Hello everybody My name is Sarah Murdoch
I work for Rick Steves I’ve been working here since the year 2000 I am a co-author on the Rick Steves Sicily guidebook as well as a tour guide all over Europe Today I’m going to be talking about one of my favorite topics which is the beautiful island of Sicily Let’s go ahead and get started and check out what we have to know about Sicily.
First of all, a couple of things about Rick Steves, check out our website for more information about all of the topics here, our tours and also just information about travels in Europe and Sicily as well We have a wonderful team of tour guides who will take you all over Europe This is my extended family, 150 of us and we really enjoy showing you around Europe So coming on a tour is an awful lot of fun, and we don’t have any fun actually at all you can tell from the picture This is an actual real group, I didn’t pay them to look that fun.
We have a great time, so I hope you can join us on one of our tours of Sicily or Italy or somewhere else in Europe That’s our tour catalog and that’s got all of our great destinations in it Let’s go ahead and jump into Sicily Today what we’re going to talk about is the island of Sicily and we have so many wonderful things to see This is something directly from our guidebook and we’re going to cover the most important topics and cities of Sicily.
We’re going to start here at Palermo We’re going to take a quick visit to Monreale which is a cathedral nearby Then we’re going to head out to the western tip of Sicily, visit Trapani, Mozia and Erice which are on this western tip Then head down to Agrigento the Valley of the Temples Into the center and in Central Sicily, we’re going to visit the Villa Romana del Casale.
Then down into Southeastern Sicily which is a great place to just sort of relax and see the countryside and we’ll see Ragusa Then to Syracuse which is the Greek capital of Sicily from the past Catania which is the second largest city in Sicily Mount Etna and Taormina which is one of the most beautiful I think places in all of the world, and then we’ll finish off in Cefalù which is a fun little typical Sicilian beach town Let’s go ahead and jump into things.
Sicily is a really complicated place It is the largest islands in the Mediterranean and it’s also the largest province of Italy But the thing is it has its own identity It’s not the same as Italy and in fact, the people if you looked at their DNA it’s not the same DNA as Italians When you go and you see a Sicilian person, they’re not going to look anything like somebody from Rome for example, because they’re people who are Greek, Arab, French, Spanish.
They are a mixture of all of the different types of blood that landed on the island There has been 18 different dominations of other foreign cultures on the island of Sicily They have a completely different cultural identity They have their own dialect and they’re actually an autonomous region within Italy They have their own parliament as well.
This incredibly unique identity that they have is encapsulated in this image because this is their symbol They have their own flag Did you know they have their own flag? It’s a crazy thing, they have the Italian flag, but Italians, in general, have an interesting thing where they if you say where are you from? They will say, “Oh, I’m Roman” “Okay, that’s the city you’re from but where are you from?” “Oh, I’m from Lazio” “Well, that’s a region, where are you from?” “Oh, I’m Italian.
” Italian is always last because Italian is sort of a new concept They’ve only been a country for a little over 150 years In Sicily, that kind of idea is even more important because of the fact that they identify themselves almost as a different culture This is a symbol that comes from quite ancient Sicily This is something that we almost don’t know the origins of and you see it on their flag, that’s their flag.
What you see here is you’ve got two colors, you’ve got yellow, you’ve got red, and those are colors that we have a lot of different reasons of where they may come from It might come from Spanish colors, it also may represent sun There’s a lot of different ideas, but in the center is always the same symbol, the Gorgon head with the three legs, they call it the Trinacria That symbol is important because it’s a symbol that you see in a lot of ancient cultures The three legs possibly represent the shape of the island because it’s shaped a little bit like a triangle.
The Gorgon in the middle is a medusa and some people say that she is the embodiment of Mount Etna Etna, you’re going to see a sort of our mama We think of her as mama Etna and she makes the fields fertile and there’s a lot of Greek mythology that goes into Sicily because they were so closely connected with the Greeks That’s what we think this symbol means I’ve seen about I don’t know 500 different interpretations, but that’s a good one.
In Sicily, you’ll find that everybody’s got their own story their own way of thinking about things That’s the symbol of the island Palermo is our first city that we’re going to talk about I absolutely love Palermo because it’s a city that might be a little hard to love at first glance, but once you start to see it with more of a period eye, you can start to understand the beauty of this beautiful city Let’s have a look at the map here.
In the map here we’ve got the main drag here Via Roma, we have Via Maqueda with Teatro Massimo, we have the water over here and then at the very end is the Palazzo Reale That was the palace of the Norman Kings This is the main axis that you want to hang around in your visit to Palermo There are wonderful markets This is Ballaro over here.
Over here is the Capo market and these are the places that you go and see the vegetable sellers that sing when they try to sell things It’s sort of like being in a market in Morocco or something They kind of chatter and they sing, and they make it very interesting As far as museums go, they have museums, but I would say museums are maybe not the highlight I would say the churches are very interesting, the theater is very interesting, but also just the vibe of the city, the life of the city.
Something to know about Palermo you may not know, it was one of the most important cities in all of Europe back in the 19th century It was as interesting and powerful and romantic as Paris Did you know that Wagner actually lived there for a while and composed some of his operas in Palermo? It’s because this theater here, Teatro Massimo, I’ll show you in a second, is one of the largest theaters in all of Europe In the 19th century, this was an elegant, gorgeous city These days it’s a modern port city.
Part of the problem with Palermo was in World War II it got bombed almost completely flat The Americans came through trying to get rid of the Germans and it really did a lot of damage and the city was never properly reconstructed We have tons of these ugly high rises and things like that encroaching on the beautiful historical center But, in these days, Palermo is really regenerating itself and going back to this elegant feeling of the past This is Piazza Pretoria but it has a very funny name.
They call it the area with the fountain of shame Do you think that’s a shameful fountain? What’s shameful about that fountain? It’s naked people Okay, fine The renaissance had lots of naked people but the problem with these naked people is that this fountain was put right in front of this church Guess what was inside that church, cloistered nuns.
The only view that those nuns had from their quarters was of a fountain with naked people These poor nuns got so put out about having this fountain with all these naked people put in front of their convent that they often went out and tried to solve the problem by sewing clothes for the figures and putting them on There’s even an urban legend that an industrious nun came out in the middle of the night with a hammer and chisel to try and rid them of the male parts that were offensive I don’t know that that’s true but that’s a wonderful little urban legend It’s a huge fountain though and it makes almost no sense because it just takes up the entire piazza basically and it was imported from Tuscany.
It’s because in the 1500s there was a governor that came down who was from Tuscany and he brought his fountain with him and just plopped it right in the middle of the piazza So this is the thing that’s fascinating about Sicily is it has such a strange history and everything’s kind of woven together, but there’s always a great story to basically everything you see in Sicily The other thing about Palermo as far as this idea of you’ll never know what you’re going to find, this is their cathedral Now when you look at their cathedral I just want to warn you I’m an architect and I love to talk about architecture But architecture, in my opinion, will show you a lot about a culture and the history of a place.
