information on sicily
Sicily is a cultural minestrone, a marvellous fusion of elements contributed by the many foreign occupiers who held sway here over time. The Greeks dominated the island for five centuries (8-3C BC), followed by the Romans for six (until the 4C), the Byzantines for three (until the 8C), the Arabs for two (until the 11C), the French (Normans) for one (12/13C) and Spanish (Aragons) for five (to the 18C). Each group, especially the Normans in spite of the brevity of their stay, left their imprint on the island's architecture, its dialects and its menus.
In terms of landscapes and topography, Sicily is simply stunning. The north of the island is sharply mountainous, with high points at Erice in the west and the impossibly photogenic Mount Etna in the east. Europe's highest and most active volcano belches constantly and every once in a while shoots so much ash into the air that the airport at Catania allegedly keeps a snowplough handy to clear its runways. The smoother southern portion of the island tilts gently towards the sea, ideal for both vineyards and views. On the periphery is a thousand miles of coastline, ranging from beaches to rocky coves and cliffs.
Sicilian cuisine has always benefited from the bounty of its fertile volcanic soils and the encircling seas, inspiring rave reviews as early as the 4C BC, when Greek poet Archestratus praised it in an ode.
It was Archestratus' people who introduced Malvasia and Moscato vines to the island and who first used Mount Etna's snow to make ices with fruit and honey. The Arabs brought their eastern spices here, along with cane sugar for pastries and sweets, and couscous.Staples include swordfish and tuna, eggplant, peppers, olives and capers.
The island is famed for its citrus fruits, particularly the blood orange, arancia rossa, but peaches, apricots and figs are common and often incorporated, Arab-style, into savoury dishes. First time visitors inevitably approach Sicily with some trepidation, given its association with the mafia. Yes, it exists but as a tourist you are no more likely to experience crime here than you are in any Western city.
Sicily´s biggest and newest airport is Palermo (PMO - Punta Raisi); Catania (CTA - Fontanarossa) provides domestic airlines with lovely views of Mount Etna. On the mainland, the little airport at Reggio di Calabria (Tito Menniti) is another option for Sicily and the south.
Hotels, flights, car rentals, and tailored tours. For more information click here.
Agrigento. www.lavalledeitempli.it. Daily 8:30 am-7pm. Last entry 6:30pm.
Monreale. Duomo www.cattedraledimonreale. it. Daily 8am-6:30pm (closed 12:30- 3:30pm on Sundays and in winter).
Palermo. La Martorana Monday-Saturday 9:15am-1pm and 3:30-7:30pm (to 6:30pm in winter); Sunday 8:30am-1pm.
Selinunte. 0924 4654; www.selinunte.net. Daily 9am-5pm. Last entry at 4pm.
Taormina. Funivia (Funicular) 'Easy and a lot of fun.' 2009. Via Luigi Pirandello. Runs 8am- 8pm (until 1am in summer).
Piazza Armerina. Villa Romana del Casale www.villaromanadelcasale.it. 8am to 1 hour before sunset.
Palermo. Autumn opera season at 19C Teatro Massimo; www.teatromassimo.it . U Fistinu of Santa Rosalia July 10-15. Procession with saint and bands.
Trapani. Easter procession involving life-sized wooden figures.
Castelvetrano. Baffo's 'Enjoyable.' 2010 Via Marco Polo 49 . 0924 46211 . Pierrot Via Redipuglia 21 . 0924 901525
Mazara del Vallo. Marmoreo Lungomazaro 30 . 0923 931619; www.marmoreo.com
Menfi. Il Vigneto Gurra di Mare . 0925 71732 . Osteria Bertolino Contrada Bertolino, SP50 km2+000 . 333 646 2725
Palermo. Santandrea Piazza Sant'Andrea 9 (near La Vucciria market) . 091 334999. Closed Sunday.
Porto Palo di Menfi. Da Vittorio 'Fantastic!' 2010 .092 578381; www.davittorioristorante. com
Sciacca Hostaria del Vicolo Vicolo Sammaritano 10 . 0925 23071; www.hostariadelvicolo. com
Selinunte, Marinella di. Centro Nautico 2008 Via del Cantone . 0924 46622 . La Pineta 'A beach shack with a great setting and seafood.' 2008 Via Punta Cantone . 0924 46820; www.ristorantelapinetaselinunte.it . Baffo's Castle 'Wonderful.' 2009; 'Rude.' 2009 Contrada Martelluzzi 101 . 0924 46859
Catania. Santa Agata February 5. Massive fest with parades and fireworks.
Enna. Sicily's largest Easter procession.
Notto. Infiorata 3rd weekend of May. Flower festival.
Paterno. Santa Barbara December 4. Parade and live nativity scene.
Syracuse. Santa Lucia December 13 and 17. Two days of parades and festivities.
Avola. Vecchia Cantina Baroni 'Very good food, helpful staff.' 2007 Contrada Chiusa di Carlo 0931 560139
Modica Basso. Caffè Moda 'Hip wine bar, simple but well prepared food, excellent wine selections.' 2007 Corso Umberto near Piazza San Pietro.
Randazzo. Trattoria Veneziano 'Specializes in dishes with mushrooms from Mount Etna.' 2009 Via Romana 8/A 095 7991353
Taormina. Vecchia Taormina 'A great selection of pizzas.' 2007 Vico Ebrei 3 . 0942 625589; www.vecchiataormina.it . Casa Grugno 'Superb, Michelin star quality.' 2009 Via Santa Maria dei Greci 0942 21208; www.casagrugno.it
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