with passion performances and ends with the consumption of delicate marzipan sculptured lambs or picureddi, breads or biscuits decorated with dyed eggs, many traditional dishes and endless desserts in the usual abundance of Sicily’s table.
If you are planning a trip to Sicilia specifically to experience the festivities, here is a list of the ten most spectacular celebrations of the island.
I Diavulazzi di Pasqua at Adrano, Catania
Easter at Adrano in the province of Catania is focused around the Diavolata a performance of an ancient religious play. Written in 1728 by a local religious brother it is performed on the evening of Easter Sunday. The Diavolata acts out the eternal battle between good and evil. The main part of the drama focuses on the struggle between several devils and St Michael the Archangel, who not only manages to defeat the evil doers but also gets them to praise God.
On the evening before Easter, there is the flight of the Angel, where a terrified looking girl is strapped in and hoisted along a tightrope across the local square to meet the statue of the freshly resurrected Christ and recites a piece of text welcoming and praising him.
Gli Incappucciati at Enna
Goethe once said to have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything. But in order to understand Sicily you need to go tothe geographical centre, because the island’s true identity is to be found there. The province of Enna is known as the belly button of Sicily and is the home to Sicily’s most ancient traditions.
The sinister hooded Incappuciati are the central characters of Enna’s Easter celebrations which dates back to the Spanish period from the 15th and 17th centuries. The male only members of the fifteen various local confraternities participate in a well organised series of processions, prayers and worship in the local Cathedral.
Pashkët at Piana degli Albanesi in the province of Palermo
At Piana degli Albanesi and nearby towns in the province of Palermo Easter takes on elements of the Greek Orthodox faith. The celebrations are based on the ancient Byzantine church, in fact many of the rites performed use the Greek and Albanian languages. The towns of Contessa Entellina, San Cristina Gela, Mezzojuso and Palazzo Adriano also share this particular ethnic characteristic to their Easter festivities.
The religious rites at Piano degli Albanesi end with the Pontificale, a splendid parade of women in sumptuous traditional dress which weaves its way through the main streets of the town, ending at the Cathedral. White doves are released at the end of the parade in amongst the songs of the local dialect and the distribution of red coloured eggs which are symbolic of new life and of the blood shed during the crucifixion.
Il ballo dei diavoli at Prizzi in the province of Palermo
At Prizzi in the province of Palermo several devils and death itself disturb the celebrations on Easter day with their macabre dance, until they are eventually defeated by other angelic characters.
The devils are dressed in one piece red jump suits, with a large round flat faced masks complete with a long fabric tongue, covered in a goat skin and with a chain in their hands. While death is dressed in yellow with crossbow in hand.
I giudei at San Fratello in Messina province
The apex of the grotesque characters in Sicily’s Santa Pasqua are the Giudei of San Fratello. The flocks of hooded brightly dressed men take over the village and disturb the solemn funeral procession on the morning of Good Friday and other processions during the week.
These characters come out of Sicily’s history, with all of their colour, practical jokes and loud trumpeting. The costumes are handed down from father to son, are in a bright red pseudo military style, complete with elaborate helmets, bright yellow striped lapels and intricate beading work, which make them like living breathing works of folk art echoing the vibrant designs of the traditional carretto Siciliano.
The Medieval Norman colony of San Fratello is the home to these strangely dressed men who gather out of the ether and tie together many strands of history. The deafening confusion they create seems frightening, but this pandemonium is a life affirming chaos. This celebration has gone on uninterrupted for generations, it went on during both world wars. Thanks to these Giudei the Sanfratellani have been called ‘non catholic’ and ‘devils,’ , yet these characters are a central part of San Fratello’s identity.
I misteri of Trapani
Trapani’s Misteri procession re-enacts scenes from the passion of Christ, with a procession of detailed heavy wooden statues depicting different scenes from this eternal story. The celebration at Trapani is probably the most well known of the Misteri based festivities, which occur through out the island, simply because of the dimensiona of the statues and the amazing artistry of the figures which are extremely emotive and detailed.
The Misteri, depict the passion of Christ and the symbolic elements also associated with the story. Side by side with the artworks are objects like spears, hammers and a crown of thorns in an extended religious metaphor, like an elaborate Mystery play from the Middle Ages.
