Experience Sicily’s Classic Island Charms
The Straits of Messina have kept Sicily blissfully isolated for eons. Ever since Homer’s Odyssey endowed these waters with the twin sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis, the Sicilians have counted on this treacherous passage to give them a little bit of breathing space from the rest of Italy. Leave it to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to mess things up; in between sex scandals he’s been working overtime to promote his pet construction project, a colossal bridge across the straits that will connect the Sicilian port of Messina with the tip of Italy’s boot. Once completed, the 3.3km behemoth – with towers taller than the Empire State Building – will usher in a flood of new visitors.
If you want to experience Sicily’s classic island charms before the whole place becomes a giant Ferrari and Alfa Romeo traffic jam, visit in 2012. For now, Sicily’s end of the world allure is still intact, and prices remain way lower than you’ll find in Rome, Florence or Milan. Sunny weather, fruit laden orchards and dozens of offshore islands give it an exotic southern Mediterranean vibe, while a treasure trove of temples, mosaics and ancient ruins ensure you won’t feel starved for culture.
Give yourself a couple of weeks to fully appreciate Sicily’s eclectic appeal. Climb to the summit of Stromboli to watch volcanic fireworks lighting up the night sky; tour the jaw dropping triumvirate of Greek ruins at Agrigento, Segesta and Selinunte; sunbathe on beaches lapped by turquoise waters along all three coasts (lonian, Tyrrhenian and Mediterranean); visit the anti Mafia museum in Corleone; and indulge your taste buds at every stop along the way.
Festivals And Events in Sicily
- During Acireale’s Carnevale (4 – 21 February), the streets in this baroque coastal resort come alive with gargantuan papier mache puppets, flowery allegorical floats, confetti and fireworks.
- In late May or early June, join Egadi Islanders as they circle their fishing boats and herd tuna into giant nets during La Mattanza (Ritual Tuna Slaughter)
- At the Taormina Film Festival (mid-June), modern filmmaker chic is juxtaposed against the ultra retro backdrop of Taormina’s ancient Greek amphitheatre
Hot Topic in Sicily
Sicily’s Mafia is fading fast. These days you’re more likely find yourself dining on produce from government confiscated Mafioso estates than getting mown down in the crossfire between rival gangs. Hundreds of businesses have begun resisting Mafia extortion as part of the addiopizzo (‘goodby bribes’) campaign, and numerous Mafia kingpins have been arrested in recent years, most notably Bernardo ‘the Tractor’ Provenzano in 2006. On Christmas Eve 2010, even Santa Claus got into the act, slapping a pair of handcuffs on a very surprised mobster in Catania.
People lining up to have their pictures taken in front of the metre long minchia- a massive stone phallus- at Bar Turrisi near Taormina. Thanks to Sicily’s prime position at the heart of the Mediterranean, you’ll find traces of a dizzying array of cultures: Arab, Norman, Spanish, Greek, Byzantine and Phoenician, to name just a few. Even today Sicily remains a Mediterranean crossroads: in 2011 it became a major gateway for refugees fleeing the social upheavals in neighbouring Libya and Tunisia.
Sicily’s cuisine bursts with flavours from the local landscape. Citrus, pistachios, almonds, capers, olives, eggplant, wild fennel, ricotta cheese and seafood find their way into everything from caponata to arancini. Other less-expected flavours hint at the island’s North African ties, such as the chickpea fritters sold in Palermo’s street markets or the fish couscous that rules the table in Trapani. If you have a sweet tooth, watch out: Sicilian desserts are wildly seductive, from cassata to cannoli, marzipan fruits to ice cream on a brioche; ditto for the region’s sweet wines, including zibibbo, marsala and malvasia