What I find interesting about this one is it’s almost a crazy style of architecture It’s a mix, do you see the Arab influences? Can you see that? You can see the middle eastern influence This almost looks like something that could be a Roman ruin or something from Tunisia, for example That’s because this island of Sicily was invaded by the Arabs in the 9th century and they stayed for a long time and they brought a lot of really interesting things with them, architectural styles, they brought sugar, they brought almonds and oranges They added a lot of interesting things to the island, but they really affected the architecture.
From this perspective you can look at this and say, okay, there’s the Arab influence, there’s the norman influence where it looks like a castle, then there’s the baroque influence on the top That’s just sort of plopped on the top I like to think of it as a crazy quilt You ever have one of those quilts with all the colors, that’s the way I look at Palermo is its sort of a crazy quilt It’s a little bit of all these different cultures, but it’s very different than what you would see, first, let’s say, in Rome.
You would never find a church like this in Rome because of the influence of the cultures As I was mentioning, this was a cultural capital in the 19th century This is Teatro Massimo You might recognize it from The Godfather Have you seen The Godfather? I think you’ve seen The Godfather.
The very last one of the big scenes at the end is where the daughter is murdered on the steps of the opera, and that’s the theater where she was murdered Above that though, this was one of the largest theatres ever built in Europe, and this is where a lot of incredible operas were performed That tells you something about how important the city was at the time the opera was the main cultural function of the elite In the 19th century, this was a real magnet for the cultural elite There’s also a bit of historic culture as well, foot culture in Palermo that you can still find.
People still paint carts in the traditional way You’ll see carts with horses going down the streets in the center of Palermo In fact, they recently banned motor traffic from the main streets Via Maqueda and part of Via Vittorio Emanuele and they’ve put some of these little horse carts that are going around– the traditional ones– and you can kind of have a taste of the old world that way The markets in Palermo I think are really fun because they show you something different about the local lifestyle, and people really do shop here They really do go every day and they buy all of their different things for their meals, but the markets in Palermo and in Sicily, in general, are better than any markets you’ve seen in Italy or probably even comparable to France, which I think has some of the best markets.
These markets go on and on but the produce is incredible, it’s so inexpensive and it’s abundant That’s because Sicily has this wonderful volcanic soil You can grow anything in Sicilian volcanic soil They have beautiful tomatoes and peppers, artichokes like you’ve never seen The artichokes can be this big.
Really, as big as almost a bowling ball These are broccoli, they’re kind of a green cauliflower and these, in reality, are about this big I’ve never seen one that size in a grocery store in the United States for sure And it’s so inexpensive, you can buy anything you want So if you go to Palermo or anywhere in Sicily, getting an apartment with a kitchen would be a lot of fun if you’re a cook.
You can go out and buy lots of ingredients If you like fish, in particular, the island is very famous for their fish, and at the markets, you can get anything and there’s lots of things you’ve never even seen before There’s lots of tentacles and scales and all kinds of weird fishy things that you didn’t know you could eat It’s a fun thing to go and explore and see what you can find This is one of those mysterious things that I’m never going to love as much as I love Sicily.
This is a local thing, they’re called fico d’India and they are a prickly pear There’s something that I think only Sicilians can love Apparently, you have to eat them when they’re super cold, but if you pick them up with your hands you get all these little splinters If you want to try that, it’s a real Sicilian treat, you have to ask the produce seller though to peel them and prepare them for you Otherwise, you’ll be like me with tweezers for two weeks picking little spines.
You can also find a lot of things to take home If you’re interested in shopping at the markets, it’s not just for locals, you can buy things that are preserved and you can take them home Sun-dried tomatoes, for instance, are a thing that a lot of Sicilian cooks love to prepare That’s a good reason to walk through the markets so you can find great culinary ideas to take home Street food is one of the biggest ways to eat in Palermo.
Eating in Palermo, in general, is very inexpensive The restaurants are ridiculously cheap compared to American restaurants, for example If you want to eat like the locals, so you go and you eat street food They consider Palermo’s to have the best street food scene in all of Europe and it’s been a cultural capital in the last few years The street food scene has been a part of that cultural capital evolution.
This is called sfincione and it’s sort of a big fat thick pizza, and they just sell it It’s really greasy and they have it on this little kind of hot plates This is just a guy just hanging out in the market, he’s got his little stall and he lops off a little piece One of the best parts of eating at the street food stalls in the market is talking to the people who are selling it because they’re interested There’s not a lot of Americans to be honest that are traveling in Sicily.
You’re a curiosity People are going to look at you, they’re going to talk to you, they’re going to wonder who you are, and they love Americans This is a great opportunity if you’re doing a street food tour to talk to the vendors because they really– Even if you don’t speak Italian or Sicilian it doesn’t matter, they speak with their hands anyway You all speak with your hands I’m sorry I do this all the time, I’ve been in Sicily for too long, it’s part of our language.
You can eat in the day and in the evening There’s a wonderful market called Vucciria and that is a place where they have a really old school food market in the evening They have barbecues like this You see this guy here with his big barbecue, and you go up to the case up here and you pick out what you would like to have– a little piece of raw meat– and they slap it on the grill for you One little insider tip I learned is you see that big plume of smoke coming up.
I thought this smells good and I thought it kind of is theatrical, but I just thought it was the meat grilling They go out and they wipe the grill down with fat so it will create that smoke because it’s a selling technique, it’s a way to get people attracted to what they’re doing So this is all theater That’s so Sicilian though to create drama, even in your barbecue is a little bit of drama This is what I tried that particular night, but almost every night they have interesting street food here.
What this is is asparagus wrapped in bacon and then these little skewers with meat I didn’t want to ask what part of meat it was I’m assuming it was, I don’t know, something I don’t typically eat I’ve had intestines, I’ve had veal penis, I’ve had– I don’t even want to know half of it But you have to try it.
They have that real snout to tail philosophy in Sicily– because it was a poor country in the past– you eat everything In fact, one of the street food carts sells– it looks like a sponge What they do is they take the bones and the leftover pieces of meat you can’t make anything out of and they process it into something you can eat It’s sort of like a spongy greasy sort of thing You can find all kinds of peculiar street foods and I challenge you.
I’m laying down the challenge right now If you are a little leery about eating at the street food stalls because you worry, “Oh, perhaps I’m going to get food sick or something like this,” there are restaurants that actually serve the street food and I want to introduce you to the most typical ones This one here is called panelle Panelle is a cheap peak cake and that is really good because they fry it up in these really big grounds and then they cut off little pieces Sometimes you’ll see it just in strips.
So that’s panelle there You’re going to see the arancini and those are the fried rice balls, deep-fried rice balls which are just fantastic They can have meat inside or cheese More modern ones that are kind of hipster arancini have brie and walnuts, so there’s lots of different types you can find There’s more of that fat pizza.
