Ottobre in Sicilia

'Falling' in love with Sicily

October in Sicily is a beautiful time of the year, there is a distinct cold snap which reminds you of the comforting warmth of a sweater and the new season brings with it new sensations and tastes which are as inebriating as newly fermenting wines.

While I am always sad to see the end of the summer, I’m reminded of the wisdom of many Italian proverbs which tell me of the magic of autumn in Italy.

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This year’s change in temperature has come quickly and decisively which means I’m now wearing a jacket and have put a blanket onto my bead clothes. And this will also mean the quick demise of the insects which have been torturing us all summer.

Thanks to the humidity there are always plenty of mosquitoes, over this past year they have also made many people sick over the summer with numerous cases of the West Nile virus being reported. But as the Italian proverb above reminds us, this won’t be a problem anymore!

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My favourite fruit of the autumn has to be the mushroom. There is nothing like walking through the woods and finding little colonies of mushroom clusters. I’m probably the worst mushroom hunter in the world, but thank goodness that I am surrounded by experts.

I always look forward to preparing flavoursome risotto with porcini mushrooms, or preserving small yellow field mushrooms and discovering different varieties like these meaty ‘deer antler’ variety we discovered this year, which are filled with wonderful properties.

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In Italian, it is known as the Grifola frondosa and grows in clusters at the base of trees, particularly oaks. The mushroom is commonly known among English speakers as hen of the woods, hen-of-the-woods, ram’s head and sheep’s head.

It is typically found in late summer to early autumn. In the United States, it is known by its Japanese name maitake (舞茸, or the dancing mushroom). This mushroom stimulates the immune system, has anti-cancer qualities, lowers blood sugar levels and is often sold as a supplement in health food stores.

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October also means we are preparing our garden by planting our winter vegetables. With the rains and cold our cauliflower, broccoli, fennel, pumpkins, spinach and kale will ripen for us. I can’t wait for the more opulent dishes of autumn and winter.

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Over the past week of pleasant coolness, my appetite has already been stimulated. Pork becomes the taster as pigs are naturally fattened up and with the October sagra season is beginning this time of year even busier than the summer for food festivals in Sicily.

From big festivals lasting every weekend in October like at Ottobrata at Zefferana Etenea and Ottobrando at Floresta there are endless things to taste and eat.

From grapes, new wine, cheeses cooked grape juice (or mostarda), honey, apples and other local, seasonal fruits being harvested including fichi d’india (prickly pear), pomegranates, hazelnuts, chestnuts, walnuts, pistachios, olive oil and many preserves under olive oil (conserve sott’olio).

October has an even more abundant amount of flavours still.

Here are just a fraction of some of the beautiful food festivals in Sicily to put on your bucket list, there are literally too many to put down on one visual.

 

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The one time I went to Etnaland

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Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Every year a group from my small Sicilian town of Sinagra organises a pilgrimage to the Etnaland amusement park at Belpasso outside of Catania. In the summer months, the waterpark is open until the early evening, and the connected theme park rides are put into motion as the locals spend their evenings spinning, dipping and riding around until the early morning.

This year I was swept up by the enthusiasm of my eight-year-old son, who had never been on a waterslide and was somehow tricked into wanting to relive my childhood. I remembered the wind blowing through my hair on toboggan rides with my best friend at the tritely named Adventure World, a magnet for children on school holidays in Western Australia, together with summer barbecues and walks through Kings Park, a hundred acre patch of natural bush right near the centre of the Perth CBD.

I was determined to create some memories for my son, after this year’s most disappointing persistently rainy summer. I happily got up at six am, took the long bus ride, paid the exorbitant entrance fee, and made a packed lunch.

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The day began by dipping our feet and bottoms into the extra large doughnut-shaped floating devices which took us along the ‘slow river’ ride, gently being pushed along by the leisurely paced artificial current while intermittent water features and fountains sprayed us around the circuit.

Lulled into a clear yet false sense of security we decided to test out something more adventurous. My son had seen a waterslide on the parks web page called ‘the black hole’ and was determined to have his official water park baptism on it.

Now I should have guessed the true nature of this ride, by the name alone, the phrase Black Hole doesn’t precisely evoke unicorns and rainbows. But from the outside, it didn’t seem too fierce, and it resembled similar fun waterslides in Australia.