The festivities in Trapani begin on the Tuesday after Palm Sunday with the procession of the Modonna of the Pieta’ known locally as the Massari. An artwork which dates back to the sixteenth century which is displayed within an ornate golden frame. The canvas depicts the Maria Addolorata who is looking to her left on a dark background with many holy relics.
Gli archi di Pasqua of San Biagio Palatani in the province of Agrigento
Apart from the religious and pagan elements to Easter there is also an immense dedication to decoration and artistry. At San Biagio Platani the city’s streets are taken over by elaborately constructed archways, domes, bells and religious artworks.
In the months before Easter the two major historical confraternities of San Biagio work to create a gigantic piece of public folk art. Using only natural materials to decorate the streets with arches, all with religious and natural symbolism like bamboo, weeping willow, asparagus, laurel leaves, rosemary, cereals, dates and bread.
The series of decorated archways, become increasingly elaborate as they reach the central part of the town, which becomes the focal point of the Easter Sunday procession as the Madonna and the resurrected Christ meet at precisely at the centre of the decorations.
Lu Signuri delle Fasci at Pietraperzia in Enna province
One of the most elaborate and complex processions on the island is that of Pietraperzia near the centre of the island where the Signuri di li fasci creates an elaborate piece of liturgical performance.
On Good Friday, an historical crucifix is fixed to a tall log and a complex series of linen strips are wrapped around its base. The white strands are held by devout followers as the procession makes its way delicately through the streets, accompanied by prayers in the local dialect. The fabric strands are reminiscent of medieval Maypoles but the performance is unique to Sicily.
Usually those who hold onto the forty meter long fabric strips are either asking for a miracle, or are giving thanks to God for a divine intervention which has already occurred or are maintaining a family tradition. The cavalcade is accompanied by the local confraternity in their hooded monk costumes, who carry the statue of the Madonna dell’Addolorata.
La Settimana Santa at Caltanissetta
Easter week at Caltanissetta is truly amazing, Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday is a week filled with elaborate performances, baroque processions, renactments of the last supper, the stations of the cross and traditional rites which reflect Sicily’s ancient and at times aristocratic past.
Palm Sunday sees the Processione of Gesù Nazareno, where a statue of Christ is placed within an elaborate boat shaped flower decorated float and carried around the city in a recreation of Jesus’ triumphant arrival in Nazareth. Easter Monday there is a performance of the Last Supper.
While on Wednesday the procession of the Maestranza sees a parade of local military, nobel families and artisan guilds of the city in a blend of civic and religious elements.
On the sombre funeral day of Good Friday while the city is in mourning and the Cristo Nero (or darkened Christ- because of its colour) becomes the focus of a deeply religious procession.
La corsa di San Leone at Sinagra in Messina province
I cannot possibly make up a list of suggestive Easter celebrations without mentioning my own little Sicilian village which combines the love of the local patron saint San Leone with the joy of Easter.
San Leone is taken on an elaborate procession from his country church, of the same name, to the main parish church of San Michele Archangelo in the heart of the town. As the large wooden statue is mounted on a heavy wooden float carried by the confraternity of San Leone.
When the Saint arrives at the bridge at the beginning of the town, the statue runs over the bridge accompanied by suggestive fireworks. The running of the Saint recalls one of his miracles. While San Leone was the Bishop of Catania he confronted a magician who claimed to be more powerful than God. The Saint challenged him to a literal baptism of fire, which saw the magician burnt to death while Saint Leo remained unscathed by the flames of a bomb fire.
For a more complete list of places to visit see the page Pasqua in Sicilia 2018, (in Italian) it has a wonderful list you can use as a reference according to which part of the island you would like to visit.
Click on image of Santo Leo above to see a video of his celebrations at Sinagra on Facebook.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What is your favorite taste of Sicily?
Wine and olive oil. Eggplant. Blood oranges. Pistachios. Almonds. Fennel. Ricotta….I could go on.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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:
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….
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.
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.
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 guidebook, 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.)
Western Sicilyfor 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).
Sicily can be sliced down the middle from Palermo into its heart to Piazza Armerina, Enna, Caltanissetta down to Agrigento which is filled with much history, archaeological sites and festivities during the year.
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.
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.
From Catania it is easy to catch the Circumetnea a 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.
People often avoid the island of the sun in the winter months, preferring to bathe themselves in the sunshine and sea during the warmer months. But delving into Sicily in autumn/winter is a more authentic and rich experience.
