10 things to keep in mind while planning a trip to Italy

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1) Don’t come in August

I’ve said this many times, you can visit throughout the year so don’t come in the most overcrowded, hot and humid part of the year when most Italians are on summer holidays it will be uncomfortable and you will never have an authentic experience.

September will be just as beautiful, autumn/fall will give you an excuse to taste the new wine, eat truffles and mushrooms and visit museums. Christmas and New Years are filled with traditions and delicacies. Easter and spring are perfect for the mild weather and religious festivities.

Just do your research, discover whatever your heart desires to experience on the peninsula, visiting archaeological sites in May will be so much better than in the heat of August. Museums are less crowded in the winter, food, music and religious festivals happen through the whole year. The best time to experience Italian culture in the theatres is actually in the middle of winter (Feb/March).

But then if you have your vacations in August and can’t get here any other time, then coming to Italy in August isn’t impossible it’s just hot and in holiday mode. Only try to stay cool by heading to the mountains or the beach and try to stay put during the week of Ferragosto (15th August) which is when the country has its main summer holiday, where you will find most places closed.

2) Avoid the trains in the South, unless …

Italy is perfect for slow travel, Italians are never in a hurry so you can take the time to savour a good meal, take a bus tour or the train. From Rome, upwards train journeys are fast, easy and affordable. But in the south things are not so easy, so unless you want to descend slowly into Dante’s Inferno with endless delays and cancelled trains so don’t do a long train journey. It’s easy to get a cheap flight down from Rome to Catania or Palermo and avoid the hassle.

Unless of course, you have time for a long-winded adventure. Once you are in Sicily, for example, feel free to take a shorter journey, day trips on the trains are fun, great for families, just be sure to take a packed lunch, water and give yourself plenty of time to arrive at your destination. Go around the Mount Etna volcano on the Circumetenea old railway, plan a trip from Palermo to Messina along the scenic coastline or check out the new  Treni Storici ( historic train journeys) a recent development by Treni Italia which have been designed to offer their passengers to stop at Sicilian wineries and other towns where excellent food is produced and to see the main sites. (link is in Italian)

3) Get out of the major cities

There is nothing wrong for first-time visitors to visit the major Italian capitals, but try to make it into smaller towns too. Italy is such a vibrant place to explore, hire a car and go track down a food festival or a well-known church, museum or villa you once read about in a magazine.

Yes, Tuscany is Florence, but it is also Lucca, Siena, Vinci, San Gimignano and another two hundred and seventy-six Tuscan towns to explore, each with their own food, traditions, history and festivals.

Why not pick another region to visit like Emilia Romagna in the north with cities like Piacenza, Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, Ferrara, Forlì and Rimini.

In the region of Piemonte, there is Turin, Cuneo, Asti, Alessandria, Vercelli, Novara, Biella or Verbano.

In the south dive into Puglia with towns like Bari, Foggia, Lecce, Taranto, Brindisi and Barletta.

Calabria is filled with possibilities and much fewer tourists in the seaside towns like Tropea, Isca Marina or Reggio which is connected to Messina by ferry and is a perfect gateway into Sicily.

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4) Be brave, hire a car

People are a little hesitant to drive in Italy, but if you get a chance to hire a car, it is worth the challenge and expense.

Driving around Italy will give you an opportunity to be autonomous, travel and stop where you like, and it allows you to get a sense of the landscape and geography of the place.

Yes, you will see some reckless drivers speeding past you, be frustrated by a lack of parking and autostrada fees but if you go off the beaten track, you can avoid many of these problems.

5) Learn a little Italian or at least get a guidebook

There is no need to be a fluent Italian speaker, but your visit will be so much better if you put in the effort to understand Italian culture, history and language. There are many great guidebooks which will give you an excellent general introduction and help you to do necessary things like ask directions or say please and thank you.

6) See something authentic

Please stay away from tourist traps, in Italy there is so much more than pizza and pasta. Go to eat at a Trattoria (family-run restaurant) where you will be treated to a good home cooked meal. Go to a Sagra (a local food festival), which happen all the time and give you a chance to taste local delicacies for a handful of Euros.
Experience local markets, there are always open-air markets, some are dedicated to food, others to flowers and many sell arts and crafts or antiques, even if you don’t buy anything it is a unique experience.
See a patron Saint celebration, every town has a Saintly protector celebrated during the year with their own local holiday, filled with markets, religious processions, fireworks, sagras, brass bands, free concerts, art exhibitions and also usually specially prepared dishes or sweets dedicated to each particular saint.
Every town will have its own local speciality, a particular type of pasta, wine, dessert, seafood dish, cheese, bread or domestic seasonal product. Taste it all!

7) Don’t be in a hurry

Italian’s are never in a rush, they are always fashionably late, they take their time to talk, taste and savour life. When you are visiting their country, try to leave space for the unexpected.

Slow food and travel make their home in Italy which gathers experiences rather than ticking off names on a bucket list.

8) Dive into the history and culture there’s plenty of it

Not even Italians are fully aware of all the history surrounding them, but if you want to appreciate this country, you should know a little.

