Cassandra Goad, jeweller, tells us about her love of Sicily – La Dolce Vita. She shares her favourite places to eat, stay and see.
Sicily, an isle that floats like a jewel in the Mediterranean, has been shaped by waves of conquests and left tinted by the settlement of differing peoples since the 8th century.
First came the Greeks with their sublime ideals, followed by the realities of Rome. Then the Normans – who gave England Westminster Abbey – built Sicily’s wondrous cathedrals of Cefalu, Palermo and Monreale. Steeped in history and a wealth of creativity, I was almost hooked.
Yet it was a challenge given to me, in a small package, typed neatly and succinctly, that made Sicily finally irresistible : ‘Could I too be a craftsman like Daedalus?” The designs flowed into several sketch books. Mosaics were transposed into jewels sparkling with diamonds. Stories of fig trees were retold in gold bracelets. Sicily inspires.
Favourite place to travel visit
For a weekend away: Visit Palermo. Stay at Villa Tasca – the Palazzo where Wagner wrote Parsifal; where swans swim amongst the botanical gardens and you can drink the delicious wines of the Tasca family from the terrace.
Visit the modern art gallery of Francesco Pantaleone with his amazing show of Per Barclay, and his photographs of the Santa Catarina church that he flooded with 9000 litres of milk.
Take a leisurely lunch at Obica. And afterwards sit out on the terrace in the sunshine looking down at the 18th century facade of San Donenico.
Breakfast: Sit in the piazza of Monreale in any one of the cafes. The early sunshine and the view of the cathedral are fantastic. The cannoli in all the cafes will be fresh.
Best places for lunch: Fratelli Burgio is a wonderful trattoria/café/shop in the market of Ortygia.
Manna Noto in Via Rocco Pirri (tel +39 0931 836051). Contemporary feel in décor and menu. Delicious juxtaposition of colours on the plates.
Trattoria “La Grotta”: Via Scalo Grande 46, S. Maria La Scala (Acireale), tel: +39 095 764 8153. This is charming fishing village restaurant, very simple fare but utterly delicious fresh fish.
Ragusa: Il Duomo, tel +39 0932 651 265 . One of the best restaurants in Italy with two Michelin stars. Utterly delicious, fantastic wines but as someone who loves the simpler style of restaurants I would rather eat in the piazza. For foodies it is worth the detour though.
Dinner: Crocifisso in Noto Via Principe Umberto. This charming restaurant is a little walk up the hill of the town but worth it – when you arrive in this long street to see the sign on the wall made of forks makes you smile at the simple charm. Inside it is full of locals, young and old, all enjoying beautifully prepared and presented food. Very friendly atmosphere. 46, 96017 Noto SR, Italy, tel +39 0931 571151.
Where’s the best view in Sicily?
Taormina from the Greek amphitheatre up to Mount Etna. Just knowing I am enjoying the view that hasn’t changed in thousands of years is amazing.
Or the interior of the hunting lodge built by Ferdinand IV in 1799 known as the Palazzina Cinese. The walls are decorated like the most beautiful wedding cake you have ever imagined.
What is the best souvenir to bring home?
Ceramic pigne made by Arcangela Piscitello – her family have been making them since 1683 – keep them on your desk, or decorate your balcony as the Sicilians do.
The exquisite terracotta models made by Vincenzio Vizzari in his minuscule shop are a Sicilian essential (Via Vittorio Emmanuelle 120, 90133 palermo, tel +39 091 322066).
Where are the best places to soak up the local atmosphere?
1. Staying at Villadorata 7 rooms in Noto.
2. Taking a picnic and a good book out to the Greek temple at Segesta and lie on the grass and soak in the centuries of brilliant design.
3. Eating fresh octopus at Trattoria da Calogero in Mondello.
What’s the best way to pass the time in Sicily?
1. Go to eat cannoli e cafe or even lunch at Antica Foccaeria di san Francesco in Palermo. Open daily 11.00-23.00.
2. Stay in Noto and go to the aforementioned Crocifisso restaurant for a simple yet delicious meal.
3. Go out on a boat to the islands. Or to the beach outside Noto where the Vendicari nature reserve is located. There a small bar called Lubar which is divine and owned by the family of Luisa Beccaria (who also have two lovely villas you can rent for holidays too).
Don’t leave without?
A ‘Teste di Moro’ in your bag. The ceramics are from the Sicilian Romeo and Juliet story of the Moor who falls in love with a beautiful Sicilian girl. With the face of each of them on opposite sides, made in ceramic and painted by hand, each one is unique. Plant Basil inside and traditions has it that it will grow stronger and better than anywhere else. This story inspired my gold pendant (below).
And of course a few cannoli from Palazzolo (you can even pick these up at the airport).
Favourite time of the year to visit?
In April and May the air is warm, and lush with the wild fennel and asphodels stand sentinel in the countryside in a counter pane of unfurling fresh green leaves and innocent white flowers. This is when artichokes come into season too, so you can enjoy the myriad recipes in all of the local restaurants. In September, mushrooms and pumpkins appear on the menus, the villages are lit by the processions of the saints.
And at all times it is the light that overpowers you. When you lie on a beach and stare at the sky and realise you, the Bourbon kings, the Norman Conquerors, the Romans and the Greeks were all lured to this isle by something you can’t quite put your finger on. So ancient. So simple.