Dermott Brereton loved Sicily. Far from being a place of men in black suits saying, "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse", its beauty truly captivated him. It has fantastic weather, an attractive landscape, big busy cities and wonderful little villages. Apart from all of that, the food totally won him over.
Sicily is the largest and most heavily populated island in the Mediterranean, and Dermott started his journey in the capital, Palermo.
Dermott soon got into the locals' form of breakfast brioche dipped in coffee-flavoured granita with cream on top.
Il Capo, the most prosperous and prestigious of Palermo's quarters, is home of Teatro Massimo, one of Europe's largest opera theatres. Designed by Gian Battista Basile in 1868, works began in 1891. It was dedicated to King Victor Emanuel II with a performance of Verdi's Falstaff, the first of many magnificent performances.
While Palermo has worked hard to shake off its Mafia associations, Teatro Massimo hasn't helped. For film-lovers who saw Godfather III, the theatre's steps are where Don Corleone's daughter was slain.
After 20 years of neglect, it was renovated and reopened in 1997, bringing new life to Palermo. To attend a performance there is a memorable experience.
On the other side of the coin, also memorable is a visit to an open-air market. A cacophony of sights, sounds and smells, they are stocked with fruits, vegetables, cheeses, fish and meats displayed under coloured tarpaulins. They're good places to practise your Italian either verbally or by using your hands.
Four hours from Palermo, across the top of Sicily, is Taormina, a ritzy and touristy coastal town. Built on top of Monte Taura, it overlooks the sea and a cable car connects it to the beach. It has much history and beauty.
Taormina's Teatro Greco was built there in 300 BC and transformed by the Romans into an amphitheatre used for gladiator fights.
Pleasant days can be spent exploring remnants of Greek and Roman habitation, its medieval quarter and castle ruins, as well as modern shops and restaurants. Stop at Café Wunderbar in the town square for a coffee and beautiful views.
Eighty kilometres east of Palermo, the hilltop farming area of Pettineo is a fabulous place to experience local culture. Luca Catalfamo's family has been working their 12-hectare citrus and olive farm since the 17th century.
Casa Migliaca, the farm's stone-walled house, has been adapted to become a farm hotel. The ground floor is the original nucleus of the house and has the Oil Mill lounge and four sleeping rooms. Beautiful porches encircle the house and the south side is used for summer dining. The west and north sides are perfect on hot afternoons.
Sicilian cuisine is prepared by Signora Teresa and meals are shared by the owners and guests at a round table where Italian, English and French are spoken, and everyone seems to understand everyone else. It seems the signora's fabulous food breaks down all barriers. Perfecto!
Sicily, off the "toe" of Italy.
For further information
Ph: :+39 0921 336 722
Fax:+39 0921 391 107
Italian Government Tourist Office
Level 4, 46 Market Street
Ph: (02) 9262 1666
Fax: (02) 9262 1677
Visas: Australians don't need a visa to enter Italy for stays of up to 90 days.
Electricity: Standard voltage is 220V. Power points have two or three holes, and plugs are the European standard with two or three round pins.
Time zone: GMT +1.
Currency: The euro which is divided into 100 cents.
Telephone code: +39.
"Without Sicily, Italy cannot be fully understood. It is here one finds the key to all things." Goethe, German writer 1749-1832
Travellers should be "in date" for the standard Australia and New Zealand immunisation schedules. Depending on the time of year of travel and exact destination, other health precautions and preventions may be recommended and are best discussed with your doctor. For further information, visit www.welltogo.com.au or www.smartraveller.gov.au.