Greetings from Sicily
Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, rich in culture and home to a diverse range of landscapes is a fascinating place to visit. Sicily has a complex history because it has been influenced by multiple groups over time including the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, French, Germans, Spanish, Italians and the British, all of which have left their mark. This diversity of people and intricate history can be seen in the architecture, cuisine, language and energy of the island.
In this blog post I will share some of my personal recommendations for travel in Sicily. My aim is not to provide you with a typical tourist trail but to share some of the gems that I discovered there. So I’ll begin with the food because this is my favourite thing about Sicily.
Owing to the diversity of the groups that have inhabited Sicily the food is complex and culturally layered. The Phoenicians brought grains and pulses to Sicily including durum wheat and couscous. Although pasta would be invented centuries later these ingredients could form the basis of many typical Sicilian dishes today. The Phoenicians also brought grapes used to create wine and dried figs which are a popular component of many Sicilian dishes.
The Greeks brought the ancient grain spelt which is a feature of some baked goods there. Along with olives, pistachio nuts, sheep’s cheese and a passion for fresh fish. The Romans brought bread, typically wholemeal. It was their staple and they topped it with vegetables and cheese. They also brought anchovy paste which is a flavour that I strongly associate with Sicilian cuisine.
As the Arabs occupied Sicily during the 10th and 11th centuries their influence can be seen through the use of opulent ingredients such as saffron, cinnamon, raisons, nutmeg, clove, apricots, pepper and pine nuts. The Normans brought meat and reared different varieties including the Sicilian black pig. The Spanish brought tomatoes, I think you will agree that it is hard to imagine Sicilian cuisine without those.
Local markets in Palermo are brimming with fresh, organic, locally produced and imported goods. Visiting food markets is a must, you will be so inspired by the array of ingredients that are the components of Sicilian cuisine.
There are so many great dishes that I have experienced in Sicily but the one that I have learnt to cook and return to time and time again is Sicilian pasta with sardines. There are many different versions of this but I make it by melting anchovies in a small frying pan and then taking them off the heat to cool and combining them with breadcrumbs. I then cook sardine fillets in a pan with olive oil and combine them with pine nuts, raison and saffron. I cook the pasta al dente and combine with the sardine mix, olive oil and a little water. I then sprinkle generous amounts of the anchovy breadcrumb on top. Delicious.
Scopello and Zingaro
The best pasta with sardines that I had in Sicily was in Scopello which is a small coastal village neighbouring the Zingaro nature reserve. It was in a very small hotel called Pensione Tranchina. The owner of the hotel, a charming lady, who single-handedly prepared an evening meal for all of her guests was an amazing cook. This was home cooked food and Sicilian hospitality at its best. All guests gathered together for a glass of wine before dinner and we were then served a 5 course meal. This was the best food I had in Sicily, fresh, home cooked and authentic.
Scopello is a sleepy place but very quaint and perfectly located for hikes into the Zingaro reserve. Zingaro is a stunningly beautiful nature reserve with steep cliffs and tiny bays that in spring and summer time are filled with colourful umbrellas as locals and tourists set up camp for the day. The turquoise water was crystal clear and huge tropical fish were visible in the water all around there. Although a little rocky, with aqua socks on, swimming there is the perfect treat after the challenging hike. If you appreciate nature and enjoy hiking, Zingaro is a must.
Close to Scopello is Segesta which was a city of the Elymians. This incredible Doric temple dates back to the 5th century BC and is perfectly preserved. It is one of the finest examples of Greek architecture that can be seen today. Segesta is perfectly positioned to see for miles around, it has the most incredible scenery surrounding it and is truly inspirational. There is a well preserved auditorium built into the rock and the panoramic views at Segesta are sensational.
Stanze al Genio
On my travels in Sicily I based myself in the capital city Palermo. Palermo is home to incredible churches and architecture. Wandering the streets there is really inspiring and there are some great vintage shops which are real treasure troves.
The most amazing place I discovered in Palermo was the Museum of tiles Stanze al Genio, this sensational museum was not featured in any tourist guides and was a real feast for the eyes. Tucked away discreetly on a residential road the museum was barely detectable. Once inside you can see a private collection of tiles and ceramics. There are an amazing variety of designs on display, geometric, abstract, floral, linear, ornate, and expressionistic. The array of colours is awe inspiring. There is modern furniture in the museum that you can sit on and relax whilst you gaze at thousands of tiles on display.
As well as tiles the museum also houses some other great examples of Sicilian ceramics. Just like the cuisine, ceramics have been influenced by the variety of people who have inhabited Sicily through history. The Moors brought ceramic workshops to Sicily and taught Sicilians the skilful art form that is Majolica art. Some interesting examples of Moorish pottery can be found in the museum.
The Greetings from Sicily scarf
The design has been influenced by the colours and patterns of Sicilian pottery and ceramics. In the foreground is a drawing of a girl inspired by a ceramic pot in the Palermo tile museum. In the background the temple of Segesta can be seen. There is the sea, tiles, cats, columns and floral motifs that were all inspired by my travels in Sicily.
It is such an inspiring island with so many incredible layers of culture and history that it is impossible to capture it all in one design but I hope my recommendations might inspire you to travel there and experience it for yourself.
Crimson Rose Xx.
Shop the Greetings from Sicily scarf.