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Hidden gems of Sicily: Scicli

Even the Madonna rides a horse in this World Heritage town

Horses, baroque palaces and an exceptional landscape.

Horses, baroque palaces and an exceptional landscape.

Baroque churches are ubiquitous all over Sicily.Baroque churches are ubiquitous all over Sicily.

This year I was asked to preside over the jury to choose the most beautifully flower-covered horse in the Cavalcata di San Giuseppe in Scicli, a town which got its World Heritage status in 2002, a process I was pleased to be involved in.

I was told that only a few horses would compete but when the day came over 400 paraded down the baroque town. “But this is a small city,” I told the mayor. “Well, around 1,000 horses are registered at the municipality, but we know there are close to 4,000 (not counting the donkeys, mules, etc.). After all, even our Madonna rides a horse!” he said.

Yes, the famous Madonna of Scicli is dressed as a soldier and rides a horse, quite unique in the world. The legend says that when the Normans were trying to retake the city, Our Lady came down on a white horse to defend the Christians. The feast of the Madonna delle Milizie is one of the many amazing celebrations held in this city.

The famous Madonna of Scicli is dressed as a soldier and rides a horse.The famous Madonna of Scicli is dressed as a soldier and rides a horse.

Yet, up to a few years ago Scicli was hardly on the tourist map. It had no hotel. It was considered a nice, small town but mostly known for the very long sandy beach eight kilometres away from the historic centre.

Unesco World Heritage recognition and its appearance in the Commissario Montalbano series has changed all that. Montalbano is often seen in his car in the main street (which is really pedestrian) and his office is the office of the mayor, which can be visited. Today Sicli boasts a growing tourism with a number of hotels and lodgings. The amount of churches, convents and palaces to visit is endless and you will not see them all. The main street is full of visitors over the weekend. The fact that the airport of Comiso is so close adds to its attraction.

It does help that the food, especially the sweets, are excellent (as in all Sicily). The main local sweet is the Testa del Turco and what a delight it is. Food varies but prices are still so low. The people are very friendly. The city centre is very pedestrian friendly and one can easily admire the baroque churches and palaces that line it. The city is two steps away from more World Heritage sites, which include Modica and Ragusa, all with their magnificent palaces and churches.

‘Head of the Turks’ – the main local sweet.‘Head of the Turks’ – the main local sweet.

Scicli has something special. Maybe because it is a friendly small town where everything is within walking distance. Certainly it is a great place where to relax and enjoy the local scene. And if you want a fantastic beach, it is also so close by.

Air Malta flies to Comiso, a 30-minute flight. It is easy to drive to Comiso, though GPS is quite necessary. I stay at Hotel Novecento, a renovated baroque palace in great style, where breakfast is full of good local goodies. Scicli is full of restaurants and cafes but my favourite is the Millenium where you can see the locals walk about and imagine Montalbano at your table. The seafood pasta is beyond excellent and for €10 in the evening you can drink and have a good taste of local products. The most excellent sweet must-have is at Antonio Giannone.

The flower-dressed horses.The flower-dressed horses.

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