The Secret of Sicily’s Ice Cream

Rocco Forte Hotels

From the Fortes’ first Milk Bar to some of Sicily’s best ice creams, read our refreshing guide to Italy’s sweet stuff. Smouldering volcanoes and iced snow cones don’t, at first, appear to be natural bedfellows. But it was this combination that first gave birth to Italian gelato. Join us on a sweet journey as we discover why Sicily is the birthplace of ice cream, the Forte family’s connection to milk and where to find the best gelato in Palermo.

Ice cream’s explosive beginning

The snow capped peaks of Mount Etna are where Italian ice cream began. Arabian traders collected the frozen snow in winter, stored it, then added sweetened lemon juice for a refreshing iced summer dessert.

Mount Etna is still at the pinnacle of Sicilian ice cream innovation today. In the small town of Randazzo, an hour inland and just over three hours by car from Villa Igiea, you’ll find Santo Musumeci, now run by the second generation of the Musumeci family. It’s frequently named as one of the best places to find gelato in Sicily.

Ice cream for breakfast

In Sicily, be like the locals and start the day with granita for breakfast. The sweet and delicately flavoured ice comes served in a warm fluffy brioche bun. Summer-light flavours available at Verdura Resort’s Buongiorno restaurant include prickly pear, cherry, mango, strawberry, raspberry and fig, made from our homegrown organic ingredients. But at breakfast, coffee or pistachio are hard to beat.

Ice cream in the Forte family genes

It was 1935 when a young Charles Forte opened his first Milk Bar on Regent Street, and the Forte family’s long history in hospitality grew from there. Add ice to his signature milkshakes and you’re in ice cream heaven.

Meanwhile, his wife, Sir Rocco Forte’s mother Lady Irene Forte, had a simple and not-so-secret recipe for ice cream. Her trademark vanilla gelato recipe is a classic Venetian affair born out of her family’s origins in the Veneto and her legacy lives on as it’s still used in our kitchens today. It’s also one of Sir Rocco’s favourite treats – best enjoyed in the warm Sicilian sunshine.

Where to find the best gelato in Palermo

On the hunt for the sweetest Sicilian ice cream, head directly to the gardens of Palermo’s Norman Palace, a 20-minute drive from Villa Igiea. With a brioche con gelato from the kiosk in hand, settle under the dappled shade of the trees. 

Alternatively, try our own selection of homemade ice cream at the Alicetta Pool Bar, delivered to your table by dessert trolley and with a view overlooking the deep blue waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

In Sicily, ice cream isn’t just for summer. If you’re in Palermo between 27th and 29th October 2023, join half a million ice cream fans for the annual Sherbeth Festival. See and sample the iced innovations of 50 or so gelato-makers from across the globe, gathered in the place where ice cream was born.

For the best ice cream in the world, travel to Sicily and try our homemade recipes at Villa Igiea and Verdura Resort, where ice cream is served with a stunning seaside view.

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