Monday, October 29, 2012

Sicilians Elect New Governor

Rosario Crocetta is the new President of the Sicilian Region, effectively the "governor" of Sicily. A chemist by profession, he speaks several languages (including English) and in 2003 became Italy's first openly-gay mayor (of Gela near Agrigento).

He has been a European MP and taken a strong stand against the Mafia, living under full-time police protection for years. Crocetta, 61, ran with the center-left Democrats, but the elections for the Sicilian Regional Assembly (Sicily's parliament) saw a number of deputies from new parties win seats, including the anti-corruption 5-Star party.

Mr Crocetta is not like his opponents in any way, and wants to better develop Sicilian tourism by, for example, opening major museums during evenings and improving the administration of various historic and archeological sites.

Nothing will be easy in the current economic climate, but in this case change may be good.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Martorana Fruit: Pastry as Art

Unlike most of the sites that publish pages about art in Sicily or Sicilian artists, our page dedicated to that subject mentions culinary arts - and links to our Sicilian food page. One food is artistic by definition.

Martorana fruit or pasta reale (shown here), molded from almond marzipan, makes its annual appearance in late October. The best pastry makers color it realistically. Several Sicilian writers mention it in their historical novels and it could even be considered part of Sicilian culture.

Art, of course, is often controversial, but this is the kind that never fails to leave a good taste in your mouth.

Friday, October 26, 2012


You can tell it's chestnut season when you see grey smoke wafting up from urban piazzas on cool October evenings. Wherever you are, autumn is a great time to relax with a book by one of the great Sicilian writers.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sicilian Literature and Literary Parks

Recently, as we were updating our Sicilian literature page, the tricky topic of literary parks in Sicily came up. This led to an eye-opening "round table" discussion among four members of our staff in the courtyard of our favorite coffee bar off Palermo's historic via Alloro - the point being that we would like to publish a list of sites dedicated to (or associated with) famous Sicilian writers.

In practice, activities like the Tomasi di Lampedusa ("Leopard") tours mentioned in our last post are usually a good choice if planned well, while most of Sicily's literary parks and the related museums are, quite frankly, mediocre - though the ones near Agrigento dedicated to Sciascia and Pirandello are quite good.

There's no reason to explore in depth why certain literary parks are rarely very worth visiting. Often, it's a lack of resources (original manuscripts, etc.) or experience (the directors don't know how to operate a museum or tourist attraction). What's important is that Sicilian literature itself is exceptional, and that many of the places described by the authors can be visited.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tomasi di Lampedusa Leopard Tours

We get a fair number of requests for walking tours of Palermo with a focus on the places mentioned in Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's novel The Leopard and the sites that inspired the author.

Some members of our staff recently took such a tour with one of the tour guides mentioned on our site, and it was exceptional, even eye-opening. A lunch was included based on the kind of aristocratic cuisine popular in Sicily circa 1860. That in itself was unusual because very few chefs have any idea of what that cuisine was.

This is really the kind of thing that brings history, and historical fiction, to life. Visit the site for more information on these personalized "Leopard tours."

Friday, October 19, 2012

House of Bourbon Two Sicilies Redux

We're not monarchists, but on our pages you'll find plenty of information dealing with kings and queens. After all, Sicily was a kingdom until the nineteenth century, and then part of the corrupt, ill-fated Kingdom of Italy until 1946.

So we've put some links together on a Two Sicilies page dedicated to the kingdom and dynasty that was here until 1860, before the Savoys took over.

Incidentally, our editorial "position," for what it's worth, is that the Italian Republic is generally a good thing, and while today's Bourbons (that's Carlo and his Italian wife, Camilla, in the pic) engage in some worthy cultural and charitable projects and their work should be recognized, we really don't want to bring back a monarchy, and neither do most Italians. Nor do we believe that titles of nobility or any hereditary privilege should be recognized officially by the Italian state. That kind of thing never functioned very well here in Italy, and democracy is a good thing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sicily Books

We're a reasonably literate bunch, and we recently updated our Sicily books page. It's our unabashed opinion that our recommendations constitute the best Sicilian reading list available on the web for titles currently published in English. This includes some good guide books.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

November Magazine

It's been an unseasonably warm October but we're looking forward to slightly cooler weather and maybe even some elusive rain, so the November issue of our magazine is already online. Articles include:

New Books: Risorgimento, Unification, Regionalism. Has Italy ever really been a united nation, or is it still a land of very individualistic, disunited regions? Get some factual answers in these excellent, authoritative histories by David Gilmour, Christopher Duggan, Denis Mack Smith and Pino Aprile. These authors are the real deal.