The first of November begins with All souls day, a celebration dotted with colourful traditions in which the locals dedicate themselves to honour their ancestors, mostly a religious holiday the cemeteries are beautifully decorated and chrysanthemums are sold by the truckloads on the side of the road. It may seem a morbid time to visit, but actually, if you are intending to do any genealogical research into any Sicilian roots, the cemeteries are filled with people and you may bump into long-lost family members visiting dearly departed relatives.
November in Sicily is punctuated by warm sunny days and rainy dull ones, which never last too long. So when it does rain it’s the perfect time to dedicate yourself to the hundreds of museums, galleries and churches throughout the island. Also, the religion of food becomes the central focus of most Siculu natives at this time of year, as always.
All the tourists have gone home and so at times it will feel like you have the island to yourself. It is a perfect time to dedicate to seeing the major historical attractions which are much less crowded, less expensive and infinitely more pleasant in the cooler weather (even if opening hours may change, some sites open only in the morning simply because the days are shorter). The archaeological sites are hellish in the summer months, the islands are sweaty and humid. But you can still do the usual day trips and everything has a different character when there is no crowd of tourists. Taormina in the winter is even more charming and filled with locals, there is a winter Opera performance program as rich as the summer one. While provinces like Agrigento, Syracuse and Enna are desert-like in the summer, in November they are teaming with local colour, religious celebrations, traditions and delicacies to discover. Visiting the Val dei Tempi, Val di Noto Baroque towns and the Villa Romana del Casale without busloads of tourists in town is absolute heaven. And on the first Sunday of each month entrance is free.
St Martin’s wine and sagre
On the 11th of November, as the saying goes, ‘Per San Martino ogni musto diventa vino’, for Saint Martin’s day all juice becomes wine.
Throughout Sicily and the Italian peninsula, the patron saint of wine, San Martino’s feast day is spent tasting the vino novello and eating roasted chestnuts.
According to the legend, San Martino helped a poor drunkard and consequently his feast day is celebrated freely by all lovers of wine. Bizarrely he is also the patron saint of cornuti or cuckolded husbands and wives.
Saint Martin was an early Christian martyr, a Roman soldier converted to Christianity by a unique encounter with God. The most famous story from his life occurred during a harsh winter when arriving in a small town after finishing his military duties he met a destitute man dying of cold. Others had simply passed him by, but Saint Martin wanted to help the needy man. Martin was poor himself. The only possession he had was a cape which he used to shield himself from the cold. The saint gave the cape to the impoverished man and continued his journey, partially unclothed.
Later during the night, Saint Martin dreamt of the man whom he had helped and recognised the man as God in disguise, who was testing him. From that moment Saint Martin promised God that he would lay down his sword to follow a religious life. Soon after, he left the army to be baptised a Christian and spent the rest of his life helping poverty-stricken people.
Saint Martin’s service the poor man also led to his first official miracle, known as the week of Saint Martin. It is a week of fine, warm weather beginning on his feast day on the 11th of November. The respite in the weather is said to have occurred in order to keep St Martin from freezing to death during his journey after he was left without his cape. Today the break from winter leads to celebrations and the consumption of new wine that this is so closely associated with this saint.
The miracle of Saint Martin’s summer is a welcome reprieve during the harsh Sicilian winter. It is anticipated every year as a celebration of hope with a little decadence. With abundant food festivals dedicated to wine tasting and other local delicacies at this time of year. There are sagras advertised in the local press which are dedicated to products such as porcini mushrooms, porchetta (spit roasted pork), salami, pork, chestnuts, wine, grappa and at Modica in the province of Syracuse celebrates their ancient Aztec Chocolate in early December. In the lead up to Christmas, there are several re-enactment celebrations of the birth of Jesus from the bible in the form of Nativity performances and exhibitions dedicated to the ancient art of model making (Acireale/Caltagirone) and most major cities have the usual Mercatini di Natale Christmas markets.
Shopping and Saints
The harsh winters so common in the Sicily of last century have seemed to disappear, over the past decade, the snow comes intermittently and unexpectedly to the main cities. While the snow season on Mount Etna is usually abundant and perfect for the lovers of winter sports.
