Alix: There is something so nice about being met at an airport and we were very glad we had asked our Airbnb host organise a taxi for us. This meant a super-efficient transfer direct to our address with a cheerful taxi driver who laughed at my slightly belated attempt to learn some Italian. None of this wandering around dark side streets trying to find the right address we have experienced with other Airbnbs….!
Our Airbnb studio was right in the centre of old town on Piazza Sant’Onofrio with the most incredible balcony (this is a key criterion for me) and given we were four floors up the views were amazing. Also we were conveniently located opposite the 13th best pizzeria in the world – Pizza Frida – more on this later! Given it was only about 10pm when we got there we decided to go for a walk and check out the local area, including Quattro Canti (Four Corners), Fontana Pretoris and Piazza Ponticello. We sampled an arancina* on the way from Arancine d’autore, which our taxi driver had recommended, which was outstanding. I had ‘Norma’ which is a mix of ricotta, aubergine and tomato (a well-known combination in Palermo) and Rob went for mozarella and ham. All in all a great first couple of hours in Palermo.
*arancina is female in Sicily, don’t ask for arancini!
Rob: Rather conveniently, our host had left us a map and some travel guides to Palermo – so we decided to follow one of the walks features in the Lonely Planet guide that would take us through the sights of the old town. Breakfast was a rather hasty plate of fruit (and celery juice) in a touristy place near Quattro Canti. This was counteracted by the latest love in our lives – coffee granita*** – and a beautiful cannoli as big as a fist. The creamy ricotta filling was incredible, and not too sweet, offset with a nice slice of candied orange peel. We then began our walking tour of the sights of Palermo, from the beautiful architecture of the Teatro Massimo to the former home of the Inquisition.
Lunch introduced us to chickpea fritters (panelle), which are fluffy little fried delights – also props to the American lady next to us who handed over her arancina because she ordered too many! After lunch, we saw more sights on this tour. I think the last one was the art museum, although we spent a lot of time looking for something else and I still have no idea what it was.* JUST SO ALIX COULD SAY SHE HAD BEEN TO ALL OF THEM.
Dinner that night was just aperativo at the local bar, followed by more aperativo (more than a meal!), followed by another bar. [First place, salty olives and Aperol spritz. Second place, huge aperativo of meat, cheese and caponata]. All in all, an exhausting and relaxing day!
*note: if you want a blog about sightseeing, this isn’t for you. I can’t remember all the incredible buildings there are, of all the incredible interiors of the churches we never went in, but suffice to say it’s a beautiful city with some beautiful architecture. And churches. Lots of presumably incredible-inside churches.
Alix: After a busy first day we planned to have a more relaxed second day is Palermo. We had a lie in then headed to Maqueda, a gorgeous restaurant/deli about 3 mins walk from our Airbnb, where we chose an assortment of pastries and sandwiches and of course an espresso each to go. Eating this on our balcony overlooking Palermo was a perfect start to do the day.
Our next task was to head to the port – the night before we had spent an hour or so making a rough plan for our 5-day stay. Not all the buses and ferries run every day, so make sure you plan around public transport.
For day 3 we were planning to go to Ustica, and we wanted to make sure we could get tickets. We got a ticket for the 7am (!) hydrofoil from Palermo to Ustica from Ustica lines (http://eng.libertylines.it/ – cost about 100 euros for two of us). It was nice to get organised the day before – I’m not great at 7am BC (before coffee). From there we had a gentle stroll back towards town, walking through the newer Liberta area and peering in the windows of the designer stores. We headed towards the Giardino Inglese for a stroll around the gardens, then crossed the road to Villa Trabia, where we had a nice wander, got slightly distracted by the terrapins, and had a leisurely afternoon reading in the shade. We meandered home via Teatro Politeama Garibaldi, (yet another beautiful piece of architecture), so we could check out where the bus to Mondello (beach town) would go from, as we were planning our beach trip for Wednesday. On the way home we stopped at Maqueda for an ice cream sandwich which we had seen a few people eating. They are served in brioche buns and are just amazing. Definitly a local delicacy worth sampling!
After enjoying some gorgeous local wine (Grillo) on the balcony, we headed out the flat and across the piazza to Pizza Frida – the previous mentioned 13th best pizzeria in the world! to put our name on the list. While we expected it to be at least a half hour wait, it was actually 2 and a half, so we popped to our favourite local arancina bar to keep hunger at bay. We enjoyed these drinking the rest of our Grillo on our balcony, waiting for our 10:30pm reservation. The wait was 100% worth it, the pizza was to die for. I opted for a ‘portrait’ pizza, with a crust stuffed with ricotta cheese (puts those awful dominos ones to shame!) and Rob opted for tuna, which was just incredible with the most amazing tomato sauce. Obviously we ate half and then swapped. A slightly later bedtime than we’d anticipated for our very early get up but completely worth it!
Rob: One thing before I begin. It’s criminal to have to set an alarm for 5:30am on a vacation. That being said, we set an alarm for 5:30, and briskly sleepwalked to the port for our trip to Ustica. An hour and a half on a boat where Alix fell asleep promptly and dribbled on my shoulder; the views of the rolling sea (and thunderstorm that we hydrofoiled through) were still relaxing. On the other side of that, we sleepily arrived at the tiny harbour of Ustica, where we were promptly attempted-to-be-ripped-off (€50 each!) by a man offering a boat tour of the island, which we wanted to do. DONT LISTEN TO THEM.
