Visit Secret Sicily with Oriana

Secret Sicily

One of my favorite new blogs about this complex isle I live on is Secret Sicily written by a fab virtual friend of mine named Oriana. I love meeting new people through their blogs and I think good blogging is about bringing out your own personality, passions and interests.

It was great to have a talk to the gal behind this wonderful resource for anyone planning a trip or currently traveling the island.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your blog… Introduce yourself.

I’m originally from Palermo, but I’ve been living outside of Italy (in the UK and the Netherlands) for about seven years now. I’m a Digital Campaigner during the day, and a blogger at night, and I started writing Secret Sicily in 2015 to share what I know about the ‘real’ Sicily with the world.

How would you describe Sicily to someone who has never visited? Are the people welcoming to foreigners?

When you go to Sicily for the first time it just blows your mind. It’s a place full of history, natural wonders and amazing food. But it’s also a ‘marmite’ place; you can either love it or hate it (sometimes both). The great thing about it is that some parts of Sicily are still totally unspoilt by tourists. The downside of this is that some itineraries are pretty much hidden and finding information can be tricky, even for locals.

On your blog you mentioned how you ‘escaped from Sicily’ and how you ‘don’t miss Sicily’ and how you ‘think Sicily sucks on many levels.’ Can explain what you mean? It sounds like you are a little disillusioned, that’s all.

Have you ever spent hours in your car, stuck in a permanent traffic jam with people yelling at each other and honking like crazy because about ten cars triple-parked in front of a bakery shop – including a police car? Well, that sums it up.

Name five things I should see and do in Sicily?

1) Hike and swim at Zingaro Natural Reserve 2) Visit the Temple Valley (Agrigento) 3) Climb Mount Etna 4) Watch a Greek tragedy in the Greek theatre of Syracuse 5) Go to at least one of the hundreds ‘sagre’ and festivals across the island.

What should I taste in Sicily?

Anything edible that comes your way, as long as it’s local and not part of a tourist menu. An absolute must is Palermo’s street food. Keep an open mind and be adventurous – it’s totally worth it.

Street scene Messina

Tell us about how to spend perfect day in Sicily?

Start with a sweet breakfast at a local ‘bar’: iris con ricotta or brioche col gelato will do. Go spend a day hiking and swimming in a local natural reserve like Zingaro and bring an arancina or two with you for the perfect lunch. If you’re not into hiking, visit one of the amazing and not very well known beaches in Sicily, like Capo D’Orlando (3 hours from Palermo). Enjoy an ice-cream or a granita in the afternoon and get ready for aperitivo time (around 7pm). Watch the sunset somewhere nice, possibly by the beach. At night, go for a concert, a theatre performance or just a relaxing walk by the beach.

Do you ever suffer from homesickness for Sicily?

Of course I do. Despite all the bad things I say about Sicily, I do miss a lot of things. Going for aperitivo with my old friends, making arancine with mamma Franca, laughing at silly jokes that only Sicilian people can get. This is why I try and go back as much as possible.

What led you to the world of blogging?

I’ve always worked in the digital sector, in one capacity or another, and blogging has always been part of my daily job, as well as my nocturnal hobby. A few years back, I co-founded a blog called Clicktivist, where myself and a dear friend of mine talk about digital campaigning, and last year I started writing for Osocio, a website about non-profit advertising and marketing for social causes. Now the problem is keeping up with all my blogging duties!

How would you describe your blog, tell us more about it …

Secret Sicily is a blog for real travellers who want to see Sicily through the eyes of a local. It’s also a place for people who are generally interested in the Sicilian culture and enjoy a bit of irony here and there.

What kind of blogger are you, is it all about getting a zillion visitors/subscribers, selling your books or is it therapy?

My blog is my playground. It’s a way to have fun and get to know people who, like me, enjoy traveling, learning new things and telling stories. I love every single aspect of it, from searching stories and writing posts, to optimizing my website and improving my social media reach. Obviously, getting a zillion visitors is also part of the plan 😉

Books can take us places without leaving home, do you have a favourite travel book which you think best describes a particular place or the art of travel in a particular way for those who are unable to travel.

