Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saint Lucy: Back Home after 1000 Years

Today, December 13th, we celebrate the feast of Saint Lucy. While in different parts of Sicily people commemorate their beloved and renown Sicilian saint with arancini (stuffed rice balls), cuccìa (boiled wheat berries), gateau di patate (local cottage pie), and panelle (chickpea fritters), instead, the city of Siracusa, Lucy's hometown, is getting ready for a historical event. After almost a thousand years (since 1039) Lucy's relics will return from their long exile in Venice!

Early tomorrow morning Santa Lucia's relics will be escorted by the State Police from the Church of Saint Geremia and Lucia to Venice Airport. Then she will fly over to Catania Airport and from there the police will escort her mortal remains to Siracusa. However, she will only stay in her hometown for a couple of weeks. On December 22nd, she will be flying back to Venice.  

Viva Santa Lucia! Sarausana jé! These will be the words with which the citizens of Siracusa will be welcoming her back home, albeit only for a few days...

Yes, "long live Saint Lucy; she is Siracusan!"

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Hottest November Ever

Sicily just experienced the hottest November since records have been kept (two hundred years ago) and October was one of the hottest on record as well. The lack of substantial rain since May has decimated the olive crop and sent the price of oil soaring. It may be another week or two before daily highs dip much below 70F (21C), and most days last month saw temperatures over 72 - a scirocco over the last weekend jolted temps up to 84 degrees. The average daily high temperature for November in a "normal" year is 66 (19).

Monday, December 1, 2014

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Uninsured Travel Services

We've received requests about advertised, low-cost day-tour services - the kind that do private excursions to places like Segesta and Mount Etna - and whether they are regulated by law. The main question is if they are fully insured for your safety.

Unfortunately, some are not insured to the extent they should be. Even a few that are advertised on major travel service websites do not carry proper insurance for clients.

Why? Because they are not registered, licensed tour operators. Therefore, some don't even qualify for certain types of liability and accident insurance.

The problem: They lack insurance coverage for injuries that might occur between their parked motor vehicle and the site you must walk to from the car or bus, for example the walk from Segesta's parking lot to its temple.

The (partial) solution: At the very least, ask about this detail before reserving their service.

Some who offer such services are not actually commercial firms but non-profits, typically "cultural associations," which Italian law refers to as an associazione culturale. Just be careful. These folks are readily identified by their ridiculously low prices. (We wouldn't be surprised if they offered you a low-cost trip to the moon!)

The excursions and tours undertaken by such associations may, in themselves, be perfectly legal, but apart from the insurance issue the organizations' personnel, not being licensed tour guides, might not be permitted to lecture groups at major historical sites. This is another factor to bear in mind.

All the travel services advertised on Best of Sicily which offer transportation are legitimate, fully-insured companies. We wish that all travel-oriented websites could say the same thing.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Women of Sicily

In response to popular demand for a place to purchase the book in Sicily, Jackie Alio's Women of Sicily is now on sale here. It can be purchased from Libreria del Corso in central Palermo.

This title will be on sale via the internet from Amazon and other vendors in early March 2015. It can be pre-ordered.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Sicilian Genealogy and Heraldry

The first, much-awaited book dedicated to Sicilian family history research is now available from Amazon and other vendors. First released in Europe in 2013, it established a new Dewey catalogue category in the British Library.

Sicilian Genealogy and Heraldry is a complete guide for the serious researcher and a great general overview for anybody tracing their roots in Sicily.

It is equally useful if you're simply exploring the concept of a Sicilian identity.

A number of copies have been sold online. Order yours soon as the first American print run was only a few thousand books - but the publisher has informed us that there will be another printing in January.

This volume is worth its weight in gold. (Read more)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Pre-order The Peoples of Sicily!

Scheduled for arrival in stores by November 1st, The Peoples of Sicily is now on sale by pre-order from Amazon in the United States. Barnes & Noble, along with Amazon UK, will have it online soon.