While we sat down on our little double seater water raft at the mouth of the steep pitch black tube, I wondered how I would be able to reassure my son in case he becomes frightened, and I resolved to make happy, encouraging yahooing sounds on the way down. As the water rushed past us and pushed us down into the absolute darkness I suddenly remembered, I’m no longer a child and I actually hate water slides.
What followed was a brief moment of absolute terror. The sensory deprivation of the pitch black meant we could not see one another even if we were one in front of each other, nor prepare ourselves for the twists, turns and bumps along the tube of terror.
Needless to say, my reassuring yahoo noises were actually more like hyperactive teenage girl squeals and screams. My niece who was waiting for us near the chute’s pool heard us coming down and said my son’s frightened eyes looked as if they were ready to pop out of their orbits.
The worst thing about water slides is the sense of losing control over your own movements, once you start there’s no going back, you just need to sit back and try to enjoy the ride, or in my case scream your lungs out.
Then there is the sudden realisation of all the naked foreign bodies who have also sat on the same mats, seats and lifesavers as you, yes the water is chlorinated, but there is a distinct sensation of uncleanliness.
Childhood is such a wonderful time when you seek out adventure, live in the moment and never see the danger. Sadly I’m no longer in that phase of my life and have become quite a snob.

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To my surprise, the Etnaland crowd is far from snobbish as it seems most of Catania comes here to cool off during the sweltering Catanese summer. The lava rock landscape around the city is scorching and apart from the odd swimming pool, air-conditioned shopping malls, fountain, crowded rocky beaches, and after dark piazza, there aren’t many options for cooling off, so the water park is a substantial part of the summer entertainment.
Ranked among the twenty best water parks in the world Etnaland is an endless hive of activity with busloads of people coming from throughout Sicily and many families from Europe. It’s a beautiful spot for people watching, as different waves come in, strip down into bathers and head off to the rides for the whole day.
I’ve never seen so much overexposed flesh in one place, it’s actually beautiful to see how so many people can be comfortable with their own bodies and its great to see this immense power for body positivity. But sun worshipers roasting their skin is actually quite unhealthy, and I felt quite overdressed with my shorts and sun proof shirt designed to protect my pale flesh from sunburn. Some habits from my Australian childhood will never grow old.

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On the whole, the day trip is a good family day out, the place is well organised, clean, safe and very popular. The only downside was having to wait in line for the rides, but if you are shrewd and head out to the more popular ones while everyone else is having lunch, you can avoid some of the confusion.
Basically, you arrive, throw everything you have into a locker you hire for the day and strip down to your bathing suit and then crisscross the dozens of water rides and pools around the park. There is literally something for everyone from kiddy pools to rides with names like Kamikaze, Twister, Giant Toboggan, Red Cannon, Jungle Splash, Colossum and Titania. There are complimentary maps available at the entrance, so it’s easy to plan out your day.
The many park employees are positioned around the place with cameras taking everyone’s photos on the rides. At the entrance to the park you are given the option to get a bracelet which is scanned after every picture, and when you are finished, you can go and see your photos at the photo booth and purchase prints for about 10 euros a pop.
For those who are looking to relax on a deck chair by the pool all day you can hire a spot, buy a cocktail at one of the many overpriced open bars and restaurants. If you don’t have an energetic child dragging you around the park, you can dip into the artificial wave pool which is put into motion every hour together with an active dance party complete with twerking and gesticulating dancing girls, if that’s what you like.

If everything gets too much at the end of the day there is a relaxing spa bath to massage your aching muscles, just in case you need it, there’s something for everyone really.

10 Feste Patronale in Sicilia

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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.

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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.

Per l’amore dei mercati Siciliani

Per l_amore dei mercati Siciliani title
Non è un segreto che io sia una fan dei mercati, io amo scrutare in ogni bancarella per vedere cosa posso trovare. Il mio blog è pieno di foto di legni Africani intagliati, gioielli fatti a mano, scoperte divertenti, casualità e sensazioni senza fine. Io adoro i colori e l’inaspettato. Un mercato Siciliano contiene di tutto: prodotti freschi, antichità, stoffe e oggettistica.
Ogni anno che trascorro vivendo in Sicilia è fatto di appuntamenti annuali con grandi mercati Siciliani e fiere (che sono le sorelle maggiori dei semplici mercati quotidiani di alimentari, che portano insieme molti fornitori da altre province ed anche il commercio di bestiame.) Una fiera primaverile prevede quello che vedrai nei negozi durante l’estate, mentre in autunno ti dà l’opportunità di trovare regali unici senza la fretta natalizia, spesso chi visita la Sicilia critica i mercati definendoli posti pieni di merce scadente, osservazione che purtroppo trova fondamento.

A causa della continua crisi economica Europea infatti, molte boutique e imprese di famiglia che vi vendevano bellissimi prodotti hanno chiuso, spostandosi oltreoceano per tagliare i costi, lasciando cosi’ il posto a importazioni scadenti che li hanno sostituiti. Sono spaventata all’idea che i miei amati mercati Siciliani stiano iniziando a scomparire.

