My Sicily With… Jiawa Liu
Palermo is the capital of Sicily, renowned for its historic architecture, fantastic food scene and rich culture. The city is best explored in a few days, but you could easily spend a week here.
Eurostars Centrale Palace Hotel
This gorgeous hotel is a grand nod to the property’s opulent past. Truly palace-like, the labyrinthine halls and antechambers are decorated lavishly with gilded mirrors, colourful Italian tiles and velvet chairs. The rooftop restaurant, which overlooks the city, has a beautiful vantage point from which to watch the sunset. The rooms have everything you need for a special stay and the hotel staff go above and beyond to make sure you have the best time.
For something a little more understated, BB22 is a charming B&B in Mondello. During a stay here, you’ll feel like a real local when families pop in for impromptu dinners and you hear the buzz from the streets below from your window. The facilities are modest, but the rooms are chic, and the breakfast is delicious.
Osteria Pane e Alivi
This restaurant is a lovely family-run place tucked away on Piazza Sant'Onofrio. The food here never disappoints, especially the house special – spaghetti with sundried tomatoes, olives, capers and breadcrumbs.
This is best place in town to get granita – a sorbet-like dessert made famous in Sicily. In this little backstreet café, you’ll see people queuing up for one of their granitas and enjoying brioche buns and coffee in the morning.
Palermo’s historical centre is divided into four quarters – each has its own street market which is open day and night. Make a beeline for Ballero, Vucciria and Capo – I ate the most delicious, candied fruits here. The markets are a great place to get a feel for the local way of life and of course, they’re the best places in the city to try authentic Italian food and drink.
SEE & DO:
Chiesa Santissimo Salvatore
Chiesa Santissimo Salvatore is one of the best vantage points for a view of the city. Climbing up to this ancient baroque building is in itself a mini adventure, as reaching the summit requires walking through secret passageways and staircases. The top floor has been left in a slight state of disrepair, so it gives you the impression of having discovered an archaeological site – truly beautiful.
Cantieri Culturali della Zisa
During one of my visits to Palermo, I made a documentary with the charity Libraries Without Borders about the community of migrants and refugees in the city. A community library was set up at Cantieri Culturali della Zisa and today, it’s a centre of culture and art that holds events, bringing people of all walks of life together.
Villa Palagonia is a decadent baroque villa, just a 30-minute drive from the centre of Palermo. It’s served as the setting for several famous movies, most notably Baaria, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. The building itself dates back to the 18th century and the gardens are particularly beautiful.
While there are countless landmarks in Palermo, like the Pretoria Fountain and Palermo Cathedral, my fondest memory is getting lost in the backstreets of the historic centre, where you never know what you’ll come across. It’s a great way to get a feel for the city, have a chat with the locals and stumble across cool restaurants and cafés.
Cefalù is a stunning coastal city in Sicily. A great destination for a summer holiday or lazy break by the sea, there’s plenty to see and do, whether you’re travelling alone, or with friends and family.
While there are a few traditional hotels in town, I always stay in an Airbnb in Cefalù. There are so many stylish ones to choose from, and many have cool rooftops with beautiful sea views. This modern apartment is super chic and is a short walk from the beachfront. Sdiripulso is another great choice – with space for up to four guests, it’s hidden in the hills so is ideal if you want to explore the mountainous areas. There are also some very pretty Airbnbs on the little streets closer to the beach.
Locanda del Marinaio
Just along Via Porpora, Locanda del Marinaio is one of the best restaurants in Cefalù. Here, you’ll be able to sample famous Sicilian seafood dishes like calamari, baked squid and grilled octopus. My favourite dishes are pasta alla palermitana (made with anchovies and cherry tomatoes) and eggplant caponata.
I came across this little restaurant one morning for breakfast, and looking inside, I spotted a tiny little terrace hanging over the sea that could fit just one table for two. For me, it totally summed up the Cefalù mood – laidback and simple.
Grafidea Ceramiche dei Fratelli Saia
Sicily is a wonderful place to pick up beautiful handmade homeware and trinkets and this shop is a must for traditional Sicilian ceramics. Look out for pots and vases of the famous Teste di Moro which depicts the heads of a colourfully dressed couple.
SEE & DO:
The Secret Stairs
When you look down over the cliff edges at the north end of town, you’ll notice the rocky coast below is covered with little walkways. The only way to get down there is via ‘secret’ stairway which is built right into the walls on Via Porpora. The views are worth the slightly rickety climb.
Located in the south of the island, Noto is known for its baroque architecture and beautiful beaches. A wonderful holiday can be spent exploring the sun-drenched streets and making your way around the local restaurants.
Noto is a ghost town until about 6pm every evening, so instead of staying in the town itself, this lovely boutique hotel just a few miles away was recommended instead. Perched on top of the mountain side, lush with olive gloves, Baglio Genovesi is a quiet spot off the beaten track. With a beautiful view of Noto in the distance, it’s perfect for relaxing by the pool with a drink in hand.
Cantina Modica Di San Giovanni
With a terrace that spills onto the steep sloping streets of Noto, this is a lively place to be in the evening. They have an extensive wine menu and the waiters are always on hand with pre-dinner snacks and treats. The restaurant also has a wine museum inside, which is well worth checking out if you to learn about the history of local vineyards.
Ristorante Il Cantuccio
The seafood here is incredible. The dishes and simple and delicious and you can tell they only use the very best local ingredients. The pesto gnocchi is great, as is the sword fish.
Rappa is a small, charming deli that specialises in delicious Italian wine, meats, cheeses and condiments. Be sure to take home a bottle of olive oil and ask for a special pot of their homemade jam.
SEE & DO:
Riserva di Vendicari
You can spend a day strolling through this seaside nature reserve which is home to the beautiful Calamosche beach. During the summer months, you can even spot pink flamingos in the salt lakes.
Noto has the most beautiful golden hour I have ever seen, with a hazy light that washes across the town, turning the cobbled streets fiery yellow and orange. The Cathedral’s grand steps and piazza at the top are the most beautiful at this time of day.
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