A day trip to Ustica

30 July 2017

The longer I make these holiday posts last, the longer I can pretend it wasn't almost a month ago now, right?!

One of our favourite memories from our week in Sicily was our day trip to Ustica - an island about 60km off the coast. It's a favourite summer holiday destination for the people of Palermo and there were plenty arriving on the boat with us, although it was nowhere near as crowded as it apparently gets later on in July and into August. 

Look at that shimmering reflection! This was when we first arrived in Ustica in the morning and the chap below captained our boat home in the afternoon - ciao!

If I was planning the trip again, I'd have booked a hotel on the island itself for a night or two because a day really wasn't enough time for this gorgeous place. The water surrounding Ustica is sparklingly clear and it's hugely popular for snorkelling and scuba diving, which I would love to try. So I would definitely recommend spending at least one night here, particularly to make the slightly expensive ferry fare go that little bit further!

I read that Ustica is actually the tip of a submerged volcano, which made perfect sense particularly on the flamingly hot (for me!) day we visited - when you walk around the island, you can see that the land itself is scattered with volcanic rock dotted with all manner of exotic cactus and stunning hisbiscus flowers.

The best way to explore Ustica is on foot. There are several different walking trails and it's only 8.7 sq km around so it's not the longest distance...although perhaps on a slightly cooler day! Apparently a full circuit of the island takes about 4 hours, although you'd want to stop for breaks en route - you could even break it up over the course of two day if you stay overnight, and that would give you a chance to enjoy a swim in the beautiful sea too.

Our guidebook recommended asking at the tourist office for directions/a map of the walking routes but when we Google-mapped the tourist office, there was no sign of it. We did however find the marine reserve information office, which we wandered into hoping they might have maps of the island that would serve just as well. Inside was the loveliest old Italian man! We can speak very little Italian (I've learned how to say "that was delicious", which I say at every opportunity but apart from a few other food-related phrases, that's it) and he spoke absolutely no English. We managed to communicate what we were looking for and he produced a map, pointing to a few routes that he recommended we try and a lot of other things, which I'm sure were all very interesting indeed but were all in very fast Italian! He came out into the street with us and pointed us on our way to our first walk - to the Rocca della Falconiera, a defensive tower overlooking the sea.

It was only a short walk but it was a very very hot day! The trail leads you first to a lookout point at Punta Omo Morto, where we stopped to reapply some more sunscreen and took in the beautiful views out to sea from one window and inland from another, over the island itself.

You then continue walking further up the path to the Torre Santa Maria, a Bourbon-era tower.

After a few hours enjoying a relaxed lunch, we headed towards the other side of the island - we only had an hour or two left on the island before our ferry was due to leave so we decided to follow a trail that passed through some pine woods to the summit of Guardia di Mezzo. We didn't get a chance to finish the trail but apparently if you followed it further, it descended to a part of the coast where you can swim in natural rock pools.

It was so incredibly beautiful - the air was filled with the smell of hot pine needles and the sound of the cicadas in the trees.

I sat on a rock at one point to have some water while my husband walked on ahead. He disappeared out of sight and I felt like I was the only person for miles around, it was wonderfully peaceful.

Where we ate

Between our first and second hikes, we stopped for some food just off the main square at the Ristorante da Umberto (Piazza della Vittoria 7), which could not have looked more inviting to two very hot, bedraggled English folk with its glorious shaded frontage and regularly-supplied chilled lemon ice tea! 

The staff were so helpful, pointing out the various gluten free options on the menu. Apparently all the seafood on the menu is sourced from the water around Ustica itself and so I decided to go with some octopus to start (just simply chopped, drizzled with olive oil and a fresh squeeze of lemon, and sprinkled with fresh parsley) followed by a pasta course (they had gluten free pasta!) - a spaghetti dish with a local fish that I didn't recognise but was quite meaty in texture. My husband (who isn't coeliac) had a fried local cheese to start which came with a pistachio pesto, and followed this up with some swordfish. It was all so delicious and we stayed there for a few hours hiding from the sun high above us, relaxing and chatting over a few chilled glasses of wine - that's what holidays are for, right?! 

If you planning a visit to Palermo, a visit to Ustica is not to be missed! Have you visited the island before? Did you get a chance to swim while you were there? That's the one thing I'm really sad that we didn't get a chance to do at all this holiday. Time to book another one perhaps...