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Nel mio piccolo pezzo di Sicilia in Provincia di Messina molti abitanti hanno un appuntamento con la fiera di Capo d’Orlando il 21 e 22 di ottobre, giorni che corrispondono alla celebrazione della Madonna, protettrice della città. Inoltre non manco mai ai mercati in autunno e primavera a Sant’Agata di Militello, l’antica fiera del 14 e 15 novembre (e del 14 e 15 aprile) che si estende lungo la strada principale che costeggia il mare Tirreno.
I mercati di novembre sono di solito dove io faccio il mio shopping natalizio, ma per la prima volta l’anno scorso sono tornata a casa a mani vuote. C’era la solita folla senza fine comune di questa fiera stravagante, ma non della sostanza di questi storici mercati che risalgono al 1700.
Stabilita dalla famiglia Ventimiglia, una dinastia aristocratica Siciliana, che decise di crearla per raccogliere la ricchezza dell’agricoltura dell’area dei Nebrodi, la fiera di Sant’Agata era un punto focale per agricoltori e artigiani di tutti tipi. Il primo giorno è dedicato al bestiame, mentre il secondo offre ai visitatori tutto dal tessile, all’ oggettistica, attrezzi, prodotti locali, bellezza e artigianato.

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Io ho camminato su e giù per le bancarelle l’anno scorso ma non ho trovato niente di qualità, tante cose scadenti di origine cinese, molti abiti e scarpe palesemente di seconda mano che venivano spacciati per nuovi, strani abiti taglia unica che in realtà non vestono a nessuno che pesa più di 40 kg e la stessa serie di sciarpe e decorazioni natalizie di ogni anno. Non ho visto oggetti in ceramica, sono diventati rari, c’era una sola bancarella di antiquari, (che aveva le stesse cose dell’anno passato), il proprietario tristemente mi disse che gli affari erano veramente pochi e che lui probabilmente non sarebbe tornato l’anno prossimo.
Sembra che il declino dei mercati in Sicilia si stia gradualmente insinuando in tutta l’isola. Per esempio molte riviste di viaggio soprendentemente ancora cantano le lodi della Vucciria di Palermo come maggiore mercato fiorente Siciliano, ma il quartiere una volta caotico, pieno di centinaia di negozi di cibo che fuoriuscivano dalle strade, è diventato niente di più di una piccola striscia di negozi che mantengono i mercati storici a malapena aperti per i turisti.

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Gli Italiani credono nello slow food e nel viaggio, dove ti prendi il tempo di immergerti nel carattere di un posto, felicemente godendoti il momento. In un paese dove le persone e la cultura sono così colorati come la scenografia stessa è giustificabile cercare una più autentica connessione con la vita di ogni giorno.

I mercati alimentari sono pieni della vista, dei suoni e del sapore di un’ Italia che assapora il suo cibo. In un periodo di recessione economica gli Italiani tagliano su tutto eccetto per quello che c’e sulla tavola.

Grazie alla bontà dei prodotti la domanda dei Palermitani per il cibo buono persiste, è questo che mantiene gli altri mercati dei quartieri fiorenti.

I mercati de il Capo, Ballarò e Borgo Vecchio mantengano le tradizioni vive con le loro trattorie e i venditori di cibo di strada.

Tu puoi ancora vivere un’ esperienza autentica al mercato Siciliano di Ballarò,che si estende da Piazza Ballarò nel distretto Albergheria (vicino la chiesa di San Nicolò) lungo via Ballarò dopo Piazza Carmine verso Corso Tukory approssimativamente parallelo a Via Maqueda verso la stazione principale.

Mentre i marcati Capo sono nascosti dietro il Teatro Massimo e si estendono da Via Porta Carini seguendo Via Volturno vicino il vecchio muro della città verso Piazza Beati Paoli.

La Vucciria è a Piazza San Domenico, ma in maniera più ridotta se la paragoniamo al passato, esso ancora attraversa Via Maccheronai verso Piazza Caracciolo e Corso Vittorio Emanuele ramificandosi lungo Via Arenteria.

I mercati di Borgo Vecchio sono tra Piazza Sturzo e Piazza Ucciardone. I mercati di Palermo sono di solito aperti tutto il giorno dalle 9 alle 7 (sono chiusi domenica e sono aperti solo mezzo giorno il mercoledì.)

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Mentre a Catania i mercati principali sono in Piazza Carlo Alberto vicino Via Umberto e Corso Sicilia che è facilmente raggiungibile da Via Pacini seguendo Via Etnea vicino il parco Villa Bellini.

La pescheria (mercato del pesce) è situato seguendo Piazza Duomo vicino la Cattedrale e la Fontana dell’Amenano, fra Via Garibaldi e Via Pacini, estendendosi lungo Via Gemelli Zappalà e alcune delle strade vicine. I mercati di Catania sono chiusi le domeniche e i pomeriggi.

Tristamente i mercati intorno a me sembrano scomparire nell’insignificanza, così quando tu visiti la Sicilia sii sicuro di visitare un mercato di una grande città perchè è una parte preziosa della storia Siciliana.


