Boat in water with reflection

Getting lost in Palermo

South meets North in Palermo. The capital of Sicily vibrates to a cacophony of sounds, colour and smells. The city’s architecture dates back to the Arabs and the Normans, as wave after wave of different cultures landed on Sicilian shores to create one of the biggest historic centres in Europe.

I was in the Sicilian capital for a photography workshop this May. The workshop was aptly named #getlostinPalermo. It was held at L’Eglise photographic hub, in an old church, complete with arches, stone carvings and cherubs, or puttini as they are called locally.

Here are 10 ‘finds’ that I discovered in Sicily with some local help:

  • Ballarò Market (FOOD SHOPPING + LUNCH/SNACKS) is the perfect place for buying oregano, pistachios, capers and anchovies to take home. I also bought a kilo of apricots for €0.99 to make jam. The apricots underwent some premature ‘pulping’ in my soft suitcase (lesson learnt). The jam was still good. The market offers plenty of stalls for a light lunch, and plenty of life and sounds.
Women and young boy posing for a photo
Colourful cooks at the Ballarò Market.
  • Bisso Bistrot (COFFEE, COOKING + ART’ is housed in a former bookshop near the Quattro Canti Baroque square.  I could eat here every day, breakfast, lunch and dinner. €6 for caponata (the Sicilian aubergine dish with an agrodolce sauce) and €6 for pasta tenerumi (the leaves of the long, cucuzza squash), €1 for coffee and water. Much better value than any Northern European city. It is at Bosso Bistot that the photos from the #getlostinPalermo workshop will be exhibited this summer.
people sitting on a terrace outside a restaurant
Bosso Bistrot on the main pedestrianised shopping street, Via Maqueda.
  • Bottega Monteleone (EVENING APERTIFS ANY NIGHT OF THE WEEK) is a natural wine bar, with some great little antipasti (crostini, olives, dried tomatoes). The bottega – also a shop but with outside seating – is in a tiny, cobbled pedestrian street on the other side of Via Roma from the Rinascente department store. One of my wine favourite finds was Nico Terre Siciliane igt Grecanico from the small, biodynamic La Chiusa vineyard.  Impossible to find this wine outside Sicily. Here you can also find Cioccolato di Modica – some of the best chocolate in the world, with a slightly crunchy texture,
  • Casa Stagnitta (COFFEE + CORNETTO + MORE) was around the corner from where I stayed, at MojoCoHouse (another recommendation, for a simple, friendly stay in a great location) . This was my breakfast go-to: €4 for a ricotta-filled cornetto (Italian for croissant) and a coffee on this pedestrian street winding up to the 12th century Churches of San Cataldo and Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio.  The set lunch is also good … and the ice-cream (the locals eat their ice cream in a brioche bun). The café is apparently owned by the daughter of Letizia Battaglia, the anti-Mafia Sicilian photojournalist.
people dressed up for a wedding walking with their backs to us down a street
Wedding guests strolling past the Casa Stagnitta.
  • Gelataria La Kala (ICE CREAM) is near the marina at La Cala. Strolling near boats and sea with an ice cream in hand is the ultimate holiday experience, and then – boosted by the sugar – an evening stroll along the seaside promenade never goes amiss in any city.
Boats with a big cruise ship in the background
The marina at La Cala, with a huge cruise liner steaming out of Palermo port.
  • Mon Cafè (COFFEE) is said by the locals to serve THE best coffee in Europe. This family-run roastery, in Borgio Vecchio, near the port, did not disappoint, for the flavour of its coffee and for the warmth of the service. Carmelo told me how they roasted the coffee with ‘heart’, with compassion’.  I also returned for lunch, cooked by Carmelo’s mum – mushroom risotto with green salad, followed by a coffee, of course.
Man laughing holding a coffee cup
Carmelo of Mon Cafè gave me a warm reception – and a good cup of coffee.
  • Pasticceria Costa (CAKES) is next to Bisso Bistrot. Here you can find the most amazing paste di mandorla (little almond cakes) and cannoli (those tube-like shells filled with a creamy, ricotta mixture). Remember to take a container with you to Sicily so they don’t get squashed in your luggage.
  • Ponticello Taverna Gastronomica (DINNER) was one of many places that we went to with the workshop. The food is amazing, as so many places in Palermo. The pasta is homemade (as it should be). It’s family run, with strong links with local farmers. And (some nights) they have live music. Oh, and like most Palermo restaurants, you have the best choice of fish in Europe.
  • Tastalo Sapori di Piana (PANINI) is in the same street as Mon Cafè. The bread is cooked on a wood fire. My favourite panini was filled with goat’s ricotta, artichoke hearts, thin slices of green apple, olive oil & oregano, with a good grind of pepper.  You can sit outside to eat, with not much traffic in the street.

As for the layers and layers of historical culture in Sicily, my head went into a spin, so – rather than getting lost, as I did with the workshop – I went in search for more puttini, those little cherubs. I found some nice ones at the Oratorio di San Lorenzo – near L’Église, in the neighbourhood of Kalsa – together with a Caravaggio, of course, and very few tourists.

Kick starting my return to London

For a totally different experience, to end my trip to Sicily, I boarded my plane with the Palermo football team…

The Palermo football team at the city’s airport.
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