James Went To Palermo, Sicily

And finally I start writing about my holiday to Palermo, in Sicily.

I’ve got into this groove of going away late March, to celebrate the end of my detox, and also to try to find some warm sunshine.

In 2022, there was no shortage of sunshine in Las Vegas and San Diego. In 2023 there was likewise no shortage of sunshine in Malta. Yet there is no guarantee of warm sunshine anywhere in Europe in late March…it needs a bit of luck, and a good weather forecast.

Having just had a sudden stratospheric warming, I thought this ruled out Spain – and that the sunnier and warmer weather would be further east. I was right – flooding in Gran Canaria, lots of rain in Spain – record temperatures further east in Europe, and a stunning 31’C one day in Sicily.

We were torn between Athens and Palermo, though wanting something restful, we went for Palermo, thinking it might be so.

Staying Central

We spent around 4-5 hours trying to decide between Airbnb apartments, which in the end was 4-5 hours wasted as the apartment, though brilliantly located next to the Cathedral, was stunningly noisy all night.

The first night I think I slept 2 hours, my sister’s first words the next day, after an exhausted and ironic laugh, were something like “we can get a refund on most of the stay and book somewhere else”.

I was in no state to make a judgement, especially with the noise of the children playing basketball in the schoolyard right to the back of our flat.

We stuck it out and somewhat got used to the noise, though every night was like a lottery of noise – overnight street footballers, people banging on doors, binmen collecting rubbish at 1am, people singing on the way home, random windstorms banging all the window shutters, frigging church bells at 3am one night, and then the whole city starts to liven up at 6am too.

A woman painted onto a window

Athens was sunnier and warmer that week too.

What To Do In Athens?

There’s obviously a bit of morbid intrigue into the mafia, and we didn’t shy away from finding out more – both via an anti-mafia museum in Palermo, and a guided anti-mafia tour. Pretty sure we knew what to look for from then…or we were watched.

The anti-mafia tour was particularly fascinating, taking us through a tour of the centre, talking about those who were assassinated, those in the police/judiciary/politics who were corrupt, the shootings that happened, the bombings that happened – and the slow movement of the people of Sicily to rise up against the mafia and say “no”. That said, our tour guide said that there are still an estimated 25 mafia families in and around Palermo – one assumes that their business is now more the supply of drugs than extortion, so kind of more acceptable. Kind of.

The Wall Of Legality
The Wall Of Legality – depicting those who lost their lives fighting the mafia

It being Easter, and it being Sicily, there was Jesus stuff happening, and not just church bells at 3am telling tourists that they’ve had too much sleep.

On the Thursday the drummers came out at 4pm on the dot from the various churches – fairly impressive, to be fair, though thankfully the guys wearing hoods were wearing purple hoods, as they’d look suspiciously like something with 3 k’s in the name were they white hoods.

Then on Good Friday there was more processions – quite dark actually and a little moody – I guess it means something more to Catholics than I can understand.

Mostly carrying, very slowly and occasionally, a carriage with Jesus in.

Jesus parade thing in Palermo at Easter

Stuff probably happened on Saturday/Sunday too but I didn’t see anything. Church bells, however…

Adventuring

On the Friday I decided to climb a large hill/small mountain – as I quite like to do.

View from the mountain near Palermo

It was really rather hazy which was a shame, as the view should have been stunning. My original intention was to walk to Mondello, via this great big hill thing – though the path down was apparently closed due to the danger of rocks falling, and had been for about the last 15 years so I’m sure they’ll get around to fixing it at some point. There was also some routes down to the side, but I read a review of one and it sounded…hmmm…advanced, and I didn’t fancy it in my Converse trainers.

So it was a case of walking up the hill, as far as I could be bothered, about an hour, then back down. Then 1.5 hours or so to Mondello.

Mondello is a beach resort – and is where Italians actually wear shorts when it is only 25’C. Back in Palermo, some did at least dispose of their winter coats in such weather.

Also Mondello was full of kids. Full of 16 year old boys in sportswear trying to be manly, and 16 year old girls in thong bikinis. Not to mention the guys with their souped-up cars farting out shite music at full volume, going around and around all the time. I joked with the waiter in a fairly crap restaurant that the driver must be really lost, going around in circles all the time playing his loud, shit music. The waiter told me that he is lost all day, almost every day.

Give Mondello a miss, unless you really need some beach action, surrounded by teenagers.

Chuffing To Cefalu

If there is one thing I like doing on holiday as much as walking up a mountain, it is getting a train somewhere.

We took a train to Cefalu – interestingly the train went all the way to Rome, via Naples, which seems like a great adventure in itself! I might actually do it one year.

The train at Cefalu

Cefalu is a super picturesque small town about an hour from Palermo on a rather slow inter-city train.

There was a nice beach to lay on and absorb the vibes, and also to dry my trainers on after a rogue wave. The town felt relaxed and chilled – too boring for me to spend much time there, and no craft beer places – at least not open during the day.