With the Christmas season is around the corner, the shopping is in full swing Sicily boasts many of the largest shopping complexes in the Mediterranean. Including Sicily Fashion Village near Enna offers a special shuttle service from Palermo to offer shoppers the opportunity to shop from its discount outlet village which houses more than 100 prestigious brands and boutiques. Auchan Porte di Catania in the city centre is a dedicated space for the whole family, where relaxation, shopping and entertainment come together to give you a unique experience with 150 shops with the most glamorous brands of clothing and accessories. Further out-of-town from Catania there is Etnapolis with 120 shops, the largest shopping centre in the whole of Southern Italy and also includes a 12 screen Warner Village cinema, perfect to catch up on the latest Christmas movies (the widely popular Cinepannettone comedy genre.) I Portali is a very prestigious and spacious shopping centre in Catania which houses over 100 stores from the major Italian designer houses. The Forum Palermo is a shopping centre dedicated to luxury items featuring premium Italian and international brands, designer shops and boutiques.
Apart from the pagan and frivolous pursuits, there are the saints who guide Sicilians through the winter with their celebrations filled with suggestive processions and preparations of local fare and colour. Two of the biggest Saint festivals in Sicily are Santa Lucia (Syracuse) and St Agata (Catania). Saint Lucy a virgin martyr was born in Syracuse and her relics and statue are a valuable part of the cities traditions and her feast an amazing celebration to attend.
From the 13th of December to the 20th the city of Siracuse is filled with colour, fireworks, marching bands, sweets and dishes who celebrate the life and miracles of this great Sicilian saint. Saint Agata has saved Catania several times from being destroyed by the Mount Etna volcano and she is adored by the Catanese who celebrate her blessings with elaborate baroque celebrations from the 3rd to the 5th of February every year. Like St Lucy Agata was born in Sicily and is an important figure in the island’s history and mythology.
Of course, Christmas celebrations or Natale is also a wonderful excuse to visit Sicily. Apart from the use of the Nativity as a form of decoration, Christmas markets and traditional folk music concerts, there is an immense dedication to a grand feast of delicacies to enjoy. Not only do Italian’s celebrate Christmas with an extensive banquet but there is also the New Years Eve Cenone which stuffs you with so much food you don’t want to eat for another year.
After recovering from the festive season comes Carnevale in Italy which is an exorbitant time of the year, beginning in early February and it is a seriously big masquerade party filled with wine, fun, and jokes. Traditionally it was a kind of exorcism of decadence before the period of Lent which was forty days of fasting before Easter. The result is many elaborate celebrations, parades, floats and costumes throughout Italy. The most famous Carnival celebrations in Italy are of course Venice and Viareggio but Acireale in the province is famous for its papier-mâché artists designs and Sciaccia in the province of Agrigento is considered the most ancient Carnevale celebration in Italy.
So even if winter can be a bit of a bleak time of the year in the mountain villages of Sicily. The intermittent rain and hail are interrupted by tiny specks of sunshine quickly smudged out by the billowing charcoal clouds. There are still many moments of warm decadence to make a winter visit worthwhile.
During the blackbird days, the coldest days of the year, it is easy to crave the summer but there are many things to help you savour the winter.
After the giornate dello merlo, the last days of January comes the Candelora which is a kind of Sicilian groundhog day. We shall watch on the second of February, if it rains the whole day through then the spring is just around the corner and if the sun shines the snow will come and bring us another forty days of winter and lead to still more sipping of warmed wine or grappa liquor, an apt way of experiencing a Sicilian winter.
I am constantly sitting down and planning out trips to do through Sicily. Often I don’t do everything on my list as I run out of money but I am generally happy if I do one of the trips every year as they are based on my experiences living here on the island.
Sicily is so rich, there are endless itineraries you can complete if you search on google but these are the things I’d recommend to my own friends and family.
The island can be terribly uncomfortable in July/August so I suggest do some of these in June as the weather is warm without being too humid or if the summer holds out as it usually does September is a perfect time to visit the island, with a lot less tourists too!
These ancient islands off the north-eastern coast in the province of Messina make gorgeous day trips and are easily reached from Messina and Milazzo.
The ‘seven sisters’ as the islands are colloquially known are a series of wild and volcanic archipelagos surrounded by a deep turquoise colored sea. Alicudi, Filicudi, Lipari, Panarea, Salina, Stromboli and Vulcano were the home of Aeolus the mythological guardian of the winds who populated these islands with his family.
