Fans of The Godfather will adore Palermo, with its gangster types walking around in three-piece suits and trilby hats. In fact, Corleone, the actual base for the Sicilian mafia and the inspiration for the central family in Mario Puzo’s best-seller, is just over an hour’s drive from Palermo and features an excellent Mafia museum. Palermo is also close to Mondello, a stylish resort where you can lounge on the sandy beach and enjoy views of Mount Pellegrino. But if you’ve only got a day to spend, here’s what we suggest you do:
Start your whirlwind tour of Palermo at Palazzo Reale
or Palazzo dei Normanni, at Piazza Indipendenza, an imposing Norman palace that houses the Cappella Palatina, a gleaming 12th-century chapel full of gold mosaics. Not far from the palace, on Corso Vittorio Emanuele, you’ll find the Cattedrale
a patchwork of the kind of architectural styles you might expect in a city colonised by everyone from the Arabs and Normans to the Spaniards and Romans. Before you stop for lunch, wander down to the Quattro Canti - literally the four corners - where Palermo’s two main streets intersect. The corners are decorated with Baroque fountains and statues of the four seasons, kings of Spain, and the four saints of Palermo (Agata, Cristina, Ninfa, and Olivia, in case you’re wondering).
You really must try the street food when you’re in Palermo. Sicilian specialties include arancine (rice balls filled with meat sauce or ham and cheese), pane e pannelle (sandwich of fried pancakes of chick-pea flour), granite, and cannoli. For the gastronomically adventurous, there’s pane con la milza or pane ca’ meusa, a soft bread roll filled with fried spleen and sufficiently sustaining to keep you going through an afternoon’s hectic sightseeing. The Teatro Massimo
opera house is Italy’s biggest theater and the third-biggest in Europe. Established in 1875, it stages performances from operas to ballets and concerts. Take a guided tour or enjoy a matinee. Another architectural standout is the remarkable Pretorio fountain, on Piazza Pretoria, a dramatic creation of pagan gods, allegories, and animal heads that was designed originally for a Florentine villa in 1554 and dubbed the Fountain of Shame because of the statues’ nudity.
Take a break from your cultural explorations with a trawl through a neighbourhood market. The Mercato del Capo on Via Sant'Agostino offers a wonderful collection of overloaded food stalls crammed into the atmospheric alleyways of the Capo area. The feel is more laid-back at Sapori e dei Saperi della Legalità at Piazza Castelnuovo, where you can drool over gourmet delights harvested from land confiscated from the mafia. Good options to take home include extra-virgin olive oil, wine, and honey.
Let your hair down with some top-class football (calcio) at the Stadio Renzo Barbera
, one of the most evocative stadiums in world football. Palermitanos are passionate about their team, so don’t miss the opportunity to watch a match while you’re here. You really should buy one of the neon-pink replica shirts too - and take plenty of photos of the hardcore fans’(ultras') inventive pre-match choreography and pyrotechnics. If you’re in the mood for celebrating post-match, visit La Champagneria del Massimo, a buzzing little bar with outdoor seats facing the Teatro Massimo, scene of the shoot-out at the climax of the Godfather Trilogy.