When I was in Florence in Erasmus most of my friends were actually from Sicily. So Maria, my flatmate, and I, decided we should fly there during our Easter Holidays and visit the island. We stayed two days in Palermo, took a bus to Taormina where we stayed one and a half days, then we drove to Catania for the rest of the day (too few), and then we split, as Maria was starting her classes before me, and I went alone to Agrigento for one day and back to Palermo for two other days. In this post you can find tips on what to do in each place! It was a super intense trip of wonderful cuisine and impressive Norman architecture! Sicilia is another world, it is completely different from northern Italy, with a lot of influence from neighboring Arab Africa, and it is truly beautiful but also quite chaotic!
 
Day 1:
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We flew from Pisa to Palermo with Ryanair and stayed with the best friend of one of our friends, as none of them was spending easter holidays at home. As we arrived very early we started our day at Vucciria market to have breakfast – Pane, panelle e crocchè, typical street food, the best you can get! It is a bread with fried chickpea flour and fried potatoes, you have to try it! In the morning we were being guided by Sofia, our host. She showed us the area next to Porta Felice, one of the ends of Corso Vittorio Emanuelle, the “decumanus” of the city – the gulf of Palermo, the port of la Cala and some important buildings like the Loggiato di San Bartolomeo and San Domenico church.
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Then she had to go to university so we continued alone. The first stop was at Quattro Canti, the crossroad between Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda, the “cardus”, where in every corner there’s a beautiful fountain. We went then to Via Maqueda to visit Teatro Massimo, the third biggest in Europe after Vienna and Paris. Unfortunately we couldn’t visit this one, but just some meters further there’s another square with Teatro Politeama, where we could go in – the workers actually thought we were very nice and let us in 😉 Palermo’s architecture is very influenced by the north of Africa, the arabs and it is very nice to see it, not just because you feel you are not in Italy anymore, but also because it made me feel a bit at home again, as we have this influence also in Portugal. We had lunch in a very typical palermitan place next to the theaters, where people who work in the neighborhood go eat at lunch but unfortunately I don’t remember the name. But if you go to Palermo and get one of those Use It Maps you will find the place!
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In the afternoon we went to Piazza Pretoria and the Fountain of Shame (in the guides it’s written that is called like that because all the statues are naked between two monasteries… others say there’s a corridor under the fountain used by the nuns of one monastery and the friars of the other to meet and… :P) Just across Palazzo Pretorio there’s Piazza Bellini with the beautiful church of San Cataldo with its three red domes and Chiesa della Martorana. This is the church of the albanians who live in Palermo and though it is now a catholic church, the mass has some ortodox influences. We continued walking the big avenue, always looking for the cannoli, the amazing sicilian sweets we already knew from Ará, the sicilian shop in Florence, until Porta Nuova, the other end of Corso Vittorio Emanuelle. On the way we visited the Cathedral, majestic on the outside, just nice inside. Outside, in the cathedral square there’s the Santa Rosalia chariot – each 15th July there’s a procession of Santa Rosalia and they change the chariot, which stays in Piazza Cattedrale waiting one year for the next chariot.
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At the end of the day we met Sofia and some of her friends at Ballarò Market, where we finally ate cannoli <3 On the way back home we still visited the Church of Gesù, also known as Casa Professa.
Day 2: 
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The night before, when we were at home a friend from Florence wrote me saying that she was also in Palermo and that we should meet! Luckily she had the exact plans as we: going to Mondello beach and visit the cathedral of Monreale, a mountain village 8km souther from Palermo.
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To go to Mondello you can take the bus N12 in Via Cavour Next to Teatro Massimo and takes about 40min. The beach was amazing, a little paradise, white sand, the beautiful mediterranean sea, the Montepellegrino on the right, the Charleston restaurant in the middle of the water! We spent some time at the beach, enjoyed the sun and then we walked to Piazza Mondello to have lunch – Arancini, the typical rice balls from Sicily!
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We took the bus back to Palermo and then we walked to Porta Nuova where we took the bus to Monreale (I guess there are a lot of ways to go there, just check with locals what’s the best, it was we have done). Getting up we can have a look to the whole Conca d’Oro, the valley where Palermo is. Monreale is really nice, not just the amazing church but also the streets around it, you should definitely go there!
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At the evening we went to Taberna Azzurra, the oldest place in Vucciria, where we drunk a glass of Sangue, the “Moscatel” from here, it was a great environment! 🙂

Day 3:

On the third day we took a bus to Taormina, on the other side of the island, about 3h30 from Palermo. Taormina is a city on the top of the mountain, but very close to the coast, with a cable car that connects the city to the beach, the Funivia Taormina-Mazzaró. It is also possible to see the Etna volcano from the city – when it is not cloudy, which wasn’t the case when I was there… In Taormina we did couchsurfing and our host lived in an amazing condominium on the seafront, so the first thing we did was to go for a swim on “our private beach”. Then it got cloudy so we went for a walk. We started with a visit to Isola Bella, an island connected to the land by a sandbar that is today a Nature Reserve, almost like a botanical garden.

We then took the cable car to the city and after crossing Porta Messina, we headed to the famous Via Comunale Gardens, with a beautiful view of the city. The city of Taormina is characterized by narrow streets, where it is a pleasure to get lost, many stairs and beautiful squares. The largest is Piazza IX Aprile, the city’s balcony to the sea. A little further on we find Piazza Duomo, with its cathedral, much smaller than we imagined. We then arrive at Porta Catania, which marks the limits of the historic city.