You can usually pair up a couple of the larger islands for a leisurely day (Lipari/Vulcano or Salina/Lipari) or be more adventurous and hike out to the more distant rocky islands (Filicudi/Alicudi). If you shop around there are mini cruises and sailing trips to the four main islands (Vulcano/Lipari/Panarea/Stromboli) and night time cruises to see the volcanic eruptions on Vulcano.
I am always going on about how easy it is to experience Sicily by road and I urge people to hire a car from Palermo, Catania or Messina and plan out a trip.
I’d grab a hire car from Messina and head along the coast towards Palermo stopping at which major coastal city may tickle my fancy. Do you research and see if there are any food festivals (or sagras) on the way to stop and taste. I’d stop at Milazzo for some great seafood in the summer, browse around the ceramic stores at Santo Stefano di Camastra, see the Norman Cathedral at Cefalu’, spend the night at Palermo be sure to visit some museums, the Teatro Massimo which is known as the La Scala of the south and if you want to be impressed there is the Duomo, the Palazzo Normanno which is the seat of the regional government and both decorated by golden mosaics left behind by the golden age of Norman rule in 12th century Sicily. A day trip from Palermo is the Abbey of Monreale a magnificent arab/norman cathedral built by William the II in the 1100’s.
I encourage people to keep heading west along the coast and visit the cities of Marsala and Trapani filled with delightful beaches in the summer, fine food all year round, museums and towns to explore.
The central provinces are seldom explored by tourists so I would pack a lunch and head out to the belly button of the island for a new experience.
I’d go straight to Piazza Armerina, outside of the town is the Villa Romana del Casale which is one of the most well-preserved archeological sites from the late Roman period and allows you to walk through an aristocratic Roman villa filled with elaborate mosaics which have recently been restored.
Enna, Caltanissetta and Agrigento are easily reached from Piazza Armerina and are filled with rich historical sights and festivals depending on what time of year you visit.
For the lovers of the Baroque a fascinatingly rich part of the island is the Noto Valley (Val di Noto) which is a UNESCO world heritage site and includes many towns in the south-east of the island.
I’d meander my way down the coast from Catania and stop off in each of these towns who were all rebuilt in the Sicilian baroque style after a major earthquake in 1693.
Caltagirone, Militello Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo, Ragusa and Scicli represent a considerable collective undertaking which created an amazing architectural and artistic achievement.
Further down the coastline from the Val di Noto in May and June every year there are performances of ancient Greek Classics in the Greek amphitheater at Syracuse which give world-class performances in this suggestive ancient location.
A fantastic way to experiencing the depth and breathe of the Mt Etna volcano is to take a trip around its base thanks to the Circumetenea railway (Ferrovia Circumetnea) which goes from Catania stopping at most small towns around Etna and ending up at the coastal town of Giarre (perfect for lunch and museums dedicated to ancient times).
You can also stop at Randazzo which is a suggestive small town that connects the provinces of Messina and Catania in fascinating dark lava historic center.
If you are staying at Taormina you can catch a bus out to the station and head either towards Catania or Giarre for the day.
You can plan an entire trip to Sicily simply by going from museum to museum which can be an effort. I suggest choosing a couple of major museums and trying to fit in other cultural activities such as the theater.
I’d defiantly check out Teatro Massimo if you are staying at Palermo, their 2015 season is filled with orchestral concerts, ballets and opera. This elaborate historical theater can be visited during the day with regular tours.
The same can be said of the Teatro Massimo Bellini at Catania.
Rather than rushing through Taormina during a hot summer rush with the rest of the tourists why not take in a show during the Taormina Fest and spend the night in this beautiful town which will no doubt be unforgettable.
If you want to book tickets I suggest you try to get these done early to avoid disappointment.
The cultural element in Sicily is best explored towards the end of the summer even better in September.
Enjoy your summer or early autumn/fall in Sicily and be sure to let me know how it went.
I was recently asked via twitter about what there is to be done in September in Sicily. The truth is just as many things as you can do at any time of the year, it probably is a good month to visit the island as the holiday ‘high season’ is well and truly over and if the weather holds it is so much more pleasant compared to the stifling heat of August. Feel free to do all the same things as you would in the summer but perhaps with cooler weather and less confusion.
