Like the country itself, the people of Sicily burst with color, passion and vitality, welcoming visitors to their spectacular island with a warmth that is infectious. As the capital of Sicily, Palermo concentrates all this wonderful enthusiasm and provides a getaway for holiday-makers that is unforgettable. Although parts of it are still crumbling, much work has been done to restore the grandeur of this amazing city which is rich in medieval ancestory and the sights, sounds and flavors of the Mediterranean.
Palermo Airport, also known as Punta Raisi Airport or Falcone-Borsellino Airport is located 32km northwest of the center. For those not organizing car hire at Palermo Airport, onward transportation comes in the form of trains, buses, taxis or a Palermo Airport Transfer, which is well worth the few minutes it takes to book in advance. Direct flights to Palermo from the UK go from Stansted Airport and are provided by the low cost airline, Ryanair.
While the Piazza Pretoria equates the central point of Palermo, where the famous Pretoria Fountain complete with nude figurines takes center stage, the Quattro Canti is at the original heart of the city. This ancient square is where the main roads of the Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda diverge and divided the town into quarters. It is here that one of the most impressive structures in Palermo lies, at least internationally, the Palazzo dei Normanni, which is now where the Sicilian parliament resides. This Arab-Norman palace has been rebuilt significantly from the outside but inside is made spectacular by the unbelievable mosaics which cover the walls and ceiling of the Cappella Palatina and the old Royal Apartments.
Other places of interest to visit are the Museo Archeologico Regionale with its Greek and Roman artifacts, the Galleria Regionale within the Gothic-styled Palazzo Abatellis which exhibits a host of masterpieces, and for music lovers there is the Teatro Massimo. Finally finished in 1897, after 22 years of construction, it is the largest opera house in Italy.
For a truly spanish-tingling treat however, the Capuchin Catacombs offer something a little more macabre. Situated under the monastery of the same name, it is home to over 8000 mummified cadavers which line the walls in a state of lifelike suspension. The effect is due to the special conservative used to freeze the corpses, although some have fared better then others. Some of the bodies date back to the 16th century, but the last person to be buried there was a 2-year-old called Rosalia Lombaro in 1920 who the locals have nicknamed "Sleeping Beauty". It is open daily between 9 am-12 noon and 3 pm-5pm.
After all that sight-seeing, a leisurely trip to the beach may well be in order and on the north coast of Sicily the choice is fantastic. The chance to wade in mesmerizing, warm blue waters and lay out on soft, golden sands in the glorious Sicily weather is guaranteed along the north coast .. Travel west 12.2km, a journey of around 25 minutes in a Palermo hire car, and you come to the riviera-type resort of Mondello. This pretty seaside location is full of beautiful grand villas, many in the art deco style, and swaying palm trees sat cocooned between the gentle, lulling sea and the majestic mountains of Cape Gallo and Mount Pellegrini. The town has plenty of quaint cafes to find renovation in or for something altogether swankier, there is a beach club with a restaurant located at the end of a pier which treats diners to some spectacular views. To get back to nature, the Capo Gallo National Park provides some fantastic walks with its rocky, lush green beauty and is just a further 20 minute drive north.
Travel in the other direction, 67km or 55 minutes east from Palermo by car and Cefal offers offers the perfect place for a day trip. More classically Italian in spirit, Cefal bo boasts a colorful beach and a plethora of traditional eateries, while the town's Norman and medieval heritage is still very much in evidence in its narrow winding streets and architectural remnants. The Palermo-Messina trains also stop along this route and buses regularly stop here.
It would be impossible to come to Sicily though and not visit one of nature's biggest attractions. Although Mount Etna is over a 3 hour drive from Palermo, roughly 250km, the chance to see the most active volcano in the world is unmissable. The south side of the mountain is free for all to climb but to get to the very top and stare into the eye of the volcano, a guide is necessary. Here the scenery changes from vines and wooded areas to a spartan wastland of craters and hardened black lava, dotted with snow for much of the year. The result is akin to the conditions on Mars which is why scientists frequently use the area to test robots before they are sent there.
Although it can be done in a day, it is advisable to stop off in nearby Catania for the night and take the opportunity to visit some of the unusual black sandy beaches, a direct result of the resident volcano. Also on the list should be Siracusa, approximately 66km and an hour's drive south. The town itself and the nearby Necropolis of Pantalica are listed as UNESCO world heritage sites, and have some amazing examples of ancient Greek and Roman archaeology.
Source by Michelle Elkins