Thursday, December 26, 2013

Feast of St Thomas Becket 29 December

He is not widely venerated in Sicily, but it is here, at Monreale Abbey, that the first public holy image of Saint Thomas Becket, rendered as a mosaic icon (shown here), can be seen. Also, the cathedral of Marsala is dedicated to him. This was the first major church to be dedicated to the Anglo-Norman saint. Officially, he is "Saint Thomas of Canterbury."

Jackie Alio, one of Sicily's most popular historians, has written about Thomas Becket's Sicilian connection.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas in Sicily 2013

Christmas in Sicily? Why not?

What we're really talking about is the entire season, which ends with the Epiphany on Monday, January 6th, a legal holiday in Italy.

The atmosphere is enchanting, the days are cool but not freezing and the sites to visit are not crowded like in April and May. And yes, flights and hotel rates might be cheaper.

Read our article about Christmas in Sicily.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Peoples of Sicily Tour November 2014

In connection with the publication of her most recent book, historian Jacqueline Alio will lead a tour of Sicily in November.

This is the only tour of our island available to the general market led by an internationally-known historian and scholar specialized in Sicilian history. (A few of Jackie's articles have been published on Best of Sicily over the years.)

Offered by our partner Sicily Concierge, this is a 10-day luxury tour that begins in Palermo and ends in Taormina. Being familiar with both Jackie and her work (which includes original research in medieval sources), we are bold enough to suggest that anybody who reads the book and takes this tour will end up knowing more about Sicily than most history professors and tour guides!



Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Peoples of Sicily

It's finally been released, soon to be available from Amazon and (in the United States) Barnes & Noble.

The Peoples of Sicily - A Multicultural Legacy is the first "general" history of Sicily written in the original in English by historians based in Sicily. Covering the period from antiquity to around 1500, its focus is the multicultural society of Sicily during the Norman-Swabian period, from circa 1060 to around 1266.

Unlike many histories, this one has a very real, very "current" message, in fact several. This makes it appealing even to readers who normally wouldn't read 300+ pages of medieval history.

But the history alone is fascinating. The book also contains a detailed chronology (timeline) and practical tips on places to visit, including those not listed in most guide books. (Read more >>>)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

December Holidays Before Christmas

The Christmas season is upon us, but two minor holidays are coming up in the next two weeks. The Immaculate Conception, a national holiday, falls on Sunday the 8th, so no bank closings.

The 13th is St Lucy's Day. This is the patron of Siracusa, but around Sicily rice balls (shown) and cuccìa are consumed while bakeries are closed.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Saint Martin's Day 2013

What Italians call "Saint Martin's Summer," which is the Americans' "Indian Summer," is a period of warm days around the Feast of Saint Martin. Today.

In Sicily this is marked by a glass of Muscat or Passito with hard biscuits. Looking at past posts, last year it was 79 degrees (26 C) on this date.

None of that today. Following an unseasonably HOT October and early November, Autumn has finally arrived. Today it's only around 68 degrees with wind and a touch of rain. Finally.

Summer is nice, but perhaps a bit tiresome when it drags into the Christmas season.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Visit Sicily in Winter

For most people, Winter is the best time to visit Sicily. Maybe you're one of them, and now is the time to begin planning. Steffi Lanza's article gives plenty of reasons for visiting our island during this delightful season. (Shown is the Platani River in early December - in antiquity it separated Sicily between Greeks and Carthaginians.)

For the do-it-yourself approach, visit our trip planning page, where you can reserve hotels and work out other details. Frequent tours of Sicily offered in the next few months are listed on the 2013 tour page and (for those scheduled beginning in January) our 2014 Sicily tour page.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Di Renzo's Trinacria Published

Anthony Di Renzo's Trinacria - A Tale of Bourbon Sicily is now in print and Amazon should have it in stock by December. You can pre-order it.

Best of Sicily was a sponsor of its publication, and we've read an advance copy.

Italian historiography reflects a great deal of propaganda, especially for things that took place from around 1860 to around 1950.

Frankly, most Italians still don't have a strong position on their families' involvement with Fascism, if they even know much about that sordid chapter of Italian history, so to presume much knowledge of the 19th century might be presuming too much from most people raised in this charming country.

Though fictional, this book has a lot to say about revisionism, and it's an interesting read.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Refugees

Last week the Italians buried over 100 refugees who died in Italian waters off the Sicilian coast.