In Sicily alone, there have been thirteen different invaders who have ruled over the island which has been inhabited since prehistory. Each invading culture has left behind distinct monuments and cultural footprints all over the island. From the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals/Goths, Byzantines, Arabs, Normas, Swedish, French, Spanish, Albanian, Austrians and English.

historical buildings

9) Taste as many local delicacies as possible

I know I keep mentioning food, but the Mediterranean diet is one of the most healthy and variegated cuisines around. Food is like a religion in Italy, if it isn’t fresh, delish and straightforward Italians won’t eat it.

From something simple like street food to a delicate gelato, fresh off the boat seafood, pizza sold by the metre or the best short black coffee you will ever drink, your taste buds will never forget the flavours of Italy.

10 ) Take home as much made in Italy as will fit in your luggage

There are many Italian artisans, small businesses and ancient crafts that exist only in Italy, help keep them alive by buying a good quality gift from Italy.

There is everything from ceramics, jewellery, wine, olive oil, pasta, biscuits, paintings, sculptures, stationery, leather goods, gold work, textiles, coral, silverwork, and fashion. You will come across endless things to treasure and bring home.

Stay away from cheap and nasty Chinese stuff at markets, buy directly from small established boutiques for guaranteed quality, you might pay more, but it will be worth it.
Be sure to check if you can bring in certain foodstuffs through the customs laws in your own country.

For example, in Australia, you can bring in anything that is cooked (i.e., cakes and biscuits) or sealed adequately like olive oil for individual consumption. But you will need to declare anything made out of wood or fresh foodstuffs to be inspected and possibly thrown out (things like cheeses, salami and Nutella will not be allowed to enter the country, unfortunately). If in doubt simply declare it when you arrive and in the worst case scenario it will be taken away from you but if you get to keep it, bonus points for you!

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.

Patron Saint celebrations sicily

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.

Sagre and Feste in July

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Food and religious festivals (sagre and feste) all over the peninsula are at the heart and soul of Italian traditions. The ones celebrated on the island of Sicily are particularly rich in history, colour and taste.

Sicilians are proud of their cuisine and dedicate a considerable amount of effort in preparing and sharing their typical plates. So a visit to a sagra is a celebration and invitation to taste the best of Sicily.

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While patron Saint celebrations have a long history in Sicily and Italy linked to the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church throughout Europe. Sicilians have a sincere dedication to their hometown Saints and a visit to a big feast day will give a unique experience into the intriguing history of Sicily as each has been linked to a particular place for centuries.

The Saints statues are works of art unto themselves, their stories are miracles are amazing tales, and the churches they are housed in are filled with more colour and art still. The celebrations include elaborate pageants like processions, music, fireworks, food and costumes.

Sicily is dedicated to its Saints and cuisine, and these elaborate parties show the best side of the island for all to see.

Here are some events to pin for your next trip to Sicily.

July in sicily

Hidden Gems

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This month the #DolceVitaBloggers link up is sharing our personal guide to Italy’s hidden gems, special off the hidden track treasures which are often whisked by on thirsty bucket list group tours or pedantically planned summer trips.

Thanks again to Kelly from italianatheart.com, Jasmine from questadolcevita.com and Kristie of mammaprada.com for creating this great way of connecting Italophiles, to pool our collective knowledge. So get your pens and papers out to start planning your trip to Italy.

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For more on how to join in on the fun click here.

The whole of Italy is filled with hidden treasures, tiny little towns away from the major cities where you can still eat the best meal of your life at a tiny Trattoria away from the crowds. Most visitors spend only a few days here and there without witnessing the authentic daily life of the peninsular.

Italy is made for slow travel so the best way to spend your trip here is to take your time, move out of the big touristy centres, try to eat where the locals eat, visit small food markets, so to the churches, religious and food festivals, as it is there where you will see Italians and Italy at their most relaxed.

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Take the time to taste local dishes and wines, flavour your trip with free time to wander and explore, learn a few words of italian, at least enough to ask simple questions. Go to free summer concerts organised by the locals, go to the theatre, go into that interesting artisan studio, explore cute little ceramic stores, artist workshops and tiny wine bars, what you find inside will become wonderful memories.

Don’t limit yourself to visiting only in the summer, there are so many wonderful tastes and experiences even in autumn and winter, while spring in Italy is beautiful and generally much less crowded.

Italy’s biggest hidden jewel has to be the island of Sicily, not because I live here but for the rich historical landmarks left behind by the thirteen different foreign rulers of its past. From the Phoenicians to Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Muslims, French (Normans), Germans (Hohenstaufen/Swabain), Nordic Vikings , English (Angevin), Spanish (Aragonese/Borbons) and Austrians (Habsburgs).

Not only have these cultures left behind physical architectural landmarks from churches to temples, but also the traditions which give birth to colourful Festa and Sagre celebrations.