‘A fortune teller told me’, by Tiziano Terzani is one of my favourite books. It’s the story of an Italian journalist who, warned by a fortune-teller not to risk flying for a year, decided to travel around Asia by rail, road and sea. He consults fortune-tellers wherever he goes and learns to understand and respect other forms of beliefs. It’s a great read and it describes exactly what travelling is all about for me.

What would be your ultimate dream trip?

A cycling trip across South East Asia. Though I’m not sure my slipped disk would appreciate it.

What are the five things you would never leave home without …

Oyster card, phone, wallet, and home keys. These four things are usually scattered in a large bag also featuring: an e-book, the latest issue of Wired magazine, a sketchbook and a pen, glasses, packed lunch, gym gear and lots of tissues.

So what’s coming up on Secret Sicily that we can look forward to …

I’m currently working on my Etsy shop, where you can find crafty gifts for travel lovers, like my collection of handpainted travel journals. More designs and a new range of products will be available soon, so watch this space!

Have you discovered any other wonderful travel/expat blogs that we should be reading?

Some of my favourite blogs include Sicilian Godmother, An Englishman in Italy, Savoring Italy and Driving Like A Maniac. As an Italian living abroad I find it very interesting (and sometimes hilarious) to read about what foreign people think about living in Italy.

Santo Stefano Ceramics

Thanks ever so much to Oriana for taking the time to answer my questions and I look forward to discovering more about Sicily from such a dedicated local.

Be sure to follow Secret Sicily via: FacebookTwitterInstagram.

Oriana Secret Sicily

Oriana is a digital campaigner and a blogger. She is the brain behind secretsicily.org – a travel blog about all things Sicilian. She loves travelling, enjoying good food and doing her bit to change the world.

 

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How to peel a fico d’india

Sicilian Prickly Pears

The exotic prickly pear (fico d’india) is a delicacy in Sicily and thrives around the entire island. Known also as the Barbary fig (opuntia ficus-indica) it is a species of cactus cultivated throughout the world in arid and semiarid areas and is thought to be native to Mexico.

It is best to taste them after the first rains as the plant soaks up the water immediately which fattens the fruit beneath a tough prickly exterior.

But how do you get to the fruit? Good question.

Up to the prickly pears

First you climb up here.

Detail of those prickly pears

Then you pick one of those oval-shaped spiky balls with a special contraption which is a steel cup fastened to a broom handle. You put the fruit in the cup and snap them off at their base. And with some good gloves try your hand at peeling them.

Warning peeling these little beasts is not for the faint hearted if you get a splinter they hurt like hell and are real buggers to get out.

With your prickly pear fastened into the end of a fork the challenge awaits …

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On a flat surface with the fork firmly holding the fruit you cut almost all the way through on the ends.

Peeling Ficho d'india

Making a slit down the middle beside where you have the fork you can push the skin back with the knife and fork.

Fico nearly peeled

They are best served fresh so allow them to cool in the fridge.

Their taste? They are filled with hard little pips but the soft flesh is quite refreshing and sweet like a melon. There are many varieties the red ones are the most vibrant but there are also orange, green and so-called ‘white’ ones which are a golden colour.

Red fichi

I’ve seen fico d’india ice cream, sorbet and even liquor so the fruit seems quite versatile. The taste is pleasant but I’d really love if someone could take out the pips for me please! Sicilian’s don’t seem to be bothered by them swallowing them without a second thought.

Also don’t go eating too many of them as they have the sneaky habit of making people painfully constipated. My husband is always telling me about the time my father in law (bless his soul) ate ten fichi d’india and ended up in hospital. So go easy on those fichi!

Buon Appetito

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The toilet situation in Italy

***Warning this post contains images of Italian toilets, bad double entendre and Australian slang***

Cosi toilets in Italy post

I have never understood the reason behind the lack of public toilets in major Italian cities as you would think it is a common courtesy to keep lovely, clean toilets for tourists and visitors.

