Monte Pellegrino

15km (9 miles) N of Palermo.

The parkland and nature reserve of the crown-shaped mountain of Monte Pellegrino looms over north Palermo. It was known to the Arabs as "Gebel Grin," and during his visit, Goethe called it "the most beautiful headland on earth." The mountain has an almost symbiotic connection with the people of Palermo: Not only is it where the first traces of civilization of the city were located, for many years it held the remains of a young girl, Rosalia, who became the city's patron saint, and where a shrine in her honor now stands.

Along its caves are the earliest traces of civilization: In the Grotte dell'Addaura are hunting scenes dating back to the Paleolithic times.

Getting There -- The mountain rises sharply on all sides except to the south. You can reach the mountain by driving from Piazza Generale Casino in Palermo, close to Fiera del Mediterraneo, the fair and exhibition grounds. From here, take Via Pietro Bonanno, following the signs toward the Santuario di Santa Rosalia . If you're not driving, you can take bus no. 812 from Piazza Sturzo (Politeama) in Palermo (trip time: 30 min.), the cost is 1.30€.

What to See & Do -- After a 15km (9-mile) drive to the north of Palermo, you will reach the peak of Monte Pellegrino. Along the way to the top, you'll be rewarded with some of Sicily's most panoramic views, taking in the old city of Palermo and a sweeping vista of Conca d'Oro, the valley. The paved road you see today dates from the 1600s, when it was a footpath for people climbing the mountain. On your way up your attention will be drawn to a peculiar-looking pink edifice: The Castello Utveggio, despite its name, was never a castle; it was intended to be a hotel, which never materialized, and today it is a meeting and research center.

The chief attraction of Monte Pellegrino is Santuario di Santa Rosalia (tel. 091-540326), a cave where the patron saint of Palermo lived. Santa Rosalia holds a special place in the hearts of the Palermitani, who have affectionately nicknamed her La Santuzza, or Little Saint. You enter the sanctuary through a little chapel constructed over a cave in the hillside, where the bones (read: Alleged bones) of Rosalia were found in 1624. Supposedly a descendant of William II, Santa Rosalia lived and died as a hermit on this mountain, retreating here in 1159.

As a curiosity, note the thin spikes of flattened "steel cobweb" hanging from the ceiling. This isn't contemporary art; it's done to direct the water seeping from the mountain surface into a container.

Admission is free, and the sanctuary (in theory, at least) is open daily from 7am to 8pm (closes at 6:30pm in winter). Frequent masses may disrupt your visit.

Note the little pathway leading to the left of the chapel. If you take it, after about 30 minutes you'll be at a cliff-top promontory with a view and a statue of the saint. The pathway to the right of the sanctuary leads to the top of Pellegrino, a leisurely hike of about 40 minutes. Families use the grounds and trails on Pellegrino as a picnic site.

You can take the bus back or else descend from the mountain along the Scala Vecchia (Old Steps), a stepped path that winds down the mountain by the sanctuary going all the way to the Fiera del Mediterraneo fairgrounds. (This is where the devoted march up -- some on their knees -- from the base of the hill to the sanctuary to give thanks to Santa Rosalia.) As you wind northward down the mountain, you'll come to the intersection with Viale Regina Margherita -- the beginning of Mondello.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.