No city in Europe was such a surprise for me as Palermo. I had expectations that were low based on stories I have heard around and told by so called friends. Nothing more wrong! Once again I’ve been in the position to judge before seeing and to allow my prejudices to step forward. Well, a lesson to remember.
I bought a ticket to Palermo for a long weekend in August to visit friends that…unfortunately, were out on their own holidays. Shit happens and decided to visit anyway. Maybe this situation also put me in a negative state of mind. Luckily I am more of an adventurous traveler than an old lady type.
I’ll structure my post as to make it simple and to let images speak for themselves:
#1 about accommodation: good choice of hotel, San Paolo Palace, but very bad choice of neighborhood and quite far away from the city center. Don’t get me wrong, the neighborhood isn’t dangerous, just dirty and…..poor, Sicilian style. Also 3 kilometers may seem just a short walk when going out, but when returning late at night or after a day of exploring the city, every meter is torture. The big plus is the view over the harbor, the breakfast at the restaurant on top of the hotel and the pool.
#2 tourist attractions: there are a lot for such a small city that was the most conquered city in Europe; very different in style and combination, reflecting all the cultures that occupied the island of Sicily, some kind of kitch in my point of view ( like the baroque church Chiesa del Gesu ) and some simply amazing ( Oratorio di San Lorenzo or Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio). I won’t recommend some despite to others, as all of them are to visit at least once. I can admit I didn’t have the time to visit all of them inside except for the cathedral of Palermo (free entrance), as I am more of a walker in the streets by foot and a discoverer of unknown places, less touristic.
#3 local magical places: everything regarding local food and markets. I discovered some that are simply amazing – for a late night Sicilian pizza Casa del Brodo, for the local traditional fast-food as described in my previous posts about arancini and top 3 must dos in Sicily go near the pizzeria at Franco u Vastiddaru or at the most famous for the locals Ristorante Nino U’ Ballerino . The most famous for tourists is Antica Focacceria San Francesco in the pedestrian streets of the old city center, and maybe the most bought is the traditional spleen sandwich (not on my taste). The Vucciria market is in my opinion overrated and too touristic so I prefer more the Ballaro market with the local restaurants like Mangiamoci Su, although I found the Sicilians so loud and poorly organized in their activities and service. I also appreciate their style of serving, not to polite like the french style but not rude – simply correct and attentive.
The best discovery I have made though is a local terrace near Foro Italico and the gelateria nearby Antica Gelateria Ilardo, best ice-cream I had in Palermo serving in the same places for more than a century.
But the terrace is a once in a lifetime experience. Right on the sidewalk in front of Porta dei Greci an improvised pop-up sea food fast-food opens late in the evening; owned by a family of fishermen it was always full and the food is simple and fresh, the real taste of octopus or calamari. It was not the cheapest option but the best in terms of taste and an overall experience.
Also the best arrancini I had where at Bar Rosano in front of the botanical garden near Villa Giulia, and especially the one with mozarella and spinach.
#4 arround the city: visit beaches and the norman-arab style cathedrals, and the baroque ones if you’re into this. Personally the beaches are my favorite place and near Palermo I had two choices, the Mondello beach and the Sferracavallo-Barcarello beach of Capo Gallo natural reserve. Hard to get to with the public transport ( long and unpredictable hours) but still worth a day for the view and for a lunch at the best sea-food restaurant : Il Delfino.
Overall Palermo is a gem of food, history and weather, a must visit in Europe as it takes you in a unique journey in time. Sicilians are simply welcoming and so authentic, a pleasure for the eyes and company.
I would definitely come back every time I’ll have a chance as I have the feeling of discovering new thing with every walk.