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Fighting the Sicilian mafia through tourism

After decades of Mafia rule in Sicily, locals are fighting back – and they are asking tourists to help them, by staying in B&Bs, eating in restaurants and shopping in delis that refuse to pay protection money. Stephanie Rafanelli reports

It was Sunday lunchtime in Palermo’s Piazza San Francesco and the air was thick with charcoal smoke and chatter. A vendor poked an octopus as it roasted on the open grill, releasing a whiff of warm olive oil and lemon that mingled with the city’s characteristic scent of brine and dust. A girl carried a tray of sweet cannoli high above her head, navigating stalls of sardine rolls and anchovies frizzling in floury pans. The crowd went about its usual business – church bells chimed and a christening party spilt out of Basilica San Francesco D’Assisi, bobbing the newly baptized bundle as they strolled.

But this was no ordinary Sunday market. It was the “Free Sicily” organic food fair, part of a growing and increasingly visible movement run by young Palermitans rebelling against the mafia, or Cosa Nostra, and the stranglehold organised crime has on the Sicilian people.

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The inns and outs of my walk into Japan’s past

Walking the ancient Nakasendo highway offers travellers a glimpse into a Japan that has changed little over the centuries. Kate Graham follows a time-worn and scenic trail, enjoying hospitality at minshuku, traditional family-run inns

As I crouch to clamber through Maruya’s tiny front door the words of its website come back to me. ‘Here is not the haute cuisine which a famous cook makes. Here is not the luxurious equipment such as the high-quality hotel. But we do not think that we will change it. Because of we have you feel time of the travellers who do not change in old days.’

Yes it’s clumsy, but as my eyes adjust to the dim light it strikes me as completely accurate. In the simple wooden hallway shoes lie in neat rows on the compressed dirt floor: only feet with socks on can step onto the worn tatami mat platform. To my right gently glowing embers heat a hanging kettle, the thick aromatic smoke drifting up into the rafters. Through a blue noren (a cloth room divider), a steep staircase leads to a second floor reminiscent of a granny’s attic. It’s overflowing with nick-nacks, dusty lamps squashed next to woven raffia donkeys. A half-finished tapestry sits on a large abandoned loom. It’s dark and rustic and utterly charming.

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