The Province of Palermo
Palermo, la vecchia signora, is an experienced beauty who refuses to give up. Through the centuries, or rather the millennia, she has seen countless conquerors. Some have enriched her, most have plundered her. They have, however, all left their significant mark on her, in the form of cuisine, buildings, and culture. To name a few, the Romans, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks and Saracenian moors have all been here and left their distinct contribution to the region. Surrounded by mountains she rests like a jewel in her Mediterranean bay.
Foreigners thinking about settling down in the city tend to worry about the Mafia. These worries are no longer necessary, for the Cosa Nostra does not cast the same menacing shadow over the city like they did in the 80s and 90s, before the legal system finally put a stop to the families of Corleone and their reign of terror by arresting il capo di tutti capi, Toto Riina. It is also worth noting that the tourism has never been a target for the Mafia. It has instead been regarded as an important source of revenue that is not to be disturbed.
Palermo invites you to explore her. This will require some effort on your part though. Menus tend to be in Italian only (or even Sicilian) and waiters and other service personnel speaking English is far from a given. However, the smallest attempt from you to communicate in Italian will usually be rewarded with a ‘Bravo!’ and a smile.
If you are the type of person who appreciates the unpredictable in life and see opportunities rather than adversity, Palermo is the city for you. And if you put in the work, you will be rewarded with a city of unparalleled beauty and joy. Roberto Alajmo’s lovely book on Palermo is called Palermo è una cipolla, or Palermo is an onion. Because just when you think that you have gotten a grasp on the city, you find another layer.
Further east in the Province you find the twin cities of Termini Imerese and Cefalù. Located at opposite ends of Golfo di Termini Imerese, they serve as a great example of the contradicting nature of the region. Both have a rich history stretching back to the centuries B.C, and both had long sandy beaches where the fishermen stored their boats up until the 1950’s. When industrialization finally reached Sicily however, Fiat wanted to build a car plant, and the power company Enel wanted to build a power plant somewhere in the region. The two cities began deliberating over how to proceed. Termini Imerese felt that tourism would bring vice and topless swimmers from the north, so they turned their beach into a huge dock for the shipping of cars and began building the Fiat factory. Cefalù decided that some vice was bearable in exchange for the tourism income, and today it serves as one of the quaintest, tourism-friendly seaside cities Sicily has to offer. Fiat left the region some years ago, and today the factory remains vacant.
It would be unfair to stop the description of Termini Imerese there. For where Cefalù undoubtedly is the more tourism adapted of the two, Termini has a lot of the same things to offer. There is a beautiful medieval city centre divided, like many other Sicilian towns, into an upper and lower section, where the upper section offers a promenade with views over the entire town and the Mediterranean. There is also a true roman aqueduct running through the upper part, as well as a stone beach where the lower part ends. A cappuccino costs about half as much there as it does in Cefalù, and the same goes for houses and apartments. So if you want an affordable property on the Sicilian coast, Termini is not a bad choice.
Speaking of contrasts, for those who want to go skiing in the morning and swimming in the afternoon, the Province of Palermo has you covered. It houses the nature reserve of Madonie filled with tall mountains and valleys, slightly inland in the province. The area is home to the adorable mountain towns of Petralia Sottana and Petralia Soprana, well over a thousand meters above sea level with mountain views to match. Even higher is the ski resort of Piano Battaglia, with a lift and several slopes. So in December, it is truly possible to practice winter and summer sports during the same day, but you will have to live with the sea being around 18 C warm.