Visit Palermo

There are places, near Palermo, whose origins are mysterious and shrouded in charm and legends. This is the case, for example, of the islet of Isola delle Femmine, located along the coast of the homonymous district, less than 20 km from the Sicilian capital.

Isola delle Femmine‘s beach is the destination of many tourists and Palermitans during the summer period, and the islet, which emerges a few kilometers away into the sea, always arouses a lot of curiosity: its extension, which does not exceed 15 hectares, can be admired in every detail even from the highway that connects the Falcone and Borsellino Airport with Palermo, thanks to its proximity to the coast.

As anticipated, the origins of the island are mixed between history and legend, starting from its name: for many years the name “Isola delle Femmine” was believed to derive from the presence of a female prison right next to the ruined tower that stands on a small promontory. In reality, it is the Italianization of “Insula Fimi”, an appellation whose origin also has a double interpretation: it could derive from “Isola di Eufemio”, that is the name of one of the Byzantine governors of Sicily, or it could have originated from the Arabic “Fim”, a term used to designate an opening, perhaps inspired by the narrow channel that separates the islet from the coast.

Isola delle Femmine has been at the center of numerous romantic and bloody legends, above all because of the presence of the aforementioned mysterious tower, whose origin, in reality, is much less romantic: corresponding “at sea” to a similar tower located on the mainland, this structure is nothing more than a strategic sighting post, whose construction is to be attributed to the same architect who oversaw the construction of the famous Piazza Pretoria in Palermo. During the Second World War the construction was constantly used and suffered serious damage as a result of the bombings, from which the current decading aspect derives.

From a naturalistic point of view, Isola delle Femmine is a small paradise of fauna and flora. Considered an Oriented Natural Reserve, the area has been under the management of Lipu since 1998, as it is one of the most important spots for the migration of numerous birds, thanks to its sheltered and unspoiled position. Even the seabed surrounding the island is a real jewel for snorkelers who, thanks to the currents, can admire lots of marine species unusual for the area.

To the present day, the island is at the center of fierce debates regarding its intended use (it is privately owned, although it is an integral reserve) but one thing is certain: it is one of the symbols of Palermo‘s western metropolitan area, which contributes to enrich the landscape of the coast, offering breathtaking sunsets.

Visit Palermo

Palermo’s historic Street Markets, with their colours, liveliness, history and traditions, represent the very essence of the city and, therefore, you cannot miss the chance to see them at least one time while visiting the city.

Spring and summer are the best times, due to the variety of foods and delicacies that can be found and tasted directly among the stands which, although particularly folkloristic, are still frequented by the palermitans.

Palermo’s markets are in the historical city centre and are easily accessible from the Central Station, terminal of our shuttle bus that connects Palermo with the Falcone and Borsellino airport.

Imagining a hypothetical tour, starting right from the station, the first market that you would see walking through the streets of the city centre is Ballarò, the oldest one. The first evidence of its existence dates back to the tenth century and the legends regarding  its name are many: if some people believe it comes from the name Balhara, Indian prince of that period, for others it derives from an ancient noble family of the time, and others believe that its origins date back to the Aragonese domination. A characteristic that distinguishes the Ballarò market from the others is its vivacity: its multi-ethnic and colorful shops remain open until the afternoon, allowing those who return home to enjoy the market atmosphere even during sunset.

Continuing the walk towards the city center, we find Vucciria, which is “younger” than Ballarò of a couple of centuries. Its origin dates back to the twelfth century, when the market area was populated by Genoese merchants and craftsmen who came directly from the city port. If during that time the area was destined only to the meat market (its name derives from “Boucherie”, that is, butcher’s shop in French), with the arrival of the Genoese the variety of shops expanded considerably to include several handicraft activities, a characteristic that distinguishes this historical market from the others. It is no coincidence that the area is crossed by “Via dei Materassai, dei Chiavettieri, dei Tintori”, which still indicate the nature of the craftsmen who worked in this market.

Going towards the Teatro Massimo, we arrive at the Mercato del Capo, the last stop of our tour among Palermo’s food markets. With the typical conformation of an Arab “souk”, the Capo market saw the light thanks to the Augustinians, who lived in the nearby convent of the church of Sant’Agostino. The main characteristic of the market is the great variety of fruit, vegetables, meat and fish that triumphs among the stands of the narrow streets, among which it is possible to admire the gates of some of the most beautiful churches in the city, such as the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

Our tour of Palermo’s Historic Markets ends here, though not entirely: these are only the food markets of the city. There are in fact other kinds of markets, such as the flea market and the one of Lattarini, equally characteristic and waiting to be discovered.

Travel notes

ummer 2020 seems far away now, but why not travel with our mind and think about possible summer destinations, where we can spend the hot weeks of July and August in the open air, in peace and tranquillity?

If, as expected, most Italians will choose a destination in Italy, here is a solution close to our Palermo that will make everyone happy: the island of Ustica.

