Stylish and seductive Sicily

From Palermo’s Moorish architecture to Mount Etna’s foothills, the island of Sicily is a hidden gem, says Chris Carter.


Villa Igiea: nestled smugly by its own harbour
(Image credit: @Stefano Pinci -

Palermo, the capital of Sicily, is this year's Italian City of Culture. Art installations are scattered all over town in spaces ranging from hidden gardens to abandoned palazzi, says Nancy Durrant in the Times. And thanks to "a riot of medieval and Moorish influences", you will gawp as much at the buildings as the equally eclectic artworks inside them. After all, it's not every day "you get to take the temperature of contemporary art in a city so steeped in its own history".

The Grand Hotel Villa Igiea (from €180 a night,, nestled "smugly by its own little harbour" five miles along the coast from Palermo's popular Mondello beach, is the perfect refuge from the bustling city. Built in the early 1900s by the Florio family, it was intended as a sanatorium for wealthy TB sufferers until a doctor pointed out that the seaside was the last place you should put such a thing.

Today, those with sturdy lungs can enjoy superb Sicilian classics for dinner. The food in Palermo is unique in Italy thanks to the influence of foreign cultures, notably the Moors, who ruled Sicily from the mid-ninth to the 11th centuries. "There's a distinctive sweet-and-saltiness to its cuisine, exemplified by that mouth-watering Sicilian aubergine speciality, caponata."

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

World-famous pastries

"The greatest pastry shop on the face of the earth", however, is in Noto, says Steve King in Cond Nast Traveller. Nothing on the menu is fancy or expensive: cannoli cost €3, gelato cono €2.50. Still, people come from all over the world to Caff Sicilia "to rhapsodise and obsess... and perhaps to catch a glimpse of the magician... in the kitchen [who] conjures them into being". His name is Corrado Assenza, "a spry, intense 50-something with a rakish white beard and the eyes of a revolutionary".

Caff Sicilia has occupied the same spot opposite the cathedral in the middle of town for 126 years. Noto itself, however, used to be somewhere else. The original, ancient city, like many others in this part of Sicily, was reduced to rubble by a earthquake in 1693 and rebuilt a short distance away. No expense was spared. The streets were soon filled with an astonishing concentration of churches, private palaces and public buildings in a luscious style now referred to, rather loosely, as Sicilian Baroque.


(Image credit: Credit: Martin Garnham / Alamy Stock Photo)

Mount Etna, at the eastern end of Sicily, is touted as a must-see attraction, says Isabel Choat in the Guardian. Most visitors to Europe's largest volcano stay in resorts such as glitzy Taormina or the port city of Catania. That leaves Etna's stark foothills largely empty, including the town of Castiglione di Sicilia (pictured).

The red-roofed houses and medieval churches of this hilltop settlement appear to "tumble down the slopes... There we discovered deli-cum-wine-shop Vitis Vineria Bottega."

The people, the climate, the wine and the food in this part of Italy all have a distinct character influenced by the volcano, which provides a spectacular holiday backdrop.

Montecristo opens up a little


Only 1,000 people a year may visit Montecristo
(Image credit: Credit: Gari Wyn Williams / Alamy Stock Photo)

Until a decade ago, the Italian island of Montecristo was off-limits to visitors, says Cailey Rizzo in Travel and Leisure. Now the government issues up to 1,000 permits a year for visits between 1-15 April and 31 August-31 October. However, 600 of those permits are reserved for students. The island gained fame through French author Alexandre Dumas' novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, in which prisoner Edmond Dants heads to the island in search of treasure. The real treasures here, however, are the endangered species that live in the Montecristo Nature Reserve. Visitors can apply for permits at, and it helps to be part of a group. Even so, "you might wait years".

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

You can follow Chris on Instagram.