North Sicily: Definitely not Italy!
The Start of the Journey
We spent 9 days in Sicily, for 5 days we were in North-Sicily and for another 4 days we were in Southeast-Sicily. Being March, we wanted to travel a warmer place, which could be reached relatively easily by plane. We landed in Catania, where we rented a car. It was a nightmare. We wanted to reserve the car online from home, but somehow we missed it. At the airport there was a real rental car paradise, where –as we saw it- they asked astronomical prices for the cars, not to mention the deposit (it can be 1000 Euro, which must be paid with a credit card). After they made some offers we said goodbye to our imaginary small sun-yellow Fiat 500, and we accepted a cheaper car. That was our dingy sweet child, the Tata Indica. As the end of the trip revealed, it was a great choice. After 2 hours misery at the rental jungle we headed towards Palermo.
Lifestyle & People
As it is written in the title, Sicily, especially North-Sicily, is not Italy. My first impression was that I am somewhere in the Balkan region. I read that I should be careful with the traffic in Sicily, but Palermo surpassed it all. It was a chaos. At this time we realized that we were blessed with our already smashed car (off course we had car insurance, but you never know in Italy, mainly with rental cars…). I did not see any undamaged cars in Palermo, and I am not exaggerating. In the city, on the road, there are no lanes, there are no longitudinal or dashed lines, there is no right hand rule or any kind of traffic rules. If there are any pedestrian crossings or traffic signs, they are rarely taken into consideration. You can never know when a pedestrian or a scooter will appear in the middle of the road. On a one-way road we stopped at the red light and other cars started to honk.
Of course the people were very nice. One night we wanted to cook pasta and we bought the ingredients, except salt. Near to our accommodation there was a small bakery shop with few other things but they didn’t sell salt, so the seller brought us a cup of salt from the kitchen, needless to say that it was for free. Although it was early March (it wasn’t too warm), the front doors were open in the small streets, which were generally populated by locals, so we could see inside the rooms. The people as their lives are very open.
Our host showed us a few “Supermarket”, which were real Sicilian shops. They had their good and bad sides too. The good part was that the products were actually purchased by locals. The bad side was horrible, especially for our “European” standards. I am talking about basic things: the fridge did not work, it was smelly and it wasn’t too clean. We bought some things there, like ham and cheeses but they were not the finest, they were almost bad. Later we discovered a store of a European food chain, where we also got real Italian products, which were very tasty and much cheaper.
- First and foremost: Eat Cannoli! It is the greatest Sicilian goody with a ricotta based cream in a crispy fried pastry sprinkled with pistachios, chocolate or candied orange. But it matters where you buy it. We found a good place only in Palermo where the cannoli was freshly filled direct for you and it was not prepared in advance (Cannoli del gattopardo). This is important, because this way the cream remains fresh and soft, otherwise with time the cream dries, melt down etc.
- Palermo was built by the Arabians and Normans, which gives a really nice atmosphere for the city with his brick-yellow colored buildings, the many green plants and finally with the old pleated window. Unfortunately, you only can see this idyllic pictures on the main streets (on the Via), on most of the small streets the buildings are in terrible status.
- There are a lot of sightseeing opportunities:
- Fontana Pretoria aka. the “fountain of shame” because of the nude statues
- From the XII. century the San Cataldo with 3 red balls on top gives you a time traveling feeling, because of the mythical atmosphere of the building.
- Quatro Canti is actually on a crossroads, where there are 4 fountains arranged according to the cardinal points, which gives a great look for the street. In this corner we found a cozy bistro, the Bisso Bistrot aka. Libreria Dante. On the high walls there were tendrils and herbals painted, they seemed old, and they gave the atmosphere of the place. Also the food was very tasty there, we ate fresh homemade pasta, the tomato sauce was wonderful (like in all Sicily, either on pasta or pizza) and the saffron (base Sicilian spice) was well used. The white wine of the house was also great, unlike the red, which was too sour. In total it was a very-very good place, we were there twice, and it is not expensive.
- The Cathedral of Palermo is a beautiful, huge and strong work of art with its amazing details and with the palm trees. It is truly impressive. Our accommodation was next to it, so we could admire it every day.
- Other main sights: Catacombe dei Cappuccini (scary with the original baby mummies), Teatro Massimo, Palazzo dei Normanni, Botanical garden (unfortunately we arrived there too late so it was closed, but near to it, in the park the parrots of the botanical garden were flying above our heads, consequence inside the garden can be a lot of fun).
Cefalú & Bagheria
Our accommodation was in Palermo, from there we drove to Cefalú (68 km) and also to Scopello (77 km).
- Cefalú is known for its tradicionalism, therefore it is a touristic point, luckily out off season it is calm. The town is nice and well maintained, it is really energizing for the body and the spirit walking in the narrow streets.
- Here can be found the oldest normann catherdral in Sicily (the construction started in 1140), but we could only see it from outside.
- If you have time, I offer the La Rocca pike, where the fortress ruins and the view are breathtaking.
- Coming back from Cefalu we stopped in Bagheria, and we visited the famous Villa Palagonia aka. “The Villa of Monsters”. It was a great experience, I have never seen a building similar to this (inside and outside). Already the garden and its wall with the statues of monsters with human face and with the orange trees and the beautiful big flowers gave out an interesting and weird but pleasing combination. The inside is also unusual with an impressing marble central room, you can get lost in the sight, surprising murals, it is truly unique and spectacular.
Like a postcard dream:
Wonderful blue-green sea. We climbed a little rock, just by the sea, and the view from there was fantastic with the shining sun, and the foaming sea: my best memories from Sicily!
The little town itself was almost empty, because it was off season and almost everything was closed. We found a local place, where the old lady made for us some coffee (not the best, but we loved it) meanwhile her husband wattled baskets. Real Sicilian idyll.
- The smashed car is the good car! (At least if you don’t want to spend your holiday worrying)
- If you are traveling off season, get ready for the shorter opening times, and an less crowded places
- There are starters, first dishes, second dishes and desserts: Prepare your stomach!
- Eat many Sicilian/Italian food, drink wine (white wines from Marsala are divine) and local craft beer!