It’s Catherine’s birthday at the end of February so for the past few years I’ve taken her somewhere sunny to celebrate after the long London winters. This year’s EasyJet special was Palermo – a weekend to be warm, enjoy delicious food and hang out by the sea.
Palermo’s location on the northern coast of Sicily and its fertile land made it a prosperous trading city over many centuries. Consequently, the city has also been fought over, and ruled by many different foreign powers and this rich varied history means it is home to many beautiful churches, palaces and buildings.
Our best surprise-church find was the beautiful San Giuseppe dei Teatini – built over 350 years ago, its size surprises as you enter through its nondescript doors with gorgeous, detailed artwork on the huge walls and a very high ceiling.
Just a few doors down, we were attracted by a sign advertising a view of the city. We paid our EUR4 and made our way up a fair few stairs before arriving on the roof where we were greeted by a wonderful 360 view as we circled the Dome.
A little further down the largely pedestrian, and clearly tourist-central, Via Vittoria Emmanuel is the magnificent Palermo Cathedral. Built almost 1,000 years ago, it’s free to visit and although maybe more impressive from the outside than in, it’s definitely worth a visit.
Less than five minutes’ walk south of the cathedral is the Palatine Chapel and with its majestic and intricately detailed, and brightly coloured floor-to-ceiling mosaics, this is unmissable. What makes it perhaps even more impressive is that it was constructed over 900 years ago serving as the royal cathedral for the Norman Kings of Sicily, and it is truly breath-taking.
Like the rest of Italy, Sicily is renowned for its food, including the gelato, and Palermo certainly didn’t disappoint. Following on from fantastic recommendations in Florence, Pauli suggested lunch at Casa del Brodo – I had the house special of tortellini filled with local meat in broth, and Catherine enjoyed the lunch buffet of local dishes.
We also tried cannolo’s from at least three shops, eventually agreeing with my old housemate Andrea that Spinatto was the best, while all the ice cream we tasted was divine. It’s hard to pick a favourite but I would have to go with Antica Gelateria Illardo. Situated close to the harbour, it doesn’t look like much from the outside but don’t let that stop you!
After a wonderful day’s exploring and eating, we hopped on the train and made our way 45 minutes along the coast to Cefalu. With its wide sandy beach, small cobbled alleyways and imposing two-towered Duomo (Cathedral), it’s a wonderful place to unwind for a few days.
Towering above the town centre is a massive crag called the Rocca. It takes about an hour to climb up (it’s not super steep – I was able to do in flip-flops) and there’s a wonderful view in both directions along the coast waiting for you at the top. Spring has already come to Sicily and we were surrounded by fields of wild flowers on the way up.
From the top we spotted castle ruins (which appear on every postcard of Cefalu) and we spent the rest of the day climbing over rocks and along deserted beaches trying to find this elusive castle. In the end we had our picnic on the beach with our Moretti beers and headed back to town.
One afternoon we jumped on the local bus to the charming town of Castelbuono for the best slice of panettone at Fiasconaro and a divine meal at Nangallarunni. I’ve never taken a bus and headed somewhere just for a meal before and the restaurant had more award stickers on the door than at any I’ve eaten at before.
The speciality here seems to be mushrooms and manna, the sap from a tree only found in Sicily. My main course of wild pig was crusted with manna, almonds and pistacchi, and wild mushrooms come in 15 different ways, while our panettone was covered in manna spread.
A long weekend is always over too quickly but it was great to eat so well, be warm, see the sea and enjoy a relaxing few days.
Flights on EasyJet were very reasonably priced though I suspect they will become more expensive as summer draws nearer.
Buses from the airport leave every 30 minutes – the journey is 45 minutes to get to the central station and costs EUR 5.50.
Transport – trains run fairly regularly along the beautiful coastline and windy roads would make cycling or biking a super fun way to get around.