So what should anyone visiting do to find service rooms in an emergency? Well you can find toilets in shopping malls, at train stations, at ‘Autogrill’ stops on the Autostrada highways, occasionally you can sneak into a bar/café but you are generally obliged to buy something, if you are game you can pop into the town hall or into an office building where no one will say anything to you if you are quick and look as if you work there.

In more touristy areas you can find a clean toilet provided by the local tourist board, which you will have to pay for as there is someone there during office hours to clean it, but these are usually locked up after hours, weekends and public holidays so you are literally screwed if you need to use a toilet in these times!

Apparently it has not always been like this, my husband tells me in the bountiful 1980’s even every small town had clean public toilet service, but vandals and budget cuts put an end to this utopia.

Those few toilets you do find require a gas mask at the entrance, boy toilet paper and disinfectant hand wash it a must. I’m guessing most places have had the same frustrating problem with vandals as the toilets you do find around the place are filled with graffiti, usually proclamations of love and lust, everything from ‘Ti amo Angelina,’ to ‘per divertire chiama Tommy 333333999.’

Well I suppose if you have weak pelvic floor muscles, or you can’t simply tie a knot do as the Italians do and slip in between two parked cars, near trash dumpsters or some bushes and do as nature commands. You are not going to get arrested or fined as we are in Italy baby!

P.S: On researching this post (yes I did put some thought into this one), I came across a couple of useful posts about the toilet situation in Italy which will help you understand what you will come across. Here are some Italian Toilet Basics from Andi Brown at Once in a Lifetime travel and a how to flush tutorial by Alex Roe at Italy Chronicles.

 

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Italian festivals and theaters for opera lovers

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Image from Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/michalo/16159457245/sizes/l

Apart from the history, architecture and historical sights to see in Italy there are endless opportunities to experience the products of its thriving culture. So many people travel to Italy and simply tick off the main tourist sites off the bucket list. Colosseum, check, Ponte Vecchio, Check, Leaning tower of Pisa, Check,

Instead of being overwhelmed by the blur of a whirlwind tour of Italy why not visit some exceptional arts festivals and theaters which show off the best Italy has to offer?

To be honest this list of suggestions is very much biased towards the world of classical music but to be honest that’s what Italy does best (and also Sicily as Unwilling Expat is a Sicilian based blog.)

Visiting an Italian festival will give you the best of an Italian city, from a stunning setting, access to fine local products and above all performances which will stay in your heart forever.

 

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Photo Credit: gnuckx via Compfight cc

Taormina (Greek Theatre), Sicilia

 There are events throughout the year in Taormina, Sicily from art exhibitions, classical music concerts, opera, contemporary music and opera performances which are hosted either in the open air Greek amphitheater in the summer or the Cine Theatre San Giorgio in the centre of this mecca of tourism in Sicily.

This year the Taorminafest has been the victim of funding cuts which has resulted in the cancellation of some contemporary music concerts but the core events are held safe by locals and private sponsors.

Taormina is a tourist mecca and your visit will be enriched by the experience of an opera set in one of the most iconic open air theaters in the world.

Soundscape: composition and performance exchange, Lombardia

 A unique festival that combines elements of new music, composition, collaborations, workshops, master classes, composers in residence, students ,conferences and workshops to create a vibrant festival filled with creativity.

All in the setting of Maccagno on Lago Maggiore, south of the Swiss border in the Italian Alps, every summer since 2005.

Arena di Verona

 The Arena di Verona Opera Festival,is a focal point for opera lovers all over the world. From June to September every year the best opera singers from Italy and all over the world perform sumptuous productions by the best international artists and living legends like Franco Zafarelli, in the unforgettable ancient amphitheater of Verona.

The program usually includes many of Verdi’s most famous operas. In 2014 for example the opera going public enjoyed grand productions of Verdi’s Un ballo in Maschera, Aida, Bizet’s Carmen, Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette, Orff’s Carmine Burana, Puccini’s Turandot and Madama Butterfly.

Verona is a breathtaking experience and there are tickets available online for all budgets. Be sure to avoid scalpers as you can’t see the shows with fake tickets. And for those sitting on the stone steps be sure to take a blow up air cushion to sit on, to avoid having to rent one during the night, as opera’s are long affairs and you need to be comfortable.

