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A Sizzler Sicily: Pretty Palermo is perfect in fall, with less crowds and more sunshine


Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez said: ‘It is better to go to Sicily than to go to the moon.’ That might be overkill, but the largest island in the Mediterranean has an element of mystery to it, with its sizzling interior, religious fervor and links to organized crime. .

Now pedestrian, the historic center of the magnificent capital Palermo is a treat – in the center is Piazza Pretoria – and when taking a tour, I am mesmerized by the heroic buildings the grandeur and rich history of this mighty port city.

“My hometown is like a lasagna with 16 layers,” says Gabriella, my guide.

Ancient and modern: Nigel Tisdall explored the Sicilian city of Palermo and found he was 'fascinated' by its 'mighty buildings and rich history'.  Above is the Piazza Pretoria in the center and behind is the church of Santa Caterina

Ancient and modern: Nigel Tisdall explored the Sicilian city of Palermo and found he was 'fascinated' by its 'mighty buildings and rich history'.  Above is the Piazza Pretoria in the center and behind is the church of Santa Caterina

Ancient and modern: Nigel Tisdall explored the Sicilian city of Palermo and found he was ‘fascinated’ by its ‘mighty buildings and rich history’. Above is the Piazza Pretoria in the center and behind is the church of Santa Caterina

In her view, the best influences are from the golden age of Arab, Norman and Spanish rule, reflected in star attractions such as 12th-century mosaics brightly decorate the Cappella Palatina in the Palazzo dei Normanni and the Quattro Canti, a crossroads Baroque church from 1620. This is where the haughty overcoats oversee a bustling stream of sightseers and intimidating teenagers. hovering on e-scooters.

Life here is pleasant and inviting, though you wonder what goes on behind the heavy wooden doors with their solid bronze knockers.

What about the Mafia? Their criminal activity culminated here with the murder of two judges in 1992, but Gabriella remained undeterred. “They’re still there but with a lower profile,” she said.

One of the city's popular attractions is the Quattro Canti (pictured), a Baroque crossroads from 1620

One of the city's popular attractions is the Quattro Canti (pictured), a Baroque crossroads from 1620

One of the city’s popular attractions is the Quattro Canti (pictured), a Baroque crossroads from 1620

Vibrant 12th-century mosaics decorate the Cappella Palatina at the Palazzo dei Normanni

Vibrant 12th-century mosaics decorate the Cappella Palatina at the Palazzo dei Normanni

Vibrant 12th-century mosaics decorate the Cappella Palatina at the Palazzo dei Normanni

Since that grim year, the city has undergone a remarkable transformation, which began in 2015 when nine historic sites were awarded World Heritage status and continued to be designated by Palermo as a Capital of Culture. of Italy three years later.

For an overview of the historic center, I climb about 140 steps to the archway of the church of Santissimo Salvatore, which is sometimes like climbing a corkscrew.

Here, you can enjoy a 360-degree panorama on a sea of ​​terracotta tiled roofs punctuated by domes, bell towers and towers that rise like markers from the city’s illustrious past.

Nigel climbs about 140 steps to the arch of the church of Santissimo Salvatore (pictured), 'it's like climbing a rope at times'

Nigel climbs about 140 steps to the arch of the church of Santissimo Salvatore (pictured), 'it's like climbing a rope at times'

Nigel climbs about 140 steps to the arch of the church of Santissimo Salvatore (pictured), ‘it’s like climbing a rope at times’

Nearby, the church of Santa Caterina is remarkable for its Sicilian Baroque interior beyond the OTT that has been hidden from view for 150 years.

With its giant cherries, glittering silver angels, colossal twisted columns of barley and not a single inch of decoration, it is an eye-catching reminder of Italian pomp.

Then there’s the Capo market, a narrow lane through which Sicily’s rich produce flows like a culinary river.

Sicilian produce is on display at the Capo market.  Nigel said: 'I aspire to bring it all home.

Sicilian produce is on display at the Capo market.  Nigel said: 'I aspire to bring it all home.

Sicilian produce is on display at the Capo market. Nigel said: ‘I aspire to bring it all home.

Jade tomatoes, moist fresh tuna chunks, divinely sweet apricots and a mouth-watering 4ft squash called cucuzza – I longed to take it all home, but found a glass of water pomegranate juice revived for €2.

Luckily, there are plenty of small, unpretentious restaurants where you can try all of these, such as La Galleria, which is just a cap from the Cattedrale.

Here, we ate lunch outdoors at a wooden table with vases of sunflowers and watched our neighbor do the laundry.

As the afternoon heat set in, it was a bliss to return to my bayside hotel, Villa Igiea, just a 15-minute drive north.

Nigel's base is Villa Igiea (pictured), a bayside hotel just a 15-minute drive north of Palermo

Nigel's base is Villa Igiea (pictured), a bayside hotel just a 15-minute drive north of Palermo

Nigel’s base is Villa Igiea (pictured), a bayside hotel just a 15-minute drive north of Palermo

You can expect to find fabulous salons adorned with art nouveau murals and beautifully uniformed dedicated staff at Villa Igiea, according to Nigel.

You can expect to find fabulous salons adorned with art nouveau murals and beautifully uniformed dedicated staff at Villa Igiea, according to Nigel.

You can expect to find fabulous salons adorned with art nouveau murals and beautifully uniformed dedicated staff at Villa Igiea, according to Nigel.

The hotel's quiet, sophisticated atmosphere is the 'perfect antidote' to Palermo's famous barrenness

The hotel's quiet, sophisticated atmosphere is the 'perfect antidote' to Palermo's famous barrenness

The hotel’s quiet, sophisticated atmosphere is the ‘perfect antidote’ to Palermo’s famous barrenness

Opened more than a year ago by Rocco Forte Hotels, this Grade I stately residence dates from 1900 and comes with 100 exquisitely furnished rooms, enchanting terraced gardens, and jewelry shops. Splendid with art nouveau murals and dedicated staff in full uniform.

It’s not cheap, but its tranquil, pure atmosphere is the perfect antidote to the city’s famous barrenness.

Overall, Palermo is the perfect place for an authentic Sicilian short break that combines cultural wonders, delicious food and poolside downtime.

Mondello's mile-long sandy beach (pictured) is located a 15-minute taxi ride north of Palermo

Mondello's mile-long sandy beach (pictured) is located a 15-minute taxi ride north of Palermo

Mondello’s mile-long sandy beach (pictured) is located a 15-minute taxi ride north of Palermo

I even managed to take a dip in the ravishing Tyrrhenian Sea at the mile-long sandy beach of Mondello, a 15-minute taxi ride north.

In July and August it is packaged like a box of anchovies but in early November, when the island experiences ‘St Martin’s Summer’ (like summer in India), it can be warm enough to swim.

Indeed, Palermo will warm the hearts of the most demanding.

TRUTH ABOUT TOURISM ONLY

Elegant Resorts offers three nights at Villa Igiea from £1,199 sites, including flights, private transfers and breakfast (01244 897581, elegantresorts.co.uk).




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