Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Sicily snaps - Palermo, Trapani and Taormina

Pretoria Fountain, Palermo 
Our plan to take a slow journey home through Italy dropped to a snail-like pace when we arrived in Sicily.  Although it is only a third the size of Tasmania, the population of 5 million and there being so much to see made it seem much bigger.
Map of Sicily from HERE
It is impossible to do justice to our meandering around the Mediterranean's largest island so instead, here are some happy snaps and observations from our first two weeks in Sicily.  
We arrived in Palermo refreshed and ready to see the sights after a relaxing overnight 'cruise' from Naples.  The city appeared sparkling and pristine as we walked up from the port into the main part of Palermo.
Palermo cathedral
Palazzo Reale
Then the other side of Palermo became apparent. After turning the corner and strolling away from the magnificent Palazzo Reale, suddenly the streets were littered, the buildings crumbling and footpaths became almost impossible to negotiate.
Ballar market in Palermo
But we enjoyed staying in this authentic working-class neighbourhood.  Although it was dirty, and slightly scary, the people were friendly and the food was just as we'd been told - fresher and even more delicious than in the north.   
Easter Sunday best.
We quickly developed three food obsessions during our stay in Palermo:
Involtini di pesce spada 
Sweet ricotta cannolini
Caponata. Image from HERE.
After exploring the sights of Palermo we hired a car and drove to Trapani in the south-west corner of Sicily.
Trapani port.
Trapani is a sleepy fishing town which remains closely connected to its Arabic past through its distinctive food and interesting architecture.  In Hosteria San Pietro we ate the local favourites of couscous and spicy vegetables.  In this small corner of Sicily the Arabic couscous, not pasta, is often served as a main meal.
Local restaurant famous for its Arabic influenced food.
During our five days in Trapani we took several day trips to nearby towns. Erice is a medieval fortress town set high on a mountain overlooking Trapani.  It is easy to reach by car, or cablecar from the outskirts of Trapani.  It reminded us of the hilltop towns in Tuscany, but was much quieter.  
View from Erice 
Another short drive from Trapani is the small city of Marsala which is famous for the sweet dessert wine produced in this region.  
Main square of Marsala
The scenery between Trapani and Marsala is unusually beautiful as the road runs beside the low, salt pans which are dotted with windmills that were built during the middle ages.  Salt production in this area dates back much further in time.  
These days the open flat water beyond the saltpans has become a haven for kitesurfers.
Our favourite day trip from Trapani was to the ruins of Segesta.  This "Greek temple" appeared from nowhere as we rounded a bend along a small country road.  There is no town and few facilities at Segesta but the ruins are fascinating and well signposted with descriptions in English and Italian.  
After our busy week in Trapani, we drove back across the top of Sicily, skirting Palermo, before driving south through the surprisingly green hills of the empty inland to the popular resort town of Taormina.  
The drive into Taormina will live in our memories, and not in a good way!  
Nightmare road near Taormina.
Beaches of Taormina below the old town.
View of Taormina from near our apartment
Our apartment in Taormina was perched on a cliff behind the town.  Once we arrived, after being rescued by the apartment owner on his vespa as the zigzaging narrow roads had totally confused us, and our google maps app, we left the car in the garage for a few days while we all recovered. 
The view from our balcony in Taormina was stunning and hard to leave after our unforgettable arrival.  But apart from lounging on our balcony enjoying spectacular views of the coast we also hiked up to Castel Molla and caught a glimpse of Mount Etna.
This is why we preferred walking up to Castel Molla. 
Spectacular views from Castel Molla
 Stefano enjoyed a solo drive up to Mount Etna before we left Taormina.

Two weeks on the road convinced us that Sicily has it all - beaches, snow, hill top mountain towns, magnificent Greek ruins and delicious food.  So we decided to extend our stay.  
We swapped hire cars in Catania, collected Stefano's sister and brother-in-law and began the next stage of our Sicilian adventure.  

Andiamo a Modica con la nostra famiglia, Gen e Bill.

How we travelled:
Tirrenia Ferries - CLICK HERE
We caught the overnight ferry from Naples to Palermo with Tirrenia ferries.  The twin berth cabin was spotlessly clean and the journey was very comfortable as we left Naples at 8pm and arrived in Palermo around 7.30am after sleeping for most of the journey.  120Euros one way for two people.

Car hire - Palermo airport to Catania airport
Our small hire car sourced through Economy Car Rentals .   No problems at all.

Where we stayed:
Palermo - Columna Apartment AirBnB CLICK HERE
On the edge of the city in a fairly run down area this was a clean, comfortable, reasonably priced apartment.  

Trapani - Casa per vacanza AirBnB CLICK HERE
Right in the centre of the old town we enjoyed staying in this spacious one bedroom apartment. Again it was clean, comfortable, spacious and reasonably priced.

Taormina - Awesome view AirBnB CLICK HERE
This huge apartment with large terrace is one of our favourites.  It is difficult to reach as it is set into the hillside over looking the town, but once we arrived we loved everything about staying in this beautiful spot.  An easy walk downhill into town, a more challenging walk home at night after dinner!

Where we ate:
Capello Pasticceria CLICK HERE.
Worth making the trip to the edge of Palermo just beyond Palazzo Reale for the most delicious cannolini.

Hosteria San Pietro CLICK HERE
Everywhere we ate was fabulous but the food at this tiny restaurant was unusually delicious. Bookings are essential.