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Back to Sicily

After a decade away, we finally made it back to Sicily this summer. This trip was supposed to happen many times, but something always came up, then Covid hit. we were considering waiting until Spring '23, so that the weather would be cooler, but the fear of some other obstacle presenting itself was too much to bear, so we booked for July this year. Our dad turns 80 next year, and we have been desperate for us all to go back together, a trip to his homeland with his beloved grandchildren. Our children have never been to Sicily, so we were eager for them to see the land of their heritage, and meet family members that that haven't met yet.
We decided on a 2 week trip. Our father would spend the first week staying with his sister in Palermo, Francesca flew into the capital with our dad, but would spend a week in the luxurious Rocco Forte Verdura Resort, and I would fly into Catania for a week on the other side of the Island in Taormina. We would all meet in Palermo for the final week and stay in a villa. 
Francesca has been to Taormina, but I hadn't so was really looking forward to being there...it didn't disappoint. Taormina is a mountain town with incredible views overlooking the Bay of Taormina and Mt Etna- Europes largest active volcano. We stayed at the Excelsior Palace Hotel. I knew this hotel wouldn't be luxury, travelling with two older children is expensive when staying in hotels, they are too big to go on sofa beds and need to have their own room- our holidays have doubled in price! The hotel was in an excellent position though, with the most stunning views and a fabulous pool area and gardens. The interior and rooms are in need of an upgrade, however it was a perfect base for us to explore Taormina.
soru in sicily the views in Taormina soru in taormina sicily
Views over the bay by the pool at the hotel

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 dissappointed 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?

soru in Taormina sicily soru in taormina sicily
Exploring the stunning town of Taormina

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. 

Soru at Bam bar in Taormina for the best granita soru eating gelato in Taormina sicily
                             Granita at Bam Bar        Ice cream at Pasticceria D'Amore        

 

There are traditional Sicilian ceramic shops everywhere that have the most beautiful pieces. Handmade in Sicily, it was hard to chose which pieces to take home and treasure forever, and you can have them shipped back home if you have brought too much to carry back! 

sicilian ceramics

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 Ice coffee that I have ever had. The sea was wavy 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.

soru in In sicily, ice coffee on mazzaro beach umbrellas on Lido la Pigna beach, soru in sicily
Ice coffee at Lido la Pigna, Mazzaro Bay
I defiantly wanted to visit Isola Bella but didn't want to be packed in like a sardine on the beach, so we went by boat. We hired a boat and skipper for half a day to explore the beautiful bays of Taormina. The views from sea are beautiful and you can stop off for snorkelling in the warm Ionian sea. We anchored up close to Isola Bella, swam to the beach and spent a good hour exploring the waters around the island with a snorkel- great for the kids. 
soru at isola bella Taormina soru at isola bella Taormina
Isola Bella, exploring Taormina by boat
We booked a lunch and dinner at two of the luxury hotels in Taormina- we wanted to experience what they had to offer. We had lunch at the stunning San Domenico Palace, an old convent perched on the mountainside (also the hotel where series 2 of The White Lotus is filmed). This hotel was next to ours and shared the same stunning views. Since converting to a hotel over 100 years ago, it's been host to royalty and movie stars. We also had dinner at the Grand Hotel Timeo, this hotel is right next to the Greek theatre (about 10 min walk from our hotel.) The piano was tinkering as the sun went down over Mt Etna while we had a delicious dinner, it was a magical place.
soru at the san Domenico palace Taormina for lunch soru at the san Domenico palace Taormina for lunch
Lunch at the San Domenico Palace
The food in Taormina was AMAZING. Stand out meals for me was the swordfish at Malvasia, the best I have ever had, the tiramisu at Trattoria Tiramisu and the Palermo Sardine pasta at Tischi Toschi
Over on the other side of the island Francesca enjoyed the simple laid back luxury of 
Palermo

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.

villa disia Mondello sicily

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. 

Mondello sicily

  

soru in mondello sicily

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.

seafood restaurants in mondello Sicily

  

mondello sicily

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. 

monreale cathedral sicily 

soru in monreale sicily

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.

Palermos cathedral in sicily

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.

 

soru at le angeliche Palermo Sicilia

 

soru in Palermo sicily

 

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 church of Santa Rosalia sicily Palermo

The Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia

the sanctuary of Santa Rosalia Palermo sicily

 

the sanctuary of Santa Rosalia Palermo sicily

 

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. 

 

 sferravavallo palermo Sicily, season beach 

sferravavallo sicily palermo

season beach at sferrecavalo Palermo sicily 

We had lunch at the most amazing seafood restaurant over the road from Season called Il Delfino. There is no menu, they just serve 12 courses of seafood for a set price, including wine and water. We had octopus salad, anchovies, oysters, swordfish, clams, prawns, tuna... lets just say it was a delicious feast and dinner wasn't needed that night! 
seafood at Il Delfino
12 courses of seafood at Il Delfino
To me Sicily is magical, a rough diamond, a place bursting at the seams with culture, history, tradition and beauty. Even if I went every year for the rest of my life I would not experience everything it has to offer, but I will certainly try. 

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