Jackie Alio's book, Women of Sicily, to be released in March, is available for pre-order from all three online stores.

Yes, both books have been published for distribution to libraries and schools. Here we are referring to retail sales. Book launches (presentations) by the authors are being planned for London and New York in 2015.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Golden Sicily Tour 2015

We offer a number of tours - almost every week of the year - and a favorite is our Golden Sicily Tour. For 2015, there are high season and low season rates, so prices are lower during the cooler months.

Maximum group size is just 18 participants and the average is 10. This is a one-week tour. Worth thinking about.

If you're looking for a slightly shorter tour, Sicilian Impressions may be perfect.

There are discounts if you reserve before 2015.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Twin Site

A few visitors may have noticed that Best of Sicily has a "mirror" site at bestofsicily.info (the main site is bestofsicily.com). There are several reasons for this, and most revolve around the cryptic, arcane world of search engine indexing.

Our site has seen an increase in traffic in recent months, from an average number of unique visits of around 5,000 per day to something approaching 7,000. With this, the site has come under attack from hackers (with their automatic spiders and other programs) launched from servers in China and the Netherlands by companies in New Zealand and elsewhere selling prescription drugs. As one of several security measures, we have launched the "clone" site. This will not change your experience with Best of Sicily, but it may ensure that we are still available for you to read.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Sicilian Culture

With over 5,000 visits per day - and sometimes twice that number - Best of Sicily appeals to a wide readership. An increasing number of readers turn to us for information on Sicilian culture.

Over the course of 15 years, we have become the web's point of reference for Sicily. It is a responsibility we take very seriously.

In cooperation with Trinacria Editions, we have published several books, and we are planning a few more for 2015. No Mafia fiction or erotica, just interesting topics that reflect the real culture of a real place.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Do it now!

If you plan on coming to our island this Summer, RESERVE YOUR HOTEL RIGHT NOW!

For tours - this Summer or during the Autumn, check out our Sicily tours page.

Friday, July 11, 2014

St Rosalie Festival 2014

It has begun. Palermo's Saint Rosalie Festival runs through Tuesday night. (Local banks, public offices and some stores will be closed Tuesday.)

Information is available on the festival site. Unfortunately - but typical of "official" Sicilian tourism promotion - it is only in Italian. Fortunately, online translation sites can translate it into your language.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Money!

Sicilians love to talk about money. This week, the head of a national political party visiting the European Parliament decried the wasted funds sent to Sicily, which end up in the hands of corrupt politicians, outside "consultants," or even the Mafia. He said that the European Union should stop sending "development" money to Sicily.

He's right!

Here's a recent example. A few days ago, treasury officers (the Guardia di Finanza) sequestered the assets - bank accounts, buildings, computers and expensive automobiles - of an "entrepreneur" who had started up a telecommunications services company with millions in public money. Accusations range from fraud to misappropriation of funds to tax evasion to labor law violations (many employees were hired "off the books" and paid for only some of the hours they worked).

The point is that this kind of person never should have been considered for public financing. There wasn't even due diligence to investigate his academic credentials.

And he is just one of many.

Let's cut off the public money being sent to Sicily's charlatans!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The History of Sicily

It's coming soon. (Yes, it's been a long wait.) With its simple title, The History of Sicily is exactly what its name implies.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Deaths at Sea

Over the last few weeks, some six thousand (yes, 6,000) refugees have arrived in Sicily and on the nearby islands on ships and small boats. Many have died attempting to reach Sicily. In at least one case, a mother in a boat that was sinking had to decide which of her young children to save.

The Italian government claims to lack the funds to assist them, yet tens of millions of euros disappear into the pockets of our nation's corrupt politicians each week.

For now, there is no simple solution to the problem. The refugees arrive from various parts of Africa - some make their way to Tunisia from sub-Saharan regions - where mere survival is a daily challenge.

