Palermo leaves your senses in a daze. There’s the high-pitch chatter of the locals, car drivers honking, the buzz of scooters, the screeching pink of the oleanders that line the boulevards, the sky-blue of a Madonna’s robe in a roadside shrine, and bright colours of washing flapping from the balconies. There’s a surprise around every corner: the pungent aroma of strong coffee wafting from a bar in an alley, a chapel festooned with mosaics, street signs in mysterious Arabic lettering, or a towering marble statue over a fountain in the piazza – Palermo is truly somewhere where you’ll never be bored.
Main City Rome
Surface 158.9 km²
The Antica Focacceria San Francesco serves traditional Palermitano gastronomy such as sarde a beccafico - sardines stuffed with breadcrumbs, pine nuts and raisins. Since it opened in 1834, the restaurant’s tasty dishes, lively atmosphere and Liberty décor have attracted the rich and famous, including Giuseppe Garibaldi, Paul Newman, Hillary Clinton and Sofia Loren. Another reason to visit this charming locale is to support its brave owner, Vincenzo Conticello, who refused to pay the mafia protection money in 2005, and whose testimony against his would-be extortionists meant they went to jail. Conticello has had 24/7 police protection ever since.
It’s easy to see how Villa Palagonia – very close to Palermo – earned its nickname: the Villa of Monsters. Studded around its Baroque garden walls, peering through lemon trees, cacti and jasmine, is a menagerie of bizarre stone sculptures. Visitors on the grand tour flock to see Villa Palagonia’s freak show: hunchbacked dwarves, multi-eyed goblins, frowning cherubs and fantastical distorted creatures – the nightmare creation of the Italian villa’s former owner, a disfigured prince who was imprisoned for insanity. Such is the caricatures’ gruesome appearance that local women used to avoid looking at them – afraid their influence might deform their unborn children.
Located in an old palazzo overlooking the sea, Palermo’s Kursaal Kalhesa is a great place to hang out in the evenings. It’s an eclectic fusion of wine bar, restaurant, concert venue and bookshop, with an open-air terrace in the summer. You can grab a cocktail or sip on some grappa and enjoy the entertainment – it might be live jazz, rock, blues or rockabilly, or a photography show, some traditional theatre, or even a food tasting. And if you just want to kick back in elegant surroundings and enjoy some people-watching, it’s perfect for that too.