This is a reminder of at least two things. Italy is full of new immigrants, especially from Africa and Asia, and the country needs policies to ensure their safety.

Italy's politicians talk much but say little. In the wake of this tragedy - one of many - we hope to see concrete measures taken.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Taxing Month

October greets us with warm weather and a national tax increase.

The Italian economy has been in free fall for years. Italy is the only EU country clearly in recession, and the major problems began two years before the crash of 2008. Unemployment has reached frightening levels far worse than those of Spain, Greece or Britain.

The Italian solution? Raise taxes. (Well, to be fair, that's the "solution" in many places, not just Italy.)

Today the IVA, the national value-added or sales tax, on most consumer goods has gone up, to 22 percent.

How will this affect your visit to Sicily? Very little. Until yesterday the tax was 21 percent, and it's in line with most countries in western Europe. Consider, however, that in most parts of the United States it's nearer 8 percent.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

September Chestnuts

Daily high temperatures in many parts of Sicily - especially in lower areas near the coasts - are still close to 80 (26 C) but a few days ago Roberta Gangi, our food editor, saw a street vendor in Palermo roasting chestnuts. Just like the ones in our pic.

A few weeks early, perhaps, but why not? Check out her article about Sicilian chestnuts.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Back to Work

The first days of September find Italians returning to work after a long August vacation taken en masse. Ridiculous, perhaps, that everybody goes on holiday at the same time, but it's been that way for decades.

Fewer and fewer Sicilians have jobs to return to. Two days ago the Italian press reported that unemployment, especially among "youth" (anybody under 30) is higher than ever. Some journalists even referred to 2013 as an economic "Black Year."

Among this site's emails - hundreds each day even without the spam - are occasional remarks from hecklers. We really don't have time to respond to such nonsense, but I recall one from a local (Sicilian-born) critic of our jobs in Sicily page who thought our comments there were "true" but unpleasant.

With publication of the most recent national figures, they just got a lot more unpleasant.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Summer Daze

August, with its beaches and vacations, is greatly anticipated by most Italians. It does, however, have a downside, apart from the torrid temperatures.

Ferragosto, August 15th, is a national holiday. This year it fell on a Thursday, encouraging people to take the following day off from work to enjoy an extended weekend. But the entire week of Ferragosto finds many offices and stores closed. In Sicily the post office is closed afternoons for the entire month.

What this means is that life here doesn't get back to normal - whatever "normal" is - until September, which this year begins on a Sunday. Welcome to our world.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

2014 Sicily Tours at Reduced Prices

Our partners have announced discounts on the popular 7-night Golden Sicily tour if reserved early:
Tour Dates Price (euros) & Payment Date
    31 Oct 30 Nov 31 Dec
January 11, 25 990 1050 1150
February 8, 22 990 1050 1150
March 1, 15 990 1050 1150
    15 Jun 31 Jul 31 Aug
November 15 990 1050 1150
December 6 990 1050 1150

Of course, these are just a few of the start dates. This tour is scheduled 25 times in 2014, with start dates every two weeks throughout the year. Read more >>>

Monday, August 5, 2013

Abatellis Regional Art Gallery

It is described so little in guidebooks, and so "difficult" to find, that the Palazzo Abatellis Gallery is considered something of a local secret in Palermo. Yet its collection is exceptional. Shown here is a painting by Antonello da Messina, one of the first oil painters of the Renaissance.

But the gallery is open most of the Summer - except on August 15th, a national holiday.

And it really isn't very hard to find.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

More Tours of Sicily in 2014

The Sicilian Impressions tour is a tour of Sicily based on a 6-day (5-night) itinerary from Palermo to Catania.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Sicily Tours in 2014

The folks in our promotional department have announced that the details of the Golden Sicily Tour 2014 are now online.

Our map shows the itinerary. This is a good tour at a good price, available every month of the year, with a small group size (no more than 16) and 25 departures in 2014. Check it out.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Beaches of Summer

The tricky part of a day at the beach is choosing the right one. Some of the larger, crowded public beaches - like Palermo's infamous Mondello - should be avoided.

Not a problem. Just visit our Sicily beach page for practical information.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

St Rosalie Fest 2013

Sicily's largest annual festival takes place this weekend, with a parade featuring the St Rosalie float on Sunday, the 14th, ending at Palermo's Porta Felice and the Mura delle Cattive along the Foro Italico near the shore. There will be a large fireworks display at midnight.

