Sicily’s best kept secret? The Egadi (Aegadian) Islands to the west of Sicily are a favourite of the impossibly bronzed Italian tourists. While most foreign travellers flock to the more well-known, chic volcanic Aeolian islands (Stromboli, Lipari et al), the lesser known Isole Egadi are still as unaffected by mass tourism as ever and maintain their sleepy, authentic charm.
The archipelago consists of the islands Favignana, Maritimo and Levante, reachable within 30 min by speed boat from Trapani.
Speed boat coming into the port at Trapani
A typical day in Favignana involves swimming in the crystal clear waters, strolling the piazzas and indulging in delicious Sicilian food. The island is small and flat, with cycling the preferred mode of transportation. Bike rental shops are plentiful, particularly near the boat port. Cala Rossa and Cala Azzura are the two most popular swimming spots – both boasting stunning, Caribbean-like water hues ranging from bright turquoise to deep dark blue.
Fitting right in with the 50s vibe of the island: I’m wearing a Vichy gingham playsuit by Max Mara and comfy Superga shoes.
The picturesque old town of Favignana gives off the impression that time has stood still since the 50s; men chatting in groups, women knitting on chairs outside their houses, kids playing excitedly in the narrow alleys. Enjoy a coffee and granita in the main square – Piazza Europa. For lunch, head to one of the beachside restaurants (we loved Lido Burrone) to savour the local specialities such as cous cous and fresh fruit.
Mingling with the carabinieri in Palermo and my Sicilian straw bag
So what’s the most beautiful souvenir I brought home from Sicily? Without a doubt, its the richly decorated straw “coffa” bag. This quintessentially Sicilian straw basket is handmade by local artisans, replete with rich, decorative elements of Sicilian folklore such as pom poms, mirrors, bells, and metallic lions heads similar to those that adorn many Sicilian doorways.
I first spotted the “coffa” baskets back in 2012, before I’d even set foot in their homeland. Sicilian designer duo Dolce & Gabbana paid homage to their origins with a summer collection dedicated to all things Sicilian: The opulently adorned straw bags caught my eye but the prohibitive price tag prevented me from indulging.
Fast forward to Sicily summer 2015: Mr Romantique and I were strolling around Palermo on our last day of the holiday. In the midday heat, we were enjoying the markets, chatting with local traders and struck up a rapport with a gentleman who told us of a local coffa bag craftsman – Luigi. He took us to meet him, and I was swept off my feet by these wonderful creations, lovingly manufactured and decorated by this 82 year old artisan. The intricate skill of making these bags has been passed down through his family for generations. In a world of mass produced, disposable consumer goods, the skill has become much rarer but fortunately Luigi keeps it alive.
The bag’s embellishments reflect typical Sicilian folklore: Bright coloured pom poms, predominately in red & yellow, the colours of the Sicilian flag, depictions of lemons, oranges and the Sicilian cart with the characteristic trapezoidal shapes and geometrical patterns typical of the Palermo area.
I’ve fallen head over heels in love with these special bags. So much so, that I want to spread them all over the world whilst supporting the local family who are keeping this artform alive.
In September 2015, we launched our web boutique. Go to sicilybag.com to order one of these stunning bags. Each bag is unique. No two designs are ever the same. Not only are they impossbly chic, but by purchasing one of these gems you ensure the survival of this age-old, fading craft.
I’m wearing a blue striped cotton summer dress by Max & Co, white broderie anglaise sneakers by Superga, sunglasses by Prada and my Sicilian coffa bag.
One of the stunning designs of our straw coffa bags you can purchase. They perfectly represent the creativity and sense of joy of the Sicilian people.
A richly embellished Sicily bag in gold.
The bags come in three sizes: Grande (large), Medio (medium) and piccolo (small). This is a medium bag, richly adorned with pom poms, metal buttons and the typical graphic designs of the Sicilian carts of the Palermo area. The predominant colours of red and yellow represent the Sicilian flag.
