Shopping in Sicily
My Shopping in Sicily post will be relatively short. But it’s not to say there aren’t many wonderful things you can bring home from Sicily.
Despite the dreaded virus, I finally managed a weeks holiday this year! We went to Sicily. And, as usually, I brought an extra bag. Although shopping in Sicily was very much on the menu for me, I did not really buy much. This is not to say that there is no good shopping in Sicily! However, this year has not exactly been reassuring in terms of job security or extra income. So… purse strings a bit tightened, I still managed to find some great souvenirs in Sicily. I will also recommend some others that I did not buy simply because I currently have no need for them.
A few things we considered were direct flights, sunny weather, a chance to be by the sea, a “safe destination” in terms of infection rates, and somewhere where, should things turn pear-shaped, we might catch a train or hire a car and get ourselves back home.
At the time of planning at the end of July, Greece and Italy fitted our needs. I found flights to Catania for 100 Euros, and that was that.
Shopping in Sicily: Where to Shop
We visited the Aeolian Islands, Siracusa and the Val di Noto. I have been to Palermo in a previous trip. So, I can safely say that Palermo and Siracusa are great for shopping! If you are after specialist foods, the Val di Noto with its beautiful Baroque towns is a great place to shop.
You will also find the Sicilia Outlet Village on the motorway between Catania and Enna, about 60km from Catania. They carry a lot of Italian and International brands. Alberta Ferretti, Armani, Prada and Tod’s are the higher end brands on offer, but the outlet is rather large. I prefer independent shops and markets, so this uis what this article concentrates on.
Food and Drink shopping in Sicily
Coffee roasted in Italy is wonderful and very reasonably priced, and you don’t need to go far to find some good coffee beans. When in Napoli, look out for the bright yellow Passalaqua Coffee, or Quarta Caffe in Lecce. They are excellent quality, and at 15-30Euro per kilogram, not expensive.
Barbera is “the” Sicilian Coffee and is roasted in Messina. Many cafes in Sicily will serve it, and it won’t take long until to find it. Another coffee brand I really like, which is available world-wide, is Ionia. They are based in Santa Venerina north of Catania. They are on the lower end of the market without compromising on quality. I once bought a kg for somethin like 6 Euros in a supermarket! In addition to that, there are many many local coffee roasters, which are in no way inferior to the bigger brands.
Other good coffee boys are the various percolators to make coffee at home, The Bialetti Caffettiera is, of course the classic, and available everywhere you can buy coffee or household goods. Until I bought an espresso machine, it was the mainstay of my coffee making through my student and early work years.
If you love chocolate, then you must visit Modica in the Val di Noto. Modica has at least 20 chocolate producers who form the Consorzio di Tutela del Cioccolato di Modica. The difference to more “mainstream chocolate” is that Modican chocolate is almost entirely made of cocoa with no further additives other than sugar and natural flavourings and is cold-processed. It means all Modica chocolate is raw, vegan and gluten free. As the sugar is not melting at low temperatures, it is also a bit gritty. However… the taste is wonderful!
Bonajuto of Modica
The oldest and most famous chocolate atelier, complete with attached cafe, is Bonajuto. It is a pretty and very friendly place. We had some vouchers from our host for some free cannoli, so.. of course we went there. The cannoli were freshly prepared really good – and so was the chocolate!
The “classics” are vanilla or cinnamon, they contain 52g sugar and 50% cocoa per 100g and come in 100g bars which cost 2.60 Euro. The other flavoured bars are reduced in sugar (31g per 100g, 65% cocoa content) and vost 2.40 Euro for a 50g bar. They have at least 20 natural flavours, with chili, lemon, orange, mandarine, bergamot and mint very popular flavours. I got some citrus, of course, as well as nutmeg-flavoured bars.
As I was casually browsing the internet during one of my siestas, I came across an organic producer, and even better, it was behind our house – just a steep climb up! The Il Modicano operation is small and really tucked away from the touristic area but is well worth the walk. An employee had to come out of the kitchen to help me, and quickly brought out a tray of all their chocolates to taste. Of course I had to buy some too! Here, the chocolate contains 36% sugar and 60% cocoa and costs about 2.50 Euro for a 60g bar.
I think they are less specialised in passing trade and visitors, as their priduction facilities and shop are a steep walk away from the centre, but they do export and you will find them outside Italy.
