On the last day of our final road-trip through Sicily, we drove a few kilometers up the coast from Catania to Taormina, the island's most popular beach resort. Word of its charm had reached our ears from just about everyone we'd come in contact with: friends, strangers in bars, neighbors, Twitter acquaintances. Even my grandmother called to say that we should really visit Taormina. She's never even been to Sicily and she's been dead for ten years! Phone calls from beyond the grave are pretty persuasive: we had to go.
Still a healthy city of about 40,000 people, Caltagirone has been home to human activity since prehistoric days. The name comes from the Arabic "qal'at-al-ghiran", or "Hill of Vases", which serves as an indication of how tightly connected to pottery the town has always been. Caltagirone was completely destroyed in the 1693 earthquake that leveled much of eastern Sicily. But like Noto, it was rebuilt in grand style, with a heavy emphasis on Baroque architecture.
Set in the mountains just ten miles east of Palermo, the town of Carini enjoys a privileged view towards the sea. With a population of only 35,000 and a world-famous castle as its main attraction, it sounded like a nice, easy escape from city life, and we chose a Wednesday morning to explore it.
Before we moved to Sicily for 91 days, I didn't know that there was actually a town called Corleone. I had assumed that the name was invented by Mario Puzo, who wrote The Godfather. So I felt a thrill upon discovering that the town actually does exist, just an hour from Palermo, and that it indeed has a past strongly identified with the Mafia. It was just a matter of time before we visited. My name is Michael, after all.
Cefalù numbers just 13,000, but its population balloons in the summer. The town is one of Sicily's finest beach resorts and attracts sunbathers from all over Italy and Europe. From what we've heard, it's unbearable when crowded. And although we found the streets empty in December, the emphasis on tourism was abundantly clear. €3 cappuccinos and stores hawking magnets and postcards to phantoms.
On any visit to Palermo, a day trip to the town of Monreale is essential for a few reasons. Its magnificent cathedral is one of the world's finest and best-preserved examples of Norman architecture. And the view obtained over Palermo's valley is incredible. Just a handful of miles from the city, Monreale couldn't be easier to reach and would be worth the journey just for a walk through its picturesque, sleepy mountain streets.