Wonderful Wednesday 40

26 July 2017

Wednesday seems to have come around quite quickly this week - am I the only one to think so? I've actually been quite organised as well and started writing this on Sunday, noting down little snippets as I think of them rather than frantically wracking my brain the night before. And on that note, here are my highlights from this week...


♥ Another visit to the Harry Potter Studio Tour... I know, I know, it's not really that long ago since I visited it for the first time. You can read my full review here. We have some family visiting from abroad at the moment though and when they suggested a family trip to the studio tour, I couldn't possibly pass it up. Was it just as good this time? Abso-bloody-lutely. I was just as excited knowing what to expect, particularly visiting with people who hadn't been before so that I could see their faces at various parts. Wearing the Ravenclaw t-shirt I'd picked up on my last visit, I watched every video, donned some Ravenclaw robes to pose for a 'have you seen these wizards?' mugshot (perhaps slightly too smilingly but I was very excited) and exclaimed with delight at a bowing Buckbeak. The only thing I didn't partake in this time was the butterbeer - once was definitely too much for that. Once again, if you haven't been yet make sure you add it to your list when you're next in London.

♥ Teeny tiny baby clothes... One of my university friends gave birth to her second child a month ago - a gorgeous boy. I love it when my friends have babies because it gives me the excuse to go shopping for a gift and exclaim over the teeniest little outfits (I'm easily pleased!) I picked up some adorable little leggings covered with foxes, suitable for 0 to 6 months...if only they made them for adults too! Can't wait to see the photos!

♥ Curling up with a scary novel... Not terrifying, mind, but cosily scary. In fact, seasoned horror readers will probably roll their eyes at what is enough to give me the chills. I'm re-reading House of Echoes by Barbara Erskine at the moment - it centres around a woman called Joss Grant, who's an adopted child, who discovers that she's been left the family home - Belheddon - by her birth mother. After moving in with her husband and young son, she discovers that the house is haunted by something dreadful. She hears voices, senses some sort of lurking presence watching her, discovers old diaries revealing that her mother and previous generations were also haunted by this ghostly figure and what's worse, it's a presence which will not tolerate husbands or sons living in the house. It really doesn't matter that I've read it before, it's been a perfect read to curl up in bed with over the course of the last week as the rain has lashed against the windows. Granted, I haven't felt able to venture to the bathroom during the night all week but that's part of the fun, right?!

♥ Rugs, mugs and jugs (oh my!)... On Sunday, the mister and I decided to get the tube to West Hampstead and walk from there to the cinema in Finchley Road where we booked tickets to watch Dunkirk, which was absolutely incredible, definitely go and watch it. Bring tissues though, I stupidly forgot mine. We had a little time to spare before the film started and we decided to pop into Habitat, which had a sale on. I wanted to look at the mugs because we've had a few sad breakages recently and I found the spotty mug of my dreams - perfectly sized and shaped to ensure that you can cosy up with both hands around it, and have a decent amount of tea. Win win. We also spotted a lovely geometric-patterned rug, which was a steal in the sale - a few of our floors are just a little chilly in the winter so I've been keeping my eyes open for rugs for months now. One down, one to go!

♥ Home-made pesto... For perhaps the first time in my life, I've managed to keep a plant alive...even surviving a week alone (in a sink-full of water) when we were on holiday. That plant is a humble little basil plant picked up a few months ago when the supermarket didn't have an individual packet. Over the last few weeks, it's grown to great heights so we decided to pick up some pine nuts this weekend to make up a jar of homemade pesto. It's not something we'd ever tried before but it was surprisingly easy and so satisfying. We had it for dinner on Sunday (with about 3/4 of the jar left over), stirred through some Italian gluten free pasta with a delicious tomato salad on the side. Top tip - use a pestle and mortar rather than a food processor because it helps you to keep track of the texture as you add the basil, otherwise I've read that it can turn into slime before you know it...and no one would find that appetising.

♥ Drumstick Squashies... Now these are ALWAYS appetising. Have you heard of them? They're basically drumstick lollies but without the stick and softer in texture, squishier if you will. All the deliciousness of the drumstick-flavours without the frustrating paper wrapper, which I can never seem to unwrap perfectly. I have to hide them from myself or the pack will have disappeared in about 10 minutes. Give them a go!

