I was sad and disappointed to learn, over the Christmas holidays, of tour operators who are again setting up "Mafia tours" of Sicily. I am not going to pretend that the Mafia is dead and I have expressed my thoughts about its continued existence in this post. However, there is so much that is lovely to see here, such a varied and fascinating culture to explore and there are so many fantastic taste sensations to be enjoyed that I cannot understand why anyone would want to persist in promoting the stereotypes. Sicily and the Sicilian people deserve better so here is a very personal and eclectic list of good reasons to visit my island in the sun:
1. Marvel at the Greek sites of Agrigento, Segesta and Selinunte.
|Tempio della Concordia, Agrigento|
2. In the summer, attend a performance of a Greek play at the Greek Amphitheatre in Siracusa.
|Performance of Medea at Siracusa in 2009|
3. Visit the Infiorata [carpet of flowers] in Noto in May.
4. See the breathtaking beauty of the Val di Noto towns, which collectively form a World Heritage Site.
|Duomo di San Giorgio, Modica|
5. See the Venere di Aidone, over two thousand years old and home after so many years of enforced wandering.
6. Relax on clean, unpolluted beaches.
7. See the settings of the Montalbano films.
8. And, talking of that gourmet detective, try the local arancini!
9. Breathe in the heady scent of orange blossom and buy some zagara cologne.
10. Eat a Sicilian vanilla orange!
11. Take a bus ride along the edge of the Stretto at Messina. It is stunningly beautiful. While you're there, gaze over at the Calabrian coast - you could even take the ferry across if you have time - and remember all who passed along this route as they emigrated to Northern Italy and far, far beyond. Like migrating peoples today, they wanted only a better life.
12. Go to a street market, such as the ones in Modica and Catania. You'll be amazed by what you find there!
13. Visit Bellini's house in Catania.
|Image of Vincenzo Bellini: Wikipedia|
14. Admire Norman and Arabic architecture in Palermo and visit the seat of one of the world's oldest parliaments.
15. See Modican chocolate being made to the Aztec method at Bonajuto in the town's Corso Umberto.
16. Don't miss out on the best gelato in the world!
17. Take a trip up grumpy old Etna.
18. Eat plentiful prickly pears in autumn and sip prickly pear liqueur.
19. See traditionally painted Sicilian carts at Donnafugata in Ragusa or at the Mostra Permanente del Carretto Siciliano housed in the Museum at Terrasini [Palermo Province].
20. Go to a Sagra, such as the Strawberry Festival at Casssibile in spring, the Prickly Pear Festival at Militello in Val di Catania or any number of chestnut festivals in the Etna area in autumn. Relearn the art of living in tune with the seasons.
Finally, if you are genuinely interested in Mafia history but not in sensationalising tragedy, please pay homage to those brave Sicilians who lost their lives campaigning against the criminal organisation: Giuseppe Impastato, Paolo Borsellino, Giovanni Falcone and others like them deserve wider world recognition, as do the thousands of Sicilians who work daily to preserve their best traditions and make their region a better place.
For all of them, please come and see the Sicily I love.