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Classical Greek theatre at Syracuse, Sicily

 The International institute of Ancient Drama hosts a season of classics from ancient Greek theatre in the suggestive ruins of the natural amphitheater of Syracuse in Sicily.

The works are presented are from the classical Greek canon and are presented in the original languages or in Italian with traditional Greek masks and choruses and which attract the best actors in Italy.

A trip to the classical Greek theatre at Syracuse is like stepping back through time and the setting springtime sun is a true spectacle.

Be sure to pack a warm coat for the evening, a trusty comfy blow up cushion, sunscreen and a big bottle of water as the early spring (May-July) at Syracuse can be harsh.

Spoleto Festival, Umbria

The Spoleto Festival (festival di due mondi) is a mega arts gathering which happens every year around June/July in Umbria northern Italy. It has an amazing range of events from dance, theatre, classical and light music, jazz, visual arts, international and Italian performing arts groups and a literature festival. Spoleto Festival hosts the best of the Italian and European arts industry in a cavalcade of every possible type of creative expression.

Torre del Lago, Toscana

The Puccini Festival at Torre del Lago in Tuscany in the province of Lucca is the birth place of composer Giacomo Puccini and the inspiration behind this event.

Every July and August in the places in which Puccini grew up in, lived and spent his vacations, hosts a series of opera productions.

The operas are staged in an amazing open aired 3,400 seat theatre along the lake in front of the summer house of the composer which has now been turned into a museum.

Puccini composed his most famous operas at Torre del Lago including Tosca (1900), Madama Butterfly (1904), La Fanciulla del West (1910), La Rondine (1917) and Il Trittico (1918).

Every year the performance program celebrates the best known works of the Italian opera composer and is dedicated to creating new productions of his work.

Verdi Festival, Emilia Romagna

 The Verdi Festival is another one for lover’s of Italian opera, dedicated to possibly the greatest and most prolific Italian composer of all time. The festival is hosted in the medieval city of Parma in the heart of Emilia Romagna.

Inspired by the music and art of Giuseppe Verdi the event includes full productions of his works as well as concert performances, chamber music, special talks, masterclasses, concert performances dedicated to Verdi’s arias and the inspiration behind him.

The Festival occurs in early Autumn (October) which gives the city of Parma a chance to show off its Autumnal colours amongst the creations of Verdi’s immortal genius.

Jazz Festival in Umbria

Umbria Jazz is a must for lovers of contemporary Jazz music.

Hosted by the University city of Perugia in Umbria it is one of the longest running festivals in Italy and attracts musicians from all around the world. The program is easily downloaded every year and there are many free concerts held in the beautiful historical centre of this beautiful City in early July every year.

The Berkley college of music also hosts a summer school as part of the Umbria Jazz Clinic. The festival combines fine music, food and wine to create a carnival like atmosphere.

Local restaurants, performance venues and theaters host intimate concerts with artists from Italy and around the world.

There is a vibrant series of outdoor concerts from R&B, jazz piano, big bands and singers.

In recent years Umbria Jazz has begun to host events in the winter too, so the music continues throughout the year.

Teatro Massimo, Sicily

 Teatro Massimo, Palermo is known as the ‘la Scala’ of the South and is the premier historical theatre of Sicily.

A visit to Palermo is never complete without a tour of the architectural splendor of this building. The performance season begins in early February and includes a mouthwatering array of orchestral concerts, operas and ballet.

While the opera performances includes a wide variety from the classical opera canon, Teatro Massimo also hosts new interpretations and works from contemporary composers, ballet, new theatrical works, concerts, workshops and chamber music.

Teatro Massimo Bellini, Sicily

 Teatro Massimo Bellini, Catania was opened in Catania on the 31st of May 1890. The event was celebrated by a debut performance of Bellini’s Norma, a masterpiece from the great Catania composer who gives the theatre its name.

This splendid baroque theatre is a true work of art, visiting it on a day tour is wonderful, while seeing it during a performance is unforgettable.

The opera season is usually reserved for the autumn/winter months but there are generally ballet and classical music concerts throughout the year.

