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Scintillating Sicily

SCINTILLATING SICILY!




Hi folks, Dave Pryde your Personal Travel Counsellor here from my home in

picturesque St Fillans, in Perthshire. It’s clear from the order numbers and in

particular from the repeat business that you all agree Chiara’s initiative to

offer exciting menus from around the world is fabulous! Who doesn’t enjoy a

great meal, especially when it’s carefully prepared with the very best of

ingredients?

Which is not unlike a holiday………….and that’s where I can help! I specialise

in planning bespoke trips to any and all corners of the globe. After

circumventing the globe for her inspiration for the past few weeks, Chiara

headed “home” to Liguria and luckily for us, her Italian theme is set to

continue this week!

If you’re like me and have been involved in regular quizzes throughout

lockdown, then you will definitely have come across this question – what is

the largest island in the Mediterranean? The answer?………………Sicily – but

don’t let the label of “biggest” put you off, this is an absolutely stunning

island with all the look and feel of so many of the beautiful islands that

speckle the UK market’s favourite holiday destination; yes, ‘The Med’ rules!

Last September, I had the privilege of taking my wife on a special trip to

celebrate her birthday. Sicily had been on our Bucket List for some time and

we finally made it, in a Twin Centre with Sardinia! And what a trip we had –

our ten days touring the island were among the best we have spent

anywhere, there is so much to see and do here and the scenery is jaw-

dropping! A great place to start your trip here would be in the capital,

Palermo.


Bustling, colourful and hugely entertaining markets are a must-see here, the

stallholders all try to outdo each other and go to great lengths to make sure

you are having fun as well as shopping! The central Ballarò street market

and the Vucciria, near the port, are two of the best known.

Stunning architecture is everywhere and the contrast between the day and

night experience is remarkable; by day, the sun glistens off perfectly sculpted

buildings and at night, the place is completely different but every bit as

spectacular. South west of the Vucciria market is the 16th-century Fontana

Pretoria, a fountain decorated with statues of animals, sea monsters and

gods. Further west at the Catacombe dei Cappuccini there are mummified

corpses dating from the 1500s to the early 1900s. Near the harbour, the

Castello a Mare Archaeological Park was once a fortified complex and is used

today as a concert venue. 

One of the most impressive buildings in this beautiful city is the huge

neoclassical Teatro Massimo, renowned for opera performances. Film buffs

will recognise the impressive staircase to the main entrance from Godfather

III, the last of the fabulous trilogy following the exploits of the Corleone

family. But do take the time to go inside to marvel at the sheer scale of the

auditorium; if you actually get the chance to see an opera so much the

better!


One of the first things associated with Sicily in many people’s eyes will be The

Mafia, or Cosa Nostra as the criminal syndicate is known here. This doesn’t

mean the city isn’t safe; you are more likely to see evidence of the anti-Mafia

feeling than encounter mob violence. You can also help local businesses and

restaurants by getting hold of a “pizzo-free” city map and eating, shopping

and sleeping in establishments that have signed up to an anti-extortion

charter.


Going back to the movie theme, many visitors to the island have Corleone on

their Itinerary. There is nothing wrong with this town for a brief visit, just

don’t expect to recognise any movie locations as none were shot here! The

spectacular hilltop town of Savoca on the East coast is one of the most widely

recognised ‘sets’ from The Godfather movies, Bar Vitelli arguably winning the

prize as best known; this is where Michael met his future father-in-law whilst

accompanied by his two henchmen and you can actually sit in the seat he

occupied at the café entrance………….I did!

Our road trip took in an overnight stay near historic Agrigento, a couple of

nights in the picture-postcard hilltop town of Ragusa, made famous in the

Inspector Montalbano TV series, and then the cruise port of Taormina – if

you have visited somewhere more spectacular than this, please drop me a

note! The sunsets here are beautiful as my snap below shows…………


We concluded our tour in Cefalu on the North coast. All of these places are

perfectly located for exploring the surrounding areas and an itinerary along

these lines will enable you to cover almost all of the island - and there is

plenty to see! One key travel tip, make sure your SatNav is set to main roads

only, you do NOT want to get off the beaten track here, the roads then

narrow from two cars width to less than one and the locals park as close to

their homes as they possibly can – to be honest, driving anywhere on this

island is not for the faint-hearted!


Back on the road………….Agrigento is a hilltop city on Sicily's southwest shore.

It's best known for the ruins of the ancient city of Akragas in the Valley of the

Temples, a vast archaeological site with well-preserved Greek temples. This is

a very popular tourist spot, if you’re going, get there early!

 


Ragusa – we just fell in love with this wonderful place – is a hilltop city in the

south east and the place to head for here is Ragusa Ibla, the old town. This is

home to many baroque buildings, like the stunning Duomo di San Giorgio, a

grand church with paintings and stained-glass windows which is transformed

at night with incredible lighting. There are also sweeping views from the

Giardino Ibleo, a beautiful public park with churches and fountains. There is a

miniature train circling the city with hop-on, hop-off stops and this will

provide welcome help to get you negotiate and cover as many as possible of

the incredibly steep streets!


Taormina is an absolutely stunning hilltop town (yes, another one!) on the

east coast of Sicily. It sits near Mount Etna, still an active volcano today

where you will find various trails leading to the summit. You will definitely

want to consider a half day trip there. The town itself is known for the Teatro

Antico di Taormina, an ancient Greco-Roman theatre still in use today. Near

the theatre, spectacular cliffs drop to the sea forming coves with pristine

sandy beaches. It’s down here that you will also find a narrow stretch of

sand connecting to Isola Bella, a beautiful tiny island and nature reserve.

Taormina is arguably one of the jewels in Sicily’s crown – it does get

exceptionally busy as it’s a cruise port but it’s a must-see on anyone’s trip

here.


Our last stop was Cefalù which is yet another picture-postcard location on

the north coast. Seafood lovers will be in their absolute element here. The

city is also renowned for its Norman cathedral, a 12th-century fortress-like

structure with elaborate Byzantine mosaics and soaring twin towers. More

spectacular beaches at the likes of Mazzaforno and Settefrati can be found

nearby, just to the west.


Sicily is quite literally the crossroads of bygone and present civilizations.

Historically, it has absorbed a vast array of cultures from the likes of the

Phoenicians, the Romans and the Greeks. As you travel around, you will

come across examples of all these influences. However, add in the gorgeous

scenery, the mouth-watering food and the warm hospitality of the local

people and you will find this is an outstanding destination to begin or

continue your love affair with Italy!

I hope that has whetted your appetite from a travel perspective and I hope

this has inspired you to give it a try! Just remember, in the light of all that has

recently happened in travel, it will be best not to take any chances and book

different bits and pieces as you find them online - when it comes to holidays,

only spiders need the web, stay safe and book with Dave instead!

Drop an e-mail to dave.pryde@travelcounsellors.com with your contact

details and I’ll give you a call to get something sorted for 2021.

Where are we off to next week, Chiara?

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©2020 by Chef Chiara.