This is a guest post by Rochelle Del Borrello, author of Unwilling Expat.
I am persistently perplexed why visitors to Sicily insist on whipping around the island in ten day lightening visits at the peak of summer. This seems like a hellish prospect to me, not only for the unbearable heat in the middle of August but ten days does not do justice to the place.
I suggest tourists do their homework and seek out local companies and guides that offer journeys into the particularities of La Sicilia; things like: culinary courses, literary tours, museums, wine tasting, trips which take you through the archeological history of this rich island, heck there are even Inspector Montalbano inspired tours which let you visit the locations in the television series!
If you are into organizing your own holidays simply break Sicily into pieces, hire a car and do one province at a time. Above all do it at different times of the year.
February is at the tail end of winter and shouldn’t be neglected as a suitable period to visit. Sicily’s winters have become quite mild and besides you needn’t be frightened by the cold, put a scarf and coat on and go out to explore. If it rains or snows find refuge inside a museum or gallery (there are hundreds of them), be sure to find a good local Trattoria and have a four course Sicilian lunch of local fare which will take you all afternoon to experience, light a wood fire in a mountain retreat while reading Quasimodo poetry or dive into the opera season which begins at this time of year.
You will feel as if you have the whole place to yourself and even if most of the flashy touristy places are closed, you won’t miss them, because you can finally live like a native: rent a house, take up residence in a Bed and Breakfast and take advantage of local knowledge. Be flexible, don’t plan too much, Sicily will surprise you and give you memories that will last a lifetime.
What to do in February?
Three of my own personal suggestions for authentic Sicilian experiences in February include the religious festival of Saint Agata in Catania, the celebration of Sagra del Mandorlo in Fiore (Blossoming Almond Tree) in Agrigento and the not so religious Carnival of Acireale. These three annual events encapsulate what is so special about Sicily from ancient traditions, food worship to extravagant creativity.
Saint Agata has been venerated by the Catanese since the thirteenth century and her three day festa from the third to the fifth of February is marked by several suggestive processions and religious services. The elaborate icon, a work of art in itself, is used as a way of thanking the Saint for her continued protection of the city and many people complete the procession while carrying heavy wax candles while asking for graces or giving thanks for miracles granted after prayer to Saint. The feast is a mixture of ancient tradition, celebration, religious dedication to the Saints and the locals devotion to the city itself as the Agata has become a manifestation of the city’s identity.
Sagra del Mandorlo in Fiore
Agrigento’s Sagra del Mandorlo in Fiore is a conglomerate of many different celebrations put together with the back drop of the city’s ancient Greek temples. The Sagra celebrates the most well known agricultural fruit of Agrigento, the almond, with an expo of many different Sicilian products that literally give you a taste of Sicily. While the accompanying International Folklore, Children and Dance Festivals give the city a multiethnic feeling from the twelfth to the twenty second of February (dates may vary).
Carnevale di Acireale
February is the apex of the Carnival season in the whole of Italy with many colorful masquerade parades and floats though out many Italian cities. Acireale, a town near Catania, boasts the oldest and most elaborate Carnevale celebration in Sicily, which dates back to the sixteenth century. The celebration marks the beginning of Lent in the Christian church calendar, which is traditionally a time of fasting, and it used to be a final feast before forty days of bread and water. Today it is simply a wild party, filled with fun, practical jokes and masquerade – a perfect way to brighten up the winter. The elaborate ‘cartapesta’ (papermâche) creations of the grotesque Carnevale float artists in Acireale are filled with political satire and edgy social commentary, they are an unforgettable way of experiencing Sicily.
Rochelle Del Borrello is a sometimes writer and blogger and full time mother. Originally from Perth, Western Australia she has a complex relationship with her adopted island home of Sicily and still is in love with her native antipodean land. She blogs about all things ‘expat’ at Unwilling Expat and does bits of writing around the place. On the subject of Sicily she has contributed to various blogs and publications including: Times of Sicily, Arba Sicula and NorthStar Travel 42 travel guides.