Sicily has always been a place of wonder for me. But in this new two-part series for BBC2, I discover quite how extraordinarily rich and multicultural this island really is, what it means to be Sicilian and what Sicily can teach the rest of the world. And along the way, I got to try my hand at making (and of course trying) some of Sicily’s best – and less well known – delicacies.
This is a little island nestled in a large bay in the north-west of Sicily, which you reach on a short five-minute ferryboat. Its archaeological interest is huge: it was one of the main Phoenician and Carthaginian settlements on Sicily. You can visit massive sanctuaries, confront possible evidence for ancient child sacrifice and see the Motya Charioteer – a statue unique in the ancient world. But you can also just enjoy the superb scenery and bathe on the beaches.
In this town, it’s all about chocolate. Modican chocolate is made according to a recipe brought to Sicily by the Spanish 500 years ago. It’s “cold-cooked” so the sugar doesn’t melt, giving the chocolate a crunchy texture. They make it in all different flavours, and you can even try beef chocolate pasties (a staple of those working on the land in years gone by), not to mention chocolate beer! If you really want something special, try to find some jasmine chocolate…
Indulging in a chocolate beer
This building sums up Sicily for me. The outer walls are the columns of an ancient Greek temple built in the 5th century BC, filled in by the Byzantines who turned it into a church. Then it became a mosque, then a church again under the Normans and it has been added to by every generation since then. It is a perfect example of Sicily’s kaleidoscopic multicultural history.
Palermo Opera House
This is my favourite building in Palermo and a top contender for the whole of Sicily. Built to celebrate Sicily (with the help of Garibaldi) leading the charge for Italian Unification in the 1860s, it is the jewel in Palermo’s crown. You can take a look round even if you have not got time for the opera on a front-of-house or backstage tours. If you want to go the extra mile, there is a roof terrace available for hire with a best views of Palermo you will find.
On the steps of the Teatro Massimo – Palermo’s Opera House
Don’t leave Sicily without trying granita – Sicilian ice cream. It comes in all flavours but best of all, it’s traditional to eat it for breakfast with brioche. You can have the brioche on the side or, if you need a takeaway, get them to put the granita in the brioche – an ice-cream sandwich. What’s not to love! And who do we have to thank for creating granita? Well, like pasta, the Sicilians say it was brought to Sicily by the Arabs in the ninth to tenth centuries.
Dr Michael Scott explores Sicily: the wonder of the Mediterranean for BBC2, starting 9pm Tuesday 31 Jan. He will be live-tweeting, answering questions and posting behind-the-scenes photos during the programme. To follow and ask questions, tweet @drmichaelcscott or use #sicily
Radio Times Travel holidays:
Bridge at the Acacia Resort, Sicily, 7 nights from £949. The 4-star Acacia Resort is located on Sicily’s northern coast between its capital, Palermo, and the bustling seaside town of Cefalu. This idyllic and secluded spot was specially chosen by the architect owner because it provides delightful views from every angle – whichever way you turn you will enjoy spectacular views of lush sub-tropical gardens; deep blue sea; countryside or mountains. Click here for more information and to book
Sicily escorted tour, 7 nights from £869pp. What’s included: The price includes return flights, seven nights dinner, bed and breakfast, guided tours of the Valley of the Temples, Villa at Piazza Armerina and Monreale; visits to Palermo, Siracusa and Etna, services of a Riviera tour manager. Click here for the full itinerary and to book.