A few weeks ago, I embarked on an impromptu road trip to Sicily (via Rome) and am still in a ricotta haze as I type this back home in Toronto. If you’ve already done the major Italian big hitters like Florence, Venice, and Rome or want to avoid the crammed summer tourist crowd, I highly recommend a trip to Sicily. The island itself is not very big so if you rent a car and have a week to spare you can experience three stunning seas (Mediterranean, Tyrrhenian and Ionian) by driving the circumference and at your own pace, take in the expansive vistas, numerous UNESCO sights, gorgeous beaches, and insanely fun nightlife… oh, and the food. The stomach-splitting/I probably came home 20 pounds heavier, and would do it all over again, comforting, delicious food.
Here is my Sicilian adventure in photos (basically, how I ate through the island and rolled back home to Canada):
After a quick flight from Rome to Palermo, we settled into our apartment near Piazza Paprieto. I loved peeking below the streets on our balcony and seeing the grittiness of the old buildings paired with beautiful flowers and greenery.
For our first dinner in Palermo, my friend Nancy and I hit a Mario Battali reco, Osteria dei Vespri in Piazza Croce. On top of the fresh red prawn pasta and dessert that we ordered (definitely get the cassatella which is warm silky ricotta in a pastry folded like an envelope), the restaurant treated us to a creamy goat cheese soufflé and a tiny mason jar that contained what appeared to be a shepherd's pie-like concoction to start and then a mandarin cream tart and an assortment of petit fours, all on the house (now, that's Sicilian hospitality) to end our incredible meal.
Just around the corner is Vucciria Market- a chill spot where people come to buy cheap drinks (2 Euros each) and enjoy them on the street while meeting new friends. On any given night, you might run into the most amazing woman who goes around taking "party" pics. She will also give you the best dance of your life. Here she is in mid-performance.
The next day, perhaps/of course hungover, we hit Bar Touring for their well-known arancine bomba. The classic arancina or arancini (depending on where you are, everyone has their own way of saying it in Sicily) is basically ragu stuffed into a saffron-scented rice bomb that's breaded and fried into carb coma deliciousness. It's called bomba for a reason- it's about the size of my head,
Obviously, I didn't let that stop me from ordering a brioche con gelato. Smooth fresh pistachio gelato stuffed into a hot brioche bun.
Fully charged for Day 3, we hit the road early and headed east towards Catania, starting with Cefalu as the first destination.
Cefalu is a gorgeous seaside town and has several kickass beaches on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Unlike Palermo, you'll notice some tourists here and tons of cute souvenir and local food boutiques lining the streets and alleyways.
Back on the road, we continued east and hit Messina and stopped at a super sweet and quaint town called S. Stefano di Camastra that sold the most beautiful handcrafted ceramics. We had planned on just making a quick snack/washroom stop but was captured by the warmth and friendliness of the town that we stayed and met a sweet nonna who owned a gorgeous ceramic shop and took us down the street to show us her amazing workshop where her daughter also works, taking part in the family business.
With a bunch of cannoli's to tide us over, we continued on to Taormina which was, in my opinion, the most beautiful town we saw on our road trip. In Taormina, we got to see a wedding that ended with a burst of rainbow confetti as the sun was beginning to set. I know, you can't make this (heart-swelling) shit up.
By the time we got back on the road and arrived in Catania (if you have a few more hours/days to spare, stop at Acireale for a thermal spa treatment), it was well into the evening so we went straight to L'Ambasciata del Mare (just behind Piazza Duomo). If you're going to have a frutti di mare (fruit of the sea/assorted seafood pasta), this is the place to have it. With the fish market (A' Piscaria Mercato del Pesce) located right beside the restaurant in the early mornings, the seafood is as fresh as you can get it. We also had the calamari and the fried sardine that's breaded and stuffed with a creamy cheese goodness.
At this point it was about midnight and the last thing we wanted to do was hit the road again for another 3-4 hours to get back to our apartment in Palermo, so we signed up for a night at a hostel just a few minutes walk from the piazza called Agora Hostel, complete with a chill bar (below)
The intense A' Piscaria Mercato del Pesce is definitely a sight to see. On top of the wheeling and dealing of the fish, the surrounding area is filled with colourful local produce, meats and cheeses.
The highlight of the trip was the absolutely gorgeous drive from Catania (make sure to check out Mt Etna, an active volcano) to Palazzolo Acreide, a UNESCO town. Filled with vineyards, lemon and olive trees, ancient homes and structures, and countless livestock (in a span of an hour, we saw fields of donkeys, goats, cows, and sheep).
Continuing on our UNESCO drive, we hit the white-washed walls of Ragusa.
As we finally pulled into Siracusa, it was around 9pm so we walked around the old port before stopping at a local roadside restaurant that had a couple of families enjoying fresh seafood and endless wine- the perfect spot for us to refuel before jumping back on the road.
For our final day in Sicily, we hit the road again, but this time headed west towards Sciacca. We were planning on getting some local thermal water and mud bath relief in Sciacca and Trapani but in our vacation mode didn't realize it was a Sunday, which meant all the spas were closed. No tears were shed though as Sciacca has an amazing beach, Sciacca Mare, to unwind on.
For our final feast, we binged at Santandrea in Palermo and made sure to order everything that contained Sicily's best ingredients- aubergine, tomatoes, lemons, sardine, swordfish, and chickpeas. Best dish of the trip was the pasta con le sarde- spaghetti with wild fennel, capers, raisins, and slow-cooked fresh sardines that melt into a ragu, that's then topped with fried breadcrumbs. It's not like any pasta you've ever tasted before.
To end the trip with a bang, we had to live up the Palermo specialty of fun outdoor drinking and hit Chiavettieri to start and then Garraffello (the other part of Vucciria) for a massive dance party.
Ti amo, Sicily! xo