Famed for its colourful history, delicious street food and Mediterranean climate, the ancient city of Palermo has emerged as a popular city break destination.
Founded by Phoenician traders in 734 BC and subsequently shaped by countless cultural influences, Palermo wears its history like a badge. Though scruffy around the edges with flaking walls and crumbling staircases, this buzzing city oozes a charm that’s difficult to resist... that is if you stay for long enough to explore its diverse neighbourhoods and immerse yourself in its slow burning sensual feast.
Palermo is distinguished by its eclectic architectural mix reflecting its history of Greek, Roman, Arab and Norman rule; the city’s patterned cathedral is truly magnificent and its opera house is the largest in Italy. But beyond its grand palazzi, wonderfully worn buildings and lively souk-like food markets, Palermo is a city characterised by its bustling, somewhat chaotic vibe; unlike so many European cities that are set up to make the tourist experience as smooth and simple as possible, Palermo still feels like an adventure!
Sicily’s capital offers a great range of places to stay from traditional hotels to contemporary boutique B&Bs and characterful guesthouses. If you’re looking for five star accommodation in the historic heart of the city then the Grand Hotel et des Palmes takes some beating. Originally the home of a wealthy English family who made their fortune selling Marsala wine to the British Navy, this grand Art Nouveau hotel is the perfect marriage of historical heritage and contemporary luxurious design. Amongst its many distinguished guests, German composer Richard Wagner is notable for having completed his final opera Parsifal whilst occupying the presidential suite here. Now bearing his name, a stay in the suite comes with a hefty price tag and a slice of musical history - the composer’s piano still forms part of the furnishings! Alternatively if you’re happy to stay outside of the city, Villa Igiea, roughly ten minutes by road from the centre and overlooking the Gulf of Palermo, offers luxurious accommodation, majestic views over the Tyrrhenian Sea and elegant fine wining and dining at the Florio restaurant.
Sicily is known as a foodie’s paradise and its capital is no exception. The city’s renowned street food is definitely worth getting excited about with countless mouthwatering local specialties including the ubiquitous Sfincione - a thick, irresistible slice of focaccia topped with the typical Sicilian ingredients of tomato, Caciocavallo cheese and anchovies. Other street eats to try on a trip to Palermo include Pane e Panelle (Chickpea fritters) and Brioche con Gelato - literally a brioche bun stuffed with a generous scoop of gelato!
Of course street food is just one end of Palermo’s culinary spectrum. From rustic neighbourhood pizzerias to Michelin star fine dining; traditional Sicilian bars tucked away in the back streets to modern rooftop terraces overlooking the sea, the city’s vibrant food and wine scene has it all. If upmarket creative cuisine is your thing then Gagini with its rich, flavoursome dishes and carefully curated wine list is a good place to begin. Likewise the MEC Restaurant - a Michelin star eatery housed within a computer museum devoted to Apple founder Steve Jobs - which boasts an imaginatively designed menu and wine cellar boasting some 650 labels from Italy and beyond.
Just like its culinary landscape Palermo’s wine scene is diverse and buzzing. There are countless bars and wine shops in the city serving extensive lists both by the glass and the bottle. Indigenous Sicilian grapes such as Grillo and Catarratto are championed and local producers are widely represented alongside varietals from all the famous Italian designations and international labels. Amongst the many bars to recommend here are Ferramenta - a lively wine bar with a large outdoor terrace and delicious bar snacks, Enoteca Picone - a traditional venue founded in the 1940s featuring 7000 plus labels, and Enoteca Buonivini - a trendy wine bar with a relaxed ambiance, huge wine list and eclectic international menu. Wine enthusiasts staying for a few days in Palermo may also wish to hire a car or take an organised trip to the small wine producing town of Alcamo or the west coast city of Marsala where the world famous fortified wine is produced.
With its fascinating history, diverse cultural heritage and celebrated food and wine scene, it’s no surprise that Sicily’s capital is garnering a reputation as a tourist hotspot. So if you’re looking for an authentic Sicilian break in a city that’s not afraid to show its scars or a short stop on a wider tour of the island, energetic, enigmatic Palermo will not disappoint.
Via Dante 8, Palermo, 90141
Via Guglielmo Marconi 36, Palermo, 90141
Piazza Giovanni Meli 8, Palermo, 90133
Via Vittorio Emanuele 176, Palermo, 90133
Piazza Giovanni Meli 8, Palermo, 90133
Via Cassari 35, Palermo, 90133
Via Vittorio Emanuele 452, Palermo, 90134
Piazza Croce dei Vespri 6, Palermo, 90133
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