I'd never quite understood the appeal of "winter sun". Obviously, having spent half my life in Goa and the other in Dubai (two places where you really have no opportunity to ever miss the sun!) the idea of picking a warm holiday destination in winter seemed a bit counterintuitive. Aren't winter breaks all about ski resorts?
Well, a few grey weeks in London have quickly made me see the appeal :) So a flight to Sicily just after the Christmas festivities wound up was very welcome.
Having spent a few days in Venice during a previous December, I am also a firm favourite of Italy in winter. No crowded roads, no cruise trippers and no queues to get in anywhere... just my kind of holiday! Yes, you may have to contend with a few closed restaurants and shops, but who needs those when the vistas are so stunningly beautiful and the food and wine in the local trattoria are plentiful and delicious!
And there's plenty to be said for the friendliness of the locals too... the sunniness definitely extends to the people :)
Add to this an easy charm and style and Sicily has shot up my list of winter breaks. After all, there are only a few places in Europe where you would be able to do any of this in the dead of winter! Like...
Enjoy a coffee and canolli in an orange-scented courtyard for brekkie
With their sweet cottony filling offset by a biscuity crunch, the canolli you find in Sicily are nothing like their gigantic cousins that appear on many an Italian-American menu. Just petite enough to delight without making you feel like you need to run a marathon to burn them off, there's nothing quite like starting your day with a little canolli and an aromatic cappuchino enjoyed in a sun dappled courtyard bursting with citrus fruit - heaven! I enjoyed mine in the courtyard of Gagliardi Boutique Hotel in the drop-dead gorgeous Baroque jewel, Noto.
Follow a fresh seafood lunch with a walk on the beach in the middle of winter
With the glittering Mediterranean Sea forming a breathtaking backdrop, Scala dei Turchi or "Ladder of the Turks" is the perfect spot to grab lunch after exploring the world-class Greek temples at nearby Agrigento. With fresh oysters, king prawns and flaky grilled fish accompanied by fine local wines, the seafront Lido Scala dei Turchi restaurant is definitely the place to see and be seen on a weekend trip to Realmonte. Even the waiter wore a Louis Vuitton scarf! And the best bit? A walk along the glowing shore as the sun dips over the horizon.
Order a carafe of wine and sip it on the sidewalk as you wait for your table
Bisso Bistrot in Palermo knows how to keep their customers happy. They may not take any bookings but you can order a carafe of local wine to help you wile away the time until you get seated for dinner - and you can carry it out onto the street and savour it along with views of Palermo's best known intersection Quattro Canti - a pedestrianised cross road that links the city's four localities and is adorned with beautiful buildings featuring four Sicilian kings, the city's four patron saints and statues of the four seasons.
The cosy bistrot offers a generous menu of local specialties. I tried their version of the classic Sicilian dish Involtini di pesce spada - or stuffed swordfish rolls - followed by another island favourite, the cassata cake. Suffice to say, I didn't go to bed hungry!
Where's your favourite winter sun destination?
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