Hello my name is Ros and I am a travel and fashion features writer and editor with over a decade’s experience working for world-renowned glossies and national newspapers.
Last year, we packed our bags for Sicily in that brief lockdown hiatus, when travel
restrictions were lifted and airports became a masterclass in chaos. And it was worth it.
I flew out with my husband on a road trip feature mission for Condé Nast Traveller, with a surprisingly light suitcase (for me) and a fresh kick of gratitude for a change of scene and culture.
Our first stop was Palermo, an alluringly dishevelled city whose bygone splendour is cracked, sun-baked and beautiful. I’d possibly spent too long fixating on the Baroque towns of the south east to untangle any preconceived ideas around Palermo, but in just two days, the city’s warren of honey-hued palazzos and light-filled piazzas cast a delicious, Aperol-heavy spell on me.
Like a swallow whose beak sends it south, I’m heading back there this September (a curious decision for someone who hankers after variety). I’m particularly excited to peek inside the fresh interiors of Villa Igiea, Rocco Forte’s latest opening, lording over Palermo’s shoreline like a relic of the capital’s golden age.
Palermo bears the architectural and cultural stamps of the various invaders that claimed and conquered it throughout the centuries. As such, Norman castles rub shoulders with Byzantine mosaics, mosques and splendid Spanish doorways adorned with stone cherubs. This unique fusion of cultures is also prevalent across the city’s menus. In Palermo’s labyrinth of understated and enchanting eateries, you’ll find arancini, aubergine caponata, pasta alla Norma and granita con brioche (sweet frozen granita sandwiched in a warm brioche bun which Sicilians enjoy for leisurely breakfasts with a coffee and a long silver spoon). We lent into this tradition at Prestipino café, and enjoyed elevated riffs on Sicilian classics at Osteria Ballarò, a buttoned-up restaurant housed in old palace stables with a well-curated wine list.
Head to the old town if you want to peer into Palermo’s soul and dive into its tangle of antiques and flea markets, such as Mercato delle Pulci, or Mercato del Capo as well as its food markets which bear the rhythms and kaleidoscopic colour palette of a Moroccan souk. Not far from the Fountain of Shame (Fontana della Vergogna) in Piazza Pretoria, I stumbled upon Libraria Forense, an old bookshop tucked away in Palermo’s ancient backstreets. It’s well worth visiting, for the beautifully curated interiors as well as the mix of modern reads and battered leather hardbacks.
Aside from Villa Igiea, I wasn’t bowled over by any hotels in Palermo - it’s all about renting a tranche of its Palazzos through private owners. I want to feel the city - to wake up to its frescoed ceilings and laze about in its tired splendour when the afternoon heat reaches its crescendo. The place for this is Palazzo Lungarini whose blush pink marble pillars and grand staircase leads to grand-but-gentle apartments one imagines a Sicilian King may gift his favourite mistress. Palermo’s soft evening soundtrack wafts in through the balcony windows and an antique bed holds court in a vast, Belle Époque space.