postcards from Sicily
I wanted to share a few pictures from our recent trip to Sicily, mainly because they make me happy, and because I want to remember some of the most special moments from our week.
April was a beautiful time to visit - we (completely unintentionally) coincided with peak wildflower season, and the arrival of plentiful new season produce, both of which were totally wonderful. Our trip was in celebration of my mum's 60th birthday - a chance for all of us to convene and spend some time together, to relax and escape reality for a few days.
We began our week with two nights in Palermo (we stayed here), which Raoul and I had visited once before but which merits a few visits I think. It's a dirty, noisy, boisterous city, full of crumbling Baroque architecture, sprawling markets, forgotten churches and palaces and a lively street food scene. In the summer, the streets heave with locals taking their evening passeggiata, gathering afterwards to drink and chat in the city's courtyards and squares.
It doesn't have the same obvious beauty as Rome or Florence, but there is something about Palermo that gets under your skin. Its position, surrounded by mountains, its distinctly Southern European dusty, heady feel, its unapologetic grime and complex, often dark, history, all leave you wanting more. Not to mention its abundance of backstreet trattorias, bars and street food spots to discover.
After a couple of days tramping the city we headed south for a few quieter days in the south east of the island, passing the pretty coastal town of Cefalu on our way, with its beautiful stretch of sand, crystal (but freezing) waters and picturesque medieval old town (oh and perfect ice-cream).
For the remainder of the holiday we based ourselves in atmospheric Modica (in this light and airy apartment) which is split into a lower and upper town and is famous for its winding medieval streets, vertiginous staircases and imposing Baroque church, which perches high up on the mountainside, looking down into the town's lower depths below. It is a smart, bustling town, famous for its chocolate production and full of interesting little boutiques and pretty restaurants.
Modica was an excellent base for exploring the south east, as it was a short drive from there to some of Southern Sicily's most fascinating towns and beautiful beaches. We took day trips to Syracuse, Ragusa, Noto and Sampieri beach, all of which we reached by passing along winding roads fringed on either side by rolling fields of vibrant wildflowers, bathed in spring sunshine. Modica is also the setting for lots of the Inspector Montalbano TV series - if you're a fan, the network of red-tiled roofs, intricate facades and bell towers will look very familiar.
We spent a happy day wandering the sun-bleached streets and piazzas of coastal Syracuse, staring out across the ocean, exploring the medieval centre of Ortigia, eating a leisurely lunch of pasta alle sarde and taking in the wonderful UNESCO Roman amphitheatre and extraordinary Orecchio di Dionisio, a vast limestone cave which, according to legend, was used by Dionysius as a prison for political dissidents, who took advantage of the cave's natural acoustics to eavesdrop on his captive s' conversations.
On the way back from Syracuse we stopped to spend some time among the wildflowers during golden hour, the setting sun washing the countryside in a soft, warm glow, catching leaves and petals in a glimmering haze. Raoul took some absolutely beautiful photos, which I am so happy with as I know they will be a precious record of my mid-pregnancy and I will love looking back on them after baby is born.
It was my birthday while we were away (hello 31) and to celebrate, we drove down to the coast, to the pretty fishing village of Sampieri and its spectacular beach which stretches for miles of uninterrupted white sand. The beach is enclosed by rocky cliffs and fringed with groves of shady mimosa trees, and at the far end you can see the atmospheric ruins of an old tile factory which burned down in the 1900s. The light was extraordinarily bright and although it was warm, the strong wind made swimming a bit unappealing. Instead we walked its length, collecting fragments of driftwood before eating plates of seafood pasta with a view of the sea.
One of the best parts of the holiday for me was the chance to see so many fields of wildflowers, left to roam unhindered across the countryside. This is something you sadly no longer see in the UK, and seeing the Sicilian fields made me mourn our loss. The range of flowers seemed to far outstrip what we have in the UK, and many of them I didn't recognise. Among the ones I did were bright red poppies, leggy daisies, wild orchids, campion and orange calendula. It was such a joy to see an abundance of untouched flowers, abandoned to spread their colourful cloak, to sway gently in the breeze and multiply freely without constraint or control, spattered in shadows thrown by overhanging olive trees, bordered loosely by speckled dry stone walls and the odd ramshackle farm house or cowshed.
So, all in all, a beautiful week in the Sicilian sunshine but now back to work!