There is a particular dedication to Bellini opera for obvious reasons, located in the centre of Catania it reserves a special place at the heart of the Sicilian capital.

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La Scala, Milano

 La Scala, Milan is the most famous Italian theatre in the world.

Destroyed during world war two it was lovingly rebuilt and has never been out of action since. It hosts the creme della creme of Italian and international opera, ballet, classical music and even works dedicated to children.

The opera season begins in February and usually closes for the summer, to reopen towards the end of the year. The performance season is filled with lavish productions of the world’s most famou operas featuring the best talent from all around the world. La scala offers special priced tickets for under 30’s, children and evening performances with half price tickets.

If you find yourself in Milan during the summer without a live performance to see be sure to tour the theater and the most extensive museum dedicated to the world of classical music. Often during the summer La Scala hosts a season of cinema dedicated to legendary performances which are projected inside the theater itself, even if it isn’t the live thing at least you can say you’ve seen opera at La Scala!

San Carlo Theater, Naples

San Carlo, Naples The San Carlo opera house is one of the busiest in Europe and produces endless new opera productions which are often toured through Italy and the continent.

Together with a varied symphonic program and ballet performances it is simply irresistible for anyone who loves theater. For lovers of ballet the San Carlo school of dance has a rich succession of new interpretations. The opera season usually runs throughout the year.

  La Fenice, Venice

The final and by no means the least significant is Venice’s La Fenice which was tragically burnt down in a fire and has been painstakingly rebuilt to its former glory.

Even if you don’t get a moment or manage to find tickets to a performance as they can be hard to get, a tour through this baroque masterpiece will no doubt form a part of your fondest memories of Italy.

It is easy to make a booking for a tour through of La Fenice’s Baroque, gilded beauty.

The Theatre is generally open for tours every day from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm, though variations in the schedule may occur for artistic or technical reasons.

For an added cost you can choose to take the deluxe version of the tour with a personal guide which takes you through the entire theatre and its spaces from the Foyer, behind the scenes in the theatre, the Royal Box and the magnificent Sale Apollinee.

Happy travelling and enjoy creating the memories.

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Postcards from Sicily: ancient crafts

Ancient arts from Sicily
Ancient arts from Sicily

 

I’m a bit of a postcard addict, always on the lookout for original or vintage images from wherever I am visiting.

I recently found this great series of cards depicting ancient arts from Sicily. Work that is no longer needed or has simply disappeared as the world has become ‘modern’.

It saddens me to think so many once thriving artisans have lost their craft through the ages.

A poignant thought.

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A Sicilian wish list for the summertime

 

Church of San Giuseppe Corso Umberto, Taormina
Church of St Catherine Piazza XI Aprile, Taormina

 Daphne’s house: Giardini Naxos, Castelmola and Taormina

Taormina is a beautiful town to explore but it is terribly touristy and there are many other things to see in the vicinity.

Be sure to visit Casa Cuseni an historic house which became like a real character in one of the best books around about Sicily by the late great Daphne Phelps titled A House in Sicily. The book is a wonderful love letter to this Sicilian villa which became Daphne’s home after she inherited the grand old house built and designed by her talented Uncle, painter Robert Hawthorn Kitson from 1905 to 1907. It has been converted into a luxury bed and breakfast and museum.

Be sure to see a show at the Ancient Greek amphitheater at Taormina as it is one of the most famous postcard views of Etna and it will be an unforgettable memory to see an open air summer show of contemporary music or opera depending what may be on offer. Take the chance to do this now as the Taormina festival is suffering some major cuts in funding.

Be sure to explore the nearby towns who are just as beautiful as Taormina and with a lot less tourists Castelmola is above Taormina with positively vertiginous views. While Giardini Naxos below on the coast near Taormina, easily reached by cable car with some great beaches and cute little ‘Trattorie’ restaurants who offer great seafood at more reasonable prices than the tourist traps at Taormina!

 

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Three Sicilian Cathedrals: Monreale, Palermo,Cefalu

If you love churches in the grand Norman style I suggest you do a mini tour of three of the most amazing cathedrals you will ever see.