Italia Ambulante é uno strumento di supporto alle tante piccole imprese individuali, come gli ambulanti, che esercitano la loro attività sulle piazze e nei mercati d’Italia. Per informazione sulle piccole mercati giornalieri in Italia vede questo sito.

 

To see this post in english click here: Disappearing Sicilian Markets

Disappearing Sicilian Markets

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It’s no secret I’m a fan of open air markets, I love trawling through every stand exploring what I can find. My blog is filled with photo’s of African wood carvings, crafty jewellery and fun discoveries, endless market randomness and textures. I enjoy the colours and the unexpected. A Sicilian market contains everything from fresh produce, antiques, fabrics to bric-a-brac.
Every year in Sicily, is made up of annual appointments with big Sicilian markets and fiere (/fiè·re/), which are big brothers to the simple daily food markets who bring together many vendors from other provinces together with the trade of livestock. A spring fiera previews what you will see in the stores during the summer, while an autumn one often brings a chance to find unique gifts without the Christmas rush.
Often visitors to Sicily criticise markets as places filled with cheap Chinese rip offs, which sadly is a valid lament as over the years of the never ending economic crisis in Europe, many boutique operations and family businesses selling beautiful products have closed down, moving overseas to cut costs, leaving space for dreaded cheap imports to fill in the gaps. I’m afraid my beloved Sicilian markets are beginning to disappear.

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In my little piece of Sicily in Messina province most locals have an appointment with the Fiera at Capo d’Orlando on the 21st and 22nd of October which is associated with the feast day celebration of the local Madonna, who is the city’s patron. Also I never miss out on the autumn and spring markets at Sant’Agata di Militello, the ancient Fiera over the 14th and 15th of November (and the 14th/15th of April) which stretches out along the main esplanade running parallel to the Tyrrhenian sea.
The November markets are usually where I do my Christmas shopping, but for the first time last year I actually came home empty handed. There were the usual endless stalls common of this extravagant fair, yet none of the substance of these historic markets which date back to the 1700’s.
Established by the Ventimiglia family, a well known Sicilian aristocratic dynasty, who gathered up the agricultural wealth of the Nebrodi area, the Sant Agata fiera was a focal point for farmers and artisans of all types. The first day is dedicated to livestock while the second offers visitors everything from textiles to haberdashery, farming tools, local produce, fashion and crafts.
Marching up and down the stalls last year I found nothing of quality, so much cheap Chinese junk, many obviously second hand clothes and shoes being passed off as new, strange one size fits all clothing which really won’t cover anyone who weighs more than 40 kilo’s and the same series of scarves and Christmas decorations as other years. I didn’t see the usual ceramics I go crazy over and there was only one antique stall which had the same things as last year, the owner sadly told me business is really slow and he probably won’t be back next year.

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The decline of markets in Sicily has gradually been creeping forward all over the island. For example many travel magazines surprisingly still sing the praise of Palermo’s Vucciria as a thriving major Sicilian city market, but the once buzzing neighbourhood packed with hundreds of food stores spilling over out onto the streets has become nothing but a small strip of resilient store owners who keep the historic markets alive for the tourists.
Italians believe in slow food and travel, where you take the time to soak in the character of a place, happily making the most of the moment. In a country where the people and culture are as colourful as the scenery itself, it is justifiable to seek out a more authentic connection to everyday life.

Food markets are filled with the sights, sounds and tastes of an Italy which relishes its food. In times of economic downturn Italians will cut back on everything else except what is on the table.

 

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Thank goodness the Palermitani’s demand for fine food persists, it is this which keeps the other daily food market neighbourhoods thriving. The il Capo, Ballero’ and Borgo Vecchio markets keep the traditions alive with their associated family run restaurants and street food vendors deep in the centre of Palermo.

You can still have an authentic Sicilian market experience at Ballaró which extends from Piazza Ballarò in the Albergheria district (near the church of San Nicolò) along Via Ballarò past Piazza Carmine toward Corso Tukory, roughly parallel to Via Maqueda toward the main train station.

While the Capo markets are tucked behind the Teatro Massimo opera theater and extend from Via Porta Carini off Via Volturno near the old city wall toward Piazza Beati Paoli. The Vucceria is at Piazza San Domenico, but in a much reduced manner as compared to its past history, it still winds along Via Maccheronai toward Piazza Caracciolo and Corso Vittorio Emanuele, branching off along Via Argenteria.

The Borgo Vecchio markets are in between Piazza Sturzo and Piazza Ucciardone. Palermo’s markets are usually open all day from 9 to 7pm (they are closed Sundays and open only half days on Wednesdays).

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At Catania the main markets are in Piazza Carlo Alberto near Via Umberto and Corso Sicilia which is easily reached from Via Pacini off Via Etnea near the Villa Bellini park.
The Pescheria (fish markets) filled with the city’s most sought after seafood is located off Piazza Duomo near the cathedral and fountain dell’Amenano, between Via Garibaldi and Via Pacini, extending along Via Gemelli Zappalà and some of the nearby streets. Catania’s markets are closed Sundays and afternoons.