Contrarily to what one might think, getting to Ustica is not particularly complex: the port of Palermo, from where both the hydrofoil and the ferry to the island leave, is only 1.8 km from Piazza Politeama, one of the main landmarks for anyone who reaches Palermo from the Falcone e Borsellino Airport.

Once arrived, Ustica fascinates its visitors with the genuine character of the town center and its inhabitants, not to mention the 12 km diameter full with unspoiled nature, coves, nature reserves and cobalt blue caves. Using the term “charm” when talking about Ustica is almost a must, considering that the ancients believed that this remote island in the Mediterranean sea was the home of Circe, sourceress and enchantress of Homeric origin.

What strikes right away is the possibility to plan the vacation without focusing it solely and exclusively on the sea, thanks to many other different kinds of interesting activities: the island, in fact, offers several nature trails dedicated to expert and non-expert hikers, archaeological sites that go back to the Bronze Age and watchtowers from the Bourbon era from where it is possible to enjoy breathtaking views on the intense blue sea that characterizes the island.

Speaking of sea, to enjoy at best the marine beauties of Ustica you must spend at least one day relaxing on a boat trip while navigating around the island or between the many caves that the coast offers. But also from the city center itself it is possible to easily reach parts of the coast suitable for every need, from pebble beaches perfect for children to the most impervious rocks great for diving and snorkeling (not surprisingly Ustica is considered a real paradise among those who love immersions).

This overview of Circe‘s Island can only end with a nod to the culinary delicacies of the place such as fish and vegetables, particularly tasty thanks to the soil of lavic origin. Among them, an excellence that has become a Slow-Food-must stands out: the lentil, small, dark and tasty, always present on Ustica‘s tables in summer and winter.

Given the particularly favorable climate, Ustica offers the maximum of its beauty between June and September, why not start planning a trip to discover this Black Pearl of the Mediterranean?

Visit Palermo

In just over a month it will be Easter, the perfect occasion for last-minute destinations, either close or far. From this point of view, Sicily is the perfect solution thanks to the proximity between its different destinations of interest and the weather, which will already be turning towards good-season temperatures.

Palermo stands out among the most popular destinations in Sicily, both because it is easily reached (the airport is a few kilometers away and connections with other areas of Sicily are frequent) and for the variety of scenarios in the surrounding area, which offers always different landscapes, ideal for those who decide to spend a few days around ​​the Sicilian capital.

Below are a series of small suggestions for a weekend away during the Easter period, dedicated to those who visit the city and its surroundings for the first time or those who live there and are ready to discover and rediscover it every time.

Palermo

Palermo has a pluri-millennial history characterized by the presence of the most important civilizations of the past: each of these has left a profound mark on the city, influencing not only its architecture but also its culture and … food, of course!

A key example of this mix between different cultures are the churches of the city, symbol of a suggestive and winning combination of cultures and traditions, offering a unique, fascinating and never banal spectacle. Walking in the center you can find the Cathedral, the Cappella Palatina (Palatine Chapel) or the Martorana, which combine with elegance and harmony Gothic, Norman Arab, Byzantine and Baroque styles.

In addition to churches, the city offers museums dedicated to its history and archeology (the Salinas Museum, for example) or curious and atypical points of interest such as the Catacombe dei Cappuccini (Capuchin Catacombs), which catches the attention of visitors since the glorious era of the grand tours in the seventeenth century.

To immerse yourself in the very essence of the city, a tour of the historic center markets is highly recommended, a perfect opportunity to discover the typical Sicilian street food and seasonal specialties: Vucciria, Ballarò and Capo markets still have a strong imprint of the historic market tradition, immersed among prestigious ancient buildings and cobbled streets..

Mondello and Cefalù

Choosing the most representative seaside village in the surroundings of Palermo is really difficult, as going both east- and westwards the landscape is full of characteristic beaches, so here are two of the most famous locations.

Mondello is maybe the most famous seaside village, a neighborhood of Palermo, separated from it just by the Parco della Favorita (the Favorita Park): ideal for a break on the beach throughout the year, in April it will not be rare to find bathers swimming under the first hot sun.

Cefalù, on the other hand, is the ideal destination for a long-range walk: although it is farther away, the town deserves to be discovered both for its long and white beach and for the beauty of its center, considered one of the most beautiful in Italy.

Parco delle Madonie (Madonie Natural Park)

For those who have a few more days to spend in Sicily, a visit to the Madonie Park is essential to discover the flora and fauna of the island in its mountain areas.

The Madonie mountain ridge, just above Cefalù, offers breathtaking landscapes, passing through beech woods, shelters on the snow and typical mountain villages: the island nature of the Madonie, however, reveals itself when algae, shell and lichen fossils can be found during the different types of excursions available. The pride of the Madonie Park is Gangi, a small medieval village still surrounded by walls, from which you can enjoy breathtaking views.

As you can guess from this brief overview, the surroundings of Palermo are rich of places of interest and represent a varied and versatile postcard of western Sicily, which certainly does not end in the Palermo area. However, the city remains an important center of interest and a hub for other locations, a perfect and evocative starting point for getting to know the region.

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