There is so much to see I am glad we were there for a whole week. We started by exploring the town, full of incredible architecture, stopping off or arancini and gelato of course. It is BOILING in Sicily in the summer, so it's best to go out early, sit by the pool/beach (or an air conditioned room) during the early afternoon hours, then go out again in the evening. This is why the Sicilians have a siesta, everything closes down in the afternoons. Taormina is best to explore early morning, it is quiet and the streets are shaded and breezy. We visited the famous Greek Theatre of Taormina, which really is as breathtaking as the images. They hold shows there in the evening and I was disappointed that I hadn't booked anything- to be able to sit in an ancient open air theatre, with a view of the sea and Mt Etna rising in the distance, while watching an opera under the moonlight- well, what could be better than that?
One of our favourite spots for refreshment was Bam Bar, a popular spot to get that all important IG shot (or reel these days) due to its traditional decor and paintings, the granita is also said to be the best in town by the locals, and I would agree! There is sometimes a small queue, but this goes down quickly so don't let it put you off. They serve their granita (crushed ice and fruit, a bit like sorbet but thicker) with whipped cream on top, which isn't typical, but its absolutely delicious. We had strawberry and cream with a brioche bun and it was divine. Another amazing place to go for dessert is Pasticceria D'Amore, I would visit Taormina for the dessert shops alone, they are the best.
Some of the treasures I brought back home
We spent a few days on the beach, we went to Mazzaro Bay, rented a sun bed at Lido la Pigna and had a delicious lunch there, and the best Iced coffee that I have ever had. The sea was full of waves so the kids were kept occupied while I watched the world around me. The beaches in Sicily are busy, Sicilians love to go to the beach, It's great to soak it all in. We also spent a beach day at Lido La Caravella located on the next bay up from Mazzaro Bay, and two bays up from the extremely busy Isola Bella. I loved it here, really chilled and quieter than Mazzaro bay, with a great restaurant.
We drove over to Sicily's capital, Palermo, to meet up with family. It took around 3 hours from Taormina and the scenery was beautiful, we stopped off in Cefalu for lunch- a charming seaside town well worth a visit. We hired a villa a short car ride away from the beach in Mondello. We stayed at Villa Disia and it was was great, it had everything we needed and the pool and gardens were fabulous.
In the gardens at Villa Disia
Mondello is a place that holds happy childhood memories for us. We spent many days and evenings there as children, and as teenager's mesmerised by the beautiful girls around us with their long hair and tanned skin, buzzing around on their vespas. Mondello is very busy in the summer, the best time to visit would be spring, but I love the buzzy vibe. The sea is crystal clear and the sand is soft, the seafood restaurants are great and the view of Monte Pellegrino over the sea is beautiful.
Monte Pellergrino looking over Mondello, Fishermans boats in Mondello
As children all the family we used to eat at Nonnas house, then we would go for La Passeggiata to Mondello. This is a tradition in Sicily, after your evening meal you go for a slow walk, maybe have a gelato, children would play in the square, grown us would catch up on the days gossip.
Restaurante Al Gabbiano in Mondello
Monreale is also a good place for passeggiata, and the gelato there is the best. Palermo is a city surrounded by mountains, Monreale is one of the mountain towns in Palermo. It's home to one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world, a source of inspiration for many (including Dolce and Gabbana, who based a whole collection on it). Monreale Cathedral is a marvel, covered in intricate gold mosaic, it was built in competition to the grand cathedral in Palermo centre, in a feud between Willian II and the archbishop.
The competition must have been tough, because the cathedral in Palermo city centre is also magnificent. A huge building, built in different styles to reflect Sicilys rich history, is a world Unesco site and not to be missed when in Palermo.
Wondering around the city of Palermo is a feast for the senses, there is a gem around every corner. The markets are incredible, especially the antique market which has the most amazing pieces. The city is full of small parks housing ancient trees and even Roman ruins, there are dilapidated palaces and a plethora of monuments from the Roman, Arab and Norman conquests. The famous Quattro Canti (four corners) representing the 4 seasons marks the centre point of the city, a short walk from here is the Teatro Massimo, where a famous cinematic scene from The Godfather III was filmed. We found a great little restaurant to in the Arabic quarter of Palermo that serves only Sicilian produce called Le Angeliche, with a gorgeous fairy lit courtyard and Sicilian vibe we really enjoyed our meal here after exploring the streets of Palermo.
Dinner at Le Angeliche after exploring the city
Santa Rosalia is the patron saint of Palermo, around the city you can see shrines dedicated to her. She was a noble woman who shedded all of her luxuries to go and live in a cave on Monte Pellegrino (the mountain that you can see from Mondello) and dedicate her life to her religion. She is said to have died in the cave and centuries later, while a deadly plague was ravaging Palermo, she appeared in a dream to the people of the city and told them to retrieve her bones from the cave and carry them around the city, they did this and the plague subsided. Each year there is a procession around the city to mark this occasion, it's a huge celebration in Palermo. The Sanctuary of Rosalia is a church built around the cave where Rosalia is said to have died, situated halfway up Monte Pellegrino. Pilgrim's used to journey up the mountain to prey for sick loved ones, many would crawl up on their knees. Today there is a road and steps that take you directly there (thank goodness). This is a place we used to visit as children each time we were in Sicily, I named my daughter Rosalia as I have always loved the name. To visit this special place with her meant so much to me. The church is small and you can see the exposed cave walls, there is a shining gold statue of Santa Rosalia in a glass casket surrounded by offerings. Outside there are market sellers selling rosary beads, souvenirs, pottery and refreshments- I would recommend the fresh pomegranate juice!
The Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia
The are plenty or rocky and sandy beaches to visit around Palermo. We went to a place called Season Beach in Sferracavallo, a charming seaside town with beautiful mountain views. Walking into this beach club was like stepping into a slim Arron photograph, right down to the clientele wondering around -Sicilian ladies in their retro floral appliquéd swimming caps. It's a rocky beach with steps off a concrete pier going into the ocean, which was clear and crisp.