Sadly the markets around me seem to be fading into insignificance, so when you visit Sicily be sure to visit a major city’s food market as it is a precious piece of Sicilian history.

To discover the best local daily markets in Sicily simply ask around, once you arrive in Sicily the best information will be found through local knowledge. If you want a general idea about the different smaller markets to visit see the Italian Ambulente web page, which is a site set up by market stall owners to let tourists know about market days. The page is in Italian but it is easy to do a search of particular towns throughout Italy to see when the markets are usually on in most local squares.

Vedi qua il post anche in Italiano: Per l’amore dei mercati Siciliani

Here’s my personal list of Sicilian Food markets not to miss.

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Leonforte il cuore della Sicilia

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La città di Leonforte si trova su i monti Erei della Sicilia centrale, solo 13 miglia dalla provincia di Enna. Oggi è una città bellissima circondata da una scenica campagna.

È un posto idealistico e tranquillo come molte altre comunità dell’ isola, dove, la vita quotidiana senza confusione o disturbo e gli abitanti tendono a dimenticarsi del resto del mondo, vivendo serenamente i riti della vita di ogni giorno in Sicilia.

Le provincie di Enna e Caltanissetta sono sempre state luoghi di grande importanza strategica nella storia dell’isola, e, sono state campo di molte battaglie e “scaramuccie”. Insieme alla sua immenza ricchezza agricola ed alla sua fertilità, il cuore dell’isola è sempre stato più selvaggio ed incontaminato, il suo territorio lo isola dalla costa, tuttavia è sempre stato abitato sin dai tempi preistorici.

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Prima della fondazione della moderna Leonforte, l’area era la casa dell’antica città di Tabas o Taraca, un’ importante base durante la conquista Mussulmana dell’isola, dal 827 a 902 A.D. Gli invasori Arabi dal Nord Africa vedevano l’isola come un paradiso terrestre. La provincia centrale di Enna fu una roccaforte Mussulmana per generazioni, insieme a molte altre città principali, come Palermo e Siracusa.

La Sicilia fu essenzialmente un Emirato Arabo dall’ 831 all’ 1091 A.D. , dopo una lunga lotta con il lontano Impero Romano Bizantino, durata quasi 400 anni. Quindi per gran parte della sua storia l’isola divenne una società multiculturale, che mischiava insieme sia elementi della vita Araba che Bizantina.

I nuovi dominatori Arabi iniziarano a rivoluzionare l’agricoltura: incrementando la prodottività e incoroggiando la crescita di piccoli poderi; introducendo elaborati sistemi di irrigazione che sfruttavano la abbondanti acque presenti; portando l’acqua alle area che una volta soffrivano la siccità.

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L’introduzione di piante come arance, limoni, pistacchi e canna da zucchero da parte dei Mussumani Nord Africani migliorarono l’agricoltura dell’isola e diedero nuovi elementi alla cucina Siciliana. La popolazione locale conquistata dai Mussulmani era Cattolico Romana nella Sicilia Occidentale e Greco Cristiano nella metà orientale. Cristianità e Giudeismo erano tollerati sotto il dominio Mussulmano, ma erano soggette ad alcune restrizioni, come i luoghi in cui potevano praticare i loro riti e l’obbligo di pagare tasse religiose.

Il graduale declino del dominio Mussulmano in Sicilia inizia nell’ 11° e 12° secolo, quando il Regno Normanno inizia a spigere gli Arabi fuori dall’isola. Il periodo Normanno comunque continuò ad essere di natura multi-etnica. Normanni, Ebrei, Arabi Mussulmani, Greci, Bizantini, Lombardi e Siciliani vivevano in una relativa armonia.

L’Arabo fu la lingua ufficiale del governo e dell’amministrazione per circa un secolo durante il dominio Normanno e ne troviamo tracce anche oggi nelle lingue Siciliane e Maltese. Sotto la guida della corte di Federico II di Sicilia nacque la prima scuola poetica d’Italia, anticipando il Rinascemento Toscano. I Mussulmani mantennero inoltre il controllo dell’industria, del commercio e della produzione, mentre gli artigiani Mussulmani per la loro grande conoscenza erano altamente ricercarti.

Dopo molti secoli sotto l‘influenza della cultura e delle religioni di Medio Oriente e Nord Africana, la Sicilia inziò un’ altra epica trasformazione sotto una successione di Re Franco Normanni, fortemente cattolici, impegnati a combattere battaglie senza fine nell’isola per cacciare le altre dominizioni straniere. A Leonforte antichi racconti, parlano di come il fiume locale fosse diventato rosso come il sangue durante le brutali guerre fra Saraceni e Normanni.