There are two Italian sayings relating to Sicilian food: “You haven’t eaten lemons until you’ve eaten them in Sicily” and “You haven’t tasted Cannoli until you’ve had one in Palermo.” Sicilian food is richer and even tastier than in the rest of Italy. And Palermo is the capital of Sicilian food. I loved the unassuming Trattoria “Da Pino”, where the owner tells you that he is the menu and where you can choose from a selection of authentic dishes served with a warm smile.
Tip: For good street food, observe where the locals are queuing. Sicilians are very fussy with food and only accept the freshest ingredients.
2. Magic of forgotten splendour
Palermo is a captivating city of glaring contradictions: Spotlessly restored grand palaces stand side by side with dilapidated historic buildings, quietly crumbling away.
Sicily’s history is endless, there isn’t a single dominant culture that hasn’t left some indelible mark on the strategically located Mediterranean island: Greeks, Romans, German tribes, Arabs, just to name a few. Sicily is struggling with the upkeep of all these edifices: 228 buildings are in an alarming state and locals are calling for a governmental intervention to help maintaining Palermo’s “Centro Storico”. When you stroll through Palermo’s markets and squares, you can almost hear the stories of forgotten grandeur, battles for dominance whispering from the Unesco heritage sites.
The Fontana de la Vergogna in Palermo means Fountain of shame because a lot of it’s marble nymphs are naked. An extraordinary piece of art.
Via Roma and Via Ruggero Setimo are Palermo’s main and most elegant shopping streets. A sheer endless boulevard of high-end fashion stores exhibiting the crème de la crème of powerful Italian fashion houses. Mid-priced fashion brands such as Max & Co are cheaper in Sicily than in the rest of Italy. You’ll also find precious jewellery and enchanting little book and craft stores which don’t belong to big retail chains.
My favourite shop in Palermo!
Just 15 min from the historic centre, Mondello beach invites the exhausted city traveller to rest and relax on the sandy white beach whilst enjoying one of Palermo’s best seafood restaurants.
5. Independant Hotels and B&Bs
Palermo boasts Sicily’s best independent boutique Hotels and B&Bs. Our charming B&B in Richard Wagner Street, near Via Roma in the Centro Storico, was the highlight of the trip. Central but quiet, with tastefully decorated bedrooms, a huge terrace overlooking Palermo and a fantastic host serving breakfast on the private terrace, replete with home-made jams. Living la Dolce Vita! Inbox me for the name and details if you’re interested to stay there (don’t want to give away that little gem)!
Last year, we spent our holiday in Sicily’s East (Taormina and Messina) . We decided that this island is so rich in culture and things to see, that we needed to return! Just like last summer, Sicily impressed us in all it’s decadent opulence, mouth watering but rather heavy cuisine and it’s blend of rich Arab, Spanish, Byzantine, Greek and Norman culture.
First up on our little road trip was Cefalu. A charming historic fishing town offering all ingredients to a quintessential Italian holiday: Gelato coloured houses, medieval alleys, stunning historic places, beautiful beaches and plenty of sunshine! End of June is an ideal time to go: Italian holiday season has not started yet so the town isn’t overrun with tourists! The weather is warm and sunny without being unbearable. The town is relatively small, so if you travel around, you may find that 3 days are more than enough to explore this little gem.
Towering over the town is the Duomo, a Norman cathedral built in 1131. Inside, you’ll find lovingly decorated mosaics crafted by Byzantine artists.
I’m wearing shorts by Gap, jumper by Antoni & Alison, shoes by Superga and little brown crossbody bag by Moschino.
A rocky path winds along the shore below the city’s sea facing walls, and it is quite an adventure to clamber along and explore!
Picturesque Cefalu is a 1.5 car ride away from Palermo.
The long stretch of sandy beach paired with the centro storico just a stone throw away make Cefalu a must-see in Sicily!
Byzantine mosaic in Cefalu. The tiny squares, which are crafted in a painstaking process, are a stunning example of Sicily’s Norman-Arab-Byzantine style.
Little square in Cefalu’s historic centre. Perfect for sipping on a caffè macchiato whilst watching the world go by.
