Palermo is an enchanting city where diverse forms of art seamlessly converge, so it's no coincidence that Goethe regarded it as "the most beautiful place in the world". Fabrizia Caracciolo, who travels to the city frequently, shares her favorite places to stay, eat, shop and visit.

 

BY FABRIZIA CARACCIOLO | 8 JANUARY 2023 

Palermo Portfolio; Guido Taroni © Cabana Issue 9  

 

Palermo's charm lies in its successful, and apparently haphazard, patchwork of cultures and arts that come together in a unique harmony: from the resplendent Byzantine mosaics adorning the Palatine Chapel, to the vibrant purple-red domes that stand as a symbol of Islamic art in the Church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti.

From the opulent baroque designs found in 17th-century churches, to the more understated stucco cherubs crafted by Serpotta (pictured below); from the grandiose lions and cheetahs depicted on the majolica floors where the waltz in Visconti's film, 'The Leopard', was danced, to the intricate geometric patterns adorning the endless terraces of the seaside palaces. And from the peculiar statues of heroes and demigods concealing enigmatic alchemical symbols, to the neo-Gothic embellishments by Basile within the splendid interiors of Palazzo Alliata.

 

The Serpotta Oratories © Guido Taroni, Cabana N9

 

The most enchanting aspect of Sicilian art de vivre, as beautifully praised by Fulco di Verdura in Estati felici, lies in its extravagant eccentricity, rendering every person, place, and event incredibly amusing and irresistibly captivating.

This city has always embraced and adapted to the influence of various civilizations, yet it has managed to retain its strong identity, echoing the famous words from The Leopard: "If we want everything to stay the same, everything must change."

 

Villa Malfitano; Guido Taroni © Cabana Issue 9   

 

Where to Stay 

Villa Igiea: Now part of The Rocco Forte group, Villa Igiea has been beautifully restored by designers, Paolo Moschino and Philip Vergeylen. The magnificent Liberty building overlooks the sea and is ideal if you want to escape from the city chaos.

Grand Hotel et Des Palmes: A Forever Classic in the city center with its Liberty decor and frescoes by Basile. Its new restaurant will be helmed by the well-known Sicilian chef, La Mantia. And on the terrace, you'll find a great sushi bar.

Palazzo Planeta: Owned by the namesake Sicilian winery dynasty, this lovely palazzo - in the historic center of Palazzo - has seven elegant apartments. 

Hotel Unico: In Mondello, a beautiful beach town 15 miles from the city, try Hotel Unico, or Merli sull’Acqua, an Airbnb located in a beautiful villa overlooking the sea.

Where to Eat 

Bisso Bistrot: A cozy, classic spot in a former bookshop, run by a well-established family of restaurateurs at the Quattro Canti Square. Delicious Italian classics.

Sobremesa Ristorantino: A wonderful bistro with modern twists on old favorites.

Osteria dei vespri: A great dining spot in Visconti’s Palazzo Gangi Square.

Ciccio... in pentola: In Palermo's historic Kalsa neighborhood, right in front of the church, Santa Maria dello Spasmo, you'll find Ciccio... in pentola, which serves up fresh, local cuisine in a charming, traditional setting. 

Corona TrattoriaDelicious fish, cooked faithfully in the Sicilian tradition. Do not miss one of my favorite dishes: their delicious anchovy pasta.

Gelato: You can find the best ice cream in town at Cappadonia and Al Cassaro.

 

Palermo Portfolio; Guido Taroni © Cabana Issue 9
   

What to See & Do 

Palazzo Abatellis: This striking palazzo was restored by Italian architect, Carlo Scarpa, in the ‘60s. Do not miss the incredible Antonello da Messina portrait.

The Serpotta Oratories: In Santa CitaSan Domenico and San Lorenzo - some of Palermo’s most notable churches and oratories - you’ll find the stunning sculptures, and beautiful stucco 'putti', of late Baroque sculptor, Giacomo Serpotta. Walk through these oratories and take inspiration from the work of a true master.

Santa Maria dello Spasimo: In the historic Kalsa neighborhood, lies an unfinished and extremely atmospheric 16th century Gothic church, Santa Maria dello Spasimo (pictured below). Its storied history includes a lost masterpiece by Raphael, and there is an excellent restaurant for lunch opposite: Ciccio...in pentola (see 'Where to Eat').

 

Palermo's tile museum, Stanze al Genio © Guido Taroni, Cabana N9

 

Palazzo ButeraPay a visit to the newly restored, Palazzo Butera, which displays the contemporary art collection of Massimo and Francesca Valsecchi.

The Orto Botanico: The University of Palermo’s botanical gardens, with its citrus trees and lush tropical plants, is among the most fascinating gardens in the world.

Stanze al Genio: Don't miss this superb museum displaying an array of beautiful tiles.

Fondazione Guiseppe WhitakerA magnificent example of Belle Époque architecture and decor, the 19th century Villa Malfitano (pictured above), houses the Whitaker Fondazione - which preserves this cultural icon - and also has wonderful gardens.

 

Palermo Portfolio © Guido Taroni, Cabana Issue 9 

Where to Shop 

Mercato del Capo: A truly authentic Sicilian market. Don’t miss the beautiful Camera Delle Meraviglie, a blue frescoed room, the origins of which are still fairly mysterious. Have lunch at Giardino delle Angeliche, run by four entrepreneurial women.

Vito Torretta: An unassuming shop filled with typical Sicilan artisanal baskets: woven coffa bags adorned with embroidery and colorful pom poms. Here, you can find a totally customised, bespoke basket, choosing your size and decorations.

Piazza Marina Flea Market: Head to this fantastic flea market on Sundays for beautiful antiques, art, objects and furniture, and vintage finds.

 

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