As a lover of all things Italian, I couldn't help but be captivated by the HBO series White Lotus. The opportunity presented itself to visit the island paradise of Sicily (well before the show aired I might add) nestled in the Mediterranean Sea, I jumped at the chance.
I had heard tales of Sicily, whispered warnings of its archaic nature, of danger lurking around every corner, of the mafia's pervasive presence. Stories of my family being robbed and assaulted during their visit many years ago sat heavy on my mind. But, to my utter surprise, none of these tales held any truth. Sicily is a dreamscape, a place of unparalleled beauty, where the past and present seamlessly intertwine. It is a place where one can escape the trappings of modern life and find solace in the simplicity of the natural world.
After a short flight from Rome, I set foot on the island paradise of Sicily, with hopes that this was to be a journey of rejuvenation, self-realization and tranquility. The island, with its stunning beaches, ancient ruins, and rich culture, offers the perfect blend of adventure and serenity for those seeking to escape the stresses of modern life and I was all for it.
Where East Meets West. Palermo.
I spent the first few days in Palermo, exploring its winding streets and ancient buildings. Here, I found a city of contradictions: it was both chaotic and harmonious; exciting yet peaceful. The people were incredibly friendly and helpful, despite their reputation as being somewhat gruff. After experiencing this welcome first hand, I felt that perhaps there was more to this island than what I had heard about it. The normal palace adorned with gold frescos was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Words can express the splendor of this 12th century Arab-byzontine masterpiece. Perhaps one must see it for themselves. Sicily's history hosted a melting pot of conquerers throughout her life. The Greeks, Arabs, Normans, Africans, Romans and many more sought out and took this island so within the walls of Palermo you see Arabic influences everywhere! Sicilian culture belongs to Sicily and Sicily alone.
One of the crown jewels of Sicily, the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, is a must-see destination. This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to some of the most well-preserved ancient Greek temples in the world. The sweeping views of the valley from the Temple of Concordia left me awestruck, and the peaceful atmosphere and stunning architecture of the temples make it the ideal place to unwind and contemplate the beauty of the natural and man-made world. Oh how I wished I could transport myself back in time and experience what once was. The valley, although hot with little shade, is the residue of a civilization lost to this world...yet being there in the energy of the mighty structures and ancient dust made it tangible to my senses, thus making it not lost, but discovered.
The most heart-opening destination in Sicily is the hilltop town of Taormina, where White Lotus was filmed! Nestled on a mountaintop overlooking the sea, Taormina offers breathtaking vistas, charming narrow streets, roof top bars, and a relaxed atmosphere with an upscale flare. Isola Bella, the beach area accessible by a funicular, feels intimate yet revels the grandeur you would expect from the Mediterranean sea the moment you step into it. Taormina is also home to the ancient Greek theater, which still hosts performances to this day. The view from the theatre is one of the most incredible I have ever seen and added to the many reasons why Taormina stole my heart. Allow me also to say…who wouldn’t love a place where it is tradition to eat ice cream (granita) and brioche bread at 5pm!
While in Taormina, I took a detour and hiked further up the hill to the picturesque town of Castelmola where the infamous Cafe Turissi lives. This cafe is famous for its unique penis-themed decor which adorns just about every inch of the establishment. I enjoyed a drink, touched a few dicks and watched Etna's smoke create what looked like clouds billowing in the distance.
Mountain Town Morose.
The Catacombs, located in the sleepy hilltop town of Gangi in central Sicily, are a sight to behold. The preserved remains of the dead, dressed in their professions of the time, hang eerily from the walls in a macabre yet fascinating display. The dimly-lit corridors of the catacombs are a stark contrast to the bright, sun-drenched streets above, and as you wander through the twisting passageways, you can't help but feel a shiver run down your spine. The bodies, mummified by the cool, dry air of the catacombs, are a haunting reminder of the transience of life, and the timelessness of death. The Catacombs are truly unique and captivating and will leave you with a sense of awe and wonder at the ingenuity of the ancient Sicilian people who created such a place, and a strange feeling of isolation and wonderment as you explore. I must say Gangi, although quite sleepy, felt like stepping back in time and re-living some past life when I experienced a simple life. Small craft stores and local eateries amiss windy streets led to small piazzas where churches and palazzos stood proud. A visit to the Tamborine man and his shop brought music and life back into a mind where bodies hang within the depths.
Journey Into The Spirit Of Sicily
Sicily is a place of contrasts, a place where ancient history meets modern culture, where the hustle and bustle of city life is juxtaposed with the tranquility of the countryside. It's a place where the food is as rich and diverse as the people, and where the sun-kissed beaches are as inviting as the snow-capped mountains. It is also a place where you can surrender yourself to the universe and experience a wellness, yoga and adventure retreat!
As a wellness aficionado, I am always on the lookout for hidden gems that offer a unique and transformative experience. And, let me tell you, I struck gold when I stumbled upon Sicilian Spirit, a retreat center nestled in the quaint village of San Giovanni.
Sicilian Spirit lived up to its name and was truly a journey of self-discovery and rejuvenation for me. The ancient masseria, with its 17th-century architecture, transported me to a bygone era of grandeur and elegance. The yoga space was an oasis of serenity, with its high ceilings, arched doorways, and frescoes adorning the walls, it was a sanctuary for the soul.
The yoga and meditation classes, led by the ethereal Kim Larkin and the wise James Bene, were nothing short of transformative. They led us on a journey of self-exploration, seamlessly weaving together yoga, wellness, and adventure in a way that was both invigorating and calming. Their guidance and instruction were tailored to our individual needs, making it an experience that was both challenging and nurturing. But, the true crown jewel of Sicilian Spirit is their food. The meals at the retreat center were a feast for the senses. Each dish was a culinary masterpiece, crafted with love and passion using the freshest, locally sourced ingredients. The flavors and aromas were an ode to the land, and I was in gastronomic heaven. The serene landscape, with its sparkling pool, was the perfect setting to relax and unwind after a yoga class. The comfortable accommodations and the friendly staff (including the Baroness of the estate) who were like family to us, made our stay a home away from home.
I recall the sounds of the sheep with their colorful bells clanking in the distance, and the scent of the fruit trees on the property, were like a symphony for the senses. The retreat center was a haven of tranquility, a place where the worries of the world melted away, and the soul was at peace. My time at Sicilian Spirit was an idyllic experience, one that I will cherish forever. I would recommend it to anyone seeking to reconnect with themselves and the world, in a way that is both poetic and profound. If you're looking for a retreat that will leave you feeling rejuvenated, refreshed and reconnected, look no further than Sicilian Spirit.
Travel Sicily. Period.
Sicily is a place of beauty. Period. The island's natural landscapes are simply breathtaking, from the sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea to the rugged peaks of Mount Etna. The island's architecture is also something to behold, from the grandeur of the ancient Greek temples to the baroque splendor of the palaces and churches in Palermo, to the pier in Cefalu where courageous divers plunge into the water, Sicily is a place that I will always hold dear in my heart. It's a place that has the power to move you, to make you feel alive, to make you feel connected to something greater than yourself. It's a place that will change you, in ways that you never thought possible. If you haven't been to Sicily, I highly recommend it. It's a journey that you will never forget.