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palermo

Stepping into Culture in Sicily

 Steve McKenna head shot
by Steve McKenna

February 19, 2020

3 minute read

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean - and surely the most enthralling to travel round. The island’s gorgeous coastline, dramatic mountainous interior, absorbing culture and eye-catching landmarks are sure to live long in the memory.

 PALERMO

The rejuvenated Sicilian capital is your base for the first four nights and you’ll have ample free time to admire the city’s colorful street markets, shop-lined thoroughfares, opulent churches and huge Arab-Norman cathedral. Tours with local guides will also help you get under Palermo’s skin and there’ll be a private visit of Palazzo Conte Federico, one of the majestic Spanish-style palaces that sprinkle the city’s medieval core. We’re led around this eclectically-furnished family home by charming Countess Alwine, who lives here with husband Count Federico, a descendant of the former King of Sicily and Holy Roman Emperor.

CORLEONE

Day trips from Palermo are another feature of our Sicily travel tour and one of the most captivating places is Corleone, a hilltop village that was once a Mafia stronghold and also the origin of the fictional Corleone family from The Godfather movies. At Corleone’s Anti-Mafia Museum, we learn about the Mafia’s early roots, the impact of organised crime on everyday life in Sicily and the fightback against it by judges and ordinary citizens. Later in our tour, we’re also given the option of visiting Savoca, a beautiful hilltop town where scenes from Francis Ford Coppola’s first Godfather film were shot.

RURAL FLAVOURS

After a lovely morning in the idyllic seaside town of Cefalu, we delve inland again to spend the afternoon at an agriturismo (farm-retreat) run by Cinzia, a genial mother-of-two. After welcoming us with a selection of antipasti, including caponata - a traditional Sicilian dish comprising eggplant, olives and capers - we’re shown how to make two other popular Sicilian staples: ricotta (a whey cheese) and arancini (breadcrumbed rice balls). We sample the tasty end results during a wine-fuelled lunch crammed with more Sicilian favourites, including cannoli (fried pastry sticks filled with sweetened ricotta), and Cinzia regales us with fascinating stories of life and love in rural Sicily.

taormina

TAORMINA

For the last four nights of our tour, we stay at Hotel Villa Diodoro, a clifftop hotel in the stunningly-located town of Taormina. The views from the hotel balconies are incredible, with the Ionian Sea sparkling below and Mount Etna, Sicily’s highest mountain, looming in the distance. You can sign up for an optional tour that takes you onto Etna’s slopes, with a lunch stop at one of the wineries that thrives in the mineral-rich volcanic soils. Wandering Taormina’s picturesque streets, you’ll see why the town has long attracted the rich and famous (everyone from Oscar Wilde and DH Lawrence to Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren have stayed here). We also enjoy a tour at Taormina’s restored 2300-year-old Greek Theatre, where many top musicians and actors have performed open-show shows and concerts.

CLASSICAL BEAUTIES

The ancient Greeks, who settled parts of Sicily as early as 735BC, left behind a string of cities that now lay in evocative ruins. Perched on a hill-side close to Agrigento, the Valley of the Temples is a stand-out - a UNESCO World Heritage site studded with sandstone relics devoted to Greek gods like Hera, Hercules and Concordia. Also on our Southern Italy vacation, we take in the Greek and Roman archaeological treasures of Siracusa, one of Sicily’s most attractive cities and another perfect UNESCO-rated backdrop for holiday snaps.

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