This is an interesting event with lots of food and candy stands, but expect large, unruly crowds.

On Monday the 15th, St Rosalie Day, there is a religious procession beginning at the cathedral.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Sicilian Identity

In a previous post we mentioned Sicilian Genealogy and Heraldry. This book presents a great deal of information on the diverse, multicultural history of Sicily. It actually answers a lot of questions about family history research and ethnography that we receive every day but can't respond to individually.

This book is available in Palermo and will soon be sold on Amazon, in both print and electronic editions.

Our Sicily book publishing program is described on another page. Expect a number of interesting titles in the next twelve months.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Sicilian Genealogy Book

It's finally in print: The first book in English dedicated to genealogical research in a specific region of Italy - Sicilian Genealogy and Heraldry.

It's more than genealogy and family history. This is a book that touches the soul of Sicily, with chapters on the Sicilian identity and much more. If there were ever a book that explains "how to be Sicilian," it is this one. Read more in our (very biased) review of this book.

Yes, this book is part of Best of Sicily's publishing program. Expect to see more titles soon...

Monday, June 17, 2013

Sicily's Beaches 2013

It's almost Summer, and already beach season in Sicily!

Sicily is full of beaches, and our Sicily beach page lists most of the public ones. This is the most complete, objective list on the web; it omits dirty urban beaches which are best avoided.

For weather forecasts visit our Sicily weather page, which also indicates holidays and things like seasonal foods.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Greek Icon Display

Over 40 Greek icons are on display at Palermo's Norman Palace until August 25th.

On loan from a museum in Athens, these treasures were salvaged over a century ago from St Nicholas Orthodox Church of Messina, claimed during the earthquake of 1908 which destroyed most of that city.

Also displayed are some manuscripts from the Byzantine Catholic Monastery of the Holy Savior.

Open hours are 8:30 to 5 Monday through Saturday, and 8:30 to 1 on Sundays.




Monday, June 3, 2013

Anna Bonomolo Concert

Anna Bonomolo is one of Sicily's best-known jazz talents, and jazz fans can catch her this Saturday, June 8th at 9:30 in Palermo's Villa Pantelleria Theatre. Included in the ticket price are refreshments before the outdoor concert.

For tickets: circuitoboxofficesicilia.it and tickettando.it.

It's a great way to begin the summer concert season.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Sicily Hotels

We recently updated our hotel reservation service and changed affiliation, which is to say that we are now with Booking.Com, part of Priceline.

In the process we simplified our hotel reservation page. It is now possible to select a list of hotels by choosing a locality on a map or in a list.

Booking.Com is the service that 3 or 4 members of our staff use when making hotel reservations, in Sicily and in other places. It works well, and the prices are at least as good as anything you'll find elsewhere. Many travelers consider it an advantage that - compared to most other online reservation services - this one usually permits you to pay at the hotel and not necessarily in advance. This feature depends on the specific hotel, however, so it is not universal.

But the system is extremely easy to use and very user-friendly.




Sunday, May 26, 2013

Pino Puglisi Beatified

Yesterday, at a ceremony in Palermo attended by 80 thousand people, a priest murdered by the Mafia twenty years ago was beatified as a martyr.

Our article about Fr Pino Puglisi talks about his life, and the activities that made him a Mafia target.

Incredible as it may seem, there are still many people, including those who head certain "ethnic" Italian organizations outside Italy, who would have you believe that the Mafia doesn't really exist.  That's ridiculous.

The Catholic Church now recognizes the existence of this criminal organization, and Fr. Puglisi is on the path to sainthood.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Euripides at Tindari

Tindari's Roman theatre is presenting its annual cycle of Greek plays through June 8th. This year Euripides' Trojan Women and Alcestis are being performed.

For tickets and information, visit their website at teatrodeiduemari.it

The link to biglietti will take you to the ticketing page. The site seems to lack an English text, one of our common criticisms of Sicilian promotional material. But the productions are exceptional.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Bed and Breakfast Reality Check

Today your editor was pressed into service by his doorman to translate for a young English woman who was staying at a bed and breakfast in the 18th century building that houses our offices.

The woman, who was around 25, was traveling alone. She had found "Maria's" ad online. She arrived in Palermo, met Maria and her husband, and "checked in." The apartment was not part of Maria's house but a separate unit. So far so good.