The Cathedral of Monreale, outside of Palermo has the most spectacular mosaics including a giant depiction of Jesus Christ which covers one Dome of the grandiose church, filled with precious stones and gold. 

The Palermo Cathedral is a mixture of Norman,Gothic,Baroque and Neoclassical styles with extensive mosaic decorations and art treasures.

The Cathedral- Basilica of Cefalu’, dates from 1131 and was originally built-in the Norman style. The building was erected by Roger the second the King of Sicily after he escaped from a storm sheltering on the Cefalu beach. The fortress-like character of the building, which, seen from a distance, rises above the medieval town and is a powerful statement of the Norman presence in Sicily.

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 Piazza Armerina

Along the theme of mosaics is the Villa Romana del Casale near Piazza Armerina which is an ancient Roman villa so well preserved you can walk through the different rooms and marvel at the beautiful mosaic decorated floors. It has recently been restored and as of 2006 there are new archeological excavations underway.

Visiting Piazza Armerina will give you an opportunity to explore the belly button of Sicily which has its own unique character, be sure to take a drive around the ancient towns like Enna, Piazza Armerina,Nicosia and Mistretta which will give you a sense of the timeless quality of Sicily.

Ceramic factory, Santo Stefano di Camastra
Ceramic factory, Santo Stefano di Camastra

 Santo Stefano di Camastra

The most spectacular souvenir to take home from Sicily are the ceramics. There are many tourist traps around the island who claim to sell authentic pieces but you really cannot go wrong visiting the ceramic factories at Santo Stefano di Camastra.

Stores in the town vary in price and style but if you stick to the big warehouses on the other side of the town away from the autostrada exit you will be buying directly from the producers, with wholesale prices and international shipping!

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 Nelson’s Castle, Bronte

Castello di Maniace (or Castello Nelson) is in the fertile countryside between Randazzo and Bronte.

 An historical English property which was given to Admiral Lord Nelson as a gift after he rescued the Bourbon king of the two Sicilies, after Nelson helped him to escape certain death during a revolution in Naples in 1796. 

I have blogged here about this places history before but to be honest and I am yet to make it out to see its beautiful grounds and museum, but can’t wait to get there this summer!

Etna cable car
Etna cable car

 Etna

All tourists who visit the island must go to Mount Etna! 

There are many ways of experiencing the volcano and the national park that surrounds it, from taking a tour bus from Catania to see the more touristy spots closer to its peak or take one of many walking tours. 

You can go up via cable car, riding on four-wheel drive buses or on Sicilian donkeys. For the less adventurous types there are many places to explore away from the main peak like old extinguished craters and shopping at higher altitudes for retail therapy.

If you are staying at Catania a wonderful day trip would be to catch the Circumetnea railway which takes you from Catania around the base of Etna all the way to near the coast at Giarre or if you are staying at Taormina you can catch a bus and see the landscape in the opposite direction towards Catania. It is a wonderful way of seeing Etna (here is some great information on TripAdvisor.)

Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, Randazzo
Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, Randazzo

 Randazzo

I’ve always loved Randazzo at the foot of Mount Etna, it is a beautiful town made of suggestive lava stone, filled with historic buildings, castles and museums.

On Sundays there is a hug market which I love to visit with a bit of everything from local cuisine, antiques, to fashion.

My favorite gem at Randazzo is the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta. It’s exterior is a contrast between intricate white lace and charcoal lava stone while inside is filled with art and the most outstanding stained glass windows.

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 Aeolian Islands

The Aeolian Islands are a popular way of passing the summer at the beach. There are seven islands along the Tyrrhenian coast in the province in Messina, all of volcanic origin including: Alicudi, Filicudi, Panarea, Stromboli, Salina, Lipari and Volcano.

Lipari and Volcano are the most popular and biggest islands with great beaches and spas to explore even if food and drink can get costly as everything is imported from the mainland. 

The smaller islands are less touristy and just as spectacular. There are many mini cruises available to explore them even if it can get uncomfortable in the summer humidity, it is defiantly worth the trouble.

 

Interior stainglass windows at the Tindari church, Messina.
Interior stainglass windows at the Tindari church, Messina.