Our editors can do little more than make the problem known, and express our difference of opinion, indeed our disgust, with those who publish sites dedicated to Sicilian travel (villa rentals and tours) who, in their own selfish interest, conveniently - and not very humanely - pretend that the problem doesn't exist.

One imagines that such people have never had to choose the life of one child over another.


Monday, June 2, 2014

The Hotels of Summer

Summer in Sicily really begins in early June and lasts into early October... It's already beach season.

If you're planning to visit "on your own" (not as part of a tour group), check out our Sicily hotels page, featuring a selection of hotels - and some better bed & breakfasts - around Sicily. These are easily reserved through Booking, part of the Priceline network.

Summer is "high season," so reserve early!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Segesta, Erice, Piazza Armerina Tours

It's amazing how many requests our tour department gets for regular (scheduled) excursions from Palermo for Segesta and Erice, and of course Piazza Armerina. In other words, tours that visitors can simply join.

So they finally decided to include these Palermo Excursions among their services. These are the only regularly scheduled excursions of this kind offered by any tour operator in Sicily.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Joan and Jackie

No, the title of this post doesn't refer to the Collins sisters...

Our editors were looking at Best of Sicily's statistics a few days ago and we noticed that the last two weeks saw a certain page buried in our Magazine getting more visits than most of the other magazine articles. It's a profile of Joan Plantagenet published ten years ago. No need to describe it as the work speaks for itself.

It was written by historian Jacqueline Alio, an occasional contributor to the site.

An advance copy of Jackie's book, Women of Sicily, finally found its way to our office. We've seen hundreds of books on Sicilian history, published in Italian as well as English, French and German, but nothing quite like this one. Actually, I had already seen it, and posted about it in early April. It was our other five editors who had not yet seen it and were amazed at its content. Roberta Gangi said it was the best book she's ever seen about Sicilian women.

We highly recommend it.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Street Safety in Sicily

This is the "high" tourism season in Italy, and if you're planning a visit – even a one-day shore excursion in Palermo – this may be a good time to peruse our travel safety page.

There's no cause for paranoia. Sicily is safer than many places. But in the cities, watch your purse and smart phone!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Spring Holidays

This year the Italians celebrate three legal holidays around the same time. Easter Monday, April 21st, is a national holiday when banks and most stores will be closed. A few pastry shops may be open and - in the evening - a few restaurants.

Friday, April 25th is "Liberation Day," the principal national holiday, marking Italy's "liberation" from Fascism, though the Americans and Brits who defeated the Germans and Italians will not be mentioned in the official festivities. (An ironic point is that in 1943-1945 our beloved Italia was, in effect, liberated from itself, but let's not go there...)

Then there's May Day, Thursday, May 1st, the socialist labour day, when there won't even be public bus service. In other words, virtually nobody will be working that day. Except, of course, bakers and others who operate their own small businesses.

The good news is that there won't be any other major holidays until August. June 2nd, Republic Day, isn't taken too seriously by anybody.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Reserve your Sicily tour and get a free book!

In connection with a special promotion offered exclusively through Best of Sicily, our friends in the tour department are including the newest book on Sicilian history with tours reserved before June that begin on any date scheduled in 2014. Visit the Golden Sicily tour page for details.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Women of Sicily by Jacqueline Alio

It's the first book on the women of Sicilian history written in English in the original by a Sicilian author based in Sicily. And written well.

Historian Jackie Alio's Women of Sicily presents profiles of seventeen medieval women, including several virtually ignored in the annals of history. Also featured is a brief but useful history of Sicily and a detailed chronology (timeline), along with a chapter on the status of Sicilian women in Italy today.

Though rarely presented in English for an international readership, the information on gender equality is really only a detail to place the role of Sicilian women in perspective. Indeed, a sobering implication here is that Italian women may have enjoyed greater gender equality in the 12th century than in the 20th.

Jacqueline Alio previously authored The Peoples of Sicily: A Multicultural Legacy. She is one of the few Sicilian historians known internationally.