This is for, let’s say, the advanced eater We call it pani ca meusa and it is a spleen sandwich If you’ve never eaten spleen before, you have to try it when you go to Sicily It may not sound appetizing, but it smells so good You know that smell of a Christmas roast, the most delicious roast of the year, that’s what it smells like.
It smells so good and you bite into it and you get that wonderful flavor of the Christmas roast But then it sort of feels like slugs in your mouth somehow I have tried so hard to love the spleen sandwich because all the [???? 00:16:39] love it and they all want you to try it I’ve tried it all the different ways, with cheese, without cheese, with sauce, without sauce and it still has the consistency of slugs even if it tastes really good But you should try it.
It’s really worth it, and it’s very local You can do this at restaurants too The point is that you can do the street food, but if you’re intimidated by that if you sit down in restaurants a lot of the restaurants will have street food items on their menus as well As far as site seeing go there’s so much to see especially with the churches, but the architecture again is what really blows me away in Palermo because we have such an interesting mix We have a church that is a Byzantine, Romanesque church and then we have another one– This is also a church, doesn’t it look like a mosque? It has something completely different it’s a Crusader church.
These are people who came back from Africa and they built churches based on what they saw But also the thing is that Sicily was a mixture of different cultures it was a melting pot So artisans and architects that came from all over the world would come and work in Sicily and they would build in the style that they knew The other style of architecture that is a little overwhelming is Sicilian Baroque This is Santa Caterina.
I guess the best way to put it is when civilians do things, they don’t go by half measures, they go all the way and beyond Some of these churches when you get to see this baroque style, it’s a little bit of an assault on the senses The first time I saw it I felt a little nauseous I have to admit I like the baroque style I spent a lot of time in Rome and the baroque style there is kind of effervescent and dramatic but they kind of go a little further here in Sicily.
What’s interesting though every single little bit of this church is completely plastered with marble and decoration This is that Santa Caterina church the one with the nuns, the cloistered nuns These were wealthy women who went to this convent They were the second daughter, usually, they couldn’t be married off because they didn’t have a dowry But the family would donate money to the church to take care of the daughter.
They had so much money, what are they going to do with that money? They’re going to make their church like a jewel-encrusted sort of decorative jewel box That’s just a panel this big Look how finally decorated that is Each of these seams is three dimensional It’s a type of mosaic that they often call Florentine mosaic, where you take semi-precious stones and you make seams out of them.
They’re absolutely glorious and every single square inch of this church is covered in these types of mosaics It’s really a beautiful spot to go It’s a little bit much but if you can kind of calm your nervous system All of the churches in Sicily are like this so they come from this Baroque period They are all really exuberant in their decoration.
A little more restrained but something I really enjoy is– this is Monreale that’s that church, the Byzantine church outside of Palermo You have to take a bus or a taxi and takes about 20 minutes to get there This is a church from the 1200s, 1100s and this is an important church because it was built by their Norman rulers The Norman Kings that came from basically France, they’re relatives of William the Conqueror Do you realize those people were in Sicily? Actually, Louis the IX of France was related to the kings that were here, the Norman Kings.
It’s kind of an interesting connection They built this beautiful church for a variety of reasons Competing with the Archbishop of Palermo, they wanted to create their own marvelous church This is the best cycle of Byzantine mosaics of any place I know in Europe, I would say, even better than Rivanna because they’re almost complete When you go in there and you look you’ll watch the Bible unfold in comic book-like form, you’ll see every panel tells a different story.
These ones here are so easy to understand There’s Adam and Eve, you can see there’s Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden Now they’re being cast out of the garden of Eden Now they’re working in the fields and Eve is really lamenting her dress, you can tell how sad she is Just the sort of emotion in all of the panels, they’re just beautiful to look at.
It’s wallpapered floor to ceiling, the whole thing And it’s a mix of Byzantine art but also Arabic There’s a lot of Arabic motifs because the craftsman came from Africa, so it’s a real fusion art form that’s marvelous Next story, in the Cloister at Monreale, they have their own type of masterpiece, and that is all of these column capitals in the Cloister Each individual column capital is an individual work of art.
This particular one I think you may recognize Have you had your coffee this morning? Tourists: Yes, Starbucks Sarah: Starbucks It’s Melusine, it’s a myth about a mermaid and that’s actually where the symbol for Starbucks comes from, but this was known in the 1200s These artists came down and they made a capital, each one was individual depending on the artist taste.
Some of them told other stories that these are the three wise men, and they’re presenting gifts to the Christ child Some are religious, some are mythical, but every single column capital has its own story You can be there for weeks just looking at each one, and the details are very, very fine Monreale is well worth your time to visit because it has all these beautiful things, but it’s a small site, you can visit it in about half a day We’re going to head off now from Palermo to the West Coast of Sicily to Trapani and the area around it, there’s a lot of beautiful things to see there.
Our first stop is Segesta Segesta is one of the many ancient archaeological sites that you can visit I have to warn you, if you go to every one of these archaeological sites, I suggest you’re going to be a little Greeked out at the end because it is very Greek and Roman heavy, but particularly Greek theaters The theater of Segesta is absolutely one of my favorites because it has almost perfect acoustics The shape of it is so ingenious it reflects the audio in every direction, so anywhere you stand, you can hear the person standing in the center.
Here I’m demonstrating for my tour group that I was singing for them I started off singing really loud so everybody would stop talking because they could hear me in their ears, it’s almost like your headphones on Then I started singing like this and people in the far corners of that theater could hear me It’s ingenious, it really is It’s the most incredible audio, better than any theater you’ll find in the United States.
This is one of my favorite places to stop because it has, in my opinion, the best acoustics of any of the theaters in Sicily Also, there you can find this beautiful temple, which is a bit of a strange story because this temple is not finished This temple was designed and built to impress people from Athens This city wanted help from Athens during the Greek period, and the only way they could make Athens give them money for a war was by impressing them with how important they are So how do you impress people in the Greek time? You build a temple.
They built it as far as they could build before the emissary from Athens came, and then they dressed it up and faked it out with decorations And then the emissary from Athens came saw, what a beautiful temple And then they were impressed and they wanted to send money to the people of Segesta and then they never finished It’s just sitting there unfinished because they didn’t need to It served its purpose, it was like a stage set, like a stage dressing.
We know that for sure because it never had any inner temple [???? 00:23:40] they call it the seller or the chela on the inside, the room where the god would have been They never built it We know it’s unfinished and it’s a very strange but very famous story, so we know that it did happen that way Continuing past Segesta, we end up in Erice which is one of my favorite little villages.
It’s just this tiny little fairy village on top of a mountain This I thought was such a sweet little medieval town when I first visited there but what I didn’t realize, this was an important place for the call to Venus in the past This temple right up here you’ll see, this was the temple of Venus in the past and the sailors would go out there and, let’s say, devote themselves to the goddess [laughter] They had priestesses up there that would perform rituals with the sailors [laughter] I’m not sure how to be more delicate about that.
