Meet Sicily the largest island in the Mediterranean and home to some of the most impressive historical landmarks in the world.
Ah, Sicily. That piece of land that nudges off the coast of Italy – which just so happens to be the largest island in the Mediterranean and home to some of the most impressive historical landmarks in the world. Not to mention its volcano, Mount Etna, its food, its people, the architecture, its joyful chaos and the scorching summer heat. Since you have already heard everything about how to experience pleasure the Italian way, let’s play.
What to Eat in Sicily
Because Italians take pride in their food (and rightfully so, might we add), we’ll start off with some of the famous Sicilian dishes you’re expected to try and bound to love. Start your days at the island with a pistachio granita, a brioche and a cappuccino (and listen, don’t you ever order a cappuccino after a meal unless you’re ready to launch yourself into a discussion – milk is not to be had after food). A granita is somewhat like an ice cream-turned sorbet. Best bit? It is lactose and gluten-free as well as suitable for vegans.
As the midday sun starts to hit, grab arancini from your local vendors – a rice ball filled with all sorts – although the traditional arancini are always stuffed with ragu. In Catania, expect them to look like edible versions of Mount Etna – the backdrop of all your Sicilian Instagram posts.
For lunch, we advise you to settle for some Pasta Alla Norma, which makes use of local tomatoes, aubergines, garlic, basil and ricotta Salata. Another ingredient you should always watch out for in Sicily is pistachios. This means you should probably skip the chocolate cannoli and opt for the pistachio ones next time you’re at the pastry shop.
Where to Drink
Although you may have your stomachs well-fed and your food cravings satisfied, you’re not really experiencing the true Italian delights unless you pair your food with a glass of wine. The grapes you should have under your radar are: Nero D’Avola, Nerello Mascalese, Frappato, Carricante and Grillo and the primary wine-producing areas are Marsala, Etna, Faro, Contea di Sclafani and Eloro. This being said, the true experience is booking a wine tasting at one of the many (many) vineyards you’ll spot. For those staying near Etna, Benanti is a fantastic option or Gambino with its wonderful views.
For those with a knack for DIY, there are several wineries which also offer wine-making experiences, which let you get your hands on the mixing and making of Italian wine. For example, you can make your own wine blend at Cantina Quattrocieli.
Besides all the scrumptious food Sicily has to offer, there is also a myriad of other Italianesque things to occupy your time. One of those things is to admire (and partake, perhaps?) in all the crafty pottery making. From eyeing the street artist in the windy Taormina streets, to possibly taking a one-on-one class to understand the craft and intricacies of the very obviously Sicilian patternmaking – if your creative flare does show, Sicily will help you embrace it.
Talking about art – you’ll notice a lot of ceramic heads pottering about (pun intended, of course). These are known as the “testa di Moro”, which translates to “moors head” and references a rather peculiar ancient legend. Set in Palermo, this legend dates back to the Arab occupation of Sicily, where a lady of outstanding beauty spent her days watering her plants in her balcony. One day, as a young man walked by, he felt captivated by this lady’s beauty and declared his love for her. Unfortunately, once the lady found out the man had a wife and children back home, she decapitated the man in his sleep. Yes, you did read that right. She then used the head to plant basil, which flourished alongside her colourful terrace and meant the man would be forever by her side.
If you are up for the brave task, arm yourself with your best Italian (the language, but a person would do the job even better) and head over to the Sunday morning Catania flea market – where you will find the greatest variety of goods you can possibly imagine. Do not expect a price tag, and do expect to pay plenty more if you cannot muster a sentence in Italian. Even if you do not buy anything, having a look around at the colourful chaos is an activity in itself, and should be experienced at least once in a lifetime.
As night falls you’ll likely want to stay outside – Italian nights are pleasant enough to not be stuck indoors. If you are lucky to visit in the summertime, do check out Taormina Arte, a series of outdoor concerts and performances that take place in the most ancient and best-preserved monument in Taormina. Likewise, make sure you check the calendar for any festivities near wherever you may have decided to stay – Italians love an excuse to celebrate, so you are bound to find something not too far from wherever it is you may be.
Where to Stay
Last, but not least, here’s where to stay. You truly are spoiled for choice when it comes to accommodation types, but it is also true that there are some seriously well-designed boutique hotels in Sicily. We’re talking about A.D 1768 with the vaulted ceilings, or Dimora Cala del Pozzo and the impeccable beige and white colour palette.
Despite all the culture, food, wine and deliciousness of southern Italy, one of the things that makes this place truly magical is its people – and you’ll likely come across an incredibly friendly bunch of them. Don’t let the language barriers fool you, there’s a whole load of conversations to be had with hand gestures, smiles, and a bunch of well-practiced “Grazie Mille”.