I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to buy pasta, but if you have the space, nothing speaks against a packet or two of high quality bronze-cut pasta. De Cecco is my standard pasta as it is decent quality and easily available in Germany, but it is, of course, industrially made. Even some supermarket varities are high quality, such as Rummo, and they sell for 1-1.50Euro per 500g.
Most common types of pasta in Sicily are Spaghetti and the shorter varieties of busiate and casarecce as well as spaghetti.
Smaller delicatessen stores – of which you will find many – will have more artisan pasta to try. Martelli is really good, but they’re from Tuscany. I also like Faella, which is a brand from the most famous pasta prodiction site, Gragnano in Campania. They only cost slightly more than supermarket pasta.
Fruit and vegetables
The offer is highly seasonal. Then we visited, market stalls were full of excellent grapes, and if we didn’t tuck into the sweet pasticcheria offerings, we would eat grapes for dessert and snacks. After equally paying attention to the wonderful granite available in every cafe, I really wanted to bring some good lemons home, especially Amalfi or Siracusa lemons, but I think we were a little late to the lemon game – no market stalls had them.
Sun-dried tomatoes, capers and other Sicilian Specialties
The smaller towns we visited did not have markets. Or they had specific market days. I wanted a proper market, and I finally got one in Ortigia. It is on every day except Sunday. Although touristy, it had fresh fruit and fish sections and attracts a mixture of locals and visitors.
I found my beloved sundried tomatoes, at last. Larger ones should cost 7-10 Euro per kg, and cherry tomatoes about 13-16Euro/kg. Some ouvenir shops in tourist places might sell them, but I prefer to buy mine in a market or at least a delicatessen in a not-so-touristy area.
Other Sicilian products to look out for are almonds, pistachios and walnuts. Pretty much all market vendors will let you try before you buy.
This stall in Ortigia also had spices and herbs including some ready-made mixes. I bought some peppercorns ( bit of a gamble) and some “Norma” herb mix. The Norma mix is pretty good. Also some chopped pistachios for enhancing pasta dishes.
The best markets I have come across so far in Sicily are the Mercato di Capo and the Mercato di Ballaro in Palermo! And while we are on the topic or market, Palermo also has by far the best flea market. It is small, and more like reclamation yard, but if you are in the market for t=some tiles or vintage ceramics, you should visit.
Capers are grown in various places in Sicily and are one of the few crops that grow on the Aeolian Islands. I bought this bag in a restaurant/delicatessen on Salina, and they are capers of Salina Island. But then I got a second helping in Ortigia market, where tasty capers sold for very little.
I always stayed away from capers as they reminded me of my grandmothers meat-loving cooking – too much did they remind me of my most-hated childhood dish, Konigsberger dumplings, or mustard sauce. Only recently have I learned to love them in pizza, salads or in anything that calls for tomato sauce. Go for salted ones, they last forever and can easily be kept in an airtight glass in salt.
Cosmetics and Perfume Shopping in Sicily
A bottle of citrus cologne is never far from me, and I go through a lot. If I were to stuck to the well-known ones like Acqua die Parma, Carthusia or Eau d’ Italie, I would be poor very quickly.
I also try to buy everything cruelty-free, from my laundry detergent and skincare to perfume, and I know Acqua di Parma distributes in Mainland China, so that’s that. I don’t know about the other two. If you definitely want to go cruelty-free, you could l check out the cruelty-free scents I’ve already tried and tested. Or try D.S. &. Durga “Italian Citrus”. Definitely cruelty-free and vegan and a private company. They’re a New York based brand, though.
But… there are a lot of much, much cheaper citrus-based perfumes, and while they may not produce the sillage or longevity of pricier scents, they are really good!
I tried three and bought two on my trip.
What I bought
First one, Agrumi di Sicilia by Monotheme at 13,50 Euro for 100ml Eau de Toilette. Very cheap but smells surprisingly wonderful. Monotheme is a brand of Mavive Cosmetics, who hold the licence for that German classic, 4711, and some other well-known scents. They are a company based in Venice founded in 1900. While Monotheme is highly likely to be cruelty-free, the parent company is probably not but the jury is out here. I might contact them, seeing its a bit late as I already bought it. I have no expectations on longevity and sillage but it smells extremely pleasant.
Second one, Acqua die Sicilia by Zuma Profumi for 23 Euro for 100ml for the Eau de Parfum. Zuma is a Palermo-based company which launched in 1943 with its classic “Zagora” (orange blossom). Acqua di Sicilia is a fresh unisex blend of bergamot, lemon and basil with a heart of Eucalyptus, cedar and a touch of aquatic, the ultimate “summer breeze by the sea in Sicily” scent. Although I was in the market for a more citrus-heavy note, I like its fresh scent and moreover, Zuma is not a big international company, the scents are produced in Palermo and although they have no certification, I am personally convinced they are cruelty-free as they do not sell in China.
