14km (8 3/4 miles) E of Palermo

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Bagheria became the summer retreat of the Sicilian aristocracy, who built magnificent villas here to escape the scorching heat of Palermo; some even went so far as to abandon their stately homes in Palermo to tend to their vast farmlands. Today it is just a shadow of its former, fabulous self, as the villas were abandoned and left in a state of neglect and decay. Some have been recovered and put to good use, but the grandeur and countrified gaiety have been replaced by hideous eyesores of modernity, often the fruits of Mafia money laundering.

When the Phoenician settlers landed here in the 8th century B.C., they called it Bayharia, meaning "the area toward the sea," yet for centuries Bagheria was mostly an anonymous farming area. That's not to say, however, that this city of former stately manors is not without any luster. It was the birthplace of the contemporary painter Renato Guttuso; another local son, Oscar-winner Giuseppe Tornatore, directed the 2009 film Baaria, which was about his hometown. The novelist Dacia Maraini, whose mother was of Palermitan nobility, spent her childhood summers here at her ancestral home of Villa Valguarnera; she recounts the atmosphere in her memoir, the aptly titled Bagheria.