9 places to visit in the province of Palermo between art, sea and mountains
Palermo was the capital of one and more empires, a city rich in history and beauty that never ceases to amaze. Capital of Sicily, it is located on the north-western coast of the island and from here its vast territory unfolds, which presents an incredible mix of art and history, between crystalline sea and green mountains with iridescent colors.
Touring this province on a motorcycle with the Italia Grand Sketching Tour was wonderful, and here I’ll tell you about the must stops when visiting this area of Sicily.
Let’s start with the Exploration of the province of Palermo!
1. Monreale and the Norman Cathedral
Starting from the gates of Palermo, we can climb towards the slopes of Mount Caputo and start our tour in Monreale. Even before arriving inside the city, it is worth stopping and looking over your shoulder to admire the view of Palermo and its homonymous gulf, and taking in the province that extends to the horizon.
Arriving then in the center of town, you come across the cathedral which was built between 1174 and 1184 and was dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and around which the city then developed. The construction was commissioned by William II of Sicily as a sign of gratitude for the victory in the battle of Palermo. The church is a true masterpiece of Norman-Arab architecture, with Byzantine and Romanesque elements, which make it unique. Inside, the beauty that emanates from the golden mosaics that tell us the stories of the Bible is a breathtaking sight.
Arriving in the heart of the cathedral, its cloister opens up, which is a true oasis of peace where I stopped to paint (click here to see the painting in my shop) to tell the story and the emotions that emerged in me.
2. White sandy beaches of Mondello
Just outside Palermo, you can reach Mondello, an enchanting seaside resort famous for its beaches and elegant atmosphere. Historically, Mondello was a small fishing village until the end of the 19th century, when it became a popular destination for the aristocracy of Palermo and beyond.
The development of the area has been influenced by Liberty architecture which can be admired while walking along the very long seafront. Of particular importance is the Antico Stabilimento Balneare because it was the first establishment built on the island and is a symbol of that typical beauty of the 1920s. Its curves and symmetries are also enjoyable thanks to its location on stilts, which allow you to admire it surrounded by the crystalline blue of the sea.
3. Capaci and its painful memories
One of the saddest pages related to the fight against mafia can be relived in this place which certainly deserves a stop because, despite the pain, it is a place that communicate the hope that things can change through everyone’s choices towards good and legality.
Despite its beaches and promenade, Capaci is in fact sadly famous for the mafia attack which in 1992 killed the judge Giovanni Falcone, his wife Francesca Morvillo and three escort agents.
Here you can visit the memorial, already visible from the same highway that was gutted by the bomb. If you stop and listen with your heart, you can feel the energy that the courage and commitment of those who fought for justice have left us.
4. Corleone, the city that inspired the Godfather
Corleone perhaps represents the heart of the province of Palermo. Corleone’s history dates back to ancient times, with traces of Greek and Roman settlements. During the medieval period, the city was under the rule of the Normans, the Swabians and the Aragonese. From the latter Corleone acquires its Spanish Baroque appearance which flourished during the period of expansion also thanks to the agricultural wealth of the area.
The ancient nucleus of the city was delimited by a medieval wall that connected the Soprano castle with the Sottano castle. The Castello Soprano still remains today and from the top of the hill it dominates the city offering a beautiful view.
Corleone is also infamous as the birthplace of the Corleone mafia family, which inspired the novel “The Godfather” by Mario Puzo. Perhaps for this reason, there could not have been a more suitable place to create the International Documentation Center on the Mafia and the Anti-Mafia Movement. It is a museum that offers information on the history of the Sicilian mafia. Through interactive exhibitions and documentaries, the museum tells the story of the fight against organized crime and its consequences on society.
5. Piana degli Albanesi, where roots show their strenght
Piana degli Albanesi is a unique and interesting center because it makes us reflect on how the roots linked to a territory can be very strong, if kept and considered part of us and therefore respected.
Roots that allow us to feel we belong wherever we are.
