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…

Sicilian Ceramics in Palermo

Last summer I dashed down to Sicily and wanted to purchase some gorgeous Sicilian majolica ceramic art for my new house. So I toddled off to “Tre Erre” in Palermo.   What to buy? An owl?   Something fruity?   Something fishy?   How about some heads?   Or even Medusa’s head?   In the…

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…

A Nativity Play with a Difference

It’s that time of year again when I start thinking about nativity plays, and halos made of tinsel. When moving back here to England, I had hoped that English primary schools still followed that great tradition of making little children memorise passages from the bible, plus lots of Christmas carols, then make their parents laugh…

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…

Top Ten things to do in Sicily in Winter

Sicily isn’t usually the first place people think of going for holidays in winter, but my German friends pointed out to me it is actually a great choice. This isn’t just because you can often get winter sunshine, but also because there is lots going on, you can see the sights without the crowds, and…

Castelbuono, the Foodies’ Paradise in Sicily

I have blogged about Castelbuono before, but not recently, so I am doing it again! We took an English friend there last summer, and she took all these lovely photos. Thank you Adrienne! Castelbuono has a medieval castle with a very long ramp at the entrance and several arches to negotiate before you get there:…

Shopping in Palermo

Palermo is a fun place to go shopping, and you can find some real bargains if you know where to go. If you don’t, you can find a truly amazing amount of tiny weeny Chinese clothing, that you would not have fitted into by the time you were 12. Never fear! Follow my advice, and…

The Villa of the Fashionista: Villa Sant’Isidoro in Aspra

I have spent eleven years being irritated by an 18th century villa near my house, because it blocks the middle of what could be a perfect road running right behind Casa Nostra into the nearest town. Despite its fancy gates, Villa Sant’Isidoro looked like a derelict building from the outside. I assumed it would fall down…

The Jewish Ghosts of Palermo

There was a Jewish presence in Sicily for centuries, possibly from before the birth of Jesus. The Jews were the only outsiders who made their homes in Sicily and became part of her population without invading. They simply turned up, fitted in and made themselves indispensable.   The Jews were the literate and educated members…

San Nicola l’Arena, a fancy Sicilian village!

San Nicola is a village in Trabia, a little way along the Sicilian coast from the one where I live, but a world apart. Where we have fish heads and peeling wooden boats, they have posh promenades and yachts in a marina.   We went there recently on a strange day which was so overcast…