 Tindari

Ancient Tyndaris became a Greek colony in three hundred and ninety-six B.C but had been settled during the Bronze age in about fifteen hundred B.C. Its strategic location looks out on to the Bay of Patti along the northern coast stretching up to Cape Milazzo which made it a perfect post to maintain control of the waters between the Eolian Islands and Messina.

The Basilica of the Madonna of Tindari is modern, work on it began in nineteen fifty-seven after the old church was unable to cope with the influx of pilgrims to the site. The main attraction is the miraculous statue of the Black Madonna. The sculpture itself is quite modest yet history has given it a mysterious past and has bestowed upon it many colourful legends.

According to the tradition it was brought to Tindari by a cargo that ship was returning from the east filled with precious merchandise and treasures. The statuette had been salvaged from the Iconoclastic wars which saw the destruction of many religious icons.  As the ship sailed through the Tyrrhenian sea its journey was interrupted by a powerful storm, which forced the ship to stop in the Marinello bay near Tindari.

It is said the statue chose it’s own home, the ship remained trapped in the bay and became free only after the sculpture was unloaded.

The statue has a magnetic quality to it. The whole church draws you towards the sculpture and it is the main focus for pilgrims. For me it is its ancient quality that creates an undeniable mystique and well worth the trip to this somewhat isolated spot along the coast from Messina.

During the summer the road up to Tindari is closed but there is a bus every ten minutes or so and there are loads of souvenir shops all the way up. If you want to buy religious items like rosary beads the first shop directly next to the church is run by the religious community and profits go directly to the church.

The statue of the Madonna at the port of Messina. She greets everyone.
The statue of the Madonna at the port of Messina. She greets everyone.

 Messina

Messina is a lovely place to visit, in the summer it is not as chaotic and confusing as other Sicilian metropolises and there is always something to see and do. There are many museums and art galleries to visit and it is easy to stroll around the historical centre and discover many churches and beautiful palaces. I recommend climbing the bell tower near the Duomo, visiting the permanent exhibition downstairs in the Duomo which features wonderful historical artworks and treasures associated with the church and the celebration dedicated to the Virgin Mary which has a particular strong attachment with the city.

Messina is friendly for pedestrians and there is a tram service through the main part of town. Piazza Cairoli is an oasis in the confusion of peak hour traffic and is also the best place to rest and do some high-class shopping, the boutiques begin in the  square and continue either side of the tramline. Don’t forget to visit the Teatro Vittorio Emanuele which is practically next door to the town hall for a surprising glance at an original fresco by Sicilian artist Renato Guttuso depicting the myth of Cola Pese on the theater’s inner dome.

The best bookstore in town is Libreria Ciofalo on the other side of the Town Hall (municipio) and has a tempting array of Sicilian travel, history and literature.

It’s also easy to catch a ferry over to Calabria to explore Reggio Calabria and the main continent of Italy. Catching the ferry back over to Messina during the night is a magical experience.

Detail of Palazzo Nicolaci, Noto Syracuse
Detail of Palazzo Nicolaci, Noto Syracuse

Val di Noto

A wonderful way to while away your time in Sicily is to simply get out on the road. Why not hire a car and explore southeastern Sicily visiting the eight baroque cities which make up the Noto Valley. Create your own itinerary through Caltagirone, Militello Val di Catania,Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo, Ragusa and Scicli who are all UNESCO world heritage sites.

I’m a huge fan of the do it your self road trip and this area is easily enough navigated by car and there are endless resources online for suggestions on what to see. I suggest to do your research and try to book local bed and breakfast for memorable experiences as b&b owners will give you the best advice on what to see and where to eat. I have recently discovered Airbnb a great site with links to locals from all over the world who rent out rooms, houses and apartments to visitors which is a wonderful resources for travelers.

Another great idea for those who love theatre is to check out the summer program at the Syracuse ancient greek theatre, every year they offer a wonderful array of ancient greek classics, this year for example there is a lavish production of Verdi’s Aida.

