Sicily may be famed for its Mafia connections, but Hannah Stephenson discovers a family-friendly island trying to break free of its past

I MEET my guide Erme Riccobono at the entrance to the Teatro Massimo, the majestic Palermo opera house where the last scene of The Godfather Part III was shot nearly 25 years ago.

The Italian holiday island of Sicily may have been ruled by the Mafia for decades, but things are changing as locals increasingly refuse to pay pizzo (protection money), while anti-Mafia organisations show visitors how to see this sun-kissed hotspot without filling the coffers of the mob.

Erme is a guide for one such organisation, Addiopizzo - which literally means 'Goodbye Pizzo' - set up by a group of students 10 years ago in the capital, Palermo, who met in secret. They put up posters anonymously throughout the city and collected signatures from consumers supporting shopkeepers who were refusing to pay pizzo.

We weave through narrow streets to find a mixture of splendour and squalor, where historic monuments rub shoulders with darker, seedier-looking streets. Outlets range from high class patisseries selling cassata siciliana - gateau filled with ricotta cream and decorated with candied fruit and martorana - to tacky souvenir shops selling sinister memorabilia, a black-humoured nod to the Mafia.

Today almost 900 shops and businesses refuse to pay pizzo in Palermo, while others are keen to stop paying.

Erme says it has been this mutual support of businesses which has led to the Mafia having less of a stronghold on the city. The locals' united stand has gone some way to alleviate the climate of fear and violence.

But he adds it will be new generations, those who have not grown up in the shadow of Cosa Nostra's extortion rackets and macabre history, who will make the real change.

Addiopizzo's new arm,, runs Mafia-free trips for tourists, incorporating a list of hotels and businesses who refuse to pay pizzo, which tourists can access to ensure their money is channelled responsibly.

Under Italy's laws, property of convicted mobsters can be turned over to organisations to benefit the community. Confiscated property includes farms that now produce Mafia-free wine, bread and produce, while villas have been turned into hotels and restaurants.

Away from the capital is a calmer, more serene setting in Lascari, a village in the hills 20 minutes' drive from the seaside town of Cefalu in the north, where we're based in a luxury villa boasting a magnificent view of the coast.

Equipped with a spacious pool, loungers, air con, brilliantly equipped kitchen, it's the view of the coastline which steals the thunder.

Pearlescent skies in soft pinks and blues, greys and peaches, are a delight to the eyes, while the fragrance of pine and aromatic lavender fills the air.


* Hannah Stephenson was a guest of CV Villas (; 020 7563 7902) who offer a week's stay at Villa Elisabetta for up to eight guests from £2,640-£3,430 per week, including maid service and a welcome pack. Prices for flights, including UK regional departures, and car hire also available on request.

* For more information on Mafia-free tours, hotels and businesses, go to

* Travel search site Skyscanner ( offers Palermo car hire from £16 per day. Download its driving abroad guide (with tips, local laws and speed limits) to Italy at