Daniel Nicholson/500px (Vineyards). Alex Segre/500px (Market).
Sicily has long been an afterthought for tourists, who tend to favor shinier Italian cities like Rome, Florence, and Milan. But its fabulous cuisine and fast-growing reputation as one of the most intriguing wine regions in the world are helping the unsung island shed its tired associations with The Godfather and Sophia Petrillo to emerge as a must-go destination for epicureans.
Heading to Sicily in September means you’ll find residents back from their notorious monthlong summer vacations, and the living easy now that the sapping heat has waned. Drop anchor in Palermo, Sicily’s main city, to savor its many variations of street food, one of the island’s specialties. Sample small bites like arancini, stuffed rice balls coated with fried bread crumbs; panelle, a yummy fritter made of chickpea flour; and pani ca’ meusa, a fried-beef-spleen sandwich — all of which you can find at charming spots like the bar-café Ciuri Ciuri and Osteria Ballarò (OsteriaBallaro.it).
Later, burn off the calories with some sightseeing: Catch a show at Teatro Massimo, the biggest opera house in Italy, and pay a visit to Quattro Canti (or Piazza Vigliena), a Baroque square dating back to the 17th century, flaunting impressive fountains with statues of the four seasons, the four Spanish kings of Sicily, and the four patronesses of Palermo (the staggering monument was one of the first examples of town planning in Europe).
Just over an hour’s drive from Palermo, the small coastal town of Sciacca promises some of the island’s best seafood. Ristorante Porto San Paolo (RistorantePortoSanPaolo.it) slings perfected recipes for two traditional Sicilian entrées — squid-ink and sea-urchin pasta — along with gorgeous views of the Mediterranean. While you’re there, be sure to hit up the ceramics studios (CeramistiDiSciacca.it) and shops, where you can scoop up vibrantly colored, handsomely priced decorative pottery, dishes, and statuettes handcrafted by local artists. And there’s no better coda to your indulgent journey than a trip to the town’s famous thermal baths. A healing haven for natives since ancient Greek times, these volcanic-fueled spas offer sulfur-rich, therapeutic steam and mud treatments that will soothe tired muscles and clear your head. You’ll leave the island feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, if not a little full.
“Sicily’s excellent food is nothing without its wine, and the perfect autumn vintage has a rich body and a light, fresh finish. Opt for Cantadoro (80% nero d’Avola, 20% cabernet sauvignon), which pairs well with meat pastas, grilled fish, and tuna or swordfish steaks.”
Lucio Matricardi winemaker, Stemmari Wine