I have for years wanted to go to Sicily again, after a long-ago visit to the Aeolian Islands and after constant encouragement from our Woman In Italy, Nicole. I had been told it was rich beyond measure – in history, archeology, magnificent architecture and scenery. So Em and I managed to get there this May.
We loved our time in Palermo with Carmelo, long-established and popular owner of Palazzo Cannata, an unusual B&B overlooking the Palazzo dei Normanni. He is a special case: chaotic, casual, charming, loveable, uninterested in the trivia of hospitality (like dusting) but passionate about the big things, like generosity. The flat is a mess, but deliciously so. What price a house of objects, art, books, magazines, obsessions and possessions strewn around like
confetti? He is clearly in love with Carla Fracci, Italy’s finest ballet dancer, of whom there are mementoes wherever you look. He threw a dinner party for us on his terrace, where we met a slice of Sicily’s aristocracy and gay community.
We had a wonderful morning in Monreale, where one of the world’s great Norman cathedrals still stands above the crowd. The little town was alive with music, bands, processions and architectural wonder.
And thence to Trapani by bus, and boat to Favignana where we were met by the delightful Davide in his appropriately scruffy car. It felt just right for an island welcome. Straight up to Casa Glen, which we loved – for its stone, its views over the harbour and across to Trapani. Also, for its gentle touches of design-awareness: such as the antique basin, the old cupboards, the polished cement floors and the vast slab of limestone that is the table. He fed us that night in his house and we went out to dinner with him too.
One of the most impressive buildings in Favignana was one that used to be the salting sheds and offices of the tuna company and this was built right alongside the docks, one of the most colourful places in any small fishing town.
I Pretti Resort has been brilliantly converted from the old uses and is now light-filled, suave, confident and full of life.
The minimalist décor is a relief from the hubbub outside, and shows a touch of mainland sophistication. The Manager is exceptionally nice and has trained his local staff to be as amiable and helpful as he is. From the cosy cocoon of the Pretti you step straight into Favignana life, with children playing in the streets and people enjoying the easy conviviality of the town.
We rented a very smart scooter, and scooted suitably about the island, though there seemed at first little to see.
One memorable day though took us out to sea with the fishermen on a ‘pescaturismo’ spectacular, with an hour or so of winding in the nets and then extracting the fish, gutting them and then – only in Italy – a four-course meal of the stuff, followed by limoncello, dolce and further madness. A lady who had demurred from most of it, and avoided the sun, plunged into the sea fully dressed – driven, I imagine, to a sort of near-suicidal ecstasy with the excess of it all.
There remained one magical treat for us on Favignana: the sunken gardens. Davide arranged for a guide to take us to the largest of them all, a place of wonder created by a modest, small woman from Palermo who had planted in and out of a handful of little quarries. A giant flame tree guarded the entrance – ‘impossible’ to grow on the island she had been told. The whole garden seemed like a triumph of genius and hope over common sense and experience. We were slack-jawed with wonder, as we strolled from one quarry to the next through tunnels and past plants and trees that should simply not have been there. Favignana is an extraordinary island and we will return if we possibly can.
If Alastair’s travel tales have given you wanderlust, have a look through our full Sicily collection to plan your next trip; www.sawdays.co.uk/Sicily