It is hard to think of anywhere that food, wine, ancient history and culture can be found in such abundance as in Sicily, from its cities right down to the smallest villages. Every season offers chances to participate in ‘sagre’ local festivals, to taste local delicacies, enjoy cultural events in ancient Greek amphitheatres, admire colourful ceramics and flowers, or even attend a traditional ‘palio’. Here are some suggestions for catching some memorable festive experiences if you are in Sicily over the next few months.
Ricotta cheese is a traditional Sicilian speciality, and provides the primary ingredients for two classic local dishes, cannoli and cassata. The very best is produced in the city of Vizzini, where there is a three day Ricotta Festival, between 23rd–25th April. As well as sampling the cheese, there are also other local dishes available and plenty to enjoy in the way of cultural events and music.
The ‘sagra’ also provides an opportunity to discover the history of Vizzini, one of the oldest cities on the island with many wonderful buildings. Situated near Catania, in the Hyblaean Mountains, the area has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The earliest documented record of Vizzini goes back to the Greek period, then the Romans, when it was mentioned by Roman authors Pliny and Cicero. The modern city was founded in the Middle Ages around a noble castle.
The Infiorata and Baroque Spring Festival in Noto, in south-east Sicily, takes place during the third weekend in May. With origins going back to the 13th century, it is a festival to welcome the Spring, and is celebrated with flowers, music and exhibitons. Flowers are laid by artists along the main street, Nicolaci Street, in different themes, also using earth and wood cuttings to create their ‘pictures’.
The entire town of Noto takes part in the design of these beautiful flower creations which have only a life span of 48 hours. They are prepared between Friday and Saturday, and showcased on Sunday, when there is also a Baroque procession.
In May and June, Greek dramas are performed in their original site, the Greek amphitheatre in Syracuse. Syracuse has a fascinating history as one of the most important cities in ancient Greece, both commercially and culturally, and much evidence of this remains in and around the city. Syracuse had one of the most impressive theatres in the Greek world, and as a part of the Unesco World Heritage Site of Syracuse, it is one of Sicily’s most visited attractions.
From around mid May to the end of June, three classical Greek tragedies and comedies are performed each year, providing visitors with a unique and memorable experience.
In beautiful Taormina, further north, the Taormina Arte is celebrated from June to September. Daily performances of rock and classical concerts, opera, dance and theatre take place in a stunning hilltop Greek amphitheatre.
Moreover, from 14th–21st June, this includes the Taormina Film Festival, with plenty of VIP glamour and a prestigious awards’ ceremony. The setting in itself, with views from the Mediterranean sea to Mt Etna, is worth the visit in itself!
July and August
La Scala Illuminata in Caltagirone, taking place from 24th-25th July and 14th–15th August, is another famous Sicilian festival, held in honour of St James, the patron saint of the city. Ceramic production here is a thousand year old tradition, and can be seen everywhere, from buildings, to churches, monuments and parks. The famous ceramic staircase of Caltagirone, Santa Maria del Monte, built from 1608, connects the old part of the town with the new city built on top. With 142 steps, the staircase is lit with thousands of candles in different colours for the festival, creating an absolutely stunning spectacle.
Also not to be missed, if you are in Sicily in August, is the Palio dei Normanni in Piazza Armerina (14th-15th August), one of Sicily’s oldest events. A summer pageant, it includes equestrian games and costumed parades, as well as a competition of horsemanship and knightly combat, chronicling the Norman invaders who ousted the Arabs from Sicily.
The city’s four districts (‘contrade’) are represented in the competitive events of the Palio, with four standing and equestrian events. There is also music, dancing, demonstrations of medieval arts, and the sale of arts and crafts. And, of course, plenty of delicious food!
Food and wine festivals abound in September, with some very original choices! These include the Sherbeth Festival, a gelato festival in Cefalù, from 15th – 18th September, attended by ice cream and granita producers around Sicily.
Otherwise, there is the Couscous Festival at San Vito Lo Capo, near Trapani, from 20th–25th September. As well as enjoying the delights of one of the southern Mediterranean and North Africa’s most popular dishes, there is a competition with chefs from many different countries, including Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey. The festival also includes evenings of live music from Sicilian and international artists, and open air markets.
Or, you could try the Sausage Festival (‘Sagra della Salsiccia’) on the second Sunday in September at Aragona near Agrigento, or the Rice Festival (‘Sagra del Riso’) in Canicattini Bagni near Syracuse on 11th September.
If you need something to wash down all this food, it is also the grape harvest season, so plenty of wine festivals to choose from as well. On the eastern side of Mt Etna, the ViniMilo Sagra dei Vini dell’Etna takes place on the first two weekends of September, and Festa della Vendemmia in Piedimonte Etneo from 28th -30th September.
Susie Marquis is Owner of The City Apartment Book Ltd.