CHIAVARI, Italy - As I sit here by the window this morning watching the rain, my mind keeps pulling me to sunny Sicily. This happens a lot this time of year. I used to think it was because I lived in Milan where early spring days can be cloudy or foggy and a bit on the chilly side. But I don’t live there anymore. There is something else going on here and I think I know what it is.
“Go to Noto,” wrote the Sicilian writer Gesualdo Bufalino, “it is a place where if one happens to come in, he is trapped and happy and never goes away.” What he wrote is true, but not entirely. Bufalino only wrote about Noto casting a spell on the unsuspecting visitor, but the truth is it happens no matter where in Sicily you are.
The danger is real. Sicily truly is a magical place, but once you go there the spirit of the island creeps into your soul and stays with you forever. Those of you who have been to Sicily know that this is true, and for those of you who have yet to set foot on this magical island, well, don’t say you weren’t warned.
If you are one of the lucky ones going to Sicily this summer, here’s a list of festivals you might not want to miss.
World Festival on the Beach in Mondello. This event is usually held the second week of May (dates vary). Celebrated is everything from windsurfing to sailing, beach volleyball, music and golf.
Infiorata and Baroque Spring Festival in Noto – third weekend in May. Check the schedule for the Primavera Barocca to verify the date. The highlight of the Festival is the display of flower designs local artists create along Via Nicolaci. The Festival closes with a 18th century Baroque procession, with everyone in spectacular costumes.
Festa di San Giorgio in Ragusa on the last Sunday of May. Dates vary for this event. This is a great time to visit the illuminated Ragusa-Ibla. There’s music and fireworks and a moving procession as the statue of St. George is carried around the city.
Greek Tragedies in Syracuse. In May and June the Greek dramas are performed in their original site, Syracuse’s Greek amphitheater. You don’t have to understand Greek to enjoy it, as it is the atmosphere that makes this a unique event!
Carretti Siciliani in Taromina on Fridays (also in September and October). You will most likely see decorated Carretto Siciliano (native horse carts) as you travel around Sicily, and this festival celebrates the brightly colored carts, the drivers and the horses.
Taormina Film Fest. In the second week of June the Film Fest opens the summer season of the Greco-Roman amphitheater. It starts with the world premiere of a film and then you can enjoy some of the newest movies of the year which are presented in Taormina’s splendid ancient theatre with its spectacular views of the sea and Mount Etna.
Taormina Arte – from June to September there are rock, pop and classical concerts, opera, dance and theatre performances daily as national and international stars perform in the splendid setting of Taromina’s famous Roman theatre.
Festa di San Paolo in Palazzolo Acreide takes place on June 29th. The festivities in honor of Saint Paul last for three days, there are masses, processions, concerts of light music and fireworks.
Festa di Santa Rosalia in Palermo - 10-15 July. Santa Rosalia is the patron saint of Sicily’s capital. The event includes processions, festivals, plays and fireworks
La Scala Illuminata in Caltagirone - 24-25 July and 14-15 August. This is one of the more famous festivals in Sicily. The event celebrates St. James, the patron saint of the city and the famous ceramic stair of Caltagirone is lit with lanterns in his honor.
Kals'Art Festival in Palermo – mid July to mid September. A two month long festival of young European artists: exhibitions, videos, paintings and installations. Performances in the streets, parks and piazzas of Palermo’s Kalsa quarter.
Sagra del Pesce in Giardini-Naxos - every weekend in July and August in the small port "Saja". Fishermen, music and folklore bring back the colorful atmosphere of the small fishing village of Giardini-Naxos. A great opportunity to eat excellent fish and drink local wine and enjoy an afternoon in the Sicily that was.
Festa di San Sebastiano in Palazzolo Acreide. Starting on August 10th there are three days of festivities in honor of Saint Sebastian. Masses are said, there are colorful processions and concerts of lights, music and spectacular fireworks.
Madonna della Luce in Cefalu’- 13-14 August. Nighttime boat procession off the coast from Kalura to the old harbor.
I Giganti in Messina – 13-15 August. The Passeggiata di Giganti is Messina's biggest celebration of the year. Mata and Grifone the Moor, the mythical founders of the city, are celebrated with a parade of floats and music.
Palio dei Normanni in Piazza Amerina (Enna) – 14-15 August. One of Sicily’s most spectacular events, and definitely worth seeing. The Palio includes Medieval and Renaissance equestrian games and shows, costumed processions and parades. The event, a competition of horsemanship and knightly combat, remembers the Norman invaders who ousted the Arabs from Sicily. Participants in full costume act out the entrance of the Norman Count Roger I to the city. There's also music, dancing and horse trials that make for a great day's entertainment. The Palio dei Normanni is one of Sicily’s oldest events.
Maritime Festival in Syracuse. This is a rowing regatta held off the shore of Ortigia, a small island connected to Syracuse.
Madonna della Luce in Mistretta - 7-8 September. This religious event includes a procession of two enormous warriors following the statue of the Madonna around town. There are floats, plays and costumed participants.
Couscous Fest in San Vito Lo Capo – end of September, date can vary. This is a gastronomic feast with plenty of opportunities to sample North African cuisine. One week music, dance and plenty of couscous, prepared by chefs from all over the world.
ViniMilo in Milo - first 2 weeks. Wine festival at the slopes of Mount Etna - guided wine tastings, workshops, themed dinners, visits to wineries.
Be sure to confirm the dates before you go - things (like dates) can be flexible in Italy and Sicily.