[laughter] But it was important because this was a very high point and the boats from all around could see the fire burning, so it was almost like a lighthouse This is where the sailors would go and they would dedicate themselves to Venus Also because they thought that if they dedicated themselves to Venus, she could intercede with the god of the sea to keep the seas calm, that’s their excuse at least [laughter] Erice I think is a lovely place to visit because it’s of a beautiful medieval village, but it has this real strange mysterious vibe Before I even knew about all of the legends about the cults surrounding Erice, I got this strange feeling when I stay there overnight.
It has the most magical atmosphere at night, the fog rolls in, and there’s just a very strange vibe If you want to get a really different sort of intimate experience sleeping in Erice, I think is a really fun thing to do The other thing I love to do is to visit my friend Maria Grammatico She is a famous pastry chef, she’s famous all over Italy for making some of the most delicious sweets I visit her with my groups and she makes a beautiful lunch.
She reminds me so much of my grandmother That actually is to scale, but I’m 6 foot 2, she’s not that short [laughter] She’s a lovely person, she teaches us how to make pastries, so we make the almond pastries just using ground almonds, egg whites, and sugar These ones, I love the names, these are called the boobies of nuns [laughter] That’s not a joke.
[laughs] That’s absolutely true The other cookie she’s making right now are called ugly but delicious They all have these funny names But she’s an incredible pastry chef and she has written her own cookbook, so she’s very well known Leaving Erice we head down into the town of Trapani, and you can take a cable car, and that’s a fun way to kind of get an introduction.
Every single one of the cities has their own myth of how they were born This myth of how this one was born is that, the myth of Demeter and Persephone comes from this island, and if you don’t know that I’ll just tell you quickly Demeter was the goddess, a mother goddess, her daughter Persephone was wandering around the fields one day, and she was kidnapped by Hades the god of the underworld because she was very beautiful When she went to the underworld and she was stuck down there, her mother tried desperately to find her Because her mother was the goddess of the earth, she was the one who promoted growth and she dropped her sickle and ran off to try and find her daughter.
When she found her daughter, she had to negotiate with Hades to figure out when she could be with her mother and when she had to be with her eventual husband And that is the reason that they have seasons Because when Demeter or does not have Persephone she gets very sad, and everything turns brown and dies in the winter When Persephone returns to her mother’s care, her mother’s pleased and happy and all the flowers bloom The town of Trapani has really nothing to see, I have to be honest.
There’s no museum, there’s nothing cool to go and do, it’s just pleasant, it’s a beautiful town It was recently restored and almost everything is just beautifully white and restored, and have wonderful restaurants This is a great home base to stay in for exploring the area around It’s very comfortable, the hotels are inexpensive and typically quite nice You can also get one of their wonderful specialties.
As I said, Sicilian cuisine I think reflects that mix of cultures, that cultural fusion In this case, the cultural fusion has a lot to do with the Arabic cultures, and couscous is on the menu Couscous is very famous in Trapani, and not only do they serve the couscous, but you have to have along with the couscous– you see the little silver boat, the gravy boat When I ordered this couscous– I have to tell you because I don’t look Sicilian, I get this a lot even if I speak Italian– the owner has to come out of the kitchen and teach me how to eat the food They don’t trust me because I’m obviously not Sicilian.
So they come out with the little bowl and it’s a bowl of broth, and it’s usually a fish broth They pour it over the top of the couscous, and you don’t pour it all at once You pour a little bit on and then you eat, and you pour a little bit more of the broth on then you eat That’s how you eat the couscous in Sicily, and typically the best kind to have is the seafood couscous That’s what we’ve got going on here, and of course, the owner, as usual, came out had to teach me how to do it so, that’s nice.
Nearby you can jump in a car you can drive down south to Mozia, to the islands around the salt pans This area in the past was very well off because salt was so valuable They didn’t have refrigeration in the past, and salt was the way to preserve food So being able to create a way to get salt was important This area of Sicily has been cultivating the salt beds for generations.
I know that this looks like the Man of La Mancha of course, but it’s not, it’s Sicily We have here all of the different salts being collected, and salt comes in multiple qualities The floor of the salt is the very first kind of a take off of the top This is when I was just recently there, they were finishing up for the season of harvesting the salt, and they were starting if you can see, to cover up the salt with roof tiles They have these funny little roof tiles and every day they cover a little bit more because if you leave it out in the open it’s going to get wet and it’s going to go back into the sea.
They have to cover it and then they take it away a little bit like by a little bit as they need it They’re very fortunate because this was a dying industry until fancy salt became a thing [laughs] You know the fancy sell you get from Jamie Oliver or whatever that cost $20 for a little jar, this is the fancy salt But that’s great for them because it’s a local industry that’s been traditional for generations that they haven’t been able to really support until recently Nearby we take a boat from there out to a little island in that harbor– very, very close, only about a five-minute ride– and this is the island of Mozia.
This island is so interesting because it’s something you wouldn’t expect It’s one of the few places to see Carthaginian ruins If you know the Carthaginians, these are people who were the Phoenicians in the past They floated across over to Northern Africa, and they established a city at Carthage, which was a competitor to Rome before Rome became an empire Carthage had outposts, and this was one of their many outposts.
There’s not really much of Carthage left, because the Romans erase them almost completely from history, which was their method of getting rid of their adversaries, but they found here, not really that long ago, the Carthaginian ruins of the city that used to be here It’s something very special and unusual because you don’t see this really anywhere else in Italy It’s a really special Island There was a family that was related to the Marsala wine producing trade that purchased the island and built a villa there, and then eventually found all these artifacts They have turned their villa into a museum, and it’s a privately owned Island.
It’s owned by the people– That family still, it’s called the Whitaker Foundation Inside you can see all kinds of interest artifacts This one I think is fun because this is a display on how they got the purple die out of these little shells to make purple cloth The reason that’s important is, you know the word Phoenician, but where does that come from? It comes from the word for purple in the past They were people that wore purple clothing.
Purple was a really important and valuable color for clothing because it usually symbolized royalty or importance, something like this Those are the little shells that created that Then you can go out on the island and look at all the different ruins You can walk through, and a lot of them don’t make much sense Here I like to have a local guide walk me through and show me because it’s a culture we maybe don’t know a lot about.
They get to explain what the different parts of the island work, and then you also get to be accompanied There are two dogs that live there, Luna and Matziah, and they will accompany you, and they follow you around the island It’s very sweet Not a lot of people go here actually, so this is a great place to go and get in touch with a mysterious piece of history that you can’t see anywhere else in Europe Another thing I’ve just discovered recently that I invite you to do is nearby to Trapani, a half hour boat ride you can get out to the Egadi islands.