We returned home and that night our host, who already worked as a chef, cooked us Pasta alla Norma, a typical Sicilian dish based on eggplant, salted ricotta and tomato, a delight.

Day 4:

The next morning we visited the Greek Theater or Teatro Antico di Taormina, with a privileged location overlooking the sea and possibly Etna, if there were no clouds … From there you can also see the Taormina Castle and the Madonna della Rocca Church, on another hill, which we didn’t have the opportunity to visit, due to lack of time.

From Taormina we continue to Catania, about an hour’s drive from Taormina. Catania is the second largest city on the island, destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 and then rebuilt, making its historic center more recent. With Etna as a neighbor, it was obvious to rebuild the city with volcanic stone. Still, there are some exceptions that resisted the earthquake, such as the Roman Theater, the first thing we visited, on the way to Piazza del Duomo, where we can find the Elephant Fountain, symbol of the city, the cathedral and the Porta Uzeda, all made of volcanic stone. We continued on Via Etnea, passed Piazza Università and arrived at Piazza Stesicoro where the remains of an ancient Roman amphitheater, below street level, are possible to visit. With our hostess, also a couchsurfer, we walked along Via dei Crociferi towards Castle Ursino, but we arrived after closing, so we could only see outside, something that did not amaze me. As good guests we invited our hostess and her boyfriend to dinner at a Trattoria in the city and I had to order Pasta alla Norma again – but I never ate one as good as the first! This was the only day we spent in Catania, which was again not enough – the ideal would be another day or two in Sicily, than we planned.

Day 5:

On the fifth day I said goodbye to Maria and continued alone to Agrigento, a trip of about 2 hours by bus, to visit the Valley of the Temples. On the way I finally got to see Etna without clouds and, surprise, it was full of snow! After arriving in the city, there are several buses that go to the valley, halfway between the city and the sea. This archaeological site is quite different from any I have ever visited. Instead of a city, we found several temples scattered around, with little connection between them. It is still impressive, of the twelve great temples there is one almost complete and another close to whole! I had still thought about visiting the city but in the meantime it started raining a lot and as the bus to Palermo was every two hours, I decided to catch the one at 16:30. The bus takes two hours to cross the island from south to north. In Palermo, a friend of Sofia, couchsurfer, was waiting for me, since she was no longer in the city.

Day 6:
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Back in Palermo, after Taormina, Catania and Agrigento, I visited the church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti, a norman one, again with the typical red domes. It is called a church but it is more like a ruin right now. Then the Royal Palace, just next to it, and its Palatine Chapel, with amazing gold details, all this morning a must do in Palermo!
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For lunch I went to the Antica Focacceria San Francesco, on the other side of the city, a tourist point where street food is sell inside. I had an arancina alla norma and pane, panelle e crocchè again. The next day I returned there to eat a peace of setteveli, a cake with seven layers of chocolate, amazing 🙂 But they sell everything: sfincione (sicilian pizza), setteveli cake, cassata, arancine, panelle and crocché… On the afternoon I went to the Church of Santa Maria dello Spasimo, which wasn’t a church for long, being afterwards the first public theatre of Palermo, a leper hospital, then a warehouse for works of art saved from the bombings and now being a stage for concerts. As I was in this side of the city I visited the Orto Botanico, a beautiful garden with beautiful sculptures and little buildings like Villa Giulia. Then a nice walk by the sea and the walls of the city, the advantages of slow travelling, where you can actually stop and enjoy the city!
 
Day 7:
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On my last day I visited the catacombs, which I thought it was a “city” underground, but what I found was a lot of preserved corpses (some were that good preserved that seemed they were just sleeping)! A bit creepy but worth seeing. I couldn’t leave Palermo without going to the top of the cathedral, which has a very nice view, and it is the only place I know from where you can have a look of the city from above. Next step, the church of the Quattro Canti, the crossroad of Via Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda, a beautiful church with a lot of details. And finally, Palazzo Abatellis, the Regional Art Gallery of Sicilia, designed by the architect Carlo Scarpa. My flight was leaving on that day so I went to the airport to take my flight back to Pisa. The airport is very nicely located, just next to the mountains and during the flight I could see Sardegna and Corse, which was also interesting!

Summary:

Day 1, Palermo: Vucciria market, Porta Felice, the gulf of Palermo, the port of la Cala, Loggiato di San Bartolomeo and San Domenico church. Quattro Canti, Teatro Massimo, Teatro Politeama, Piazza Pretoria, San Cataldo, Chiesa della Martorana, Porta Nuova, the cathedral. Ballarò Market, Casa Professa.

Day 2, Palermo: Mondello beachMonreale, Taberna Azzurra

Day 3, Taormina: take a dip on the beach, Isola Bella, Porta Messina, the Giardini della Via Comunale, Piazza IX Aprile, Piazza Duomo, Porta Catania.

Day 4, Taormina and Catania: the Greek Theater or Teatro Antico di Taormina, [the Castello di Taormina and the Madonna della Rocca Church.] The Roman Theater of Catania, Piazza del Duomo, the Elephant Fountain, the cathedral and the Porta Uzeda. Via Etnea, Piazza Stesicoro with the Roman amphitheater, Via dei Crociferi and Castello Ursino.

Day 5, Agrigento: The Valley of the Temples.

Day 6, Palermo: church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti, Royal Palace, Palatine Chapel, Antica Focacceria San Francesco, Church of Santa Maria dello Spasimo, Orto Botanico, walls of the city

Day 7, Palermo: catacombs, top of the cathedral, church of the Quattro Canti, Palazzo Abatellis

*Must see in bold