The second evening, the English girl was disturbed by a man and woman entering the apartment unannounced, opening the door with a key. This was an older guy with a girl who seemed like his younger mistress. Whatever...

In any event, the man was very annoyed to find the young English woman there, and complained to Maria. The English girl spent the last night of her stay in a hotel.

The lesson is to be very careful in this unregulated field in Sicily. See our Sicily bed and breakfast article for solid advice.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Best of Sicily Books

In cooperation with our partner, Trinacria Editions of New York, we'll be publishing several books over the next twelve months - everything from history to cooking.

Founded some years ago in Palermo, Trinacria has published books (in Italian) on a wide range of subjects and will continue to do so. The American venture marks the beginning of their publishing in English.

As it involves more than a single title dedicated to Sicily, this program eclipses those of other travel sites and represents a diversification for Best of Sicily and, of course, an advantage for readers. All of these books will be available as e-books as well as traditional paper ones.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

New Sicily Travel Ebook

Available for Kindle and Android, Tim Cawkwell's travel book gives impressions of an encounter with some of Sicily's famous sites, such as Monreale, Palermo, Segesta, Trapani, Scopello (Erice is shown here). But it is more than a travel book, since these encounters prompt wider reflections on the pleasures to be found in history, on the torments of the Mafia presence, on the idea of the Englishman abroad, and on Sicily as an 'island of the mind'.

The journey takes in Giuseppe Di Lampedusa's The Leopard, Roberto Rossellini's film Journey to Italy, Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris, Gavin Maxwell's Ten Pains of Death, Peter Robb's Midnight in Sicily, the photographs of Letizia Battaglia, ER Dodds's The Greeks and the Irrational. The essay takes as its framework the way a visit to Sicily healed Tim Cawkwell's diagnosis as suffering from inflamed arteries in the head. This leads finally to a consideration of Beethoven's last five piano sonatas heard throughout the visit as consolatory and healing.

This essay, which includes a number of photographs as illustrations, is an arresting mixture of the factual and the thought-provoking. Although Sicily in all its richness and pleasures is the immediate subject, Tim Cawkwell ranges beyond the geographical island to touch on profound questions about human existence. www.bit.ly/Neuralgistan

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sicily Tours and Excursions

There are all kinds of ways to see Sicily, and right now is "high" season for visiting. Our main Sicily tour page offers plenty of scheduled tours around the island. We also offer regular excursions from Palermo. That includes most of western Sicily (shown is Monreale Cathedral.)

Personalized itineraries are available from Sicily Concierge.

To ensure that your request for a personalized service can be accommodated, please send it at least three weeks in advance of the date you have in mind. In the last few weeks we've had to turn down requests for services on certain dates in April that were heavily reserved.

A reminder that April 25th and May 1st are national holidays when banks, schools and some stores will be closed in Italy.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Genealogy in Sicily

We get a lot of requests involving Sicilian genealogical research. The subjects of Sicilian genealogy and family history are covered on several pages of Best of Sicily. Specific pages are also dedicated to related topics such as surname histories and heraldry (coats of arms).

However, we do not engage in genealogical research, though we can sometimes recommend a competent genealogist - depending on where in Sicily you require research and what kind of records you need researched. Incidentally, those we occasionally recommend are not necessarily the ones you find with web searches, while some websites on the subject present flawed information. Ours at least has the virtue of being accurate; it won't mislead you.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Wine Tastings in Palermo

Sicily's traditional wine country is in the island's western region, with its "capital" at Marsala, and it extends to the area around Palermo. There are, of course, fine wineries in other parts of Sicily, and nobody has a monopoly on great cuisine.

Our last post overlooked wine tastings in Palermo. Most of the establishments mentioned can arrange a wine tasting for a small group, and Filippo Testa's rural estate is a working winery. Sicily Concierge can plan a wine tasting as part of a personalized tour of Sicily, and some of the Best of Sicily tours include winery visits - and tastings.

These certainly aren't the only services of this kind available in Sicily, but we can vouch for their high standard of expertise and attention to detail. If you're seeking an objective experience, a "non-commercial" tasting may be preferable to one sponsored by a winery promoting its own wines.