This is an island called Favignana, and it really is a stunning Island, crystal clear blue waters These are old tuna factories This is where they would bring in the tuna fleets, and they would process that because that was the real industry of Sicily Let’s say 100 years ago, was producing canned tuna Canned and packed in oil.
They sort of were the ones who invented that idea, but then, of course, the tuna industry collapsed, and they have these buildings that are left without any purpose They repurposed the buildings now to be museums This whole complex out here’s a beautiful museum on Sicilian life, which is lovely, and the island itself is just beautiful, and there’s hardly anybody there because again, it’s Sicily It’s a little bit unknown, and it’s an island that just hasn’t really been discovered by tourism too much, but so charming The Little Town Square is so adorable.
You can have a lovely lunch It’s very inexpensive You can rent bicycles and ride all around the island This is a really pleasant thing to do only a half an hour away from Trapani There’s lots of choices.
Trapani has an excellent home base to do a lot of little excursions into Western Sicily We’re going to head now down south to Agrigento Agrigento is home to the famous Valley of the Temples This is one of the great experiences in travel if you’re interested in architecture These temples are Greek temples.
They are not Italian temples They are not temples from any other culture This is from when Sicily was Magna Graecia, Greater Greece This is the temple of Concordia It’s one of the most well-preserved temples, and it’s the same thing as the Pantheon.
The reason we have the Pantheon in Rome is because it was always used It was turned into a church This is the same thing This temple was used as a church for a long time, and they put in a lot of other elements to prop it up, to turn it into a proper church, but because of that, we have the original temple and it’s never fallen, and that’s incredibly unusual If you’ve been to Greece, it’s really hard to find a temple that is this well preserved.
The difference, however, between the Greek temples and the ones at Agrigento is the stone These are not made of marble These are made of a local sandstone, and so they’re golden in color But you have to change the way you look at them if you think about it from a historical perspective because temples were never white, to begin with You may know this, but they painted their temples.
They painted their statues As you walk around the temples in Agrigento, occasionally you can find small patches of white plaster, and that’s because all of them were plastered and brightly painted Change the way you look at them They would not have looked like this in the past They look like a skeleton to people who are Greek.
This was a huge city Agrigento was one of the most impressive cities in all of Greece, and it fell just like Persia, or just like the angels going up to the heavens They got too close to the sun– Icarus I’m sorry, it was Icarus that got too close to the sun, and his wings melted Agrigento was almost the same way.
It was such a grand and incredibly large city and then fell once Greece lost importance and the island was dominated by the Romans There’s very little of the ancient city left other than the temples They’re just starting to discover it now You have beautiful views, and one of the things I love about the walk through the valley of the temples is the vegetation You can see, of course, those beautiful cactuses, and those are the fico d-India, You’ll see almond trees.
You’ll see all kinds of beautiful flowers, Jasmine, it smells heavenly as you walk through there That’s something to enjoy as well as the flora and fauna The temples themselves are kind of fun This particular one was purchased by an English nobleman, and he came and built a little house next to it You can go and visit the house, and this is the one column that was original still standing from Greek times.
Then this gentleman, his name was Alexander Hardcastle He reconstructed part of the temples with his own money because back in the 19th century, you could buy a temple if you wanted to It was okay Too bad you can’t do it now My favorite part though of the whole valley of the temples is something strange though.
This looks like the Michelin Man, don’t you think? These huge giants, they’re called Telemann There were hundreds of them, and they went all the way around a temple that was enormous Something that’s almost impossible to understand the scale This is a model that’s in the museum of Agrigento If you can start to get a sense of the size.
It was perhaps the largest Greek temple ever built There is none of it left, and the reason is that it fell apart a little bit during an earthquake, and then they decided to recycle it and make a pier at a nearby town to Agrigento That tells you something about why ruins are gone It’s not necessarily that it was earthquakes, or wind, or whatever It was recycling.
People didn’t care about these temples, but that’s a really great source of material to build something else They took this away and built a breakwater in a town called Porto Empedocle nearby That’s the scale though Isn’t that fun? That’s how big they are, and this is the most complete one Imagine this guy completely painted, covered with plaster and painted, and all of the features of the faces were a little bit different.
I love to have people pose by them [laughter] It’s kind of fun for scale My scale models The museum is wonderful too It has a lot of wonderful artifacts from the past.
From Greek times These, in fact, are all votives People would buy these at the entrance to temples They were mass produced, and if you wanted to go and bring something and leave it on the altar, you could do that It’s similar thing in Asia, where you go and you buy before you enter a temple, and you leave them at the temples.
It’s the same thing in Greek times They would buy these votives depending on the deity that they were worshiping, and they’d leave them at the temple Moving on, we’re going to head to the center of Italy or Sicily, and we’re going to see the Villa Romana del Casale This is not a Greek ruin This is a Roman ruin.
Roman times came and didn’t really treat Sicily very well They subjugated the population, and they didn’t really take care of the Greek ruins, but they built some of their own things Most of the people who live there who were Roman were wealthy landowners, and they created these big tracts of land where they would grow mostly grain This became one of the ways that Rome grew to a million people during Roman times, because they grew grain in Sicily When you have bread and water, that’s how you maintain that size population.
This incredibly big strange palace is in the middle of nowhere, and we think it’s because it was the palace of a wealthy nobleman who had a lot of land, that grew a lot of grain and things like that The other idea we have about him is a little strange We think maybe he was an animal importer, and I’ll show you why in a second The way they’ve restored these, you can see where the land was in the past Before they found them the land had covered up here because there was a landslide, and it filled it up, and you can see exactly where the land was in the past.
They excavated They found the floors, and in the past 10 or 15 years, they’ve reconstructed the shelters to look like the building probably looked in the past When you walk through, and you see these strange wooden ceilings, and domes and things, that’s because they’re trying to reconstruct it to look like the ancient Roman house that it would have been in the past The floors are magnificent They’re a little hard to see because they’re very pastel in color, but they have these wonderful catwalks that go all the way around it so you can stand over the top and you can look down, and they have nice little plaques in front of each to explain the topics.
Typically, there’s an animal theme though You can see in each of these ribs that there are animals This is one of my favorites There’s a whole hallway full of these animal themes, and this one is an elephant They’re loading elephants onto a boat to transport, which makes us believe that perhaps this is somebody who imported animals to Rome for the games in Rome.
It’s very possible That’s one of the ideas This entire hallway is full of these, but one thing that a person on a tour pointed out to me and I thought was interesting, is the outfits that people are wearing They’re all dressed in such incredible detail You can see the details of all of their different costumes, and they come from all over the known world at that time.
You see different outfits of different kinds of people from the Roman world All the little day to day details Those are the fine things to look at in these mosaics This is a hunting scene You’ve got the hunters in the center and they’re roasting a turkey.