♥ Do let me know what's made your week a little rosier by leaving me a comment below or dropping me a tweet (I'm @happygoluckycat) or better yet, why not join the fabulous bunch of #WonderfulWednesday bloggers? Pop over to their blogs for a dose of mid-week happiness - SallyMichelleHelenKateJoSamanthaKerri, LauraSarahPetaElLauraSarahMimmiJasminMartinaLynseyKatieDebbieKelly and Em (I think that's everyone - shout at me if you're not on the list!) - and then join me in counting down the days until the weekend. It's in sight! 

Wonderful Wednesday 39

19 July 2017

Really long time no post, sorry about that! I didn’t realise just how long it had been until I clicked onto the blog dashboard and saw that the last recorded wonderfulness was at the beginning of May. Sometimes life really gets in the way and not always in the best way. Onwards though, onwards. It’s Saturday morning as I sit and type this intro and I’m feeling happier and more positive than I have in a long time.

The view at the top of this post may have had something to do with that positivity – it was the view we enjoyed every morning while we were having breakfast while on holiday. Travel is good for the soul, you know.

Here are some of my snippets of wonderfulness from the last few weeks…


♥ Reading… Over the last month or so, I knew things weren’t great because I couldn’t read. I just couldn’t focus and as a book-lover, that made me feel so very sad. I’ve devoured three books in the last two weeks though (granted, two were while we were on holiday) and have loved both the stories I was reading, as well as just the act of reading itself. I’m on the hunt for recommendations for what to pick up next please! What have you enjoyed reading recently?

♥ The National Trust… Is there anything more quintessentially English and comforting than that?! A few weeks ago on a whim, my mum and I drove to a National Trust property relatively nearby – Ham House. We’d been there before and, as it was early afternoon by the time we arrived, we headed directly to the Orangery café to get some lunch.  Sitting outside enjoying the sunshine, we contentedly munched our sandwiches (gluten free too, mind!) with some crisps, all washed down with several cups of tea. There’s a kitchen garden outside the café, which was being tended on the day we visited.  There’s really nothing like watching people busily hoe the soil and tie up various trailing plants to give you a good appetite!

We then headed into the house to explore the various rooms that were open that day. As it was during the week, there were hardly any visitors and we were jumped on by the friendly National Trust volunteers who were eager to tell us all about each room as soon as we walked in.  I’m such a history nerd, I loved every moment of it!

♥ Gluten free Rice Crispies… or Rice Pops, if you will. A new addition to (my) gluten free store cupboard. It's funny the things you miss isn't it? I was always a Kellogg's Corn Flakes girl but alas, their inclusion of barley malt meant I had to avoid them after being diagnosed coeliac. But now Nestle have a gluten free cereals range and their corn flakes taste just as good as the cereal I remember! This week I picked up their Rice Pops and they bring back such good cereal memories (small pleasures eh!) They even snap, crackle and pop!

♥ Thoughtful gifts in the post… There’s something really special about receiving post and I don’t mean bank statements or bills! One of my dearest friends is a prolific letter writer and it’s rare that a few weeks go by without a letter or a postcard arriving from her. At the weekend, a jiffy bag landed on the mat containing the Time Magazine Harry Potter special from one of my aunts – an “I saw this and thought of you” gift. I’m really savouring it, reading sections at a time, but it arrived at the perfect time on Saturday to have a break from my usual weekend clean to make a cup of tea and put my feet up. It’s almost as if she knew.

♥ Palermo… I couldn’t not mention our holiday here could I?! If you haven’t read my Palermo post, you can find it here. It feels like a long time ago already, which means it's probably time to start planning the next holiday but I'm still happily looking back at our Sicilian trip for a little longer. I have a few other posts that I'd like to share so I'd better get those started before life gets in the way again.

That's it from me this week, relatively short and sweet! Happy Wednesday all!

♥ Do let me know what's made your week a little rosier by leaving me a comment below or dropping me a tweet (I'm @happygoluckycat) or better yet, why not join the fabulous bunch of #WonderfulWednesday bloggers? Pop over to their blogs for a dose of mid-week happiness - SallyMichelleHelenKateJoSamanthaKerri, LauraSarahPetaElLauraSarahMimmiJasminMartinaLynseyKatieDebbieKelly and Em (I think that's everyone - shout at me if you're not on the list!) - and then join me in counting down the days until the weekend. It's in sight! 