If it is still warm you could have the beach to yourself, even if you will find many of the small bars and restaurants will close up after the summer. This is easily resolved with a trip to the supermarket where you can buy a bread roll with whatever your heart desires, perhaps a selection of cheeses, a beer or a small bottle of wine, what more can you ask for than a five-star picnic at the beach?
The choice of beaches in Sicily is really endless, heck it’s an island which means 360º of coastline. From Mondello beach in the north with it’s white sandy beaches near the Capo Gallo Nature reserve, in the south the Scala dei Turchi or ‘the Turkish steps’ rock formation near Realmonte in the province of Agrigento it is a little out-of-the-way but it is worth it, the Riserva Naturale Belice-Menfi with its beach and dune area in the province of Trapani in western Sicily and snorkeling or swimming through the rocky inlets near Acitrezza’s Isole dei Ciclopi below Catania on the eastern coast.
For those who are interested in trekking, wildlife and archeological sites, September is a perfect time of the year to visit the likes of the Etna regional park, Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples and the Zingaro Natural reserve. The hunting season starts in mid September so don’t be alarmed if you hear gunshots, hunting is prohibited in parks and reserves so you are perfectly safe.
If the weather gets all stormy on you there are plenty of indoor activities to keep you busy from museums, wine tasting and eating. There are still plenty of festa’s and sagras (food and religious festivals) to experience the best thing to do is keep an eye out in the local press. Sicily in September is famous for wild mushrooms (particularly porcini) and fichi d’india fruit which are widely consumed throughout the year, the refreshing rains perforate their prickly cactus exterior adding flavor to their pip filled flesh.
I’m generally allergic to archeological and ceramic museums as it’s easy to overload on them in Sicily, there are literally hundreds of these types of museums here.
Some wonderfully fascinating museums which spark my interest include: The Museo Interdisciplinare Regionale Agostino Pepoli di Trapani with many elements grouped together it gives you a general taste of Sicily’s history and art from coral jewelry, religious artifacts to ancient Greek bronze sculptures.
If you are tired of medieval churches the Galleria di Arte Moderno (Palermo) gives you a selection of artwork from the Neoclassical and Romantic periods, it also hosts regular exhibitions of contemporary Sicilian artists.
The Museo Regionale di Palazzo Abatellis (Palermo) has some of Sicily’s most famous artworks, sculptures, ceramics, decorative arts and jewelry including works from Antonello da Messina and Antonello Gagini.
The Museo Regionale di Palazzo D’Aumale at Terrasini, Palermo offers a variety of Sicilian archeology, natural science and includes a collection dedicated to the once common and elaborately decorated Sicilian cart.
I think if you are going to visit Sicily you need to experience the dying art of Sicilian marionette puppets which once proliferated the island in the period before modern cinema as a form of popular entertainment and told stories of epic battles and heroes from Sicilian history. You can even adopt a puppet and help it’s restoration at The Museo Internazionale delle Marionette Antonio Pasqualino.
So far from being an end to the summer, autumn in Sicily is the beginning to a new season filled with ever more feasts and experiences.
Daphne’s house: Giardini Naxos, Castelmola and Taormina
Taormina is a beautiful town to explore but it is terribly touristy and there are many other things to see in the vicinity.
Be sure to visit Casa Cuseni an historic house which became like a real character in one of the best books around about Sicily by the late great Daphne Phelps titled A House in Sicily. The book is a wonderful love letter to this Sicilian villa which became Daphne’s home after she inherited the grand old house built and designed by her talented Uncle, painter Robert Hawthorn Kitson from 1905 to 1907. It has been converted into a luxury bed and breakfast and museum.
Be sure to see a show at the Ancient Greek amphitheater at Taormina as it is one of the most famous postcard views of Etna and it will be an unforgettable memory to see an open air summer show of contemporary music or opera depending what may be on offer. Take the chance to do this now as the Taormina festival is suffering some major cuts in funding.
Be sure to explore the nearby towns who are just as beautiful as Taormina and with a lot less tourists Castelmola is above Taormina with positively vertiginous views. While Giardini Naxos below on the coast near Taormina, easily reached by cable car with some great beaches and cute little ‘Trattorie’ restaurants who offer great seafood at more reasonable prices than the tourist traps at Taormina!
Three Sicilian Cathedrals: Monreale, Palermo,Cefalu
If you love churches in the grand Norman style I suggest you do a mini tour of three of the most amazing cathedrals you will ever see.
