We just spent a few amazing days in Palermo at the start of a ten day tour of Sicily, and have highlighted our favourite aspects of the city in this post.

The streets of Palermo

{A quaint street in the Kalsa district}

{Quattro Canti, the main Baroque square in Palermo}

{Vucciria market}

The streets in Palermo's city centre, particularly in the areas of Albergheria and la Kalsa, tend to be lined with dilapidated buildings - some of which have not been rebuilt since the Allied bombings in 1943. Exploring the very walkable town and trying to spot old gems is a tremendous amount of fun, and this city exudes a raw energy that is refreshing in comparison with the streets of many European cities, which can be much more manicured for tourist consumption. This energy is best captured through its markets like those at Ballarรฒ and Vucciria, though we unfortunately caught the latter on a quieter day around Easter. Though several things we had read and heard about the town's safety had us on our guard upon arrival, we had no issues at all in la Kalsa, where we stayed, or in any other part of town that we explored on foot.

Baroque oratories

{Oratorio San Lorenzo (image source)}

{Oratorio San Domenico}

{Oratorio Santa Cita}

Neither of us is generally a big fan of art and architecture from the overly opulent Baroque period, but one cannot help but be blown away by Palermo's three outstanding oratoriOratorio di San LorenzoOratorio di San Domenico, and Oratorio di Santa Cita. Though affiliated with local churches, these oratories served primarily as gathering places for members of trade companies based in Palermo. All three are filled with the stucco sculptures of one of Palermo's artistic heroes, Giacomo Serpotta (1652-1732), who imbues his work with a playfulness that is generally quite uncommon in church decor. In his lively depictions of scenes from the lives of San Francesco and San Lorenzo in the Oratorio di San Lorenzo, he portrays little putti (cherubs) observing the scenes expressing various emotions from joy to boredom, and occasionally fighting each other.

Arab-Norman Churches

{San Cataldo}

{San Giovanni degli Eremiti's cloisters}

{Cappella Palatina inside the Palazzo Reale}

{The cloisters at Duomo di Monreale}

Though no buildings in Palermo remain from the period of Arab rule between 831 and 1071, the Norman architecture from the subsequent period maintained a heavy Arab influence. The intimate church of San Cataldo, with its three red domes and austere decor, exemplifies the city's rich cultural and architectural amalgams. Other sights not to be missed from the period of Norman rule include the San Giovanni degli Eremiti, which has a charming little garden and cloisters, and the Cappella Palatina--probably the city's most internationally renowned site--where the opulent mosaic work and the ceiling's geometrical woodwork steal the show. Just outside Palermo, the grandiose Duomo di Monreale, with spectacular Byzantine-style mosaics and beautiful cloisters, is also worth a visit.

Sicilian food

{Focaccia vecchia Palermo at Antica Focacceria San Francesco}

Our three days in Palermo gave us our first exposure to Sicilian culinary traditions. The Antica Focacceria San Francesco in la Kalsa is solidly on the tourist map but certainly does not disappoint. Here we had our first taste of sfincione, a popular Palermitan street food consisting of focaccia topped with a sauce of tomatoes, onions, anchovies and some caciocavallo cheese, and the restaurant's own take on this traditional recipe through a focaccia vecchia Palermo, a sandwich with similar ingredients with a sprinkling of oregano. We were also delighted to find that the focacceria serves some Italian craft beers from the likes of Birreria Baladin, Birra del Borgo, and Birrificio Italiano, three of the country's most recognised micro-breweries. The effervescent Wayan Saison from Baladin tasted of apples, citrus fruit and peaches with a peppery kick - and made a decent pairing with the food.

{Caponata at Al Fondaco del Conte}

The best meal we had in Palermo was at the trattoria Al Fondaco del Conte, a charming little spot in the Albergheria quarter. Their range of Sicilian antipasti - and especially their caponata, an eggplant, caper, celery, and tomato stew - was particularly outstanding.

{Pasta alla Norma}

We also tremendously enjoyed multiple helpings of pasta alla norma, a Catanian specialty that has spread throughout the island consisting of pasta topped with tomatoes, eggplant, ricotta cheese, and oodles of garlic and olive oil.

{Cannolo served for breakfast at our B&B}

It would be hard not to distinguish how much the Palermitans love their pastries, given there is a pasticceria on practically every street corner. C doesn't have much of a liking for ricotta, but P probably had more than one cannolo every day. The classic dessert varies from place to place across town, using ingredients like pistacchio, chocolate nibs, and candied orange zest to complement the fried dough and sweetened ricotta cheese. We also thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon sweets--cakes and chocolate--we picked up at Cioccolateria Lorenzo.

Finally, we were very fond of Kursaal Kalhesa, a beautiful bar set up in an abandoned 19th century mansion with vaulted ceilings.

P.S. Follow us on Instagram, as we are updating it over the course of our trip!