Roasted Sicilian Chestnuts. From October through March, this is one of Sicily's most popular street foods, and has been consumed on our island for thousands of years. It's also a reminder that Autumn has finally arrived. By the way, the world's oldest chestnut tree is here in Sicily. It's at least two thousand years old.

Introduction to Family History Research. Sicily has the world's best genealogical source records, permitting many - perhaps most - Sicilian families to trace a line back to circa 1500. Find out what kind of documentation exists and where to find it. Discover your Sicilian legacy.

On a travel note, please see our notice about Catania Airport's special schedules beginning November 5th when they start a major construction project. You'll have to check-in earlier than usual.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Risorgimento Revisited

We have published a review of David Gilmour's recent book and several others dealing with Italian history, particularly the unification movement and today's very evident regionalism. The Pursuit of Italy is well-worth reading if your curiosity runs in that direction.

The Risorgimento isn't an especially interesting subject in itself but it is important in that it has shaped the Italy that exists today. Many of the nation's problems can be traced to the 19th century where their roots lie.

This is real history without the nationalistic platitudes.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Money and Mosques

A few days ago the mayor of debt-ridden Palermo hosted some officials from well-off Bahrain (that's their flag shown here) to discuss their investing in the Sicilian city. They're willing to invest two billion euros if the city permits construction of a mosque to accomodate five thousand worshippers.

Unfortunately, this will be more than a quid pro quo. We can expect loud if hypocritical protests from politicians "representing" the Catholic church - including a number of divorced, "devoutly-Catholic" middle-aged men who have fathered out-of-wedlock children with young mistresses - but considering that so many of Palermo's churches stand on the sites of what (until the 12th century) were mosques it shouldn't be too difficult to find a place for one now. At all events,  Italy's "Catholic" and "nationalist" politicians can usually be placated with coin, while Catholicism is no longer the nation's official state religion. During Sicily's multicultural Golden Age, Palermo was a shining example of a multifaith metropolis of religious diversity. Sicilians are descended from a diversity of peoples.

The city has become increasingly multiethnic in recent decades, in a sense returning to its medieval roots. There are many thousands of Muslims in Palermo, mostly from Tunisia, Morocco and West Africa. Providing them with a place of worship larger than those few smaller ones currently available shouldn't be impossible, and the city can use the money. There are plenty of churches; perhaps a few of Palermo's "Catholic" politicians could even visit one sometime, when they're not busy chasing skirts or embezzling public funds!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Hotels in Sicily

We'd like to remind you that Best of Sicily has a page dedicated to Sicily hotels. This is nothing new; it's been online for years. What makes it different from most sites offering hotel reservations is the number of other services and planning features presented on the page - flights, restaurants, tours, even a currency conversion tool. With Sicily's weather getting (relatively) cooler, and the crowded summer season behind us, it's a great time to visit Sicily.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Best of Sicily on Facebook

Unlike most "travel guides" published by public tourism bureaux, Best of Sicily sincerely welcomes comments of any kind. It's simple enough to contact us through this blog, but we're also on Facebook. This may make it even easier for you to contact our staff. We do get a large number of emails, but some readers have expressed an interest in commenting on Facebook because they're already logged in and it's more convenient than emailing or logging onto this blog.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A great time to see Sicily!

It's finally October... Here in Sicily we're still enduring the effects of an unseasonal heat wave, but it is gradually getting cooler (check out our Sicily weather page). The arrival of the true Autumn is inevitable, and by November that means the beginning of the so-called "low season" for tourism.

What that means for you is that it's a perfect time to come to Sicily. It's not hot and there are fewer crowds and lines at the most interesting sights. We offer several weekly Sicily tours. The itinerary of our popular Golden Sicily Tour is shown here. In fact, we have more departures throughout the year than any other company, with special low season prices, so you have plenty of choice.