Palermo

Sicily is an island that is steeped in fable and myth, whispered tales of past deeds and intrigue abound, but the reality is somewhat different. The people are open and welcoming, the air is warm and the melting pot of Mediterranean culture gives a familiarity that is as comforting as the cuisine that it creates. Palermo the capital of Sicily sits on the north coast of the island and has its own distinct character – whilst much of the island is laid back and relaxed Palermo marches to its own beat, loud and brash, the energy pulsates in the air and awakens every sense.

World War II left its mark on this beautiful city with many of the beautiful buildings scarred and battle worn, but this just adds to the sense of shabby chic that makes the city so unique, renovations may look good but the real heart of this city lies behind the crumbling facades of once grand buildings, buildings now inhabited by people who could once only have dreamed of this splendour.

If you love history then you will love the Grand Hotel Et Des Palmes, there is a grandness that has endured the passage of time, huge gilt mirrors reflect the light from ostentatious chandeliers, nothing here is understated and nor should it be; this hotel never sells itself short and is the self styled must place to stay in the city.

Central hotels are generally expensive no matter which city you are staying in, but Palermo has a little gem in the Hotel Regina, basic it may be but the incredibly low prices are practically unheard of in such a great location; the ardent partygoer may want to avoid though, the hotel does operate a midnight curfew.

Palermo like the rest of Sicily has a huge Italian influence but with a sweeter edge, raisins and pistachios are often found in the dishes, along with seafood which is caught daily; Mediterranean favours make the most mundane of produce into a culinary delight.

A truly authentic Sicilian meal can be found at Zia Pina, totally casual and an absolute delight; there is no menu, just a changing array of dishes that rely entirely on the available seasonal produce, fish is cooked to order and is best enjoyed outside as the colourful locals pass by.

Sicily doesn’t pretend to appeal to those seeking a fun filled family holiday, what you get is an island filled with beauty and cultural hotspots, Palermo itself has a rich mix of culture, partly due to the importance of the island in the Mediterranean trade routes.

See the Byzantine influences at La Martorana Church or Gesu Church with its Sicilian Baroque styling that is said to be the cornerstone of Sicilian architecture; those that want to admire the city from afar should head to Monreale a few miles out of the main city – the views back towards the city and the sea are spectacular. The city is quite compact, but by far the easiest way to see all that it has on offer is to take one of the ‘hop on hop off’ guided tours that operate throughout the city, points of interest are easily accessed from the many stops, and the day tickets give the ultimate in convenience.

With a climate similar to that of North Africa, Palermo is warm throughout much of the year with only the briefest of winters that sees the flowers blooming as early as February, there really is no bad time of year to travel to this unique and beautiful city.

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