The Cathedral of Monreale, outside of Palermo has the most spectacular mosaics including a giant depiction of Jesus Christ which covers one Dome of the grandiose church, filled with precious stones and gold.
The Palermo Cathedral is a mixture of Norman,Gothic,Baroque and Neoclassical styles with extensive mosaic decorations and art treasures.
The Cathedral- Basilica of Cefalu’, dates from 1131 and was originally built-in the Norman style. The building was erected by Roger the second the King of Sicily after he escaped from a storm sheltering on the Cefalu beach. The fortress-like character of the building, which, seen from a distance, rises above the medieval town and is a powerful statement of the Norman presence in Sicily.
Along the theme of mosaics is the Villa Romana del Casale near Piazza Armerina which is an ancient Roman villa so well preserved you can walk through the different rooms and marvel at the beautiful mosaic decorated floors. It has recently been restored and as of 2006 there are new archeological excavations underway.
Visiting Piazza Armerina will give you an opportunity to explore the belly button of Sicily which has its own unique character, be sure to take a drive around the ancient towns like Enna, Piazza Armerina,Nicosia and Mistretta which will give you a sense of the timeless quality of Sicily.
Santo Stefano di Camastra
The most spectacular souvenir to take home from Sicily are the ceramics. There are many tourist traps around the island who claim to sell authentic pieces but you really cannot go wrong visiting the ceramic factories at Santo Stefano di Camastra.
Stores in the town vary in price and style but if you stick to the big warehouses on the other side of the town away from the autostrada exit you will be buying directly from the producers, with wholesale prices and international shipping!
Castello di Maniace (or Castello Nelson) is in the fertile countryside between Randazzo and Bronte.
An historical English property which was given to Admiral Lord Nelson as a gift after he rescued the Bourbon king of the two Sicilies, after Nelson helped him to escape certain death during a revolution in Naples in 1796.
I have blogged here about this places history before but to be honest and I am yet to make it out to see its beautiful grounds and museum, but can’t wait to get there this summer!
All tourists who visit the island must go to Mount Etna!
There are many ways of experiencing the volcano and the national park that surrounds it, from taking a tour bus from Catania to see the more touristy spots closer to its peak or take one of many walking tours.
You can go up via cable car, riding on four-wheel drive buses or on Sicilian donkeys. For the less adventurous types there are many places to explore away from the main peak like old extinguished craters and shopping at higher altitudes for retail therapy.
If you are staying at Catania a wonderful day trip would be to catch the Circumetnea railway which takes you from Catania around the base of Etna all the way to near the coast at Giarre or if you are staying at Taormina you can catch a bus and see the landscape in the opposite direction towards Catania. It is a wonderful way of seeing Etna (here is some great information on TripAdvisor.)
I’ve always loved Randazzo at the foot of Mount Etna, it is a beautiful town made of suggestive lava stone, filled with historic buildings, castles and museums.
On Sundays there is a hug market which I love to visit with a bit of everything from local cuisine, antiques, to fashion.
My favorite gem at Randazzo is the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta. It’s exterior is a contrast between intricate white lace and charcoal lava stone while inside is filled with art and the most outstanding stained glass windows.
The Aeolian Islands are a popular way of passing the summer at the beach. There are seven islands along the Tyrrhenian coast in the province in Messina, all of volcanic origin including: Alicudi, Filicudi, Panarea, Stromboli, Salina, Lipari and Volcano.
Lipari and Volcano are the most popular and biggest islands with great beaches and spas to explore even if food and drink can get costly as everything is imported from the mainland.
The smaller islands are less touristy and just as spectacular. There are many mini cruises available to explore them even if it can get uncomfortable in the summer humidity, it is defiantly worth the trouble.
Ancient Tyndaris became a Greek colony in three hundred and ninety-six B.C but had been settled during the Bronze age in about fifteen hundred B.C. Its strategic location looks out on to the Bay of Patti along the northern coast stretching up to Cape Milazzo which made it a perfect post to maintain control of the waters between the Eolian Islands and Messina.
The Basilica of the Madonna of Tindari is modern, work on it began in nineteen fifty-seven after the old church was unable to cope with the influx of pilgrims to the site. The main attraction is the miraculous statue of the Black Madonna. The sculpture itself is quite modest yet history has given it a mysterious past and has bestowed upon it many colourful legends.
