When chartering a boat in Sicily, give yourself a day or two to see something of Palermo because the ‘crumbling beauty’, as it is known to the inhabitants of this remarkable city, is arguably one of Italy’s best kept secrets.
by James Nolan
Palermo, the regional capital of Sicily, comes across as crowded and noisy at first and a place where the traffic follows no known rules. But step into one of the fabulous and numerous coffee and pastry shops, enjoy the best espresso of your life, and the city seems totally different.
Because of its geographic location Palermo has a history unlike anywhere else. There is evidence it was inhabited in the Pre-historic Age, it was colonized by the Phoenicians, conquered by the Romans and subsequently the Normans, occupied by the Arabs as part of the “Emirate of Sicily” and also was a Spanish “possession”. All of this is evident not only in the architecture of the city, but in the local cuisine. It is a city for exploring because a lot of its architectural and historic treasures are hidden; a literal treasure-trove of palaces, castles and churches.
One place to start your visit is Quattro Canti (Four Corners); this is the better known name of the Piazza Vigliena. The square has four walls on three levels: at the bottom, four fountains, surmounted by statues each representing one of the four seasons; above them the statues of the Spanish monarchs Charles V and Philip II, III and IV; at the top, the four saints protecting the city: St. Christine, St. Olive, Santa Ninfa and St. Agatha. There are a number of attractions nearby, including Santa Caterina (Church of Saint Catherine) which has amazing frescoes.
Friends recommended we stay at the Butera 28 apartments which was a great experience. They are located in an 18th century palazzo which was the home of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of the famous novel The Leopard, and now owned by his adopted son. The palazzo is in the heart of the historic center, the La Kalsa quarter, created by the Saracens, and the apartments range from Euro 50 to Euro 140 a night.
There is no shortage of restaurants and cafes serving good food from menus reflective of the history of the city. One of our favorites, Salvo’s, is a street restaurant a short walk along Via Butera, that serves some of the best and freshest grilled seafood you are likely to find anywhere.
Editor's Note: This shoreside information was submitted by James Nolan. Photos by Denise Nolan.