Unfortunately, over the last few years we've seen a mad rush to market culinary services like cooking classes and wine tastings by any Sicilian capable of wielding a fork and a corkscrew! We've been advocating for quality services since 1999, and we'll continue to do so.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What's cooking in Sicily?

Here are a few ideas for cooking classes this year.

The Palermo cooking class is convenient if you're in the historic part of the city. Another local option is Vincenzo Clemente's market cooking class in Palermo's Via LibertĂ  shopping district.

If you'd like an excursion into the Wine Country then the Sicilian cookery class near Alcamo is a great idea. It's about as rural as you can get. In Taormina, we suggest the rustic cooking class.

All personalized and all exceptional, and the sites we've linked to present details about pricing and reservations.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Rite of Spring

The focus of this month's Sicily Magazine is Spring. This includes the seasonal cuisine, of course, but also the places to visit. Two that capture our attention are Segesta (shown), which noasts the best-preserved Greek temple, and Ficuzza, a forest preserve around the Bourbons' royal hunting lodge erected in the English style two centuries ago.

At Ficuzza, a great place to sample local country cuisine is the Antica Stazione, an old railway station, built in 1886 and recently restored - the railroad tracks no longer exist. The Stazione is now a restaurant and inn. They may offer a few of the delights on our Sicily food page. Worth a visit if you're in the area.

Sicily Concierge offers personalized excursions to these destinations and others, and Segesta in included in our weekly Sicily tours.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter Time

This year the Spring time change falls on Easter. More precisely, early Easter morning, when Europe sets the time ahead by one hour. Keep this in mind if you're traveling in Sicily this weekend. And... Happy Easter!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Easter in Sicily 2013

It's early this year, on March 31st.

Easter in Sicily is a magical experience. The Passion Processions on Good Friday are especially interesting. Our favourite is the one at Erice, a hilltop town of gray stone houses and streets redolent of Jerusalem's that was already standing in biblical times.

Another interesting event is Mass at the Byzantine Rite churches, especially Palermo's Martorana, built as a Greek Orthodox Church in the twelfth century.

It's a great time to visit, and taste an almond marzipan lamb.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

St Joseph's Day 19 March

This year it coincides with the arrival of a new Pope, but St Joseph's day is always worthy of note.

Heralding the arrival of Spring, it gives us an excuse to indulge in sfinci. Read about this delightful treat.

It's also the ideal season to visit Sicily. Check out our Sicily tours for 2013.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Satellites and Rebels

The Italian national government has agreed with the Sicilian regional one that construction of the American MUOS installation should be stopped pending further study, and issued an order to that effect. (We discussed this in a January post.)

This question should be studied further but - speaking more generally - Italy is moving into a political phase that will not improve the economy or the country's international position over the next few years. The point of the MUOS debate is that a responsible NATO nation should consider its decisions before it signs an international agreement, and it should be consistent from year to year.

With the rebels of the 5-Star Movement seated in the national parliament, we can look forward to a crippling impasse at every legislative step. Debate is good, but if Italy leaves NATO or the euro (as some in the 5-Star Movement propose), her status as - at least until now - one of the world's ten most important countries will dissolve overnight, destroying any chance for that much-desired permanent seat on the UN Security Council.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sicily's Provinces Abolished

Until yesterday, Sicily had seven provinces. They have been abolished. Now, as the result of a law passed by the regional assembly, our island will have less bureaucracy to impede its hoped-for economic prosperity. The former provinces will continue as geographic administrative districts, but unlike actual provinces these will not be obligated to maintain costly "mini-ministries" and overpaid bureaucrats like the useless provincial presidents and their staffs. There will be less redundancy and waste, and more accountability.

It so happens that the infamous provincial presidents were up for election next month. In effect, the positions they were hoping to win no longer exist. No problem, however, for the numerous provincial employees, who will be transferred rather than fired.

Last year, in a prescient move, the regional government abolished provincial licensing of tour guides - who can now work anywhere in Sicily. That's the kind of deregulation we'll see in 2013 as the role of the provinces disappears.

The island's recent attempts to reduce public spending, corruption and sloth are being observed with interest around the country as examples of policies to be implemented nationally.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sicily this March

Despite a few occasional drops of rain, this is a great month to visit Sicily, just before the main tourism season begins (in April).

