Although once you get to Cortona, you very well may want to stay put, there are many places that are very accessible and make a great mini vacation. It seems a world away from Tuscany, but recently we travelled to Palermo in Sicily and found it was not as difficult as we thought.
From Cortona, there are flights available from Perugia, Florence and Rome airports to various destinations in Sicily, including Palermo. The flights are relatively inexpensive price and the you're in the air only about an hour.
What we found to be exceedingly easy was the overnight train.
We began our journey at the train station in Terontola at about 4:30 pm. We then had one train change in Rome where we boarded the overnight train to Palermo at about 8:30pm. Our compartment was private - just the two of us - and we were able to stretch out and plug in our devices for the evening. There are some food and drink options on the train but you probably want to have already eaten or pack something for an evening snack.
On the train
It should be said that there are options to go also to the eastern coast of Sicily as well, where you can visit the active Volcano, Etna and visit the picturesque cities of Taormina and Catania.
The trip was relaxing and easy although it took a little getting used to the rocking of the train. At about 7:00am, it may surprise you to know that we crossed the straits of Messina while still on the train. It takes roughly an hour and a half for the whole train to be loaded onto the ferry in Reggio Calabria and then off-loaded once we got to Messina.
The ride down the western coast to Palermo was absolutely beautiful as we followed along the waters edge for most of the rest of the morning.
Shortly before we reached Palermo, a steward came through with hot coffee (be warned it is not espresso or cappuccino but instant) and a package of breakfast cookies. There are options for first class accommodations on the train in which you receive slightly better service and a more enticing breakfast.
We arrived in Palermo Centrale station at about 9:45 am and found plenty of taxis outside to take us to our hotel.
We chose a fairly central hotel The Best Western Ai 4 Cavalieri in Via Sant’ Oliva -a quiet neighborhood but close enough to walk everywhere. If walking is not your style there are also taxis and Ape (motorized three-wheel trucks) outfitted to transport tourists and scooters for a price.
I would suggest a walk through the the markets of Palermo, the Mercato del Capo, the Ballero’ Market and the Vucciria Market to get a taste, literally, of the wonderful street food of Sicily. You can also find some wonderful gifts to take back with you including typical ceramics and depictions of the Trinacria- the three legged symbol which represents the three points of the island of Sicily.
Definitely worth visiting is the largest Ficus Macrophylla adorning the piazza Marina since its planting in 1863. 10,000 cubic meters of foliage make it the largest tree in Europe.
Another wonderful place to discover is the Palermo Cathedral, declared Unesco heritage site in 2015.
And the Teatro Massimo where you may find a live performance to attend.
We made sure to take the opportunity to just walk around and see what we could find. There was plenty of local color and culture in every inch of Palermo. The shopping was top of the line.
The food is exceptional and you will find an abundance of vegetable dishes ( eggplant parmigiana, pasta alla norma, and Caponata, fresh tomatoes, wild asparagus) as well as fresh seafood - try the stuffed sardines or pasta ai frutti di mare or octopus. You won’t be disappointed .
Frutti di mare
While you are walking around don’t forget to pop your head in a doorway or two. You will be surprised how different the exteriors are from the interiors. The doorway pictured was in the middle of the Mercato del Capo. Who would’ve thought that inside was a beautiful baroque interior.
All in all we enjoyed Palermo immensely. We found the people to be warm and welcoming, and are looking forward to going back.
Stay tuned for our next trip to other parts of Sicily!