When you decide to take the European cruise you’ve been dreaming of, make sure Messina is on your itinerary. Just off the coast of Italy, Sicily is an island with many Italian traditions and several unique ones that make it distinctive from its Italian neighbor. Look for these 15 specialty items to bring home with you that are emblematic of and can be found while you explore Messina.
1. Coppola Hat
Sicily’s interpretation of the English hunting cap, the coppola hat, has been a part of Sicilian attire for more than 200 years. Although its popularity rises and falls with fashion trends, this traditional hat makes a great, classic style choice and souvenir. The coppola hat comes in wool or tweed patterns, depending on the time of year you plan to wear it.
Some of the world’s best capers grow on Sicily’s southeast coast, so it’s no surprise that fresh capers appear frequently in Sicilian cuisine. Capers can be used in salads, pastas and a variety of other dishes in creative ways. To recreate the lingering, savory flavors from your trip, pick up a jar of capers, which are preserved in either salt or brine. Just remember to rinse them well before you eat them.
3. Lava Stone Products
Sicily is home to two active volcanoes and you can even see one of them — Mount Etna — from the cruise ship in the port. Having a piece of black lava stone native to Messina is a great way to remember the culture and history for years to come. So pick up a memento made from Messina’s lava stone, like jewelry or kitchenware, before you leave.
4. Coffa Bag
Once used by peasant farmers to feed their animals, Coffa bags are now a popular, vibrant fashion accessory in Messina, Sicily. The coffa bag is essentially a handcrafted straw bag decorated with pom-poms, brass trinkets and even painted designs of the Sicilian countryside. Choose from assorted sizes, such as small, purse-sized bags or medium to large-sized bags often used for shopping or the beach.
5. Coral Jewelry
Take one look at Sicilian coral and its stunning shades of peach, pink and red, and you’ll understand why it’s a popular jewelry choice for locals and visitors alike. Made from tiny pieces of fossil, coral jewelry has interesting shapes and bold colors that pair well with other earrings, necklaces and bracelets. Don’t leave without picking up a piece of stunning coral jewelry crafted by Messina artisans.
Sicilian chocolate is different from the confections you’ll find in other parts of Italy, and is often an acquired taste for some people. It’s grainy and crumbly, similar to what the Spanish conquistadors brought back to Europe from the Aztecs.
If you’re not sure what flavor of Sicilian chocolate you’re looking for, popular flavors are cinnamon, vanilla, coffee or chili-flavored bars. Remember to keep your chocolate unopened and sealed while you’re cruising home.
If you’re a music buff, grab a marranzano or a mouth harp, an instrument with Sicilian musical roots. One of the oldest-known, universally-played instruments in the world, the marranzano has appeared in folk music across the globe.
8. Martorana Fruit
While you’re exploring Messina, it’s hard to miss the stacks of waxy, fresh fruit sitting in the windows of Sicilian pastry-shops. One of the region’s most popular confections, Martorana fruit is made from marzipan and crafted into realistic-looking fruits such as lemons, cherries and prickly pears. You can even find some shaped like sandwiches and shrimp.
9. Olive Oil
It’s almost a rite of passage to taste and buy olive oil when in Italy. Although Tuscany lays claim to the title of top producer in the country, Sicily has been producing olive oil for a longer period of time. Sicilian olive oil is a delicious souvenir to keep for yourself, or to share with your friends and family to give them the wonderful taste of Sicily a taste.
After tasting authentic Sicilian cuisine, you may want to recreate your favorite meals from your trip at home. For this, you’ll need the main staple: pasta. Popular pasta shapes include tube-like pasta such as ziti and penne or long, thin-shaped bucatini and spaghetti, which hold up well in thick sauces. Pick up a few packages at any local Messina grocery store before you head out.
11. Pistachio Pesto
Pistachios are abundant in Sicily, and the locals use these sweet nuts to flavor everything from swordfish to gelato. One popular and savory sauce is pistachio pesto, commonly made from a combination of basil, garlic and pistachios. Pick up a bag of pistachios and a jar of pesto to pair with pasta and you’ll have a quick and filling meal with classic Sicilian flair.
If you like souvenirs with bold colors and eye-catching designs, look no further than Sicilian pottery from Caltagirone. Look for serving dishes, plates, bowls and decorative pieces that are hand-painted with bright hues of blue, green and yellow to add to your home collection. The finished products have Baroque swirls and striking patterns that turn each work into a conversation piece.
Just off the coast of Messina, Sicily are salt pans, where Sicilians have been harvesting naturally occurring salt for years. After the sun evaporates the water, the leftover salt dries in the open air for a year. The result is a flavorful salt that contains more potassium and magnesium than regular table salt. Grab a package of it at local Messina markets or stores and try it at home on your favorite dishes.
Puppet Theater in Sicily dates back to the 19th century and captures the rich storytelling tradition of Italy. The stars of the show are the ornate puppets that move around the stage like marionettes.
After you’ve seen one of these entertaining and memorable shows in Messina, pick up one of the beloved characters like Ruggiero, Rinaldo or Orlando from the show and put on your own puppet performance when you get home
Julius Caesar once praised Sicily’s wines, but it took a few hundred years for the rest of the world to catch up. Today, Sicily’s best known wines are marsala and syrah, but there are more varieties of red and white wine available in the region. Remember if you buy a 750-ml bottle while you’re exploring Messina, your ship’s staff will store it and keep it safe until you debark from the cruise.
Once you take that European cruise you’ve been dreaming of and make a stop in the gorgeous island nation of Sicily, you’ll want to go back. So while you’re there exploring and immersing yourself in the island’s vibrant culture, grab one, or all, of these top 15 memorable mementos to remember Sicily for years to come.