Saturday, April 27, 2013


Another holiday from our holiday, we have just returned from 12 days in Sicily.


Our first stop was the seaside town of Cefalu, a postcard pretty medieval town, yet just an hours drive east of Palermo. Our first day’s exploration took us to La Rocca di Cefalu (the Rock of Cefalu), at 268m (a short 1hour stroll uphill) this fortified rock dates back to the middle ages and makes for an impressive backdrop to the town below. Halfway up the rock were traces of a 4th or 5th century Temple of Diana. From the top the 360 degree views were magnificent, which is clearly why they decided to build a castle there, unfortunately today there were only remnants of the 13th century Norman citadel were visible.

Cefalu and ‘La Rocca’

View from ‘La Rocca’

Using Cefalu as our base, on days 2 and 3 we explored the surrounding inland countryside. Spring had definitely sprung in Sicily and the hills were a vivid green scattered with yellow and blue wildflowers. In Castelbuono we ate our first cannoli, and to be honest I was not in love. Too big and too sweet for my liking, although in fairness to the cannoli I was prepared to give them a second chance. Our day 3 excursion took us to Petralia Soprana, where we had our best meal of the trip. Da Salvatore, a Slow Food restaurant, is where we were introduced to the Sicilian antipasti – a minimum of 12 small dishes!! and all were tasty....

Washing away ……

….. the excess sweetness!

O Dio, thankfully we’d only ordered a pasta course after that, although we were then tempted by the homemade cassata al forno (baked ricotta cake). I won’t say this was our first Cassata as it was very different to the kitsch green overly decorated with candied fruit, ricotta cake that I was desperate to try.

Cefalu - Piazza Duomo

Being on the coast we had fresh seafood available, and right at our door! Literally below our apartment was a tiny fish shop where we stopped each morning to select what later became our evening meal at home. We’d been told the food in Sicily was amazing and were not disappointed.


Marino, with Mt. Etna in the rear!
On Day four we head across country to Sicily’s southwest corner, home to some of the finest Baroque architecture. We stopped for coffee along the way in the town of Enna which is roughly in the centre of the island and at 931m, towers over the surrounding countryside. We had the most amazing views right across to Mt Etna (it took us a while to realize that’s what it was), the sight of snow capped Mt Etna was then to follow us all the way across to Catania. Little did we know as I was taking photos from the car to post on Facebook, Etna was ready to erupt!!! Friday 12 April, was Etna's 10th eruption this year.

Our journey across the island also took us to Piazza Armerina, home of Villa Romana del Casale which contains the richest, largest and most complex collection of Roman mosaics in the world – how could we resist!! The villa dates back to the first quarter of the 4th century. Words fail to describe the mosaics; thankfully I’ve got a few photos.

The camera does not do these 4th century mosaics justice

The famous ‘bikini girls’ mosaic

This scene covered a 20m long corridor!

Marino mans the anniversary BBQ
Our villa in Noto was an old converted stable complete with wrought iron rings to tie up the animals. It sat high in the countryside between the coast and the tiny baroque town of Noto. Perfetto! From here we could explore the surrounding towns of Syracuse, Ragusa and enjoy the famous Nero D’Avola (local wine for those who didn’t know). The weather was perfect for the entire trip, 22C – 25C and clear blue skies, each day. 

Here in Noto we celebrated our 12 month anniversary in Italy with of course a BBQ, the perfect mix of all things Italian and Australian.

Our converted stable, roof top terrace visible above

After a day of rest from all that driving, we headed to the city of Syracuse on the east coast, which was once the largest city in the ancient world. We spent the morning wandering around the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis, an archaeological site which is home to a staggering number of Greek and Roman remains. The Greek theatre, which dates back to the 5th century BC once accommodated 15,000 spectators and is still used today for the annual Greek theatre festival. While there, workers were setting up for the next festival which unfortunately was not showing until after we’d gone, so we were unable to join in with the 14,998 others!!!

Marino awaits the next performance

We reserved the afternoon and lunch for the island of Ortygia, Syracuse’s historic centre where the architecture styles vary from Greek and Roman (remains only) to Medieval Norman and Baroque. The ‘pic’ of locations was the main Piazza del Duomo where we opted to lunch with views of the most beautiful Baroque cathedral. After lunch and a stroll for coffee and then gelato, we hit the street markets which sell a fantastic array of fruit, vegetable, fish and meat. The smells were amazing, smoky char grilled peppers, the best looking strawberries and tomatoes in every shape and size as you can imagine. Heaven! We made a few purchases and headed home for yet another feast.

The beautiful Piazza del Duomo in Syracuse

Not that we needed any more food! Sunday we decided to do the ‘Italian thing’ and head out for the long lunch. We picked an agriturismo  - working farms that offer accommodation and/or food - we’ve always enjoyed the meals at other agriturismo. Note to self – when reading restaurant reviews, take special note of the words ‘kid friendly’. Unfortunately this meal goes down as the worst in our 12 days. Way too much food! Quantity over quality and the noise of a billion kids!!! Not quite the relaxed country setting we had in mind. However I will add that the fresh ricotta which was served as part of our antipasti was delicious! There was also enough on our table for the whole restaurant (including the billion kids).

That’s a lot of Ricotta – but yummy!!

Back home in the stable, after a quick phone conversation with Marino’s brother, Ilario who reminded us we were in Inspector Montalbano territory, we spent our last day in Sicily’s south in the town of Ragusa, the home of the fictional Trattoria San Calogero (known locally as La Rusticana) so of course we stopped in for lunch. Simple and delicious, no sign of the famous inspector but this was our first real taste of the famous Cassata! Yummo!! I fell in love immediately and will now attempt to master the making of these special green treats!

Ragusa - Marino patiently waiting for the Inspector


Our last stop was Sicily's capital Palermo, but on the way there we took a slight detour to the town of Monreale. Monreale sits on the slopes of Monte Caputo overlooking Palermo, and like all Sicilian towns is famed for its orange, olive and almond trees. However it’s most important icon is the Cathedral Monreale  - one of the greatest examples of Norman architecture in the world. 

However, it’s the 6,500m2 of glass mosaics covering the interior which make this church so special. I think I could go so far as to say the mosaics are more impressive that those in the Basilica San Marco in Venice – now that’s saying something! I loved the mix of Catholic religious imagery combined with Islamic patterns, a common theme throughout Sicily.

Finally we arrive at our gorgeous apartment in Palermo which was conveniently placed on the main Piazza Giuseppe Verdi sitting right behind the famous Teatro Massimo, the third largest opera house in Europe. Happy to be free of our car rental, we enjoyed 2 days of roaming the streets of Palermo on foot, doing coffee, cannoli and cassata each morning; and then heading off to local markets to pick up something yummy for lunch and dinner.

Our last night we went off to the opera as it was right on our doorstep, for the final night of Verdi’s Aida.

The perfect complement and finale to our Sicilian adventure.

No comments:

Post a Comment