A week in Palermo, Sicily

16 July 2017

We absolutely love Sicily. We spent ten days in Syracuse on our honeymoon a few years ago and when we were choosing where to go for a little sunshine this year, the decision to return to Sicily was a very easy one. We chose Palermo this time though, on the other side of the island to Syracuse. Palermo is the capital of Sicily and is famed for its history and culture, as well as its ‘rough and ready’ nature. I was a little apprehensive, particularly at the thought of crossing the roads, but after spending a week there at the beginning of July, I didn’t want to leave!

There’s a lot to see in Palermo itself and it’s also close to quite a few other spots that are worth visiting (even more if you have a car, which we didn’t and so we were therefore relying on public transport). I’m going to talk about Palermo itself here and will do separate posts on some other places we visited outside Palermo – primarily, the island of Ustica and the Roman town of Solunto.

The Weather

Can I be a British blogger and not mention the weather?! It was hot. Bearably so though – in the high 20s when we first arrived and inching towards the mid-30s by the end of our stay. I think the further you get into July/August, the hotter it is, so we were still able to get out a do things before retreating back to the hotel for a little late afternoon snooze and a shower before heading out to dinner in the evening. That’s partly what holidays are all about though, right?

Things to do

Make sure you pack some comfortable walking shoes for your visit to Palermo because the best way to experience the city is on foot. You often find yourself wandering down a narrow side street only to find that it leads into a stunning baroque piazza, or an amazing old church. There’s an array of Arab, Norman and Byzantine architecture, all of which would be lost if you were inside a car.

Our guidebook had recommended walking tours focusing on Palermo’s ‘medieval masterpieces’ and ‘baroque beauties’, which we followed on the first two days of the holiday as this was a good way to see the city and try to get our bearings as much as possible.  You must visit the Cathedral of Palermo, an impressive Arab-Norman building, and the Norman Palace but my (slightly less crowded) must-sees are:

Chiesa di San Giovanni degli Eremiti

A short walk from the Palazzo dei Normanni, in quite an unremarkable little area, you’ll find this little Arab-Norman church, which was built on top of a mosque that was also itself built on top of an earlier chapel. It was a wonderfully peaceful church, with a pretty cloistered area surrounded by exotic plants, palm trees and orange trees. It started to get a little busier as we were leaving but for a while, it was just us and a small French group on a sketching tour.

Oratorio del Rosario in Santa Cita and Oratorio del Rosario in San Domenico

I’m mentioning these two together because they’re a short walk apart and you can buy a joint ticket, which works out cheaper than buying two separate tickets.

These chapels are famed for their stuccos, the work of Giacomo Serpotta, dating from the 17th century and I actually gasped aloud when we walked into the chapel in Santa Cita – the walls are covered in stunning sculpted figures with such life and expression that I just couldn’t believe that they weren’t set in place yesterday.  Photos just don’t do either of the chapels justice and I wholeheartedly recommend visiting them for yourself if you’re visiting the city. Absolutely stunning.

The chapel in San Domenico is slightly smaller but no less impressive. I’d read in our guidebook that Serpotta’s name meant ‘lizard’ or ‘small snake’ and he had a habit of including one of these reptiles in his work as a hidden signature, one of which could be found in this chapel. I didn’t rest until I spotted a small lizard crawling up one of the columns – success! I love a treasure hunt! No spoilers here, let me know if you need a hint :)

Museo Archeologico Regionale

One for you archaeology lovers, this was something we decided to visit on a whim on a Sunday morning in order to escape the sun for a few hours. This beautifully laid-out museum, which is free to visit (very few places were!), had a really impressive collection of Greek and Roman artefacts, including a series of decorative friezes from the temples at Selinunte. It also has a lovely cool courtyard, with a fountain with sun-worshipping terrapins.

The Street Markets of Palermo

There are three main street markets in Palermo, selling an array of household goods, clothes and foodstuffs – Mercato della Vucciria, Mercato di Ballarò and Mercato del Capo.

Our favourite, and we went back a second time to stock up on some herbs to bring home with us, was the Mercato di Ballarò as there were several winding streets filled with all manner of delicious foods – fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and herbs. We promised ourselves that next time we visit Italy, we’ll use Airbnb because it was so difficult to walk away from so much delicious fresh food. It wasn’t just for tourists, the market was also full of Palermitans doing their daily shop (no doubt exasperated by all the tourists peering delightedly at all the deliciousness on offer). There was also an array of tempting street food being sold at the market (I talk about this a little more below), which my husband loved and I made friends with a granite-seller – who had a huge block of ice, which he would scrape into a cup and fill with your choice of sweet sauces (strawberry and cherry for me please).

