Palermo: the beautiful, thriving, beating heart of Sicily
I think I must’ve been Sicilian somewhere along the line.
Otherwise it’s just too hard to explain the love I have for this island region.
An impromptu 2 day mini break to Palermo was all it took to remind me that this eclectic, breathtakingly beautiful, culturally diverse and food rich part of the world just somehow speaks to my soul.
Palermo is the capital city of Sicily and with a population of around 800,000, is the regions most important commercial and economic hub. With almost 2M cruise passengers a year passing through, it is also one of Italy’s major ports.
Like most of the region, it has been enriched by the influences of its historic Arab and Greek rule and signs of this can be seen across the city.
To this day, mafia activity (known as Cosa Nostra – ‘Our Business / Our Thing’ in these parts) is still rife in Sicily and it’s beginnings have its origins in Palermo no less. Around here, you can kind of feel a dark something that like many Italian problems, go swept under the carpet. But while this may have left an indelible mark on the area, so has art, culture, architecture, history and gastronomy. Oh and sweets. Sicilians are truly the Italian magicians of dessert making.
Quite simply Palermo, I fell in love.
Ballaró the historic fresh food market, held daily (except Sunday) is a hive of excitement with fishmongers yelling at one another, fruit sellers selling their ware, kids working at cash registers and the intoxicating waft of fried food. Yes, street food in Palermo is fried and fantastic. Especially panelle – chickpea flour fritters.
Another highlight for me was Mondello beach. Located just a 20 minute drive from the city, it boasts clean turquoise waters in the shadow of rugged mountain terrain and has beach clubs all lined up in a row.
And just when I thought I couldn’t love Palermo any more, came Osteria dei Vespri – ironically a replacement for a restaurant I wanted to try, but closed for the evening! (Some things in life are just meant to be.)
Walking into a supposed neighborhood osteria and stumbling upon an establishment recommended by the guides of all Italian food guides, Gambero Rosso and the Michelin Guide but with understated and humble Sicilian style is just happy happy times!
Think 5 different homemade breads from squid ink to roast tomato; alalunga burger patty (tuna family of fish) served on tomato gazpacho with fennel shavings; busiate pasta with suino nero di Nebrodi sausage (locally grown pork), cabbage, red cabbage and clams; zabaglione and chocolate filled cannoli; pear and chocolate tart with cinnamon spiced pineapple; and petit fours of pistacchio di bronte (Sicilian grown) and wild strawberry tartlets. All at around €50.
Local, DOP and organic produce at its very best with warm and welcoming service, Osteria dei Vespri is my one must-dine tip for Palermo.
I packed so much into my just-shy-of two day break that it felt like a bona fide holiday. And with the glorious Mediterranean sun beating down, it seems that the end of summer for Sicily is quite a while off yet.
Palermo, we just met, but my heart is yours.
Signing off (Rome & Trastevere bound)