Notes on…Sicily

7 September 2013

9:00 AM

7 September 2013

9:00 AM

It could be, in Sicily, there comes a time when you’ve had your fill of seaside calamari and cheap white wine. The sheer thrill of lying on a beach without goose-bumps never really fades, but by day four you may need a break from all the nakedness: Italians blackening in rows like sausages, or Brits, more lumpen, clumped in ones and twos, turning pink.

If you can bring yourself to turn your back on the Med, it’s well worth it. From Palermo, take the coastal road, then turn right, inland on the A19 towards Catania. Or drive south on the world’s most surprising motorway, which leaps right over Monreale and lands on the cliffs above. Head south-east and soon the countryside will flatten into hills and plains of durum wheat baked yellow, waiting for harvest.

Nothing about inland Sicily feels truly Italian. There’s not enough bustle and chatter. Unmoving hawks fix in the gelatinous air, the sun seems motionless above the road. Old men in black stand by their mules and stare as the car goes by.

As you reach the very centre of the country, equidistant from each coast, the horizon rises up into a shallow chain of mountains and a small city appears on a hilltop plateau overlooking the valley. This is Enna, the highest regional capital in Italy, also known as Belvedere, beautiful view or ‘l’ombelico’, the ‘navel’ of Sicily.

Enna’s like something out of a fairytale — the old sort where things don’t necessarily end as you would wish. Cliffs drop away from the town on either side and a visitor who begins the steep approach feels a little watched. As you enter town you’ll notice the few tourists behave differently, more respectfully. And if they appear to be running for their lives, then it’s likely to be the festival of Maria Santissime della Visitazione, when local farmers process through the streets covered in white sheets, peering through rough-cut eyeholes, carrying staves carved with grinning skulls.

Once you’ve found a hotel, there’s a -castle to visit, and a tower to climb, from which, says the Enna tourist board, you can ‘admire the wonderful views on two thirds of Sicily and green, happy hills in north and west’.

But the following day you should set aside the afternoon for lunch.

Ennese cuisine bears the imprint of all Sicily’s different overlords: Greeks, Romans, Normans, Arab. Couscous, almonds, fennel, lamb, eucalyptus honey, saffron, rice.

Grain from Enna is sent all over Italy to make pasta, but the sauces are  denser here and more intense. After your starter, pick a pasta with aubergine and Enna’s regional cheese, piacentinu, made from sheep’s milk and flavored with saffron. Sausages next, with fennel and fava beans, and then at least a taste of torta povera, a bread pudding made with bread, milk, honey, nuts, raisins, butter and eggs.

In the evening, drag your bloated body for a potter over to the gates of Hell, said by the Romans to be found in Lake Pergusa, and give thanks that you don’t have to strip off for the beach tomorrow.

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  • a_ha81

    Enna is not a regional capital but a provincial capital. Palermo is Sicily’s regional capital and Potenza – the ‘capoluogo’ of Basilicata and a thoroughly forlorn place – is Italy’s highest.


    I have had annual walking holidays in the Sicilian MADONIE and NEBRODI mountains for 25 consecutive years – really beautiful. The seasides are lovely but the countryside ablaze with flowers are also incredibly heartening.

  • davidshort10

    I could recommend some wonderful hotels in Sicily which I visit often but I’d be afraid that the Spectator’s capo would read it and then some vulgarian Scot with odd-coloured, brittle hair might be sprawled on the next pool lounger with some much younger (not difficult) doxy. He might even be wearing white singlet!