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Smells of Sicily. An Olfactory Tour of Italy

Pizza smell

The islands of Sicily looks a little like a soccer ball at the end of the boot of Italy. Not far north of Africa and close also to Malta and mainland Italy, this island has historical influences from many cultures and nations. Just like every island and region worldwide though, Sicily has its own unique character and also as we will discuss below, its own smells and aromas, or one could say, its own personal olfactory experience. Let us take a look at the smells of Sicily.

Siracusa ocean view

Siracusa ocean view


Many Sicilians who live within sight of the Etna (Europe’s most active volcano) almost see the volcano as a member of their own family. They wake up and take a look out of the window to see how she is doing. To see if she is smouldering or laying dormant as she takes a nap in the summer sun. For those of you visiting the Etna, one smell and scent you will find taking over your olfactory senses is that of an unusual smell. It takes a little whilst to guess what it is an that something is sulphur! As you walk around one of the old craters quite far up the side of the volcano, the area is littered with small rocks. Pick up on these of these rocks (they are pieces of lava from previous eruptions) and if you put your nose to the rock you will smell a strong over-powering sulphur smell. This overpowering smell is not particularly pleasant one but it is part of the character of the island if you climb to the upper areas of the volcano.


Pizza is certainly not specific to Sicily but being in Italy, this food item is an essential part of the every day living and the agreeable scent of an oven made pizza in one of the local pizzeria’s is a must if you want to experience the local culture. The aroma you can expect to take in of course depends very much on the ingredients you specifically choose but expect the relaxing smell of baked bread, melting cheese and cherry tomatoes.

Sicilian blood red oranges

Citrus Fruits

With an average of close to 7 hours of sunshine a day, parts of Sicily are some of the sunniest you can expect to experience in just about any part of Europe. This high number of hours of sunshine creates a great environment for growing citrus fruits. Unlike Spain, Portugal, Greece and some other Mediterranean countries though, the volcano soil from the Etna means that fruits which grow on the hills of the volcano are very rich in minerals with the fruits growing in soil which is very fertile. An additional factor is the vertical nature of the volcano which means that many farms are open to the sunshine’s rays.

It is when you come to smell the local fruits when you can realise appreciate the unique taste and aroma that they produce. The lemons and particularly the blood red oranges (Arancia Rossa di Sicilia). In the UK this is packaged as Sanguinello juice. The time when you can really smell Sicily for me is when you take a recently picked lemon or blood red orange and hold it to your nose.

Fresh Fish

Not all islands have good fishing areas and fish stocks in the surrounding waters, but Sicily has no problem in this respect. In the last few years the price of fresh fish have risen quite surprisingly but you can still nevertheless get everything from tuna, octopus, sardines, crab, snapfish and prawns to name but a few. If you go to one place in Sicily to smell the ream Sicily then head to the bustling Catania Fish Market. Be warned though. If you really do not like the scent of fish then you will be simply overwhelmed by this market.

Fresh fish from the sea


Another Sicilian and Italian passion is coffee. What would life be like on the island without the aroma of coffee granules piercing your nostrils as the sun shows its head first thing in the morning. Coffee in Italy is unlike what you will find in the UK or USA in many establishments, in that instant coffee is not the norm. In Italy, expect the coffee to be made with fresh coffee granules and to to be crushed with a machine and filtered into your cup and with water added. Also do remember that if you ask for a coffee, you are asking in fact for what some of us might know as an espresso. If you want the coffee to last longer then ask for a caffe lungo. Whatever type of coffee you order, the smell of coffee is typical of the culture.

The Ocean

As uplifting as an espresso early in the morning is the smell of the fresh sea air you get from the ocean surrounding the island. Head down to a beach on the coast for a swim before heading off to work and the ocean scent stays in your mind throughout the day. No wonder things happen at a slow pace sometimes here when I go to one of the administration offices when I need some paperwork stamped. Everyone is thinking about the sea air I think!

Italian People

The people are worth mentioning because the waft of a strong fragrances such as after-shave or the over-whelming scent of a perfume are part and parcel of the everyday experience for many people here. Men as much as women seem to pay great attention to their looks and appearance. You might notice young men using the small mirror on the side of their vespa, to check their hair as their try to look the part in an effort to attract one of the island girls. Dolce & Gabbana, Bvlgari and Malizia Uomo are typical brands you can expect to experience as you walk sit inside a coffee shop.


Last but not least, another of the Sicilian scents which my wife take pleasure in experiencing whenever we are in Sicily, is the smell of Limoncello. Limencello is a bottled version of the delightfully aromatic lemons you see grown here and also in other southern Italy areas. This liquor also tastes extremely nice and is a definite drink you must try when visiting!

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