Sicily – where to start? Our eight day romantic getaway to Taormina, was only enough to sample a fraction of this amazing Island. Sicilian culture is as unique as it is rich, due to its colourful history and passionate inhabitants. Its melting pot of different cultures can be partly attriubted to the various emperors who ruled, invaded & left their mark: Romans, Greeks, Byzantines, Normans and Arabs. All of this is reflected in Sicily’s cuisine, architecture & folklore.
Everything is extreme in Sicily: The sea is bluer, the deserts sweeter and the pasta sauces richer than anywhere else in Italy. In good old “Eat, Pray, Love” fashion, this is not the place to come if you are dieting! Come with an open heart (and stomach) and savour the world famous Cannoli & Cassata!
Traditional Sicilian marzipan fruit is made of fresh almonds.
Sicily’s fashion is both opulent and rich, and is embodied by my favourite designer duo, Dolce & Gabbana. Their signature style pays homage to their homeland; elegant lace, rich brocade, delicate crochet and accessories reflecting Sicilian folklore.
You can buy stunning, Sicilian inspired jewellery from the shop “Nico Design” in Catania, the artesian airport town that lies 45 minutes south of Taormina.
Above: If you’ve ever been to Sicily, you will have noticed the ceramic flower pots depicting Moorish heads of women and men. The town of Caltagirone, near Taormina in Sicily is famous for its traditional tin-glazed pottery, influenced by the Arabic Moors, who ruled Sicily from 827-1110 AD.
The beautiful decorations have a gruesome history: They say that around 1100 AD, when Sicily was ruled by the Moors, a beautiful girl was living in seclusion and spent her days cultivating flowers on her balcony. One day a young Moor passing by saw her, decided he had to have her and entered the house to declare his love. The young girl, surprised by such a gesture, reciprocated him, but just when she got to know him he decided to return to his wife and children. Distraught, she waited for nightfall and as he fell asleep she cut off his head and used it as a vase for her flowers, displaying it on her balcony for everyone to see. This way his love was forever hers. Apparently, the flowers grew lush, the neighbours envious, and they built vases of their own, shaped like Moors’ heads. Or so the tale goes!!
Another typical Sicilian tradition is the ‘Opera dei Pupi’, a marionette representation of Frankish romantic poems. The puppet theatre is inscribed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
You can purchase miniature versions of the ‘pupis’ in one of the many, gorgeous jewellery shops in Taormina.
Dolce and Gabbana honoured the Sicilian marionettes in their SS2013 collection.
I’m wearing a vichy checked dress from Gant.
If you’re standing, I suggest you grab a seat. These earrings were bought in a small jewellery shop In Catania, depicting little …. yes your eyes aren’t deceiving you……straw bags! Awwwwww. Très Romantique!
A beautifully decorated residential home in Taormina, Sicily. The Medusa above my head represents the symbol and flag of Sicily. The ‘trinacria’ (a motif consisting of three bent human legs) is supposed to represent the three points of the island. The flag itself dates back to 1282 and is adorned with the (winged) head of Medusa and three wheat ears to symbolise the fertile land.
Beach style is all about carefree, effortless dressing. A stylishly printed silk scarf, efficiently redesigned into a sarong, not only saves room in your suitcase but also looks elegant: All you need for this look is a silk scarf. Tie the two ends together and then wear it as either a skirt or a dress. Keep this article as a handy reference, it demonstrates 6 different ways on how to tie a beach pareo.
I’m wearing: My beautiful Lily and Lionel “Lavender Bloom” scarf. The lightweight silk is perfect for a sweltering hot day at Sicily’s Isola Bella beach near Taormina, Sicily. The makeshift dress easily switches from beach day chic to after-sun apero whilst sipping a Spritz or two.
Sicilian cuisine is just as rich and diverse as it’s culture, bearing traces from the Arabs and Greeks. The opulent deserts and sweets have been influenced by the Arab candymakers of the 9th century.
My all time favourite desert from Sicily is Granita, also knows as Granita Siciliana. Hailing from Catania, Sicily, the delicious, sorbet-like dessert made of sugar, water and flavourings is savoured all over Italy, but it tastes best in Sicily! (Yes, you guessed it, Sicily is NOT the place to go when you’re on a diet)!