This month's magazine presents an article on the delicious delights of St Joseph's Day, on Tuesday March 19th. You'll also find an item on Easter in Sicily. Easter is earlier than usual this year, on the 31st of March.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Bramante's Roma Caput Mundi in New York

Roma Caput Mundi is an exhibit by Sicilian photographer Davide Bramante on Rome as Eternal City and Historic Capital.

Bramante says, "The photos featured in the exhibit combine anywhere from 4 to 9 images, shooting several analog shots on the same frame using common film such as 35 millimeter." Bramante’s vision, motive, and approach coalesce into groundbreaking creativity with this new photographic project.  Each photo consists of a mesmerizing montage, blending images of the ancient and the contemporary city. The result is a poetic and passionate vision of the Italian capital - an archaeological scrapbook of the Eternal City across the millennia, a composite architectural portrait.

Taking photos of Rome and then "enclosing its essence into a mirror of contemporary society" becomes for Bramante a challenge and tribute to the Eternal City and his Motherland. He provides a cutting edge look at the classics, rendered as though a single image, as if it were a pure thought. The result is a fascinating meditation on the ideal concept of the Eternal City. "My photographing represents exactly my way of remembering, thinking, dreaming, hoping, and imagining. Everything overlaps." says Bramante.

"Davide’s photography showcases and celebrates Rome as a historic symbol of cultural, economic, and social value," Miller remarks at his two-level gallery.

Opening Reception: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 from 6 to 9 pm
Exhibition Dates: March 5-31, 2013
Hours: Sunday - Friday, 12 noon to 6:00 pm, and by appointment.

Mark Miller Gallery, 92 Orchard Street between Broome and Delancey, New York (212) 253-9479.  info@markmillergallery.com

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Food and Politics

Unless you're at a political fundraiser, the two don't mix very well.

On Friday (February 15th), the Financial Times ran an article by Brian Viner on a cooking class in Palermo, which mentions in passing that the Italian host and hostess twice (and perhaps more than twice) made openly derogatory comments about Americans, referring to the Second World War. By association, the comments also apply to the British, Canadians and Australians - all of whom have troops buried on Italian soil.

Our staff has met writers for the Financial Times - though not Mr Viner - and we wish to make clear that the individuals offering the cookery course mentioned in the article are not associated in any way with Best of Sicily or the fine firms advertised on our site. Some cooking courses are described in my article on learning to cook in Sicily.

For the record (not that it is in any way relevant to Sicilian cuisine!), the war referred to was not initiated by the British or the Americans (several histories are available on our books page), and we find it extremely unfortunate that somebody offering a service to visitors from those countries would insist on insulting her paying guests by dredging up events from 1943 - 70 years ago! Wars are part of history, but anybody offering travel services who wants to focus on that kind of thing should consider a career in some other field.

The hosts and chefs offering the cookery classes listed in my article do not engage in provocative rhetoric, nor do most Italians who work in the travel and tourism industry attempt to insult visitors.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Save money this year!

Yes, you can! You can visit Sicily without going broke.

Check out our Sicily tours page for all kinds of tours at great prices - or at least fair ones.

If you're thinking about independent travel, the Sicily hotels and travel planning page links to all kinds of practical information and services. If you want somebody to organise it for you, Sicily Concierge is a travel agent specialised in Sicily

This is reliable information from real travel experts, not from somebody who puts up a website about Sicily to exploit the travel market.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Crocetta's Crusade Continues

Even on a slow day, Sicilian politics are at least entertaining.

Like rats fleeing a sinking ship, opposition polticians are leaving their parties for the "Megaphone" movement founded recently by newly-elected Sicilian governor Rosario Crocetta. Seems they finally got the message that change is in the air. It's a little like the Fascists who quickly burned their party membership cards when the Allies arrived in 1943.

In just two months, Crocetta has addressed issues important to visitors by ordering mass reassignments of managers and bureaucrats in the tourism-related agencies, especially Beni Culturali, and taking control of certain services that had been farmed out to the corrupt friends of equally corrupt politicians.

The wholesale theft of the last decade is astounding. In the agency responsible for vocational training programmes some 20 million euros are missing.

In the works are plans to keep historical and archaeological sites open longer beginning this Spring, so you can visit Segesta and Agrigento  after dark.

Your editors applaud the efforts of Rosario Crocetta and his team. We believe that these changes will be good for visitors and for the tourism industry in general.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Sicily Now!

