Where to go in Sicily ? On the slopes of Monte Caputo lays the town of Monreale. It is only a short drive from Palermo and is certainly worth a day trip during your Sicily tour.
The road to Monreale runs through the beautiful valley called “La Conca d’Oro” (“The Golden Shell”) with its orange and olive groves. In the town center, you will find many stalls selling bright yellow lemons, juicy oranges, tasty almonds and other local seasonal produce.
Monreale is famous for its stunning cathedral, one of the greatest displays of Norman architecture. The legend has it that one morning in 1174 King William II known in those days as “The Good” fell asleep under a carob tree and Virgin Mary appeared to him in his dream saying that there was a great gold treasure buried under the tree. She told William II to use the gold to build a new church. And so he did.
To build the cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary the king employed the best Arabic, Byzantine and Norman craftsmen with splendid results: the captivating blend of architectural styles and religious symbols continues to astonish centuries after the church was built. Marble floors, 6,500m² of golden mosaics depicting saints, angels and kings, lavish ornate columns – the cathedral was built to impress. Today Duomo di Monreale is one of the top tourist attractions in Sicily.
Although the cathedral steals the show, the ruins of castle of Monreale built in the 11th century is another fascinating place to see. It sits almost 800 metres above sea level and boasts breathtakingly beautiful views of the surrounding valleys and mountains.
Make sure you take a stroll around the old town center to see many baroque churches and elegant old palaces.
After a day of sightseeing gorging on delicious local food is a “must”. There are a few good pizza places and restaurants in Monreale. For a hearty plate of pasta alla norma or “falsomagro siciliano” (a type of meatloaf stuffed with eggs and cheese) head to “Taverna del Pavone”. For typical couscous with fish or simple seafood dishes a small local restaurant “Piccolo Rifugio” (P.zza Vittorio Emanuele, 38) is an excellent choice.
Photos by: Fernando García, Alain Tougas, Andrew Stillman.