Quiet breakfast of pastries (and an espresso) at a bakers in the town square, and then a trip to the tourist information centre where the resident geologist and his translator-cum-assistant told us about the sea around the island and its volcanic history. He also told us about his friend Bepe who happened to do tours around the island… and at €20 each, this felt more like it! Off we headed to the marina, and after a hasty-and-inefficient sun cream application; we were off!
It was INCREDIBLE. The 2 hour tour took us around the island, stopping to admire the gorgeous scenery of the different grottoes spotted around the island; as well as allowing us to jump off and swim in the crystal clear waters (we didn’t have them but goggles for snorkelling are a must!). After our trip, we stopped for lunch at a place above the marina; and had a tuna, tomato and oregano salad that words couldn’t do justice (in fact, we tried to recreate it at home upon our return!!!).
We followed this with a bus to the other side of the island to visit the Piscina Naturale – literally a natural swimming pool. The sparkling and smooth waters and the rocky beach were a perfect spot to stay for a few hours, sunbathing and swimming.
Following an uneventful (and air-conditioningly-cold) ride home, we visited Bosso Bistro near Quattro Canti for two huge plates of pasta (alla Norma and avec fried courgettes), a swordfish steak, and a melt in the mouth almond parfait; all washed down with plenty of Grillo (and house replacement Grillo when they ran out). The bill came to an eye-wateringly cheap €29, which really wasn’t enough for the quality food we had.
A perfect end to a perfect day.
Alix: We decided to head back towards the port for breakfast, to one of Palermo’s renowned bakeries, Antico Cafe Spinnato. Leaving Rob in charge of ordering of course meant what we ended up with was more dessert than breakfast, but hey, when in Rome!
Suitably keyed up on sugar we meandered down towards the port, this time turning right to walk along a different route. Despite being annoyed by a child with a ridiculous sound system hooked up to his bike – and I mean a bicycle as opposed to a motorbike – we managed to find somewhere quiet to relax for a bit. We then wandered back towards town, finding ourselves at the entrance of a beautiful botanical garden (Orto bontanico di Palermo) which spent a couple of hours exploring. We even managed to find some more terrapins to observe!
For lunch we headed to Antica Focacceria San Francesco – a crucial experience for anyone visiting Palermo. It was established in 1834 after Salvatore Alaimo, a master chef for the Princes of Cattolica, was gifted a deconsecrated chapel, which he turned into a Focacceria (http://www.anticafocacceria.it/). Rob was super keen to try one of the local delicacy’s – spleen sandwich. I stuck to a street food platter including the non-spleen cheese focaccia, panelle (chickpea fritters), sfincione (a veggie pizza) and capanoata (cold aubergine stew). I did manage a bite of the spleen sandwich…just so I could say I tried it! But I was glad I hadn’t ordered a full one. Though service wasn’t great we were entertained by guests arriving for a wedding at the beautiful church in the piazza, dressed up the nines despite the heat being photographed by a drone, as you do. After a couple of obligatory espressos, we headed home to get ready for dinner.
One place we had been told we had to go to by our insider was A’Cuncumba – again conveniently located within a few minutes of our flat. We opted for the tasting menu with wine and weren’t disappointed. The service was excellent, with the chef introducing our dishes himself, and even giving us a tour of the kitchen. The menu varies, but particular favourites for us on the night were the spaghetti with anchovies and crunchy breadcrumbs and charred aubergine. Presentation was amazing and the whole meal definitely justified the higher price (about 100 euros for 2). I would liken the experience to that of a Michelin star restaurant (though not as expensive!) At home, we enjoyed a night cap of some local dessert wine, on the balcony of course.
Rob: Started the day with another pastry breakfast, this time en route to the bus to the Sicilian resort of Mondello; and with a quick espresso to boot.
A half hour bus journey later, we arrived at Mondello, which also looks like a paradise akin to Ustica, with yet more crystalline waters. The only difference was the White sandy beaches, where we splashed out on sun loungers and slumped out on them for the day. Sunbathing and ocean-gymnastics aside… we did nothing, and it was glorious!
Lunch was a rice salad and a tuna and tomato sandwich, followed by a healthy dose of sun and more swimming (and an ice cream).
After waiting a small eternity waiting for a bus to return, in which we played many games involving the cars whizzing past us, we returned home for a quick shower and change before heading to Piazza San Francesco. There we had a hasty pasta dinner overlooking the evenings’ entertainment – the Opera Camion (opera truck)!
Dinner was followed by an hour and a half performance of Figaro, in its original Italian, with a very inventive stage setup literally in a truck. We enjoyed this incredibly, and felt like a real nice final night in Palermo!
Alix: Our last day! There were a few particular highlights for us we were keen to revisit, and as we didn’t need to leave until 6:30pm we had plenty of time to cover them off. We started off heading back to our favourite local pastry shop (Maqueda) to get a pastry selection to enjoy on our balcony. We had a walk around the heaving Mercato Vucciria, particularly enjoying the amazing fresh fruit and veg. After a compulsory stop by Cattedrale di Palermo for our last coffee granita and cannoli we headed home to get ready for an early dinner. Being Italy, any favourite restaurants we had tried weren’t open at 5:30pm when we tried to get a table, but we found somewhere in a more touristy area to have our last proper pizza.
All in all an incredible stay, and somewhere we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend or return to.