Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The most surprising things about Sicily

When we took my in-laws on a road trip through Sicily last month they were just as pleasantly surprised as we had been during our first visit to Sicily that it was nothing like they expected it to be. Which got me thinking about our (North American) perceptions of Sicily, and what the island is like from a (North American) traveller's perspective today.

What it comes down to is that Sicily is not The Godfather. It's not dust and doom and gloom. It's not (all) crime and grime. Especially outside of Palermo, it's fairly safe.

Sicily will surprise you, if you let it.

Sicilians are a warm and welcoming people. If you take the time to give a buongiorno! and a smile, you'll be rewarded with kindness and hospitality. Even if it seems everyone's default setting is a frown (you'll find many nonnas there who look like they haven't smiled in years) this little exchange seems to do the trick. They are quick to help you when you are lost, are happy to recommend a good osteria for lunch, have a great sense of humour, and will obligingly answer your never-ending questions about Sicilian food and wines. In Sicily especially, using any Italian words you know (and acknowledging that Sicilian and Italian are, indeed, different languages!) will get you a long way.

Sicily's geography is also unexpected. The rocky, dusty south - where it seems nothing could ever grow -  is covered with olive and lemon groves that abruptly tumble into sandy beaches and sleepy towns. Moving north towards Agrigento vineyards fight for space alongside the fertile fields that yield - I contend - some of the most delicious produce in the world. Around the agricultural areas of Modica, Noto, Menfi, and Avola the hills here are green and gently roll along, as you might expect them to in England, not here in the heart of the Med. Moving ever further north the hills become rougher and gradually climb into dramatic mountains that are blanketed in lush tree cover. They nearly put Greece to shame. It's a striking landscape, dominated by the famous symbol of its seismic activity, Mount Etna (which never seems to stop spewing a fine plume of smoke).

More than anywhere else I have ever visited - Greece, mainland Italy, Spain - it is in Sicily that I find myself continuously blurting out "this is so pretty". It is in Sicily that I am content to spend my days simply drinking it all in. It is in Sicily that I am constantly surprised by how far my expectations are exceeded.

Sicily is not The Godfather (thank God).


  1. Minus 1 in Halifax this morning. Wish I were in the Med. :-)

  2. Thank you for all these wonderful posts on Sicily! My mom's side of the family is from a small town outside of Sciacca and we did a driving tour of the Island many moons ago. My favorite memory of our trip was a wine tasting we did at a winery at the base of Mt. Etna where they brought out freshly prepared dishes to complement each wine (the sundried tomatoes were heavenly). It was incredible!

    1. You're very welcome! Sciacca is a lovely little town - we drove through during our last trip.

      Lucky girl! I haven't explored much around Mount Etna (yet) but have made a mental note of this :)


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