Italy - Sicily
As Italy's largest region, Sicily is an island of breathtaking natural beauty and of striking contrasts. From the snow-topped peak of Mount Etna, to the wonderful stretches of coastline, this sun-blessed island has been luring visitors for centuries. The invading Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Normans have all left their marks, resulting in a fascinating blend of classical temples, cathedrals and ancient ruins all waiting to be discovered.
Take time to enjoy the magical view from Piazza IX Aprile in Taormina.
Sicilian cuisine is made up of a mixture of different cultural traditions, with elements from Greek and Arab cuisines still used. The cuscus alla trapanese is a traditional North Africa speciality, made with grains of couscous and seafood, whilst the pasta con le sarde is one of the most famous Sicilian dishes, using fresh sardines and wild fennel. The signature pasta dish, pasta alla norma, recalls the Norman past, and is a delicious tomato-based sauce, with aubergines and grated salted ricotta.
When it comes to seet snacks and desserts, Sicily excels. Try the cassata, made from sponge cake filled with ricotta, sugar, chocolate and candied fruit. Also not to be missed are the deliciosuly sweet cannoli, brandy snap, sweet ricotta filled rolls which are sold in confectioner's shops all over the island. The lemon-flavoured granite ices are perfect for cooling off on a hot day, whilst the torricini, almond nougat, is well worth sampling. There are many wonderful preserves on offer, made from the citrus fruits grown on the island, which, as well as the fragrant honey, all make welcome gifts.
In Taormina, the Via Corso Umberto 1 is home to a range of stylish boutiques, souvenir and antique shops, whilst the narrow streets of medieval Cefalu reveal many shops speciailisting in Sicilian handicrafts. Ceramics in particular are worthy of note; the elaborately decorated 19th century tiles in light blues and greens can be used as a decorative addition to any room, whilst the many terracotta pieces available are still made by local craftsman and make interesting souvenirs.