Sicily's Stunning Mosaics

Italy is home to a number of important Byzantine mosaic masterpieces, most famously in Rome's Church of Santa Cecilia, Venice's Basilica of Saint Mark, and San Vitale and Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna. The extent of the Byzantine Empire was not limited to mainland Italy in the 6th century AD, however, but extended across the Strait of Messina to include Sicily, as well.

monreale-sicily-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Byzantine influences can be seen in some of the most stunning Norman churches in Sicily, and breathtaking mosaics decorate a number of churches and cathedrals in and around Palermo. The most famous of these are in the Cathedral of Monreale, home to the largest cycle of Byzantine mosaics in Italy. The interior of this imposing Norman church is almost entirely covered with ornate mosaics, and it is estimated that craftsmen from Constantinople used over 2,200 kilograms of gold to make the 100 million tessarae (individual tiles) featured in these magnificent works.
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Sicily's Traditional Baglio Farmstays

In the decades since the early 1990's, Italy's countryside has seen a revolution with the explosion of the agriturismo, or farmstay. An agriturismo is a working farm which offers accommodations and/or meals to tourists in rural areas across Italy, and can include hospitality in anything from rustic self-catering farmhouses to full service luxury relais. Conceived as a way to counteract the large scale abandonment of historic farms in post-war Italy by giving rural populations an alternative source of revenue, the agriturismo has been one of the most important evolutions in tourism in Italy in the past half century.

farmstay-sicily-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Though farmstays dot Italy's landscape, like all things Italian, they differ widely by region. From the wooden alpine baita in the north to Puglia's stately stone masseria, most agriturismi reflect the surrounding rural architecture and local agricultural traditions, so a stay in one can be a unique window into the authentic and rapidly disappearing culture of the countryside.

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Three Unforgettable Sicily Food Experiences

We have always been in love with this unique island and its culture and cuisine. During a recent visit on the hunt for new experiences and accommodations for our travelers, we were reminded of a few of our favorites: granita, Donna Fugata wines, and a fish market lunch.

granita-pistacchio-limone(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)
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Sicilian Sweets at La Pasticceria Maria Grammatico

Italy is a country of unique regions, stitched together in a patchwork of individual histories and cultures. Nowhere is this more evident than Sicily, both a region and an island, and so different from mainland Italy from its dialect to its cuisine that it sometimes feels like a separate country altogether.

view-from-eric-sicily-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Italy via Flickr)

Take the island's famous pastries and desserts, dramatically different from those in the rest of Italy and influenced by Sicily's millenia of contact with seafaring cultures from across the globe. Almonds, oranges, and spices arrived from the Middle East and the Orient, cocoa beans from the New World, and Sicily's own shepherds provided the fresh ricotta that the island's nuns used to develop some of Europe's most luscious pastries.

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Sicily and the Ancient Greeks: Sites to Visit

Most travelers to Italy who want to take a stroll backward in time thousands of years to the Classical period make a bee-line to Rome. Famous for the quality and concentration of its architectural monuments and ruins, both in the city itself and in outlying Tivoli, Herculaneum, and Pompeii, Rome admittedly remains the Caput Mundi of archaeology.

Selinunte(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

It is wise to remember, however, that though Roman civilization once included the entire Italian peninsula—indeed, much of Europe—leaving spectacular remains in the most far-flung and unlikely corners of Italy, from tiny towns in central Italy (Gubbio’s Roman amphitheater comes to mind), to the bustling northern cities (Verona’s Roman sites are a pleasant surprise for many visitors), and southern sea ports (Gnatia in Puglia is the Pompeii of the Adriatic), Rome itself was heir to a vast and complex Mediterranean civilization: Classical Greece. Read More...

Caravaggio in Sicily

If you think that Charlie Sheen has a corner on the bad boy-slash-artistic genius market, think again. Centuries before temperamental Hollywood actors were trashing hotel rooms and scandalizing the morally upstanding,16th century Baroque painter Caravaggio was blazing the trail of high-profile excess and brawling, a route which led from Rome to Naples to Malta to Sicily and back to Naples as he sought to keep a step ahead of the law and his personal enemies. Read More...

Sicily’s Cous Cous Fest

One of the most well-known food festivals in Italy (and certainly in Sicily) is the annual Cous Cous Fest, held every year in late September in the pretty beach town of San Vito Lo Capo on Sicily’s western shore. Read More...

Top 10 Italian Holiday Experiences: Brian and Maria Gabriella's Picks

Trying to plan a trip to Italy and just don’t know where to start? Everyone has their favorite cities, restaurants, hotels and sights to recommend (contact us and we'll tell you ours), but here are 10 Italian holiday experiences around the country that you just can’t miss. In a country full of perfect 10s, the following are in no particular order.