According to the tradition it was brought to Tindari by a cargo that ship was returning from the east filled with precious merchandise and treasures. The statuette had been salvaged from the Iconoclastic wars which saw the destruction of many religious icons. As the ship sailed through the Tyrrhenian sea its journey was interrupted by a powerful storm, which forced the ship to stop in the Marinello bay near Tindari.
It is said the statue chose it’s own home, the ship remained trapped in the bay and became free only after the sculpture was unloaded.
The statue has a magnetic quality to it. The whole church draws you towards the sculpture and it is the main focus for pilgrims. For me it is its ancient quality that creates an undeniable mystique and well worth the trip to this somewhat isolated spot along the coast from Messina.
During the summer the road up to Tindari is closed but there is a bus every ten minutes or so and there are loads of souvenir shops all the way up. If you want to buy religious items like rosary beads the first shop directly next to the church is run by the religious community and profits go directly to the church.
Messina is a lovely place to visit, in the summer it is not as chaotic and confusing as other Sicilian metropolises and there is always something to see and do. There are many museums and art galleries to visit and it is easy to stroll around the historical centre and discover many churches and beautiful palaces. I recommend climbing the bell tower near the Duomo, visiting the permanent exhibition downstairs in the Duomo which features wonderful historical artworks and treasures associated with the church and the celebration dedicated to the Virgin Mary which has a particular strong attachment with the city.
Messina is friendly for pedestrians and there is a tram service through the main part of town. Piazza Cairoli is an oasis in the confusion of peak hour traffic and is also the best place to rest and do some high-class shopping, the boutiques begin in the square and continue either side of the tramline. Don’t forget to visit the Teatro Vittorio Emanuele which is practically next door to the town hall for a surprising glance at an original fresco by Sicilian artist Renato Guttuso depicting the myth of Cola Pese on the theater’s inner dome.
The best bookstore in town is Libreria Ciofalo on the other side of the Town Hall (municipio) and has a tempting array of Sicilian travel, history and literature.
It’s also easy to catch a ferry over to Calabria to explore Reggio Calabria and the main continent of Italy. Catching the ferry back over to Messina during the night is a magical experience.
Val di Noto
A wonderful way to while away your time in Sicily is to simply get out on the road. Why not hire a car and explore southeastern Sicily visiting the eight baroque cities which make up the Noto Valley. Create your own itinerary through Caltagirone, Militello Val di Catania,Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo, Ragusa and Scicli who are all UNESCO world heritage sites.
I’m a huge fan of the do it your self road trip and this area is easily enough navigated by car and there are endless resources online for suggestions on what to see. I suggest to do your research and try to book local bed and breakfast for memorable experiences as b&b owners will give you the best advice on what to see and where to eat. I have recently discovered Airbnb a great site with links to locals from all over the world who rent out rooms, houses and apartments to visitors which is a wonderful resources for travelers.
Another great idea for those who love theatre is to check out the summer program at the Syracuse ancient greek theatre, every year they offer a wonderful array of ancient greek classics, this year for example there is a lavish production of Verdi’s Aida.
Yet another UNESCO heritage site in Sicily is The Valle dei Templi or Valley of the Temples it is an archaeological site in Agrigento in southern Italy and contains outstanding examples of ancient Greece art.
The archaeological park and landscape of the Valley of the Temples is the largest archaeological site in the world with some 1,300 hectares.
The Valley includes remains of seven temples all in Doric style including: the Temples of Juno, Concordia, Heracles, Accra’s, Zeus, Castor and Pollux, Vulcan, and Asclepius.
The best way to experience The Valley of Temples is to buy yourself some local delicacies like cheeses, bread, olives, fruit and vegetables and a nice bottle of red wine and enjoy a rustic picnic beneath these wonderful ruins of the ancient world.
The western coast of Sicily is filled with wonderful seaside towns to explore from Trapani with it’s windmills and salt producing artificial lakes, to Marsala where the dark sweet wine of the same name originated, up to the mountain top castle like fortress town of Erice. From the hills you can glimpse the Egadi Islands, Tunisia and Africa.
This part of Sicily is an agricultural region filled with grape vines, olive trees, wheat and cotton fields which dominate the countryside and the coast provides salt, tuna and mackerel for consumers all around the world.
Summertime is the perfect time of year to explore this part of Sicily, enjoying the sea air and sipping mildly chilled Marsala.