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Palermo

PLEASURES OF PALERMO
Palermo is one of those places that is low on the tourist radar when compared to the big Italian ‘greatest hits’ cities such as Rome, Venice and Milan. And yet, this Sicilian gem contains a whole wonderful raft of exotic, elegant sights and diversions in it’s own right. Certainly, more than enough to allow it to hold it’s own against its fabled neighbours to the north.

It enjoys an uneasy proximity to the brooding, majestic menace of Mount Etna. Though Etna properly last erupted back in 1928, it continues to simmer, smoulder and ooze trickles of molten lava around its rim. Unlike other volcanos, the beast cannot be called ‘dormant’ in any sense of the word.
You can go there by bus, an experience worth doing for the drive along the lush, verdant shoreline on its own. Once there, an observatory tells the full, tempestuous history of Etna, right up to the present day.

The truly brave could descend into the nightmarish netherworld called the Catacombe dei Capuccini. Over the course of around five hundred years, more than eight thousand mummified bodies were interred here, more than half of them from the Capucin order of monks. Lit with a combination of natural light and electricity, many of the mummies appear to be just lounging casually against the walls. This morbid, magnificent montage is definitely not for the faint hearted.
Fans of the Godfather iii movie will almost certainly recognise the great, canopied fa├žade of the Teatro Massimo, the city’s famous opera house. It was built in just under a quarter of a century, from 1875 onwards, and is today the main venue in Palermo for opera. Tours, operating in English, will cost around five euros per person.
Quite near here is the elegant Piazza Verdi, a large, expansive square thronged with splashing fountains and restaurants, named in honour of the great composer.

For a little more connection with nature, you could do what the locals here do, and take a picnic basket up to the vast, verdant slopes that surround the benign bulk of Monte Pellegrino.
And, for a final fix of history, you might be drawn to Zisa Castle, an amazing brew of Moorish and Baroque styles, and built for the former Norman kings. These days, the preserved castle serves as a museum, providing a window back into Sicily’s past as one of the main touchstones of those ancient civilisations.

Getting there: cruise ships dock on the waterfront in Palermo itself, and most of the city is walking distance from where you will arrive.

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