Sicily’s Valley of the temples, Agrigento

There’s a modern town called Agrigento on Sicily’s southern coast, but alongside it, in a fertile valley, lies an ancient Greek city also called Agrigento. These cities give their name to the Sicilian Province of Agrigento. Agrigento was founded around 582–580 BC by Greek colonists from nearby Gela, who named it “Akragas”. In its heyday,…

Sicily’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites

I think you can tell the people at UNESCO were a bit overwhelmed with how much wonderful stuff there is in Sicily. When they were naming World Heritage Sites, they just lumped together nine towns all in one go, or an entire group of islands. Each part of these sites merits a listing in its…

Sicily in Jewels: The precious legacy of Duke Fulco Di Verdura

I wrote a few days ago about Villa Niscemi, once home to Fulco Di Verdura, the Sicilian duke whose memoir so enchanted me. As an adult he moved to New York and became a jeweller. His dazzling artistic legacy has Sicily in every jewel. First let’s look at this elephant: He was inspired by the iconic…

Villa Niscemi, Palermo – the most lavish palace in all Sicily

One day strolling through Palermo – OK, staggering in the heat – I chanced to notice a pair of gates which felt very familiar. I had never seen them before, yet I knew them so well. I knew there was going to be a false river inside them inhabited by expensive imported ducks. So we…

Sicily’s marvellous mechanical dining table in the Palazzina Cinese

One of the things that has made generations of English aristocrats fall in Love with Sicily over the centuries is the mutual passion for eccentrics. I don’t mean subtle characters, like one of my beloved uncles whose favourite food was broad bean and custard sandwiches. I mean flamboyant filthy rich people who could construct a…

Cathedral Building… or was it Economy Building?

All the cathedrals across Europe were built in the space of about 200 years, at the height of the crusades. They look expensive, but they were actually money machines. Whilst there may have been an element of religious fervour to them, they were also a way of demonstrating power to potential enemies and the illiterate…

The Baroque town of Noto, Sicily’s Ingenious City

Noto was one of the earliest cities in Sicily, first built in the Bronze age by the Sikels, one of Sicily three indigenous tribes. By early Medieval times it was a bustling city, and one of the last Arab holdouts to finally succumb to the invasion of the Normans. It retained a multicultural population and…

The Museum of a Sicilian Water Mill at Cavallo d’Ispica

We visited this lovely little museum near Siracusa when we found it by pure chance. It is called the Museo Cavallo d’Ispica. It is in an old water mill, which the same family has converted into a museum, after several generations of their family used it to mill flour. They were clearly the kind of…

Ancient Romans in bikinis and mini-skirts at Casale

The Villa Romana Del Casale, in Piazza Armerina, is one of Sicily’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. The villa was huge and would have been built and decorated at staggering expense. It was the manor house of a colossal agricultural estate, owned and run by an Italian aristocrat. Sicily was regarded as a terribly primitive province…

Palermo Cathedral

Palermo Cathedral was erected in 1185 by Walter Ophamil (or Walter of the Mill), the Anglo-Norman archbishop of Palermo and the Norman King William II’s minister. One of his close relatives had Monreale cathedral built during an overlapping time period, and they were therefore regarded as competing with each other for glory. The Normans had…

The History of Sicilian Cuisine in Thirteen Invasions

Sicilian food is the original fusion cuisine, a unique mix of all of its diverse cultural heritages. The island has been at the heart of thirteen different empires over the last three millennia, and each one of them has left its mark on the Sicilian housewife’s kitchen cupboard. The Phoenicians The Phoenicians were traders and…

Do you only eat fruit in season, or forced in greenhouses?

Whilst scoffing mango and strawberries with my nephew the other day, I found myself thinking of my friends in Sicily with pity. This is the season when they have pretty much no fruit, you see. Oranges fizzle out in February, and then there’s basically nothing till May. Fruit and veg in season The idea of only…