Can you see the turkey? They’ve got a hunting down here, and the scene up here above is of them dedicating themselves to the Goddess Diana, who’s the goddess of the hunt Lovely little details about Roman life and everyone’s favorite, the bikini girls [laughter] Nothing changes in the world, I think These are young ladies wearing bikinis and they’re competing in athletic games Just like the Olympics.
It’s like the Olympics of the past and the winner gets a crown and a palm frond We kind of know who the winner was Bikinis, you didn’t invent them in the 1960s, the Romans did Ragusa in southeastern Sicily are our next topic and that’s moving on from the village of Casale area You can leave Agrigento, hit the village of Casale.
Then you can head and sleep in the Ragusa area as an easy day There’s again not a whole lot to see in this town It’s just a very pleasant hill town and it’s really lovely Sicily and this entire corner of the island were rocked in the 1600s by an earthquake That destroyed a lot of these towns in southeastern Sicily.
That’s a good thing in a sense because that meant at the beginning of the 1700s, most of these towns were reconstructing They all did in that crazy Baroque style That’s one of the reasons people love to go to southeastern Sicily, to visit Noto, and Ragusa, and Scicli because you see these wonderful architectural masterpieces from the Baroque period This is the one in Ragusa This is their cathedral.
The old town is called Ibla This is Ragusa Ibla I think this is the most pleasant part of Ragusa This is where I like to stay There’s gardens you can walk around.
It’s got a lovely pace to it It’s quiet but lovely Then you can take the staircase There’s a crazy staircase you can go up It’ll take you probably about a half hour, 40 minutes to walk.
You could walk from Ibla down below to the new city which is called Ragusa Superiore It’s above the old city and that’s the Baroque City Just the staircase itself is a lot of fun because there’s masterpieces of architecture all along the way and you get beautiful views down into the valley At the top, you’ll find the cathedral This cathedral is funny because they built it after a big earthquake.
You can tell, look how funny it is It’s squat and the walls are really thick because they were very afraid of another earthquake They have this base underneath it with the shops This is old-fashioned earthquake-proofing This was what they thought they could do with seismic retrofitting in a way.
Brand new cathedral and they built it as squat and strong as they could There’s a really strange little site there that I want to draw your attention to It’s a museum in the town hall that’s probably no bigger than this room It’s a very small museum It’s a museum dedicated to Italy and Africa when Italy had colonies in Africa, which you may not even know that they did.
It’s just a local person from Ragusa who has collected all of these costumes over his lifetime and he got a space in the City Hall to display them Sometimes it’s not opening You knock on the door and somebody comes The custodian comes and lets you in They’ll walk you around and show you the different artifacts.
This is one of the things I love doing when I’m researching guidebooks especially, is to find these funny little things you wouldn’t know about otherwise What a lovely treat to go in and learn about a piece of Italian history that I actually knew nothing about Moving on from Ragusa, you can do a lot of day trips You can head on to Noto Noto is the one Baroque gem.
I think most people love coming here because it’s sort of Baroque Disneyland, I guess you could say Everybody goes there, especially times on the weekends You park and you walk down the main street and every single building is Baroque and they’re all really exuberant and beautifully done This is a popular destination if you’re interested in that style of architecture Then you can head over to Modica.
Modica is nearby and it’s another hill town It also has that style but there’s a more interesting thing than the architecture in Modica and that’s the chocolate Modican chocolate is different than any chocolate you’ve ever had It’s one of the first chocolates ever made in Europe and they make it in a strange way They create a chocolate outside that looks choccy and on the inside it’s granular.
It’s got grains of sugar and grains of cocoa bean It’s, I think, the best chocolate I’ve ever had I try all of them and I bring all of them home with me I absolutely encourage you to go here and try all of them to figure out which is best You have to do the experimentation.
While we’re on the topic of food, I just want to tell you a little bit about the highlight of Sicily which is the food I think what I do more than anything there is eat When I start talking to Sicilians, we’ll talk about politics or religion, or the weather and eventually, we end up talking about food I guarantee you, if you sit on a park bench in Sicily and you listen, everybody around you is talking about food There’s a good reason.
The food is fabulous, from the fish to those arancini You can take cooking classes when you’re there This is my group doing a cooking class on how to make the rice balls You have this wonderful pasta dishes but it’s not the kind of pasta dishes that you might be used to This is a pasta dish with an octopus sauce, which I’d never heard of before.
They use everything they have They use the ingredients from their farms and the ingredients from the sea as well This is a wonderful lunch, too Nice, simple lunch Fresh vegetables, cheese, salami, things like these.
You can eat so well in Sicily The weird thing is that you don’t gain weight because the food has no calories in it, right? [laughter] The pizza is different, too This is a Trapanese pizza I love Trapanese pizza It’s really thick and crispy but it’s cut into tiny little pieces, for reasons I have yet to discover.
I don’t know why, but this is the style of the City of Trapani They cut their pizza and I love eating it in these tiny little squares That’s how you eat it The wine is a highlight I highly recommend going to a winery.
There’s lots of wonderful wineries around Etna There’s also some in the western side of Sicily but the wines there are becoming very popular It’s chic now to drink Sicilian wines I encourage you to have wine with every meal because it’s good for your heart Isn’t it? It’s healthy.
I’m not joking when I say their food has no calories and the wine is good for you Sicilians live to be older than any other race of people on the earth I think there’s a town in Japan that can compete with Sicily but they have some of the longest living humans on the planet They know what they’re doing Eat the sweets too, because they know what they’re doing, right? No calories in the sweets either.
These are those almond pastries I was talking about There’s Cassata, Pasta Reale, there’s all these beautiful things you can have that are sweets, that are so famous If you don’t like Italian sweets, which I find bland Frankly, I like French sweets better You’ve never had Sicilian sweets because remember those Arabs brought the sugar, and the almonds, and the citrus and they make fantastic things with them.
This is a real highlight Your dentist will not thank you for going to Sicily or maybe they will, because you’ll enrich them a little bit when you get back, but yes, it’s good stuff My favorite thing about Sicily as far as sweets go is this This is breakfast I’m serious.
This is breakfast [laughter] This is what Sicilians eat for breakfast This is granita and brioche A granita is like a slushy and they make it out of almond milk, or they make it out of coffee, or they make it out of fruit juices You can have it with whipped cream and a warm egg bread bun.
I know that sounds weird, but you take it and you dip the warm egg bread into the granita and you eat that That’s what you have for breakfast, especially in the summertime When I took my son here, that’s what we had for every meal It was wonderful because it’s really good It’s healthy too because it’s fruit, it’s fresh fruit.
I love the granitas and I highly recommend you find a good place to do that because that’s a real, specifically Sicilian treat This, however, I cannot abide I have to tell you My Sicilian friends for years have tried to convince me that this is good and I do not believe it This is gelato on a bun.