This month's issue of the Best of Sicily Magazine presents articles on Wagner, Sicilian hazelnuts and visiting Sicily now, during the cooler months.

We repeat it often because Winter really is one of the best times to come to Sicily. Apart from the cooler weather - Summer in Sicily is very hot - there are fewer crowds at the sights and sites you visit. We were in Segesta two days ago and we had the vast archeological site to ourselves.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Tourism Ministry Shake-up

The typical public-sector employee in Sicily's ministries, including Beni Culturali (Cultural Assets), which includes tourism, historic sites and museums, has held his/her position for at least twenty years, having been hired with the help of a political party and a friend or two. He/she is not particularly competent or productive, speaks no English and is "protected" by a trade union - and therefore can not be fired.

But such a do-nothing or charlatan - like the charming clown shown here - can be transferred to another division of the same assessorato (agency). That is exactly what Sicilian governor Rosario Crocetta is doing, 60 or 70 managers at a time. It's the biggest shake-up in sixty years, and most Sicilians support it 100 percent. That includes your editors.

Administration of these regional agencies is mediocre and has been for decades. Altering the organization can only help matters. Things are so bad that it cannot possibly hurt. It is long overdue, and it will benefit the function of tourism-related services in Sicily.

Though lacking a solid legal basis for their position, employees and unions are threatening strikes and street protests. No problem; we Italians are used to that - and after a few days of protesting the employees will return to their newly-assigned offices and (for a change) do a little work.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Remembering Richard Wagner

As part of an international event, a series of opera performances at Palermo's Teatro Massimo commemorate the bicentennial of the birth of Richard Wagner, who composed his last work in this city.

Wagner and his contemporary rival Giuseppe Verdi, both born in 1813, are closely linked to Sicily. Each was, in his own way, a nationalist supportive of a newly-united country - Italy in 1861 and Germany ten years later - with which he became closely identified, and each developed a distinctive kind of opera.

For ticket information, visit the site of the Teatro Massimo opera house. Our article on Wagner and Verdi discusses their Sicilian connections.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sicily Tours and Independent Travel

This is the time of year when many visitors make their travel plans to come to Sicily in the Spring (shown is Agrigento's Greek temple). While we believe that visiting Sicily in Winter is a great idea, the "high season" really begins in late March.

Our Sicily tour and Sicily travel pages are great places to find travel services, and there's also the Sicily hotel page, which has all kinds of useful links to plan your vacation. But we would also like to mention two services for independent travelers...

Sicily Concierge does personalized travel planning. And if you would like a tour guide, even for just one day during your stay, the Sicily tour guide page lists a few of the best.

It is possible to plan your entire visit to Sicily with Best of Sicily, and we also recommend sites like Trip Advisor. There are plenty of reasons to visit Sicily and this year is a great time to do it.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sicily blocks US satellite project

Amidst protests and confrontation, the President of the Sicilian Region, taking (as promised) a position different from that of his predecessors, has - at least for the moment - blocked further development of an American military satellite dish construction project near Niscemi in east-central Sicily. The health and environmental concerns of local residents were cited as a reason for the intervention, which will pit Sicily's regional government against Italy's national government and this NATO nation's defence ministry.

This is one of four MUOS (mobile user objective system) bases under development. The others are in more remote, less populated areas of Hawaii, Virginia and Australia. The main problem with the project is not political, nor is it a question of anti-Americanism.

Who would want such an installation next to her house?

There is, however, a very real "social" side to this issue. Specifically, Sicilian politicians have "sold" Sicily and the Sicilians for decades, in the process pocketing handsome pay-offs much of the time. This is corruption, plain and simple. For example, it was also reported today that a public contract involving administration of archaeological sites was "won" by the son of a recently-appointed regional administrator - who declined it in the wake of highly public "conflict of interest" commentary that made its way into the newspapers.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Come to Sicily this Winter!

It's the best time to visit. By April the most popular sights and sites will have more visitors. But for the next three months, until the middle of March, our island will be relatively comfortable and cool, without the crowds of the "high" season.

We have been saying this for about ten years - long before the folks at the New York Times and other publications began suggesting low-season Mediterranean vacations.

While things to visit "indoors" are no different from one season to another (shown is the Magione church in Palermo), you'll find archeological sites like Segesta and Agrigento surrounded by lush green fields. Steffi Lanza gives us 12 good reasons to visit Sicily this Winter.