Palermo is a charming city in Sicily, and an overnight train ride away from Naples. We were keen on a Sicily leg to our Italian holiday, and between it’s mafia connection and love for all things sweet, our decision was made. We spent two days in this charming capital city and took back a lifetime of Sicilian memories.
It is part of Italy, but has a different vibe to it compared to the rest of it. This could be because of the Byzantine influence. An overnight train journey took us to the city of Palermo from Naples. Its refreshing to wake up to a train ride that brings to you some breathtaking views of the sea.
View from the Train
We stayed in the most gorgeous Air BnB in the centre of the city – L’Olivella it is very close to the Teatro Massimo. It was strategically placed and we were actually able to walk to most places we wanted to go to. The hostess was really helpful and sets up the most divine breakfast with a whole host of Sicilian treats. If any of you do decide to visit Palermo I would strongly recommend that you check L’Olivella ‘s availability and grab it, if it is available.
Breakfast at L’Olivella
The Living Room
About 400 metres away is the Nicest Coffee shop in the whole of Palermo called Ruvol0. For the 3 mornings that I was there, that was where I headed for my morning cuppa, to find a Sicilian gossip conference on as early as 6 am. You have a view of the Teatro Massimo and an array of Sicilian delights to choose from.
Opera Dei Pupi (Opera of the Puppets)
Puppet theatre is quite popular in Italy, we saw it on the promenade in Salerno as well, but the piece de resistance was definitely the Opera Dei Pupi that we saw in Palermo. It has been been listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. When we saw it, we understood why. The marionette was entirely in Italian, and was an enactment of a “Orlando Furioso” a complete pot boiler, it had its share of conflict, romance,metaphysical, fantasy, humour, war, and even though we did not understand the language, it was exaggerated enough for us to get a sense of what was happening.
More than anything, the quality of production is mesmerizing and leaves you enthralled. it transports you to the middle ages and I was in awe of the sheer brilliance. It was nice to see a lot of local families and even children enjoying the show. I really wish that I had understood the language to enjoy it more and laugh at jokes.
Sugar Rush – Sicilian Treats
Casatta was born in Palermo. This was reason enough to pay obeisance to this city and brave a bus ride (with no ticket) to Pasticcerria Oscar to eat the best Casatta in the city. A sponge cake, moistened with juices, layered with ricotta, and covered with a shell of marzipan. It is sweet and has an array of textures, and a delight for all the senses.
Casatta at Oscar
Cannoli Siciliani was the next dessert, we simply had to try here. It gets it’s name from Cannolu meaning Tube, and it looks like one with a filling of Ricotta or Mascarpone. You may have eaten it with a creamy filling, which could be custard but that’s only because people did not have the right ingredients in that part of the world, and over a period of time, it became the norm. The dessert is distinct to Sicily and I would say make most of it while you are there, as it’s not easily available all over the world.
Brioche Con Gelato, or the Italian Ice Cream Sandwich. This has to be the best use of a Brioche. In most gelataria’s you can make your own Ice Cream sandwich. Choose your gelato flavors and the kind man at the counter, will make your own sandwich. Just the kind of breakfast / snack that calls out to me. It was an indulgent discovery, and a happy one. You cannot take your sweet time with it, because you are managing the melting gelato, and trying to balance that you have enough Brioche left till the very end. However, these are the kind of problems that I love to have.
Brioche with Pistachio and Strawberry Gelato
If you have a sweet tooth like mine, there just aren’t enough meals to do justice to the Sweet haven that Palermo is. Never mind the sugar rush, but old favorites and experiments with new ones have to be made.
Palermo being the capital of Sicily, had a huge Mafia presence, and that’s what the city is famous for. However, we noticed stickers in our building and a few of the restaurants that we went to, that said “AdioPizzo” , meaning “Goodbye Pizzo” .
We went to Antica Focacceria San Francesco, a restaurant that was established in 1834, while the food they serve is delicious and they are famous for that, they are in the news more because they were one of the first establishments to refuse to pay “Protection Money” . Focacceria owner Vincenzo Conticello became a local hero.
The iconic Restaurant Facade
The restaurant is very famous for it’s Lamprodetto, but apart from that they serve a lot of snacks as well as pretty decent vegetarian fare. I indulged in the “Involantini di Melanzane” Eggplant Roulades, with cheese in a tomato and pinenuts puree. I could understand the hype around the restaurant. Good food, and history always go very well together for a tourist.
Involantini di Melanzane
Other things to do in Palermo
There is history everywhere, and like most of Europe, just walking around will have you marvel at the architecture and the sheer beauty of the city. Buskers, cafes and historical buildings are in every corner. The Normandy Palace, is another place that is simply marvellous. It is grand and very different from the kind of architecture you see in the rest of Europe. The Byzantine influence shines through. Street Food tours are popular, and you can eat almost every kind of meat, possible and also buy some sicilian crockery as you walk in the bylanes of Palermo.
One more thing to keep in mind, is to definitely buy a day pass, if you intend to use the Bus. Your ticket is not checked on it, and definitely not sold. So either you buy it at the station, or a tabachi and that is closed on Sunday. We found out the hard way, and because we were too chicken to risk a fine, walked most of Sunday in Palermo, which I do not regret considering all the Sweets I ate.
I am certain we will go back to Sicily some day, when we will go to other cities like Catania and Taormina, a stop over at Palermo will be inevitable for all the original goodies