[laughter] This is an abomination in my opinion I have tried it I have attempted to like it and I think it’s just wrong If you really want to be Sicilian about it, go and you’ll see every gelato shop, they’ll have a pile of buns on the countertop You can just ask for the buns and they’ll think you’re an amazing local.
Even if you don’t speak Italian, if you’re eating gelato on a bun they’ll be like, “Ciao”‘ and think you’re Italian You should try it I don’t like it but you should try it We’re going to move on now to Syracuse on the coast We’re heading to the eastern coast of Sicily.
Syracuse is one of the highlights in terms of Greek ruins and Greek architecture because this was at a certain point in Greek history more important than Athens The city rivaled Athens in its scale with the number of people and with all of the architectural treasures that they had This was a very powerful place in the past This little island here is called Ortygia This was the capital, the main center of Syracuse in the past.
These days, this little island of Ortygia has become a tourist hotspot because it was a little scary in the past and they put a lot of money renovating it During the 1600s, this was also destroyed and rebuilt in this Baroque style In the past 10 years, they’ve restored all of these beautiful Baroque churches, and buildings, and so on This one is deceiving though This is a church.
You’ll find the remnants of Santa Lucia inside and that’s interesting You’d think it’s a Baroque church from the front, right? You walk around the corner and you see this Is that a Baroque church? No It’s a Baroque church on the front, you go here and you see that it was a Norman cathedral fort during the Norman times Here you can see it was a temple.
They took a Greek temple, they filled it in during the Norman times, turned it into a cathedral fort It was a defensive and religious building I know that doesn’t make sense but it did back then Then they pasted a Baroque facade on the front This is Sicily, right here, in a nutshell.
If you can look at one building and understand the island, this is the building to look at You’ll find these Greek ruins all throughout Syracuse This is against Ortygia, right in the center of town When you first crossed that bridge and you go to the market, this is in the middle, it’s a Temple to Apollos You see these wonderful ruins of ancient Greece everywhere you walk.
I love how beautiful the sea is there Just sitting along the banks and looking at the sunset It’s a beautiful place and it’s floating out there in the middle of the Mediterranean It’s very peaceful You can swim there during the summertime, too.
They have catwalks, where you can jump off and you can swim if it’s warm The environment of Ortygia is lovely I like to eat at the market The market has a famous sandwich guy His name is Andrea and he will make you a sandwich while dishing out all kinds of life advice.
Usually, love advice, if you’re a man If you’re a woman, kind of flirting with you a little bit I go there and enjoy talking to him This is a sandwich right here, do you see that? In real life size, it’s this big That sandwich for two halves is €5, so that gives you a sense.
That’s an unusually inexpensive place, but that gives you a sense of how inexpensive the food in Sicily is because food is part of their life there It’s not for rich people Food is important and having hearty good food is all about the culture They also have though a wonderful archeological park on the actual main lands You have to go to the mainland and this is called the Neapolis.
In the Neapolis, this is unusual, I know I’ve shown you a bunch of Greek theatres, this one here is a solid piece of stone This is carved into the side of a cliff At the time that Syracuse was the most important city, they made the most important theater They still use it They do Greek tragedies here during the summertime.
It’s incredible that 2,000 years later, something is still in use In that same area, they have a really strange thing There were quarries that they use during Greek times to build all of their temples, and theaters, and things like that Inside of those quarries is the strange thing, we call the Ear of Dionysius It’s just a fun geological feature.
You go inside, you can stand and sing there and the acoustics are marvelous They say it’s called the Ear of Dionysius because Dionysius was like a king almost of Syracuse They say he would sit on top of this cave and listen, to try and listen in on people’s conversations because the acoustics were so good That’s why they call it that Also, in Syracuse, I highly recommend visiting the puppet museum and getting to know the culture of Sicilian puppets.
These knights that they had, these are the Knights of Charlemagne They are folk tales that came from French troubadours and they stuck around This is still a story cycle they teach their children They do these wonderful puppet shows This is one of the best ones in all of Sicily that you can visit and they’re fantastic.
The puppets, they growl and they fight, and they’re always fighting, of course There’s always sword fights They have dramatic scenes, but everybody’s waiting for the fight because the sword fights are amazing They behead people and there’s sound effects and lights They really have taken it to the next level.
This is great even for adults Even if you don’t have a kid with you, everybody’s a kid on the inside, I know You want to see this This is a lot of fun They even bring the puppets out and they show you how they work.
If you take a look here, you can see there’s only two wires There’s one for the head and one for the arm, and that’s how they gesture and do all the fighting What they can do with those gestures is incredible They seem like they’re alive and real people when they’re up on stage I really recommend doing that when you’re in Syracuse.
It’s by far the best puppet theater Catania is our next stop Catania is just a main city a lot of people need to know well because it is a connection city a lot of people fly out of There’s a wonderful airport there, only 10 minutes by car to get to, it’s very easy I like the city, it’s a little gritty.
I think of it as Naples younger brother It’s tiny, but it’s a lot like Naples It’s crazy and it’s real There’s nothing touristic about it In fact, the tourist office, when I talk to them about writing this Sicily book, they had no idea what I was talking about.
[laughter] They don’t know who Rick Steves is They don’t understand tourism They handed me a DVD that said, “Understanding Tourism” I was like, “Okay, this is what you give people who try to get tourism going” This is not a touristic city.
It’s a real Sicilian city It’s the second largest on the island and it’s made of black stone Do you see their cathedral? If you look closely, it’s made of lava stone because this is at the foot of Mount Etna I’ll just go back quickly This is from the top of one of their churches, that’s how close Mount Etna is.
It’s on the slopes That mountain has flowed lava over the top of the city on multiple occasions but when Etna erupts, it erupts really slowly Nobody ever gets killed by this They often have to redirect their streets and cities and things like that The fish market there is one of the highlights because it’s loud, noisy, and real.
People come out there with just chests of fish directly from their boat, and they scream and saying, “I stayed at a hotel nearby here once I didn’t know what was going on at five o’clock in the morning when there was such a cacophony I thought there was a street fight going on” It wasn’t, it was this market This is the real deal.
Walking around their market, you get an absolutely true sense of what Sicily is The shoppers and the daily life is wonderful The tentacles Oh, the tentacles Nearby, you can go to a museum.
That’s one of the few museums in Italy that talks about World War II This is Museo dello Sbarco, the museum of the landing of World War II This is where Operation Husky landed when the Americans and the Brits landed on the southern shores of Sicily and started the movement up to send the Germans away from Italy This is a wonderful museum You can go and see all the different uniforms.
You can see maps and things that will help explain to you how important that particular operation was in the scope of the history of World War II I really recommend it Nobody goes there Locals don’t even know where it is I asked a taxi driver to take me there and he had no clue what I was talking about.
This is a great site to go too because it is something important to learn about Especially, teaching the lessons of the rise of fascism, that’s an important lesson to learn This is something good to go and do for everybody to see what that means The city of Catania, I would say sticking to the main street is a good idea It’s a little reality-based if you get off the Main Street.