The spot we went to for lunch was stunning, a little outdoor terrace overlooking the sea – though the food was pretty average. Except the Sicilian ketchup.

A day is enough here, but it was a pleasant day.

Sicilian Food

You’ll have noticed barely a mention for food so far…well, of course there is a whole section.

I spend far too much time researching restaurants, which we realised was fairly pointless in Sicily. Not totally pointless, but for example we were wandering aimlessly, looking for a drink when we stumbled across Bar Timi and the super-friendly owner – and his “life-changing” olives.

Life-changing olives

Or on the first night when we needed just a small bite, we found a place called Capocollo, which sold these delightful chunky toasted focaccia sandwiches:

Big fat focaccia sandwich

That wasn’t our only visit.

What actually stood out in Sicily was how everything actually was Sicilian. Sure, you could get a Peroni here and there, and near the end of the trip we even saw a foreign brand – McDonalds. But most of the craft beer (and there was a surprising amount of craft beer places) was Sicilian, most of the normal bars sold Sicilian lager/ale brands, most of the restaurants seemed to prioritise Sicilian ingredients, local fish, local tomatoes, most of the wine was Sicilian (they are far better at white than red in my limited experience) – you get my drift.

Whether Sicilians are proud of all of their culture, I’m unsure – but boy are they proud, protective and supportive of their local cuisine/farmers.

Top Of The Chops

The best meal I had in Palermo was one I remember least (I may have been tipsy), which was at Enosteria Sicula.

Copying from the menu, it was “Pork fillet (Az. Agr. Mulinello) dressed with Nebrodi black pig lard on a bed of yellow-fleshed potatoes. Served with Sauteed Spinach, Caciotta Fondue, Crunchy Onion and Nero D’Avola Brown Base”. It was the easiest selection to make, it sounded stunning, looked amazing on their Gram, and totally was dreamy. I had some kind of fishy croquettes for a first course too, with an orange sauce, which was also super.

It being Sicily, I had to have pizza. Guess which one I liked more?

The former was at Mastunicola, and the dough was pretty much out of this world. Of course the tomatoes were so ridiculously fresh and tasted totally the opposite of the bland tomatoes in British supermarkets. If I lived in Palermo, I’d go back here every week until I had completed their menu. There was a point, pretty much after this pizza, where I was totally in love with Palermo and considering moving to there instead of Spain, when we re-join the EU.

The latter pizza was at Timilia – maybe I didn’t order that well as there was way too much meat that it was unbalanced, but also I could have had pizza that standard in London pretty easily. Mastunicola, on the other hand, is gold standard.

We did the street food thing too, I cannot say I was especially in love with it, but I was in love with paying €1.50 for lunch.

Pabe, Panelle e crocche (I think), which is a potato croquette and chickpea fritter sandwich.

Pabe, Panelle e crocche (I think), which is a potato croquette and chickpea fritter sandwich.

Beer!

As I alluded to earlier, there was a surprising amount of craft beer places in Palermo.

Our favourite was Birreria Fusto, which was a tiny little place on the vibrant pedestrianised road of Via Maqueda – I guess most tourists to Palermo come down this street at least once, and we spent quite a few evenings here – both eating at Capocollo and Timilia, but most importantly drinking at Birreria Fusto.

They had superb beers, and it was just wonderful to sit there and watch all walks of Sicilian life pass by – sure, lots of tourists and a few child beggars (with their parents watching…WTF?) but also plenty of locals. Plus there was a gorgeous patisserie there for the totally unnecessary late night cake.

Cakes!

The other place we really rated was Birrificio Bruno Ribadi, which was a new-build place near the harbour, selling just their own beers (brewed in Sicily, of course).

It was apparently 31’C that day (end of March lol) and I really enjoyed my time chilling with a beer in the sunshine.

Go To Palermo

I’m not sure there is much else to tell you – I was a huge fan of Palermo, bar the lack of sleep.

Return flights with Ryanair were £273.72 at the end of March – this included a small bag and was booked 2-3 weeks beforehand. Flights in April would have been much cheaper, the combination of Easter weekend and the fact that the summer schedules didn’t start until 1st April meant that flight prices for the end of March were high, and fully booked a week or so beforehand.

Airbnbs were plentiful in Palermo, and it didn’t feel like they were pushing locals out of the rental market like happens in some places – we paid £271.50 each for a noisy 2 bedroom apartment right in the centre. Maybe do your research though if you need your sleep.

Food/drink prices were a bit lower than London – though certainly you could spend serious money if you went out for good meals every lunch and dinner.

I’d go back again – I’ve put Catania on my to-do list, which is on the other side of the island.

Maybe I could even do the road-trip to Rome. Catania > Taormina > Messina > Salerno > Naples > Rome. Sounds like fun!

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