What I tried but didn’t buy
Last not least, I tried two scents from the Ortigia Sicilia brand, Bergamotto and Limone. They are relatively monolinear for a higher-end scent that costs 96 Euro for 100ml. The company website states all fragrances use natural ingredients only, most of which are native to Sicily. The fragrance house was founded in 2006 by Sue Townsend who had previously build then sold Crabtree &. Evelyn ( not cruelty-free). The perfumes were created by Lorenzo Villoresi, a respected Florentine perfumer who usually creates for his own fragrance company. Couldn’t find a distributor for countries where animal testing is required by law, so chances are both fragrance houses are cruelty-free.
They produce many “smaller” scented items like fragranced soaps, room fragrance, etc. The packaging is absolutely gorgeous, and I wish I had at least bought a small fragrance roller for travelling. BUt I wanted the “proper” Eau de Parfum but could not justify the 100 Euro purchase (which would at present, buy me four days in Istanbul). So just a tentative recommendation here until I found out more about whether Ortigia Sicilia are cruelty-free. They have a website where you can find your nearest shop to try the scent, too.
Fashion Shopping in Sicily
Italian fashion is world-renowned, and if you buy something actually made in Italy, you might well buy a piece of great quality. However, a lot of the more high-street Italian brands produce in China nowadays. But even Italy is not without its (illegal) sweat shops, so I would highly recommend staying away from clothes and accessories sold in markets, especially in touristy places.
I am not really into high fashion, and since I wear a uniform to work, my wardrobe errs on smart casual, a few dresses for nights out and very little business attire.
But I do love Italian fashion, and Marella and Max Mara are my to-go favourites, along with Marina Rinaldi. Since I am on the larger side, these brands actually sell clothes that are well-cut and go up to larger sizes but are by no means plus size only. Ortigia has them all, and even Modica with its 50.000 inhabitants had a Marella and Marina Rinaldi. All three brands are part of the Max Mara Group. They are known for making high quality classic clothes and although they are not certified fair fashion, I would buy them as they are so well made and a lot of the clothes are produced in the European Union.
With a full kitchen and a recent purchase of a new espresso machine and grinder, I had nothing to put on my Italian shopping wish list this time.
Caltagirone Pottery is a pretty reminder of a Sicilian holidays, very bright, often with motives of citrus and flowers.
But let me tell you, I love Italian espresso machines. I would not bring one from Italy, but both my machines in my lifetimes have been Italian-made and had very few issues through heavy use.
My first machine was a Gaggia Classic. They were great to get into making espresso-based coffee until about 2010 when the company was bought by Philips and technical “savings” meant they are of poorer build quality and not easily fixable anymore.
My “upgrade” was a Rancilio Silvia. Another straightforward easy to use machine. If you get one for 400-450 Euro you have found yourself an excellent durable machine that make a great coffee.
Both machines are single boiler. As I dont drink milk, there is no need for the extra circuit to heat up milk separately, and for the times I do want to froth up a bit of milk for guests, the single boiler will do a fine job. Bezzera Are also quite good but we’re starting to look at 100 Euro here – and don’t forget a good machine also calls for a good grinder which will set you back another 150-300 Euro. So, for those moments where you want to bring back sweet memories of sitting in a Sicilian pavement cafe and love coffee, get an Italian espresso machine.
We flew to Catania on Ryanair and visited The Aeolian Islands (Salina, Filicudi and Alicudi), Modica and Siracusa.
As this was a COVID-19-era holiday when a sniffle would ground you and flights could be cancelled at the las tminute, we booked all our accommodation less than one day ahead on Booking.com. This worked very well for all our destinations. Even though some of the more popular accommodations were already full, we always found somewhere nice to stay even the last minute.
We used public transport, mostly intercity buses, for which Catania Airport was a surprisingly good base!
More practical details to follow in a separate post. If you have any quesitons in the meantime, please let me known in the comments or by email.
The Small Print
This trip was a one-week holiday organised and funded by myself. None of the recommendations in this post are in any way sponsored. We did not receive and financial or non-financial rewards for mentioning certain products or brands. This post contains an affiliate links to Booking.com. If you make any reservations through this link, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to yourself.