This is Via Etnea, it’s lovely and I would stick to that street It’s really an enjoyable place to have your passage out or your evening stroll They also have a castle nearby that has art exhibitions I’ve seen a Raphael exhibition there They had an exhibition on Van Gogh there once.
You can go there and you can see these wonderful art exhibitions It’s just outside of the city gate Not the best neighborhood, but a really cool castle to visit to see art As we are moving on, now, we’re going to go to Taormina This is really nearby to Catania.
It’s only about a 30-minute, 40-minute drive from Catania I think it’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever been My son has sworn that he’s going to move here and buy a palace for us when he grows up We’ll see I’m hoping so.
The center of town is like something right out of a fairy tale This is the Grand Tour Actually, the Grand Tour was very popular to come and stay here A lot of writers came here and stayed here, Englishmen that sort of thing It has an old-time feel because of it.
This is a place to relax This is where you unplug, you go shopping, you eat food, you just enjoy the pace of life There’s always music in the streets There’s a lot of tourists This is the only place in Sicily, I would say, you will find other tourists.
There’s a reason, it’s really wonderful I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like Taormina It’s just such a nice relaxing place, just beautiful Look at all the details on the architecture This was under Spanish occupation and these balconies have this kind of big wire edges to them because of the women coming out with their skirts.
You can walk around and imagine the women out with their big hoop skirts standing and waving with their gloves at you back, 300 years ago It’s really just an elegant place to go and enjoy They also have their own Greek theater but it’s the most stunning location If you’ve Greek theater doubt, there is a reason to go to this one because look at that view with Mount Etna, that’s Etna simmering in the distance there A lot of famous people come and play here.
Andrea Bocelli, I think, has sung there before, of course, but even American bands If you go during the summertime, famous American singers are usually having concerts at that theater My favorite thing to do there? Go to the beach The beaches in Sicily are great This one’s called Isola Bella and Mazzarò beach.
You can walk down or take a little cable car down to the beach Just lay around and float in the sea The sea is so clear and beautiful They have boats you can jump on and they’ll take you to see little coves Just an enjoyable way to spend time.
This is where I recommend you take a little vacation from your vacation in Taormina Our next stop is Mount Etna, because both of these two towns, Catania and Taormina are on the slopes of Etna Etna is a great thing to do to get up close and personal, whether you have no interest in geology or volcanoes It doesn’t matter because she is compelling She puts on a show all the time.
If you’re there, she’s going to be hissing, and simmering, and smoking You don’t know if she’s going to send up fire I was sitting in a restaurant in Taormina once and I thought it was raining, I went outside and it was an ash fall You just never know what she’s going to do She’s incredibly unpredictable but she’s harmless, generally speaking.
She’s not really a volcano that will cause a lot of issues You can walk up and walk around these craters When I talk about visiting Mount Etna though, I’m not talking about looking down into a crater like you do at Vesuvius She has many, many, many craters Finding an actual crater to look down into, you’ll find extinct ones from hundreds of years ago.
There is no top really to Mount Etna because there are multiple craters open at any one time You can go out there I bring a volcanologist with me, this is my friend Boris, who’s the head volcanologist for Etna He likes to show us the geological aspect of it but anybody can go up there, too It’s called Rifugio Sapienza.
You can walk around and check out the Silvestri crater and just check out a little bit of the stone and all of that Nearby, I prefer to have a different way of exploring Mount Etna, which is to explore the wine They have a wonderful wine industry, because of the fact that we are on volcanic soil and vines grow best on volcanic soil Etna wines have become very famous in the last few years for a great reason I love this particular one because this estate is in between two lava flows from Etna and they can’t grow anything on those two lava flows.
I asked the owner, “Aren’t you worried that one day lava is going to flow on top of your fields?” He’s like, “If it happens, it happens” That’s a very Sicilian attitude It’s like, “Well, I can’t do anything about that, so I’m just going to keep living my life” This north phase of Etna is like the Napa Valley of Sicily You can spend days there going to the wineries and enjoying the food
Nearby, you can stay at agriturismi I love staying at farmhouses If you’ve done that ever, you know how enjoyable that is to go and stay at an old farmhouse Get to know the owner and they cook you breakfast and sometimes dinner This is a great spot for it, right on the north phase of that.
Now, you can do it in the center of Sicily as well, but you I would say this is my favorite place to do it Especially, because of the wine You have to be near the wine The countryside around there is lovely It’s something unexpected too because it’s a different ecosystem than any other place in Sicily.
It’s a little bit more fertile, different landscape It’s close to some high mountains on the opposite side called the Madonie as well This whole valley on the northeast of Etna is worth visiting if you have time Our final stop is Cefalù Cefalù is a great place to finish your trip because it is a beach town.
It’s a great place to go and enjoy the beach Most people think that it’s probably one of the best beaches in Sicily Great beaches on the southern coast, but on the northern coast, this is probably the best place to go and enjoy It’s a very charming little village as well, a fishing town Also, they have this strange Norman Cathedral, if you can see that.
That’s another one of those Norman cathedral forts there It was a Norman bastion in the past This could have been the heart, the capital of Sicily, had the Norman stayed in Sicily Of course, they were defeated and sent away, but if they stayed, Cefalù might have been more important in the past There’s that cathedral, on the inside, just as you might be expecting, you’ll find more of those beautiful mosaics.
This tiny little beach town, little fishing village, has an enormous cathedral with this works of arts It’s a funny little contrast Most people love to going to Cefalù though just to enjoy the easy-going vibe It’s just lovely Just walk around, have something to eat, enjoy the sunset and relax after a crazy vacation of really intensely seeing all these ruins.
It’s a great place to soak it all in and think about it, or sit around and admire the Speedos You can also do that [laughter] Yes, that’s the bathing suit culture there, but that’s okay What I love about the beach culture in Sicily and Italy, in general, is that there’s no shame in wearing a Speedo or a bikini Everybody is doing it, even if you’re 90.
It’s okay to go out there Everybody is out there just to have fun Italian families love to have fun together and so they’ll come out on the beach and spend the day It’s just a really joyful atmosphere They even have ladies that come along and offer to give you a back massage for €10.
Guys with the pails, selling coconut They’ll walk around going, “Coco Coco” They’ll sell you a little size of coconut Definitely, a different experience if you’ve never been to an Italian beach before.
I love the Italian beaches, though It’s very festive, as everything in Italy As we finish up our tour of Sicily, we, of course, need to finish by having a toast with some lovely Italian wine, wonderful Sicilian wine, from the slopes of Etna Then we can continue our thanks and our celebration for visiting Sicily by having cannolo, because you know that famous line, “Take the cannolo” right? My son decided to take the cannolo and he is dying to go back I hope that when you go, you take a cannolo also, and you enjoy it and return to Sicily.
Thank you so much for joining me today.