We’ve just come back from a week in Sicily. We had a full itinerary which showed us most of the island and immersed us in its history and culture. You come out at the end with a blur of memories but what really stood out? Here’s my list of five highlights.
The white buildings of Syracuse: to some extent Sicily has been shaped by the Mount Etna earthquake of 1693 which destroyed both Catania and Syracuse. But whereas Catania was rebuilt with the black of the lava that engulfed it Syracuse was rebuilt in classic baroque style using splendid white sandstone. The long rectangular Piazza del Duomo is especially striking.
The carpets of spring flowers: as you’d expect Sicily is blessed with monuments which evidence its past. The Greek temples at the Valley of the Temples, the vast Greek complex at Selinunte and the Roman mosaics at Piazza Amerina are impressive and worth a visit. But in April that’s doubly true as they are surrounded by spring flowers: lots of yellow but also reds and blues.
The Byzantine Cappella Palantina: it’s just one of many but walking in to the Palantine Chapel is a jaw dropping experience. It dates back to 1130 and delivers the full Monty of glittering gold mosaics, marble floors and an ornate wooden ceiling. It combines Byzantine, Norman and Arabic styles reflecting Sicily’s cultural complexity
Mount Etna: it’s Europe’s highest active volcano, it sits on the timeline one hour in advance of GMT and it’s dominant both physically today and for the impact it’s had on the history of Sicily. If it’s fine you can drive up towards the top and experience the alien volcanic terrain. If you’re on a tour your guide may tell you that it might be a little chilly and breezy. Be warned and take warm clothes and be prepared to struggle to stay upright.
Gamberoni: Sicily is blessed with good raw materials and most nrestaruants’ menus exploit these to the full. There’s generally an offer of gamberoni grigliati and it’s a pleasure because these are real king prawns and they’re typically a good four inches or more in length. The contrast is what we see in the UK which is a couple of inches if you’re lucky. Sicilians describe these as simply gamberetti and translate this as shrimp on the menu. I’ll stick with gamberoni!
It was our second visit and if anything it was too intense. If we’d only done half the trip it would have filled my brain and then given me reason for a third visit.