#1 Italian Holiday Experience: Roma! Roma! Roma! - Ancient Rome


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

At the heart of modern-day Rome, the ruins of the ancient Roman capital are remarkably preserved despite the 4 million visitors who walk the 2600-year-old paths each year. But Rome is not the only place to find traces of the ancient civilization (Pompeii is a perfect day trip!), and Rome today is far more than a city built on ancient relics. Walking the streets, you’re greeted with the most majestic architecture and art from every period of Italian history and the vibrancy of a modern capital.

#2 Italian Holiday Experience: Rinascimento - Renaissance Florence


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

Florence may be small compared to bustling Rome, but the capital of Renaissance culture packs in so many sights that you can spend eight hours wandering four blocks and still not see everything. Though Florence is home to the grand art collections of the Uffizi and the Accademia (home to Michelangelo's David), other cities in Tuscany and further afield in Umbria (Perugia) and Le Marche (Urbino) hold equally lauded but less visited collections.

#3 Italian Holiday Experience: Venezia - A One of a Kind City


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

Often imitated but never copied, Venice remains - despite the hype, the masses of tourists, and the commercialization - a magically unique place. Where else in the world . . . is a major modern city completely devoid of motorized vehicles? . . . are "roads" sometimes only wide enough for one person? . . . was home to Casanova? Like few other cities in Italy, walking through Venice transports you to another time.

#4 Italian Holiday Experience: Sicilia - Crossroads of Cultures


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

While we often say that Italy has it all, the Mediterranean's largest island has it all in one place. Ancient ruins, Byzantine cathedrals, and Islamic architecture dot the landscape, while the flavors of all of Sicily's past rulers mix with the island's rich agricultural produce to create a singular cuisine. Throw in a volcano, hundreds of miles of coastline with beaches and diving, and verdant hiking trails, and you've got Sicily.

#5 Italian Holiday Experience: Mangiare e bere! The Food


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

There is something about Italian food that you can never replicate at home - the incredibly fresh, picked-at-the-peak-of-ripeness, seasonal vegetables. In Italy, the phenomenon called "farm to table" is not a fad, but a basic way of life. And don't forget the wine! (Not that the Italians would let you.) Even low-priced table wines and house wines are high-quality and often organic.

#6 Italian Holiday Experience: Italiani! - The Italians



Image: © Concierge in Umbria


All of the things that we love about Italy are made possible by the Italians themselves. Their passion. Their conviction. Their love of beauty for beauty’s sake. And their fervent desire to point you to the absolute best gelato, pasta, or whatever you are looking for. The Italians are great hosts and are one of the warmest and funniest peoples of the world. Recommendations by and conversations with Italians will take your trip to the next level.

#7 Italian Holiday Experience: I Panorama - The Views!


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

Italy’s peninsula (justly often called “the boot”) stretches from the Alps down to the volcanic peaks of Sicily’s Mt. Etna, benefiting from 4722 miles of coastline along the way. From the ski and hiking resorts of the Dolomites like Cortina d’Ampezzo to the rolling hills of Tuscany to the cities built into sheer cliffs along the Tyrrhenian Sea, like the UNESCO World Heritage Cinque Terre and the star-studded Amalfi coast, Italy has a view to soothe anyone’s soul.

#8 Italian Holiday Experience: Lo Shopping - Art, Clothes, and Ceramics, Oh My!


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

You may come to Italy for the art or the food, but don't forget to leave time to bring your favorite things home with you. For quality, Italy is unparalleled. For clothes, you can score Italy's top fashion brands at deep, deep discounts at outlet malls outside major cities. To decorate your home, pick up reproductions of your favorite museum art pieces and scour ceramics shops for unique regional designs and elegant painted serving dishes.

#9 Italian Holiday Experience: Un Pisolino e Una Passeggiata - Lifestyle


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

The afternoon nap (il pisolino) and the evening stroll (la passeggiata) form an integral part of the rhythm of Italian life. The morning is for chatting at a coffee bar, getting fresh vegetables, cheese, and pasta at the market for the highlight of the day – lunch! After a rest or a nap, the whole city takes to the streets for an evening stroll to catching up on gossip and grab a gelato. Italy is all about the pace of life.

#10 Italian Holiday Experience: Che Spettacolo! Fantastic Live Events


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

There is a reason that opera, philosophical dramas, and improvised comedy all have their roots in Italy – the Italians know how to put on a show. Today, you can still experience opera in ornately decorated opera houses with intermissions long enough for a drink and a chat between every act just as Verdi fans did in the 1800s. In the spring and summer, the country comes alive with world-class concerts and music festivals in every city and usable Roman amphitheater.

Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers | Contact Us
Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Italy