Welcome to our world of gelati, granite and cremolate
It’s crazy to think anyone would plan a holiday in Sicily based on ice-cream, but who doesn’t give a little whoop of joy at the thought of everyone flocking from far and wide for a scoop of gelato from your local gelateria! Sicilians take their gelati very seriously and even if you’re not a mad ice-cream fan, we suspect you’ll struggle to resist this frozen treat.
Historically, gelato was probably first introduced to Sicily by the Arabs and was more of a granita than a creamy ice cream. Mount Etna came in handy as, with no refrigeration, Sicilians cooled their drinks and froze their desserts in the stored winter snow and ice from the volcano. But by the 1600’s, life had moved on and Sicilian ice-cream making had progressed to the creation of granitas, sorbets and ‘sorbetti con crema’.
Creamy ice-cream or fruity granita?
Today, Sicilian ice-cream comes in many guises so it’s wise to sort out the difference between gelato, granita and cremolata before you hit the local gelateria. Sicilian gelato is still slightly different from the ice-cream you’ll find elsewhere in Italy. Typically, it’s made without cream or eggs, instead blending milk, sugar and corn starch. People also get confused between granita and cremolata. The main difference is that while granita, the more popular of the two in Sicily, is a mixture of frozen water, sugar and fresh fruit juice, cremolata uses pureed fruit pulp rather than juice, leaving the fruit more visible.
Ice-cream for breakfast anyone?
It sounds like everyone’s idea of heaven. Starting your day with a gelato con brioscia, a dollop of smooth freshly-made gelato scooped into a soft, sweet roll, is uniquely Sicilian. That’s not to say, however, that ice-cream eating is limited to breakfast. In fact, it continues all day, a natural refreshment from the summer heat and a sociable way to spend the evening.
So what about flavours, and even more important, where are the best Sicilian gelaterie? The truth is that you’ll find good ice-cream wherever you stay in Sicily, but we’ve picked out a few of our favourite hotspots.
Al Cassaro, Palermo
The ice-cream makers at award-winning Gelateria Al Cassaro, conveniently situated near the Quattro Canti in Palermo, make full use of classic flavours such as fig and watermelon or almonds from Avola. You’ll also find some particularly zingy combos such as orange, ginger and cinnamon. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, choose from a selection of villas in and around Palermo.
Gelateria Vernaci, Terrasini
The seaside town of Terrasini, just a short drive from Palermo airport, already has a bit of a reputation as a foodie haven, and its ice-cream offering is just as good. Amongst the best gelaterie is the Gelateria Vernaci where frozen yoghurt – including Oreo, coconut and Cookies flavours – is one more temptation. The gelateria also has branches in Castellammare del Golfo and, its newest addition, in Marsala. See Villa Giacona Venuti which has a private pool and direct sea access.
Fuitina Gelateria, Patti
If you find it hard to choose between a gelato or a dessert, wait till you get to Fuitina. Set on the seafront at Patti Marina in the northeast, Fuitina attracts as much attention for its irresistible cakes and pastries as its ice-cream. Trays of ricotta-filled cannoli and exquisite handcrafted bite-size pastries vie for space alongside its ‘peanut and crunchy crumble’ gelato.
Gelaterie in southeast Sicily
Exploring the extraordinary towns in southeast Sicily in the heat of the summer is best done in the evening and a refreshing gelato makes that early evening passeggiata even sweeter. In the city of Syracuse where ice-cream competition is fierce, Gelateria Fiordilatte is legendary. Grab a regular cone or tub or instead, linger over an ice-cream topped dessert in a restaurant-style setting.
In Noto, follow the locals to the Caffé Sicilia where an almond gelato or a lemon and blackberry granita are big favourites. Alternatively, head for Caffé Adamo in Modica where the pistachios are ground on site and the chocolate as dark as can be. If you’ve never tasted a cremolata, try to squeeze one into your ice-cream schedule here.
Looking for a villa within easy reach of all the towns of the Val di Noto? See Rocca di Pietra, a beautifully-restored 6-bedroom home with private pool.