There are new labels in travel such as experiential, micro-adventure or exploration. And then there is Palermo, the secular capital of Sicily. Traveling in the one which was in turn conquered by the Byzantines, the Spaniards or even the Normans (yes, yes it is not the disguised advertisement of the CRT of Normandy), it is a bit to experience all that, but above all live in the present moment. A category never before marketed by tour operators around the world. The Sicilian capital is a land of traditions which undoubtedly prevents its center from being completely standardized, like other major European cities. I’m not saying that you won’t find McDonald’s or international shops there, although these two categories of shops are not well represented, but above all Palermo has remained with its vision of life. A frantic desire to live the present moment without worrying too much about the past and even less about the future.
A little music to accompany your discovery of Palermo …
Palermo a journey into the present moment …
For the neofites of the city of Palermo, and this is not a cliché, the streets are narrow, dirty and sometimes badly smelling. European directives are not applied there to the letter (or at all), according to the glassy-eyed fish of traditional markets. If the change of scenery is not total for a Marseillais, for an average European, it can be striking. Forget everything you are used to and embark on the capital of Sicily. In Palermo, you live to the rhythm of a city that looks a little in its rear-view mirrors, out of modesty, to remember its glorious past and not much ahead.
There, bicycles, which are very fashionable in urban centers around the world, are more than a minority there, anecdotal cycle paths, subways or trams non-existent. The car circulates there as absolute queen.
To visit the city, therefore, prefer your trainers and buses. Palermo is about traveling out of time, but above all in the present moment. You wonder why ?
Just walk around via Maqueda, one of its main arteries which has recently become pedestrianized, to understand the assertion. On the ground floor, the shops correspond to European standards, with the same trinkets intended for tourists since 1980. If you ever take the time to look up, then you can see its rickety buildings.
It is as if the population does not dwell on the past and focus only on the present, the only thing that is really worth it. The same is true in the emblematic La Vucciria district.
In addition to the oldest market in the city, more than 800 years old, there are alleys that come back to life between scaffolding, condemned buildings or others partially destroyed. Here and there open bars with or without cocktails, pizzerias and other restaurants.
Palermo is entirely turned towards Epicureanism of the moment T, even if the bureaucratic red tape have something to do with his architectural decadence.
Palermo: decadence, but still with charm!
This close relationship with the pleasures of life is perhaps to be sought with its history and its close relationship with the Mafia. Moreover, I would strongly advise you to visit the small museum (in English or Italian) “No mafia”, where you will discover that the organization finds its roots in the history books and not only in the Godfather. A parallel economy does not become so imposing, until it weighs 120 billion per year in revenue, in a few years, or grams of narcotic. You will discover there stories and portraits, to better understand what is and lives Palermo today, but also its region.
When you know that everything can stop overnight, by decision of one person, it teaches you to live in the moment until the last thousandth of a second. If decadence, especially real estate, is everywhere, it makes you wonder how the hell out of stones is still standing, you will also plunge into a terribly alive city.
Every evening, around 10 p.m. (and not before!), Heat forces, the streets are crowded with people. A noisy crowd, always on its feet, invades every nook and cranny of the public space.
Be careful, for ochlophobes or other agoraphobes then choose more or less confidential addresses, such as the rooftop terrace of the Ambasciatori hotel (reservation required) which will offer you a breathtaking view over the rooftops of the city. And what about Saturdays, where Generation Z even has its fully dedicated artery. At the junction of which, you will always find an elegantly illuminated church posing proudly in the middle of a micro-plaza. For lovers of historical heritage, you will not be disappointed. If Rome has its Roman ruins on every corner, Palermo has its palaces and especially its churches. There are no less than 2 to 3 religious buildings per street, especially in the centro storico. Imagine the magnitude of the task for bell tower collectors.
If Caen had, before World War II, the nickname of the city of a hundred bell towers, what about Palermo? The city trophy with a thousand spiers would be well deserved.
From the one offering a breathtaking view over the rooftops of the city (bell tower of the Santissimo Salvatore church), to the more graphic one (Church of Santa Caterina) or even the most flashy with gilding in every corner (Martorana) , without forgetting the jewel of all in the Arab-Norman style (Palatine Chapel of Palermo) … There will be something for everyone. Note that the last named alone is worth the trip to the Sicilian capital.
The missed date with street food, the other pride of Palermo
If Palermo is alive, vibrant and boiling, like the European capitals, it is not always very welcoming. Either Palermitans feel suffocated by the hordes of tourists (1.594 million in 2019, for a 670,000 inhabitants), or the “capital” effect sometimes makes them unpleasant. Despite everything, Palermo is a city turned towards the other. Due to its history and its many conquests each having left its mark, the Sicilian capital does not hesitate to open its doors and its arms. Leoluca Orlando, its mayor is a fervor defender of migrants’ rights, in a country which is always more inclined towards populism, election after election.
This tradition of openness can be found even in the signs of the historic center, both translated into Hebrew and Arabic. A mix that I wouldn’t teach you, is found in its architecture.
A city that offers the luxury of offering its population a paradisiacal beach on hot sand. However, holiday areas and weekends should be avoided.. If this is the case, then you will have the chance to dive in Mondello in a water of rare clarity and blue sometimes reminiscent of certain West Indian beaches, all for 1.40 euros (the price of the municipal bus). And as if to remind you, that the decadence of Palermo is never too far away, on the side of the hill dozens of buildings with a gutted appearance, but undoubtedly abandoned, will offer you a view of the end of the world when you will swim in the Palermo lagoon. Always in this desire to live the present moment, in Palermo the culinary art is in the street (well according to many sites and travelers). Street food is said to be one of the pillars of the city.
However, when you take a good look and enjoy the Sicilian city, it is not necessarily in the low-cost stalls that you will taste the best of the island. I may not have found the best addresses.
I would advise you instead to favor restaurants, if possible not those offering international menus or at three euros, six cents.
In this case, if you take out the credit card and are ready to swallow Franco-French prices, then the pizzas will be more than delicious (Anica or the share at Timilia), the pasta dishes and the local gastronomy to die for. (locanda del gusto), just like cannoli (Pasticceria Costa). Palermo is not Berlin or London, it is not an easy city and undoubtedly without possible comparison with other European cities. For the more adventurous, lovers of Italian culture and la dolce vita, then you will discover a terribly endearing city of rare beauty.
Palermo in photos:
Discover Palermo in photo – Photo credit: RP
Sicily: Antigenic test or not, that is the question …
Travel in full covid means traveling with restrictions, even in Europe (in September 2021). At the time, Lla Sicile (France Diplomatie website) was an exception in Italy, because we are talking about the region most affected by the epidemic. Placed in the yellow category, which means that the antigen test is compulsory on arrival even for the vaccinated, Sicily is under surveillance.
It is 11:30 p.m. when the doors of the plane open and we look for the famous place to be tested.
While airport employees guide us to a kiosk, in order to access the test, people hand us a document to fill out. During this time and while the explanations are approximate, a large part of the passengers are heading for … the exit, without any control from the authorities or any employees of the installation.
Once in the room to be tested, no waiting, despite the different planes and the more than 200 passengers on our flight.
At most we were 5 or 6 to receive our cotton swab in the nose, in order to obtain our sesame to avoid any fine, in the event of control by the police force.
If you ever need to advise clients for a stay in Sicily, you should not worry too much about the measures, even if they are essential … Since all of Italy is in a white zone, so without any restrictions. Despite everything, the rapid test remains compulsory for all travelers going to Sicily from France and this until December 31, 2021.
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Posted by Romain Pommier
Journalist – TourMaG.com
See all articles by Romain Pommier