Italy

Sicily

Shutterstock/40541452/Francesco83Sicily is a sly seductress. You’ll fall for her – everyone does – but she won’t make it easy. First impressions are intense, but paradoxical: beautiful and brutal, anarchic and serene, exuberant and insular, the island resists all easy definitions. Complex, yes – but also infinitely beguiling.

The Greeks, the first of a long line of foreign rulers, loved Sicily best. They built their cities as though their civilization would last forever – even now, their ancient ruins are breathtaking. The Arabs’ subtle legacy is felt in the islanders’ generous hospitality and its rich cuisine, and the Normans left golden cathedrals at Monreale and Cefalù.

Tragically for Sicily, everyone else – from the Romans to the Bourbons – was out for what they could get. Grinding poverty, institutionalized corruption and Cosa Nostra have taken a heavy toll. But a renaissance is underway: the historic centres of Palermo and Syracuse are being slowly restored; great swathes of the glorious landscape are now protected in nature reserves; and grassroots organizations have found the collective courage to stand up against the Mafia. There’s a heady sense of hope in the air – just one more reason to fall a little more in love.

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