Published by Trinacria Editions (New York), ISBN 9780991588602

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sicilian Dynasty by Daniela Di Benedetto

Coming this Christmas, Sicilian novelist Daniela Di Benedetto's first book to be translated into English will be available from Amazon and (in the United States) from Barnes & Noble in both traditional (paper) and digital (ebook) formats.

Intriguing and passionate, the story of Eva and Antonio captures the essence of the experiences of real Sicilian families. First published in Italian as L'Erede (The Heir), Sicilian Dynasty is the story of a husband and wife in a changing Sicily during the last decades of the twentieth century:

Young Eva marries the much older Antonio, heir to one of Sicily's last large rural estates. Eva prefers the city to country life, while her husband is constantly haunted by personal demons and past jealousies. In view of family squabbles and external influences, with a changing society and even the murderous Mafia encroaching upon their happiness, does the marriage stand a chance? Here, told from the parallel perspectives of husband and wife, is the tale of a modern couple's very traditional challenges over the course of twenty-five years. The old Sicily is vanishing, to be replaced by new realities...

The Author: Bologna native Daniela Di Benedetto has spent most of her life in Palermo, where she studied music and earned a degree in humanities. In Sicilian Dynasty, she combines an outsider's objectivity with an insider's insight into life in Sicily. She is part of the first wave of Sicilian women authors to make its way to distant shores.

Published by Trinacria Editions (New York), ISBN 9780991588619

Monday, March 10, 2014

St Joseph's Day 2014

Wednesday, March 19th is Saint Joseph's Day, when Sicilians celebrate with cream-filled sfinci.

While this seems to be a rather popular "ethnic" holiday among Italian descendants abroad, it really isn't extremely important here in Italy, at least not anymore. It is not a national holiday - banks and schools will be open. Nothing like Saint Patrick's Day in Ireland, two days earlier.

But still a great reason to indulge in delicious pastry!


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Don't ride in rickshaws!

The motorized passenger rickshaw is a three-wheel vehicle common on the streets of Italian cities, especially in the South. In Sicily, you'll see them in Palermo and Siracusa, where the drivers give rides to tourists.

In Siracusa's serene Ortygia district, which is partly closed to traffic and where the courteous drivers guide you at a moderate pace, a leisurely rickshaw ride through the narrow streets of the ancient city is usually enjoyable. That's how it should be.

But in Palermo that is not the case. There have been some serious traffic accidents and injuries involving rickshaws in Palermo, though (thus far) no fatalities as far as we know, and the drivers are less polite than those of Siracusa. In this chaotic city, where the rickshaw drivers speed through the streets, you board one of these vehicles at your own risk. Even if you survive the ride, you stand to be overcharged on the fare.

The Palermo rickshaw drivers don't just park in a convenient area (those in Siracusa prefer the square next to the cathedral), but instead circulate the old part of town in search of prey. They actually drive up alongside pedestrians and try to coax them into boarding - these are desparate times and some drivers may practically insist that you purchase their services! Just ignore them.

You have been warned.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Giant Steps?

It's no surprise that the Italian economy is in extremely bad shape. One in three Italians under 35 is unemployed, and some 20 percent of Italians aged 21 do not have a secondary school diploma. These figures are more extreme in Sicily. It was recently reported by the Italian education journal Orizzonte Scuola that around 25 percent of Sicilians quit school by the age of 16. (The European average is about 15 percent of young adults lacking a high school diploma.)

Recent suggestions by the new government include expanding unemployment benefits to people (such as those outsourced as external consultants) who were not actually employed. Small steps, not giant ones. Italy still has no minimum wage, and only 50 percent of Italian women are wage earners.

Will Italy bounce back? Not completely, at least not like it did after past recessions.

Why not?

This time is different. Companies are leaving in droves, with FIAT leading the herd. They won't be coming back. And there are new players now, in a truly global economy that barely existed 20 years ago. Within Europe, there are new members of the EU like Romania, where Unicredit, Italy's largest bank, has one of its main computer centers. China, of course, is more significant than it was back in 1980, and so is India.