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Nella successione di 13 differenti invasori della storia della Sicilia i Normanni furono sovrastati dai Tedeschi Hohenstaufen, poi dal casato Francese degli Anjou e in seguito dalla casa Aragonese di Barcellona che trasformò gradualmente la cultura della Sicilia nel corso di due secoli. La Chiesa Cattolica Romana lentamente divenne parte della cultura e costrinse i musulmani Siciliani ad andarsene dall’isola.

La città di Leonforte fu fondata dai Branciforte, una leggendaria famiglia nobile Siciliana, il cui padre fondatore Obizzo ottenne il suo titolo cavalleresco eroicamente, sostenendo la bandiera del Sacro Romano Impero di Carlo Magno nella battaglia per scacciare i tedeschi lombardi dall’ Italia.
Il primo membro di questo famiglia aristocratica Siciliana viene ricordato per aver letteralmente tenuto la bandiera reale nonostante avesse perso entrambe le mani in una grottesca mutilazione. Questa azione eroica fece guadagnare a lui ed alla sua famiglia il nome di Bracciaforte, in onore delle sue forti braccia che aiutarono a sostenere la causa di Carlo Magno per riunire l’europa dopo la caduta dell’ impero romano d’occidente.

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Leonforte insieme a Scordia nella provincia di Catania e Niscemi a Caltanissetta furono tutte fondate nello stesso periodo, nel 1600 come parte di un progetto di colonizzazione della Sicilia centrale, con l’intento di focalizzarsi sullo sviluppo delle città, delle infrastrutture e dell’agricoltura.

Costruendo su ciò che era stato lasciato dietro dai passati abitanti stranieri, i Branciforte situarono Leonforte in una posizione strategica, sul monte Altesina, seguendo la divisione territoriale dell’isola fatta dagli Arabi, che prevedeva l’individuazione di tre valli, che sono usate ancora oggi per definire la geografia della Sicilia; dal Val Demone ad est di Catania, al Val di Mazzara di Ragusa e Siracusa nel sud e la Val di Noto ad est da Trapani a Palermo.

Il Principe Nicolò Placido Branciforte costruì il suo feudo letteramente dal nulla, la sua famiglia gradualmente costruì un castello, una chiesa madre, un convento, i giardini e una serie di fontane. Leonforte si sviluppo’ sotto la bandiera dei Branciforte con il suo regale leone incoronato, che sostiene la bandiera che raffigura il giglio francese, completata da due zampe mozzate in sottofondo come testimonianza dell’ eroico fondatore della famiglia.

Branciforte

Il nome della città riflette la sua connessione con la nobilità Siciliana e il suo iconico stemma. Leonforte fioriva e si sviluppava sotto il dominio dei Branciforte ed oggi è ben conosciuta per la sua agricoltura, per le succose pesche, le fave, l’olio di oliva, gli agrumi, i prodotti di terracotta ed i formaggi.

Di tutti gli storici tesori di Leonforte, l’unico di cui gli abitanti sono più orgogliosi è la loro fontana in stile barocco, la Granfonte, che è al centro della loro storia civile e culturale. Costruita sulle rovine dell’ antica fontana Araba conosciuta come fonte di Tavi, è collegata ad un complesso sistema d’irrigazione a tubi, mulini e piccole fontane che vanno giù nella valle, ed un tempo erano usate per l’irrigazione della campagne circostanti e di un giardino botanico ormai sparito.

La fontana, costruita nel 1652, fu disegnata dall’ importante architetto e pittore Palermitano Marino Smiraglio, i cui lavori sono presenti in tutta l’isola, compresi i Quattro Canti di Palermo all’intersezione che collega i quattro prinipali quartieri del capoluogo Siciliano.

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Granfonte o 24 cannola come è conosciuta localmente, è una grandiosa successione di 22 archi e 24 bocche in bronzo dalle quali sgorga l’acqua in una serie di bacini in pietra, una volta usati come lavanderie publiche, fontana e mercato nelle piazza principale della città. Gli archi sono elaborate cornici arrichite con ornamenti e iscrizioni, pietre a forma di spirale e due leoni incisi su ogni parte che ricordano la stemma dei sempre presenti Branciforte.

Lunga un pò meno di 74 piedi e 8 profonda, Granfonte è impressionante ed è di fronte all’entrata originale della vecchia città alle porte di Palermo, che conduce all’antica rotta commerciale verso il capoluogo Siciliano. Questo teatrale sfondo di fontane vede l’influenza degli storici giardini papali di Tivoli fuori Roma, delle fontane Fiamminghe di Amsterdam ed è letterlamente il cuore della storia civile e religiosa della città.