Finally, if you have a strong constitution (if only for the 30 minute walk from the centre of the city in the sun!), you should also visit the Catacombs of the Capuchin Monks – Catacombe dei Cappuccini.  The catacombs are home to the mummified bodies and skeletons of several thousand of Palermo who died between the 17th and 19th centuries (the most recent is the mummified body of a little girl who died in the 1920s). Hugely macabre, the catacombs are divided into separate sections – families, men, women, professions, even a little chapel for virgins. It’s definitely worth visiting but you may need to sleep with the light on for a few nights afterwards.

Things to eat

Palermo is famous for its street food, some of which are not for the faint-hearted (what are your thoughts on spleen?) You’ll often see stalls scattered around the city, serving various hot snacks, which are meant to be eaten there and then. It’s a quick and easy lunch option, although not so easy if you’re coeliac like I am as most of the street snacks were full of gluten. My husband was in savoury heaven though and these were some of his favourite snacks, for which Palermo is famous and which you must try if you’re able to:

Pane e panelle – chickpea fritters
Crocchè – potato croquettes, flavoured with fresh mint
Panic a meusa – bread roll stuffed with sautéed beef spleen
Of the sweet treats – you can choose from brioche filled with ice cream, gelato or granite (crushed ice mixed with fresh fruit, almonds, pistachios or coffee – I had at least one of these every day!)

If you fancy trying the spleen sandwich, you should pick one up from the Antica Focacceria San Francesco, a restaurant which first opened in 1834, hosted the first Sicilian parliament and was a favourite of a notorious Mafia boss.

As a coeliac, I will always always recommend visiting Italy because you’re so well looked after in terms of gluten free food. Despite the fact that people’s awareness of what constitutes a gluten free dish is improving here in the UK, it just doesn’t come close to people’s awareness of coeliac disease and what you can and can’t have in Italy. That being said, the street food was on the whole full of gluten, unfortunately!

A lot of restaurants have gluten free pasta, some even have gluten free bread, but even if they were not available, there was an array of sea food or meat options I could choose from during our visit so I was not struggling for food options while we were there. Palermo itself is very close to the sea so we enjoyed some amazing sea food while we were there – fresh octopus, served with just a sprinkle of parsley and fresh lemon juice, mussels, sardines and sword fish, amongst various other local fish that I didn’t recognise.

If you’re looking for some restaurant recommendations, make sure you pay a visit to:

Ferro di Cavallo, Via Venezia 20
Open for dinner from Wednesday to Saturday, you may struggle to get a table outside and be prepared to queue to sit either outside or inside as this restaurant is fairly small but hugely popular, and for very good reason. The menu isn’t hugely extensive but so tasty, and you’re also there for the atmosphere which is noisy and rambunctious, and very Sicilian! Apparently, you can enjoy one of Palermo’s very best cannoli but until they make those gluten-free, I can’t tell you. I went for the mussel soup to start, followed by the meat course (which came with Italian sausage, pork and chicken) and a Sicilian mixed salad, all washed down with a little carafe of local wine.

Trattoria ai Cascinari, Via D’Ossuna 43/45
This was my favourite of all the restaurants we visited during our time in Palermo and was fantastic for gluten free options. It’s incredibly popular with locals and was a little walk-away from the main centre of the city, but worth venturing to. They have gluten free pasta, which was better than any of the pasta I’ve tasted here (sob!) and when they heard I was coeliac, they brought me out a plate full of the traditional mint croquettes and chickpea fritters, which I didn’t think I’d be able to experience during our visit.  I followed this up with a pasta dish and then stuffed aubergines. They’d also brought me a little bowl of gluten free bread so I rather rolled home afterwards. The only downside was the fact that we visited this restaurant on our last night, otherwise we would definitely have returned.

If you’re looking for a place to while away a few hours with some delicious wine, I’d recommend Enotequa on the Via Maqueda – a cosy little bar, with an extensive list of wine choices and staff who are really happy to help you choose something quite unusual to sample.


So those are my top tips for Palermo itself! I’ll do some separate posts (at least that’s the plan!) setting out some other must-sees nearby. Have you ever visited Palermo? Where should we visit for our next Italian holiday and is it time we experienced somewhere else?! (Surely not!)

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