let's go to sicily.
in honor of our dearly departed white lotus, i'm taking us to sicily this week, one of my very favorite italian destinations.
while we won’t be checking in at the fabulous resort where our the white lotus stars stayed this time, i’m taking you to the sicily that i know — which, i hope you don’t mind, is a little bit more on the down low and not quite as fancy pants. regardless, we’re on the mediterranean sea, we’re sipping loads of spritzes and snacking on apertivo galore, and as far as i know, no one will be murdered — so la vita è bella (life is beautiful). i think of sicily as a destination for love, and so perhaps the ideal inspiration for every romantic’s favorite holiday — valentine’s day.
first, i thought i’d share a little geography and navigation around the area since i’d never been to sicily before and it was quite the learning curve. palermo airport (also known as falcone borsellino) is really midway between the city of palermo and the coastal town of scopello, so if you wanted to head directly to the coastal villages, you definitely could. i think visiting both is fun because you get a mix of big cities and seaside villages, but just so you know, you have options. we rented a car in palermo (via avis), and it was decidedly challenging to both get out of the city proper and to drive on these crazy roads. drivers seem to drive by blind faith alone because they literally drive down the middle of the lanes, swerving in and out of traffic, not a blinker in sight. lanes are merely a suggestion. and while we were just fine (i wasn’t driving), it took some caution and a front-seat navigator in our little fiat to keep things safe. driving here is not for white-knucklers, but you will survive! now on to the fun part.
first up, let’s discover palermo — the beautiful, if not somewhat gritty, capital of sicily. palermo is very charming and full of color, and like any big city, it can be somewhat rougher around the edges, but i never felt unsafe, in fact, wandered around all over the city by myself when my friends were off doing other things. we also had the most amazing and incredibly affordable airbnb — a villa, really (see above photos) with its own kitchen, huge terrace (below), and several large bedrooms all for under 100 euros a night. we loved it here and it was so centrally located — we had such fun exploring the city’s souk-like marketplaces and just wandering, really. i like traveling like that — seeing what i see without any real agenda. we had a few destinations around palermo in mind, but we mostly let the day take us where we wanted.
first up — the marketplaces. there are a few major markets, and we only had time for mercato di ballarò which is the oldest, and quite large and meandering for a few city blocks, located in the heart of the historic center of the city. with all kinds of food vendors, from fresh beautiful fruit (best plums i’ve ever tasted) to vendors selling strictly olives, spices, or cured meats, it’s the ideal place to pick up picnic supplies, or if you’re like us and have an apartment or airbnb, gather loads of supplies for making your own aperitivo and italian meals at home. there’s also mercato di capo and mercato delle pulci, which is more of a small flea market. sadly i missed that, but on sunday we did find another street flea market, mercatino antiquariato piazza marina, which had some amazing deals! i found two vintage paintings for under 10 euros.
also — do not miss the biblioteca privata (above) — an overflowing street library and bookshop run by a lovely italian gentleman named pietro tramonte. we picked up some beautiful old books and ephemera and enjoyed our very broken italian chat with the very exuberant and charming pietro.
and now the restaurants. we were only in palermo for two nights, so we didn’t pack in as much eating as one might like while in italy but a couple of stand-out places were bisso bistrot, an inexpensive but lovely cafe with typical sicilian seafood and pasta dishes in a really charming atmosphere. it was hopping at 10pm when we arrived (hello european late-night dining), and we had to wait a bit, but there was a cute wine bar across the street, where we had a quick glass of vino while we waited.
another wonderful meal was had at ferramenta, which was directly next to our airbnb in a beautiful little courtyard with outdoor tables and a really quaint interior. the staff here was so nice, explaining all the dishes to us since the menu was written all in italian with no translation. a great place to enjoy an aperitif, and it was very busy, too, with loads of locals arriving on their scooters and motorbikes. and the last cafe we tried and loved for a beautiful seaside view of the city, the ambasciatori hotel, and have a drink on their rooftop bar (go to the very, very top for the best views).
the second part of our journey was to the small coastal village of scopello, near castellammare del golfo in the province of trapani on the tyrrhenian sea. this was my very favorite part of our trip because i am always most happy when seaside — and what a seaside. the waters we swam in were crystal clear, and the coves were so incredibly beautiful. you hike into most of these beaches, but it’s not difficult as long as you have the proper foot gear — sneakers are just fine, and a sunhat is a good idea.
the first beach we went to was in riserva naturale dello zingaro, the first natural reserve set up in sicily in may 1981. it’s stunning with its clear, turquoise waters and charming umbrella-dotted beach. this beach is a short hike and the first beach off the trail at the park. it’s a little bit of a hike back up, but so worth it. a note about the beaches — they are rocky but not necessarily sharp, but i’d wished i had some water shoes to make getting in and out of the water a little easier. the swimming is other-worldly, and i could have stayed all day had we packed a picnic and brought an umbrella of our own. i did see on our way out of the parking lot a small kiosk selling snacks, drinks, rafts, and umbrellas, so you could pick up supplies there.
the second beach we visited was the very beautiful tonnara di scopello, a walled medieval tuna-fishing estate, in use until 1984 and now a museum, hotel, and beach, and i believe they host weddings here as well, which would be utterly dreamy! there’s a small fee to enter the tonnara (i think it was like 8 euros) and there are covered areas with beach chairs available for free. but it’s best to get there early to score a chair (and one in the shade!). we swam around these grottos for hours and just marveled at the beauty. i kid you not, this is the most beautiful place i’ve ever swum. i highly recommend a visit here, if not actually staying at the inn, which i would have loved to have tried. but then again, i was most grateful for the epic experience of swimming in this beautiful sea.
there’s a beautiful fresh seafood and gourmet shop just down the road from the beaches, scopello market, as well as a wee farmer’s market, and a large grocery store, so you can stock up on everything you need to make amazing italian dinners al fresco if you have an airbnb, and of course, beach picnics extraordinaire. the vino is so inexpensive and delicious, so don’t skip grabbing a few bottles.
the last beach we visited (we had to hit as many as possible) was guidaloca beach which was so much fun. the water is not as pristine here as on the other beaches, but still lovely, and the major plus is that there are a couple of little beach cafes here. you can rent a lounge chair, table, and umbrella for like 5 euros — there were six of us, so they gave us a group price for our adorable green and orange striped umbrellas and lounge chairs. on the first day, we ate at the little snack shack called lido vida loca and i had an aperol spritz with a nicoise salad that, and while it was just simple beach fare, tasted like a little slice of heaven after all that swimming and sun. they’ll even bring the food and drinks to your lounge chairs if you like and our waiters were so very nice.
the following day we ate at lido torre di guidaloca, which is on the other end of the beach and a cute little beachside cafe serving typical silician dishes like pasta and caprese salad and lots of seafood, including octopus, which our very friendly italian neighbors invited us to try. such a charming place with an equally charming clientele, owner, and staff — just a super casual outdoor beach cafe, but so delicious! sicily is friendly, affordable and so, so beautiful. i highly recommend a visit.
okay, ready to go to sicily? i thought you might be! ciao!
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• photography credits: all photos of sicily by victoria smith for sfgirlbybay. red fiat by @neevenr; negroni label by abrogratto 18; sculpture of head via antonio m; ciao handlettering by molly suber thorpe; seabreeze pontoon boat via cypress cay pontoons; bust sculpture by aurelio candido.