The nine provincial capitals of Sicily (Agrigento, Caltanissetta, Catania, Enna, Messina, Palermo, Ragusa, Syracuse and Trapani) each filled with many historical sites, museums and typical products to see and taste. Keep in mind every region and some times each town will have its own variations in wines, cheeses, breads, pasta dishes, sweets and abundant feasts.

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An Italian Festa celebrates a towns patron Saint and is filled with processions, parades and market days. A saint day celebration is more than simply religion it is a piece of living history. A city’s patron has been around as long as the town’s been established and the celebrations are the fruit of careful planning and dedication.

Even a small villages patron Saint’s statue is laden with elaborate decorations, taken through every street where it meets and greets the people like an old family friend. The town’s marching band will accompany it with a personalised soundtrack, those who physically carry the Saint will cry out praises of ‘Viva Saint so & so.’

There will be monetary donations given to the Saint’s confraternities and the days celebrations will be accompanied by market stalls, booming fire crackers and night-time pyrotechnics and the local school children will get a holiday. There are Saint day’s all through the year and each has its own unique tradition and flare.

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In Sicily the biggest celebrations are St Agata at Catania (February), St Rosalia at Palermo (July), St Lucia of Syracuse (November), St Giorgio at Ragusa (April) and the Madonna at Messina (August) which is also a national holiday throughout Italy.

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Apart from the religious based feste, Italy chooses to celebrate its cuisine in endless food festivals or Sagre during the year. Each town offers a taste of local specialities, over a few days visitors can dip their fingers into the rich culinary stew which gently boils over throughout Italy. For some small change you can taste everything from freshly harvested strawberries in the spring, to new wine at November, gelato in the summer and roasted pork in the winter.

There is always something to taste or experience in the rich tapestry which is Italy. To give you an idea of the sheer amount of Feste and Sagre here is a list of those which happen annually in Sicily every June. These events are advertised locally so be sure to keep an eye out for flyers and posters around the place.

June in sicily

Here are some more useful posts you might like to read since SI&O is all about discovering Sicily’s hidden gems.

A tasteful introduction to Sicilian food

Easter Celebrations in Sicily

Yuletide Sicily

Novembrando

How to explore Sicilian towns

Dividing Sicily into bitesize pieces

A Sicilian wish list for the Summertime

What to do in Sicily

To read all the other posts about Italian hidden gems for June 2018 click here.

Past #DolceVitaBlogger Link-Ups:
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #6 May 2018 – Five Italian Words
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #5 April 2018 – The Perfect Day in Italy
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #4 March 2018 – International Women’s Day
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #3 February 2018 – A Love Letter to Italy
#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #2 January 2018 – Favourite Italian City
​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #1 December 2017 – ‘The Italian Connection

This is Sinagra

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I often get asked about whereabouts I am in Sicily, I generally say I’m in the province of Messina as most small towns are rather insignificant, in the sense that they tend to be generic, small and therefore not many people know their exact location unless they are famous for some reason or another.

My tiny Sicilian village has been my quiet refuge over the years, a place where I can choose to disappear if I wish, my base to explore Sicily and the place where I choose to write. Sicily is conducive to reflection and creativity, the slower paced life here is perfect for writers and the island has created many well-known creatives. The only danger is you actually are tempted to forget the outside world, the island is quite isolated and if you become attuned to its rhythm the external world can easily not exist, in a metaphorical sense of course.

Here below are a selection of photo’s I’ve taken around Sinagra deep in Messina Province to illustrate how beautiful this part of the world can be.

Each town has a similar topography most Sicilian towns are made up of a town hall, a series of churches (for example the town of San Marco d’Alunzio has more than 100!), historical palaces, castles, the main square and a suggestive historical centre where all the older buildings are located.

Not to say each town will all be the same, but if you stick to these standard historical elements you will be sure to witness the best a town has to offer.

Together with local flare, cuisine, festa celebrations and sagre your trip to Sicily will be a rich experience.

Let me show you the town where I live.

This is Sinagra, Messina.

Parish Church

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Chiesa Madrice

 

Gangini Trittico

San Rocco

San Giovanni

 

Castles and Palaces

 

Castello

 

Palazzo Ioppolo

 

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Walking along the side streets

 

Small town Sicily

 

Sinagra from Castello

 

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The view

 

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Feste, sagre and market time

 

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Main square

 

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I am experimenting with video, so here is a bonus short portrait of Sinagra I recently finished. It’s a little shaky at times but I think it gives you a greater sense of the character of Sinagra. I hope to invest in better camera equipment and explore Sicily through a vlog sometime soon.

I’ve had many people encouraging me to post video’s about Sicily as relatives of Sicilian migrants love their heritage. So this is dedicated to all Sicilian’s around the world and Italophiles who can never forget this beloved island.

 

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Sicilian Impressions: Paese

My little Paese or Italian town is suffering through a dull time, thanks to the economic crisis.

The piazza seems empty and for now there is not much movement.

But when the sun comes out and the light of the people illuminates the gloom it is outstanding.

Here’s to shining through the darkness …

Lights for the festa in Paese

In a Sicilian town

A picturesque Sicilian village

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