I recently spent a glorious four days alone in Palermo, the capital city of Sicily. I ended up there after, during yet another sleepless night, I finally broke and decided I needed a few days of sun and wine and having only myself to answer for to calm my chattering mind. Googling “where’s still hot in Europe in October?” brought up Sicily, and twenty minutes later, I was booked in for my first solo trip in years.
Thank goodness for insomnia!
The trip was the perfect antidote to all the rushing around and trying to be all things to all people that’s so easy to fall into day-to-day. Four days of doing exactly what I wanted when the mood took me. Four days of working totally to my own schedule. Four days of sunshine and Italian food and glorious little villages and drinking wine as I read my way through three different books. I can’t recommend travelling alone enough to decompress and get your head screwed back on properly.
As for Sicily – what an awesome place! With limited time, most of my trip was spent in Palermo, or nearby. Palermo itself is an absolute maze of narrow streets that all look the same, endless typically-Italian buildings covered in graffiti with mopeds flying up and down and nothing to get your bearings but for the occasional view of the cathedral. The Teatro Massimo – best known for being the location of the final scene of Godfather III – was beautiful in the evening, while eating the amazing “pasta alla norma” al fresco surrounded by the noise and life of the city was perfect. As for the most interesting part of the city – the catacombs (Catacombe dei Cappuccini) are well worth the trip just outside the city walls. Surely no trip is complete without seeing hundreds of skeletons hanging from the walls in all their finery? Some of them had excellent hats.
One day was spent on a trip to the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, an area dotted with temples both ruined and complete. I’d completely underestimated the strength of the October sun in a very open area at the southernmost point of Europe (easily done..) so came away with a very British sunburnt neck and feet, but that minor point aside, the trip was a pretty good day out – you really felt like you’d stepped back in time, and couldn’t help but imagine everything that had gone on thousands of years before. Just make sure to take a hat.
On the recommendation of a friend who’d lived in Palermo, I took advantage of the decent public transport to visit a couple of little towns nearby. Monreale was about 45 minutes away on an extremely crowded bus, but was a gorgeous departure from the madness of Palermo. The cathedral in particular was wonderful – the money to clamber around the roof and wander round the cloisters downstairs was well worth it. Cefalu was an hour away on the train, but another incredibly pretty little town. It was here that I experienced my only Sicilian rain, but I actually quite enjoyed it being a bit cooler as I stood on the beach getting battered by the wind before eventually seeking refuge in one of the many traditional restaurants that are everywhere you turn. Once it had cleared up, it was a lovely place for a wander around more tiny streets and alleyways, and I found a little café to have a glass of prosecco while curled into a window seat overlooking the sea.
If I’d had longer, I’d have definitely made the trip to the Eastern side of the island to head up to the top of Mount Etna and to spend a day in Syracuse. With it being so close, and such beautiful weather so late into autumn, that may well be on the cards!