Le fontane pubbliche in Sicilia vennero usate fino i primi del 1900 e furono un’ importante punto focale della vita quotidiana. I viaggi giornalieri per prendere l’acqua, lavare i vestiti e abbeverare gli animali erano occasioni per socializzare, spettegolare, visitare i mercati ed un posto d’incontro in generale. Oggi la Granfonte a Leonforte non ospita più i mercati ma e’ diventato luogo di più elaborate celebrazioni religiose durante la settimana santa di Pasqua.

Via Crucis

Venerdì Santo la fontana Granfonte di Leonforte diventa il punto focale di una suggestiva processione funebre che commemora la morte si Gesù Cristo. Un’elaborata marcia intreccia la sua strada attraverso le vie della città nel pomeriggio di Venerdì Santo. Il crocifisso si ferma di fronte ad ogni chiesa fino la chiesa della Madonna vicino la Granfonte, dove l’antica statua in legno a grandezza umana viene scesa dalla croce e situata in una decorativa bara in vetro, in una rappresentazione messa in scena dal prete.

Accompagnata da un grande falò nella piazza, le fontane sono spente come segno di lutto e rispetto per il solenne rito funebre. All’alba, il corteo è accompagnato da una banda di ottoni che suona una marcia funebre e la bara di Cristo è portata a spalla dai membri della confraternita del Santissimo Sacramento incappucciati e vestiti con tuniche, seguita dalla statua della Madonna Addolorata come simbolo del lutto della madre di Cristo.

La parata si fa strada attraverso le antiche scalinate di Leonforte salendo fino il punto più alto della città la Chiesa della Santa Croce, che simboleggia il colle dove il matirio di Cristo ebbe luogo. La banda smette di suonare e nel silenzio chi è in lutto inizia a recitare un lamento poetico sotto forma di un’antica canzone, che mischia elementi di preghiera con il dialetto locale.

Il lamento è ipnotico, esotico, evocativo delle musiche medio orientali, ed è parte integrale del rituale della passione a Leonforte. Una volta veniva messa in scena dagli anziani della communità, oggi invece sono i giovani a mantenere questa tradizione, tramandata di padre in figlio, una preghiera recitata in dialetto che cerca di consolare la vergine Maria nella sua ora di dolore.

Con la resurrezione di Cristo la Domenica di Pasqua, le persone di Leonforte si raccolgono nella piazza del convento dei Frati Cappuccini per festeggiare. Tutte le statue che partecipano alle molte processioni durante la Settimana Santa, prendono parte all’incontro di Cristo con la Madonna. Le acque di Granfonte sono riaperte restituendo le loro qualità guaritrici e la promessa battesimale di nuova vita.

For the english translation of this article click here:

Leonforte at the beating heart of Sicily

 

10 delle più spettacolari celebrazioni di Pasqua in Sicilia

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.

Pasqua in Sicilia

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.

 

Adrano I Diavulazzi di Pasqua

 

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.

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 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.

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 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 diavoli  dai 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.

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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.

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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.

 

San Biagio PalataniGli archi di Pasqua

 

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 sopravvento  archi, cupole e campane  che 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 Pasqua  la Madonna e il Cristo risorto si incontrano.

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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 Gesù  tutti accompagnati dalla banda del paese.

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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.

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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 correre  portando 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 miracoli  del Santo. Si narra infatti che quando era vescovo di Catania San Leone per  sconfiggere 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 rimanere  illeso attraversando le fiamme.

EASTER in Sicily

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.

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See the english version of the post here:

10 of the most spectacular Easter celebrations in Sicily

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.

These events are regular features of the Christmas season on the island, dates and times may vary.

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 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 colourful 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 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 filled 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 for Santa Lucia patron Saint of Syracuse (Siracusa) with the traditions honouring 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 honour of Santa Lucia are one of the most ancient on the island, so seeing and participating in these rituals you are witnessing a truly unique and authentic piece of islander heritage and tradition.

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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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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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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 

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.

 Ionian Coastline

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 has 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 savour 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 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 centres 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 travelling 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 neighbourhoods 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 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.)

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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 is filled with much history, archaeological 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 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.

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Under the feet of Mongibello

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Randazzo squats under Mount Etna, sprawling out along the massive volcano’s base in the fertile valley of Alcantara. Etna has a tyrannical hold over the landscape and is constantly hovering over this place born out of the volcano’s colossal menace. The broad lava streets of the city are filled with a rustic opulence, as if they have been carved out of the volcano, fashioned by the meaty hands of the god Vulcan in his subterranean furnace, deep in the volcano above, lovingly nicknamed Mongibello (literally the beautiful mountain.)

In the burning days of August the historic centre of Randazzo is like a stone garden, the heat re-awaking the memory of the hardened magma’s fire. A heavy layer of darkness poured over every part of the architecture from the jagged streets, to the polished sidewalks and the Romanesque archways of the cloister like courtyard of the town hall. The same hand has touched each feature of the town, like a Midas touch in lava instead of gold.

