Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town. The following interview was originally published in my Italy guide.
Today I’m happy to introduce you to Gianluca Molino, a rock climber, hiker, and local here to tell us all about Messina – a land shrouded in myth and legend and drenched in granita.
First, tell us about you.
I’m a 35-year-old man born and raised here in Messina. In my free time, I like to meet friends and go rock climbing, trekking, swimming, etc. I’m all about nature.
If someone is visiting Messina for the first time, what do you recommend they see or do?
Take in the sea and the mountains. Go for a swim or a walk along the shore. See the city center and the view of the city from the mountains.
Capo Peloro and the two lakes, the cathedral with the mechanized clock tower, and other monuments/churches in the city center of Messina are all worth seeing.
What neighborhoods or parts of town are best to stay in?
The place where I live—Capo Peloro, the northeast cape of Sicily—is very nice. It’s a place full of myths and legends (Scylla and Charybdis). The place will soon be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tell us about the local dishes. What should people try here?
The list is very long! In the summer, you can’t miss granita, our typical semi-frozen, sweet breakfast, which comes in many flavors, including coffee, soft cream, lemon, almond, pistachio, strawberry, fig, and prickly pear.
Then, of course, you can’t miss parmigiana (made with eggplant), pasta ‘ncaciata (an eggplant pasta specially made to celebrate the Assumption on the 15th of August), pasta alla norma (pasta with tomatoes, ricotta, and fried eggplant), and caponata (cooked vegetable salad).
Also, you should try some of the typical Messinan food that you can’t find anywhere else in Sicily, including braciole alla Messinese (meat rolls with cheese and bread crumbs), focaccia alla Messinese (a kind of pizza, but thicker, with cheese, tomatoes, endives, and, traditionally, anchovies), and pitoni or pidoni (essentially fried focaccia, often eaten on New Year’s Eve).
What are your top three favorite bars and restaurants?
The best bar where you can have a very good gelato is Bar De Luca, located at Via Nazionale 208. I think they do the best ice cream in all of Sicily, which means the best ice cream in the world. The place is far away from the city center, in the south part of Messina, but it’s always crowded—and with good reason.
In the summer (but closed in the winter), a very good café/bar to visit is Eden, located at Via Palazzo III 2. I often go there with my guests to have granita; they have tons of flavors.
As for restaurants, there are two places run by the Mancuso brothers, where you can eat delicious fish and pasta. They are next to each other and just in front of Ganzirri Lake. The first is called Trattoria le Sirene (address: Via Lagogrande 96) and the other is attached.
Another good restaurant in the city center is Il Padrino, located at Via Santa Cecilia 54-56.
In Messina, we also have lots of rosticcerie, where we go to buy the rustici (pitoni, arancini, mozzarella in carrozza) and focaccia. The most famous one is Famulari, at Via Cesare Battisti 143 in the city center; they make 35+ kinds of arancini and some of them are very, very tasty.
Is there anything tourists do that locals find rude or strange? What can we do to better fit in with the culture?
People might get offended if you refuse when they offer food, so accept graciously.
What is the best way to meet locals and make friends?
Why should people make sure to visit Messina?
Because it is the door of Sicily. Because we have a great story. Because we have very nice natural places. Because the region is amazing—Taormina, Eolian islands, Etna, Milazzo. And because it is a place of myth and legend.
What is the best place to go take beautiful photos of the city?
The are a lot of viewpoints on the mountains where you can see both the Ionian and Tirrenian seas and Eolian islands. From the shore you can also take nice photos.
Anything else you want us to know?
In June, a miracle happened in this city. We have a new mayor. He is an activist and very far from the old/very bad traditional political figure. We are all very hopeful that the city will be reborn under his leadership.