29 Jun Sicily: Colorful Island of Italy
Venus, The Goddess of Love, was born in Sicily. And her presence is still palpable on this utterly romantic island! Sicily is a little country unto itself, as cosmopolitan and quirky, multi-cultural and multi-dimensional as its history which was peppered by the legacies of the Asians, Africans and Europeans. Here the seavents its fury against a mountainous land whose finest icon is Mt Etna, endearing and forbidding at the same time. With a vast reservoir of history, art, architecture and delectable Sicilian cuisine, this island attracts everyone from budget travelers to the rich and famous throughout the year.
Palermo, the largest city, revolves around the Quattro Canti which is crammed with artistic mar vels like the Palazzo dei Normanni or the Church of the Martorana, with its exquisite belfry. San Giorgio dei Genovesi is a rare example of Sicilian Renaissance and the Oratorio di San Lorenzo is a masterpiece of Sicilian Rococo. The exquisite Arab-Norman styled cathedral in II Capo is a must-see, while wandering aimlessly down the souk-like streets of La Kalsa is an absorbing experience. Hop over to Museo Internazionale delle Marionette that houses 3,000 puppets and shadow figures from all over the world. The bizarre Catacombe dei Cappuccini holds the mummified remains of 8,000 odd Palermitans who died between the 17th and 19th centuries.
Stroll down Mondello beach, northwest of the city before heading for Monreale. The cathedral with its surreal mosaics and Benedictine cloisters is the finest example of Norman architectural brilliance. Ustica, a tiny island north of Palermo, is the playground of serious divers.
On the northern coast of Sicily is the fishing village of Cefalú overlooking La Rocca, The Rock. Amble around in the Moorish streets (where Cinema Paradiso was filmed) full of medieval wonder, sandy beaches and marvellous shops. Pay homage to Arab architecture in the Norman Cathedral and settle down in one of the many pretty cafes in Piazza del Duomo for a coffee.
Named after the god of the winds Aeolus and home to the God of fire Vulcan, Aeolian Islands have attracted the jetsetters of the world. Lipari, known for its pebbled beaches, homes coloured in Mediterranean hues and magical coves and bays is a great place to start island-hopping. Whether it is snorkelling, scuba diving or tracing the volcanic history of the region in the nearby museum, you will have enough to do. For mud baths, hot springs and a holistic rejuvenation program, Vulcano Island is your best bet. Gran Cratere is a crater that spews steam endlessly. Admire the soaring cliffs of Salina Island; explore Stromboli, an island scarred by nature; follow a lava trail in Filicudi or head off with a spear gun to Rinella and hunt for your dinner!
On the eastern coast is the Greek-influenced city of Taormina synonymous with designer boutiques, antique stores and warm cafés. It is also known for its 3rd century horse-shoe theatre Teatro Greco, the dramatic venue of the international Taormina Arte festival. Catania, known as the Milan of the South, is nothing less than an outdoor gallery with all its splendid baroque styled monuments and the beautiful Piazza del Duomo (a World Heritage Site). Mt. Etna which sizzles dramatically in the background is an active volcano. Befriend a guide, hop on to a four-wheel drive vehicle and bump along a bizarre and forbidding landscape (or ‘lavascape’) right up to the Philisopher’s Tower.