I was lucky enough to visit it on the day of the Feast of San Giorgio, April 23, and this allowed me to see live how these roots are valued, through the different generations.
The city was founded in the 15th century by a community of Albanians who fled their homeland after the Ottoman invasion. Through the centuries the community has preserved its traditions and cultural heritage and still today this heritage is preserved and celebrated in numerous ways, first of all the language spoken here which refers to Albanian.
6. Madonie: the green hearth of Palermo province
With its breathtaking landscapes, green valleys, lush forests and imposing peaks, the Madonie Park offers a variety of unique biodiversity, with a flora and fauna rich in rare and endemic species. The park is a paradise for nature lovers, who can explore scenic trails, admire enchanting waterfalls and discover ancient villages perched on the mountains. Crossing this area on a motorcycle was a real adventure that would have required you to stop and paint every few kilometers due to the continuous variations of the landscape and its colours.
Furthermore, this area is also a place for those who love history and architecture thanks to the villages that follow one another in the southern part of the park: Gangi, Petralia Soprana, Petralia Soprana, Polizzi Generosa, are all very rich in history and take us to a past time with a simple walk.
Regarding Madonie we should remember that the famous Targa Florio, created by Vincenzo Florio in 1906 and which became one of the most important and difficult car races in history, passed through those mountains for many years.
7. Cefalù: the last wonder of Palermo province
Cefalù is a real precious pearl that fascinates visitors with its millenary history and its enchanting landscape between the sea and sheer rocks. On the northern coast of Sicily, it represents the border between the Provinces of Palermo and Messina. With its narrow cobbled streets and the facades of the houses painted in white, Cefalù transmits a suggestive and authentic atmosphere despite its tourist vocation.
Walking through the centre, one of the main attractions is the Cathedral, a masterpiece of Norman architecture built in 1131 by king Roger II to celebrate his victory in the conquest of the island. The cathedral is part of the UNESCO World Heritage itinerary of Arab-Norman architecture in Sicily, together with the cathedrals of Monreale and Palermo.
Looking upwards instead we are captured by the Rocca, a large limestone rock that rises above the sea behind the city. It represented a natural refuge since prehistoric times and here is also the Temple of Diana which dates back to the Greek period of its foundation, in the 5th century BC.
8. The Caccamo Castle
Caccamo is a charming city immersed in the green Sicilian mountains and the road to get there is perfect for the motorbike, between breathtaking landscapes and exciting curves.
Once you arrive the majestic castle is the first thing you see. It is one of the largest and most well-preserved fortresses in Sicily. Built in the 12th century, its mighty walls and majestic towers contain centuries of history and secrets that can be discovered with the available visit. From the outside the castle is striking for its imposing size that overlooks the green valleys below.
Before leaving, you can explore the historic center on foot and its labyrinthine intertwining of narrow streets, stone houses and Gothic arches that enrich the facades with light and dark shades. A charming village that takes you back to the past, while maintaining a lived-in and authentic feel.
9. Bagheria: famous for its villas
Bagheria is renowned for its sumptuous architecture and splendid gardens built when it became a residence for nobles and aristocrats thanks to its optimal position between the sea and the hills. Founded in Roman times, Bagheria developed in the Norman period and changed its appearance through the centuries.
Among the architectural treasures that deserve to be discovered is Villa Palagonia, an eccentric noble residence known for its extravagant statues of monsters and enigmatic creatures, which even Goethe was amazed by in his Journey to Italy. Another place to absolutely visit is Villa Cattolica, a noble residence dating back to the 18th century, which now houses the Guttuso Museum and which captures you with its spacious and elegant architecture and the lush garden that surrounds it, as well as with the splendid works kept inside.
Palermo is not only this…
The Province of Palermo has been a real discovery, and it still deserves many insights to discover all its riches. This list contains the most beautiful but also the most famous places, while often it is the most hidden and unknown villages that capture the heart for their authenticity.
Traveling in Sicily, my experience has led me to understand that it is a place worth getting lost in, because any detour will lead us to discover something unique.
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