The quality of Granita is amazing almost everywhere on the island, but Bam Bar in Taormina is the prettiest spot for enjoying the sweet but light local speciality. At the orange-themed café in the heart of Taormina, you can chose between several flavours: Café, Almond, Nutella, Peach, chocolate & and many more. The icy granite is a saviour during a hot summers day. Dip a brioche into the Tranita to eat it like a real Sicilian!
The texture and taste of Granita varies from city to city in Sicily: Catania specialises in chocolate Granita and he texture is smooth like a sorbet whereas in Palermo, the sweet is more coarse and grittier.
My favourite Granita flavour? A mix of Coffee and almond. Delish!
The pretty tiles of Bam Bar also decorate this year’s Rough Guide travel book
We’ve just returned from a wonderful holiday in Sicily, the volcanic island off the coast of Calabria, with a culture as rich as Canoli!
A full destination review will be coming soon, but bear with me whilst I trawl through the hundreds of photos I took on this beautiful island. In the meantime, let me share my absolute peak-summer must-have item:
The light silk dress. When temperatures climb up and humidity rises, you need a garnment that keeps you cool and isn’t too fitted or clingy. The flowing, luxurious silk is a high-class natural fibre that feels light and free, perfect for hot summer holidays.
I’m wearing a silk dress with a Grecian-style embellished necklace applique to glam up the sun dress; perfect to carry me through until sunset apertifs. I spent whole days at the stunning beach of Isola Bella, situated near glam-glitzy Taormina. Isola Bella is a natural reserve with stunning views, crystal clear waters and plenty of fish, making it a paradise for snorklers. Beware of the jellyfish (locally known as Medusa) who got me on the first day! Their sting is harmless (unless you’re allergic) and burns for about 30 minutes. Two weeks later, my skin still bears the signature of the annoying little creature. My Sicilian adventure souvenir!
Romantique’s ‘Best of Sicily’ post is coming soon. Stay tuned!
3 years ago, we started our fashion blog Romantique and Rebel, borne of our love for fashion, decor, travel and everything beautiful. It’s been a wonderful journey so far, during which we’ve been lucky enough to forge friendships with readers, met like-minded people at fashion events and have had endless fun inspiring each other, showcasing our different styles and philosophies.
The last year has been choc full of life-enriching events, providing us with a wealth of inspiration: a wedding for Romantique, travel to Italy, Spain and Australia and even a new job for Rebel. At times, it’s been challenging to update the blog regularly whilst holding down busy jobs and planning a wedding, but the satisfaction of sharing our passions always prevails.
A huge thanks to all our wonderful readers, Twitter and Instagram followers, and Facebook fans. We love each and everyone of you!
Here’s to a great year ahead!
Enjoy these flashbacks to our most popular posts from the last 12 months.
I am wearing a floral Max Mara dress and Moschino cross body bag. Sandals from Attilio Giusti Leombruni
The opulent artistic style of the Baroque is my favourite architecture: Romantic cherubs, minutely detailed facades and domes that create emotion and drama. For my wedding, I chose a 1700s baroque Roccoco venue in Berlin and it was only natural to book our honeymoon to Rome, where the baroque architecture started, follwed by a lazy beach holiday in Puglia and a day trip to nearby Lecce.
Lecce is the only city tourist destination south of Naples. Known as the “Florence of the South” or “Little Rome”, the historic town is a feast for the eyes, a masterpiece of baroque architecture. Floral pattern and mythological figures adorn the ornate buildings. Our Italian landlord recommended we visit at night when the town is lit up. A magical time to go there and stroll in the picturesque alleyways and marvel at the wonderfully over-the-top-facades of the Santa de Croce Church.
As if this is not enough, Lecce also boasts a Roman amphitheatre and theatre in the middle of the centro storico.
Basiliica of St Giovanni Battista in Lecce
Mr Romantique strolling along the alleyways
Lecce’s ruins of a Roman amphitheatre
Entrance to Lecce’s centro storico
Remember Dolce and Gabbana’s wonderfully baroque AW 2012 collection? Inspired by the opulent churches and the baroque if Italy