 

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 Agrigento

Yet another UNESCO heritage site in Sicily is The Valle dei Templi or Valley of the Temples it is an archaeological site in Agrigento in southern Italy and contains outstanding examples of ancient Greece art.

The archaeological park and landscape of the Valley of the Temples is the largest archaeological site in the world with some 1,300 hectares.

The Valley includes remains of seven temples all in Doric style including: the Temples of Juno, Concordia, Heracles, Accra’s, Zeus, Castor and Pollux, Vulcan, and Asclepius.

The best way to experience The Valley of Temples is to buy yourself some local delicacies like cheeses, bread, olives, fruit and vegetables and a nice bottle of red wine and enjoy a rustic picnic beneath these wonderful ruins of the ancient world.

 

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 Trapani

The western coast of Sicily is filled with wonderful seaside towns to explore from Trapani with it’s windmills and salt producing artificial lakes, to Marsala where the dark sweet wine of the same name originated, up to the mountain top castle like fortress town of Erice. From the hills you can glimpse the Egadi Islands, Tunisia and Africa.

 This part of Sicily is an agricultural region filled with grape vines, olive trees, wheat and cotton fields which dominate the countryside and the coast provides salt, tuna and mackerel for consumers all around the world. 

Summertime is the perfect time of year to explore this part of Sicily, enjoying the sea air and sipping mildly chilled Marsala.

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I recently did a guest post for The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife about my last summer vacation in Sicily if you want more ideas!

First day at the beach

 

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The view from Testa di Monaco near Capo d’orlando, Messina
© Rochelle Del Borrello 2013

 

Summer has finally arrived here in Sicily, even if it’s been a chilly summer so far with overcast mornings and rainstorms. We’ve only just been able to put away our long sleeves but they are still within our reach as we are frightened to get a chill.

 

I’m defiantly a lover of the summer and I particularly enjoy the Sicilian beaches. I’m so lucky to live nearby the coast away from the over crowded major cities that my local beach is hidden from all the confusion and at times it feels like it is my own personal seaside.

 

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Testa di Monaco, Capo d’orlando, ME.
© Rochelle Del Borrello 2013

 

My son Matthias looks like he is a beach lover too and so I’m beaming at the prospect of spending the summer on out little patch of private beach side.

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Up close and personal with the rocky beach. Ponte di Naso, ME
© Rochelle Del Borrello 2013

 

Sure it’s a little isolated, there aren’t any shops or toilets and there are rocks instead of sand. The calm, clear, refreshing and literally azure coloured sea makes up for all deficiencies. 

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Ponte di Naso, ME
© Rochelle Del Borrello 2013

 

So here’s to a summer filled with rocks in our speedo’s and calm seas ahead.

 

Unwilling Expat

Secluded Sicily: Patti

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Patti, ME © Rochelle Del Borrello 2013

The coastal city of Patti isn’t exactly a typical sleepy little Sicilian town, in the summer it is a buzzing tourist centre and is secured of its importance thanks to the many government offices and organizations that are located there. Patti’s vicinity to other big cities makes it a significant point in the map of north western Sicily.

Patti is symbolic of secluded Sicily in it’s ancientness. I keep coming back to this place thanks to a wonderful literary reference that has given Patti a special place in my heart.

Apart from being the location of a major hospital, law courts, the treasury and land tax office, two major high schools, a university campus and the forestry department amongst others things Patti is also an arch diocese in the Roman Catholic Church.

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Saint Bartholomew Patti, ME © Rochelle Del Borrello

It is this religious element that makes Patti so important. You see, the Basilica of Patti has been around for centuries. The Basilica of Saint Bartholomew is the burial place of Sicilian royalty and nobility dating from the middle ages.

While reading Goethe’s Italian Journey I was left aghast to discover he passed through Patti in the 1786 and was a welcomed guest at the famous monastery.

It surprised me that such an unassuming place could have so much undisclosed history behind it. All it took was a little background reading to discover such an important connection to possibly the most famous travel log of all time.

Patti reminds me never to underestimate any place in Sicily. No matter how dull it may seem, it is always worth taking that exit off the Autostrada to visit Patti and her hidden Mausoleums.

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