Instead of creating incentives for business, Italy is taxing its citizens like never before.

Italy is still a great place to visit, but as a permanent residence it presents certain challenges.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sicily Tour Savings

Our friends in the tour department have told us that they are offering discounts of 100 euros or more on the popular Golden Sicily tour for Spring, Summer and Autumn start dates. This applies to early reservations, made through April, for places based on double occupancy (two participants traveling together sharing a double room).

This is a one-week tour across Sicily. Groups are limited to just 16 participants, and start dates are every two weeks.

No other company in the world offers comparable tours of Sicily with such frequent departures. In fact, very few guarantee such a small group size.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sicily Tours for University Groups

Our friends over at Sicily Concierge asked us to remind readers that they do tours for university groups. In recent years, most have been from New York, and usually in late Winter or early Spring, rather than the Autumn semester. Having attended a lecture given to one of these groups in Palermo a few years ago, we were impressed.

Classical archeology is just one choice for the focus of such a tour, and the company has consulting/lecture arrangements with more English-speaking historians than any other tour operator in Sicily.

The point is that there are very few companies here in Italy that do such tours very well.

Check out their university student Sicily tour page for details.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sicily's Royal Family Unites

The dynasty of Bourbon Two Sicilies reigned from 1734 until 1861. Like too many - dare we say most - Italian families, they have been divided by a familial dispute for a long time. Over fifty years. It had become quite bitter indeed.

In this case it was a dynastic dispute over a crown unlikely ever to be restored. In 1960 two cousins, grandsons of King Ferdinando I (who was born in Palermo in 1810), emerged to claim to be head of the family. The feud spawned concern because the family administers certain institutions in Italy closely connected to cultural initiatives and the Catholic Church, particularly the Constantinian Order of Saint George. Some people supported one claimant and some the other. Some time ago we published an interview with Carlo de Bourbon, who is planning a visit to Sicily this month.

A week ago the Bourbons signed a family agreement of reconciliation, seeking, in a spirit of Christian brotherhood, to work out their differences over a series of matters that the outside world considers, to say the least, arcane. Carlo, Duke of Castro, and Pedro, Duke of Noto, the princes signing the agreement, are second cousins once removed. Both men had lived with the dispute for an entire lifetime.

In this picture (from left): Pedro's son Jamie, Pedro and his wife Sofia, Carlo's wife Camilla, Carlo and his two daughters Carolina and Chiara.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Winter's Marzipan

Like torrone, almond marzipan is one of those delightful treats you find in Sicily only in the winter. Right now.

Well, almost only in the winter. Maybe until Easter, or sometime in May.

That's because it melts in the summer heat. Yes, it's shaped and colored to resemble real fruit. Read about it in our Sicilian marzipan article.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Sea Urchins!

Our last post suggested that Winter is a perfect time to visit Sicily. One of the seasonal foods, which makes its annual appearance in January, is the humble but delicious sea urchin. Finding restaurants that serve it - usually with pasta - can be tricky. We might suggest Palermo's Cin Cin, though you should check in advance to see if the tasty creature is on the menu for the day you reserve. Restaurants in Taormina, Trapani and Siracusa offering seafood menus may also serve urchin, which has become something of a rarity.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

See Sicily this year!

Regular readers may know that we're great proponents of visiting Sicily during the "low" season before April. The weather is not oppressively hot and the historical sites and sights, like Segesta (shown) are not crowded.

Best of Sicily offers a number of tours of Sicily throughout the year, and various personalized travel services - more than any other company.

This year, we are sponsoring publication of a few books dedicated to Sicily. Peoples of Sicily is a very special tour linked to one of these books. Our partnership with several firms (Trinacria Editions and Sicily Concierge among them) distinguishes us and it's a great advantage for you. This is our 15th year of publication as Sicily's leading destination guide.

Welcome to our world!