Randazzo itself is sprawled out along the base of Etna on a ridge between the base of Etna and the Alcantara River which is nothing but a deep gully of hard rock for most of the year. The area surrounding the city runs along the valley and is part of one of Italy’s most productive agricultural areas. The areas around Etna has given birth to the most remarkable wines and there are a succession of considerable wineries in the countryside. Grape vines thrive in the lava soil as do olive trees, pistachios, prickly pears and a wide selection of stone fruit and vegetables. This rugged seemingly inhospitable area is surprisingly fertile.

 

Randazzo is at the crossroads of three important Sicilian provinces connecting Catania, Messina and Enna. If you imagine the island of Sicily as an isosceles triangle lying on its side, its main point facing towards the left, Messina is on its top right hand corner, Catania a little way down on the right side and Enna is in the centre of the triangle, forming a second internal triangle. You can place Etna and Randazzo in the centre of these major cities at the core of the Val Demone in the primordial heart of Sicily.

Like most major Sicilian cities, Randazzo has a long and complex history which has been shaped by all the many invaders of the island. The city’s founding came about with the amalgamation of the pre existing towns of Triracia, Triocala, Tissa, Demena and Altesa, who were destroyed during a civil war by Roman emperor Ottaviano. After the fall of the Roman Empire the Byzantines kept the city united under a central administration. Randazzo’s name is believed to derive from the name of a Byzantine governor known as Rendakes or Randas who governed from the nearby coastal town of Taormina in the tenth century. The name also has its roots in the local dialect, from the word Rannazzu meaning ‘big city’, which aptly describes Randazzo’s expansive urban development.

 

The strategic position of Randazzo has made it the focal point of trade and commerce throughout its existence. A symbol of this tradition are the Randazzo markets which bring together the best of the three provinces products nearly every Sunday (with the exception of public holidays and election days.) On Sunday the town is transformed into a giant sea of stalls, crowds and confusion like a Moroccan bizarre.

The open air market tradition goes back to the times of the Arab domination in Sicily, from the seventh century when the concept of trade markets was imported from the Middle East, creating an expansion of trade and products throughout Sicily and Italy. The market tradition is still a vibrant part of local commerce, once a week each Sicilian town has a day dedicated to the market and most major cities have daily fresh produce markets.

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On market day Randazzo is invaded by endless stalls selling literally everything from: art work, pirated C.D’s, children’s wear, fruit, vegetables, toys, cheeses, furniture, ornaments, fur coats, wrought iron work, fabric, statues, casual ware, sausages, hand bags, shoes, soccer jumpers, socks, suits, dried baccala fish, lawn mowers, scythes, fairy floss, books, cleaning products, dried fruit, lingerie, roast chickens, army surplus products and endless haberdashery.

As people arrive the confusion grows to an impressive level and by mid morning there is a non stop chorus of stall owners who yell, scream and chant about the quality of their products trying to out spruik one another. While experienced market shoppers rummage through the large piles of stock trying to find a bargain. Like any market there are both worthy products and junk, the challenge is to recognise quality objects in amongst the confusion.

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Shopping at a market is an invigorating challenge and offers a completely original experience to the standard sterile shopping at convenience stores or expansive shopping centres. The most important thing about market shopping is recognising a bargain and firmly naming your price, the never-ending stalls mean you can always threaten to go to another to get your price, so being firm and fair means you can often get a decent discount. Walking away from a stall can be just the right strategy to get a vendor to take a few Euros’ off the cost. There is a real skill to shopping at a market. It becomes a game if you are willing to throw yourself into the experience whole heartedly. Just walking through the transformed streets is a journey into the past of the medieval bazaar, full of exotic sensations and products.

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There is an eternal stream of colour and confusion in the late morning the crowds reach their peak as people literally dive into the narrow side streets already congested by the teeming stalls creating a terrible crush and confusion, making people crawl along at a snails pace lined up shoulder to shoulder. The best time to visit is early in the morning before the crowd, when the best offers can be found and you have the energy to submerge yourself into the world generated by the Randazzo markets.

Here is a quick video I shot recently while browsing around the markets, to give you a sense of the colours and character of these markets.

Please let me know in the comments if you like this video and if you’d be interested in seeing others.

Tell me where you’d like me to visit …

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What to do in Sicily

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!

Aeolian Islands

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.

North coast of Sicily

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 heart of Sicily

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.

Noto Valley

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.

Around Etna

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.

Cultural Sicily

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.

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Sicilian Impressions: Winter

I used to think visiting Sicily in the winter is a sad and cold way of experiencing the island but I have changed my mind.

I love the feeling of having the place to myself.

The lava filled countryside near Etna is infernal in the summer and so the wintry months offer the perfect time to savor the landscape.

If you are lucky enough the perennial mist at Etna’s peak will lift long enough for you to get some fascinating snaps.

Etna in the winter

Etna from the countryside near Maniace

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