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No matter what kind of traveler you are, Sicily has it all. Archaeology, tradition and glamour all found on this island paradise. To re-live the history of the ancient Greeks, visit Agrigento and The Valley of Temples. To experience the island’s luxury, rent a villa in Sicily in the most fashionable seaside resort town of Taormina, or feel the earth tremble under your feet on Europe’s highest active volcano, Mt. Etna. Sit back and enjoy a glass of Nero d’Avola in wine country or at a sidewalk cafe.
Above photo: Taormina, Alessandro Rossi/Flickr
The Boot and Football
From as early as elementary school, children are taught to recognize Italy on a map as “the boot”, Sicily is “the football”. A volcanic island formed thousands of years ago and was built, influenced and ruled by ancient cultures such as the Greeks, Normans, Arabs, Romans as well as the Spaniards. This historical potpourri has made Sicily one of the most fascinating and eclectic cultures in Europe.
“To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Once upon a time Sicily was the far, far away land almost impossible to get to. Today there are three major airports in Sicily;
- Palermo Falcone e Borsellino (the northern part of the island)
- Vincenzo Florio (the western part of the island)
- Catania Fontanarossa (the eastern part of the island)
Tour Sicily by Car or Train
Highways and roadways are spread throughout the island and will lead you to all your destinations. Train travel is best along the coastal perimeter. The train network also goes inland to major cities and towns. Sicily has a triangular shape, try to visit each corner. Choose one or two places to visit or follow the coast to do a complete tour of the island with some inland excursions.
In Palermo, the capital, there are rich architectural treasures like the Palermo Cathedral, a medieval Normanic church with high, stone arches and towers looming over the city like a castle fortress. Quatro Canti is another sight to see in Palermo, at Piazza Vigliena, the four Baroque style buildings are donned with fountains and sculptures representing the four seasons and honoring the four Spanish Kings that once ruled Sicily’s past. Cefalù and San Vito Lo Capo are seaside resort towns offering sun, sea and relaxation.
The west coast city of Trapani is also a cultural mix of Roman, Byzantine and Norman influence. An excellent starting point for an excursion to the Natural Reserve Park of Trapani and Paceco where sea salt is extracted. There’s an ancient mill and is considered a national heritage monument. Beautiful beaches with white sand are found all along the coast but some of the the most spectacular and exclusive beaches can be found on the close by island of Favignana.
Heading along the southern coast of Sicily, Selinunte is an archeological reserve of Greek temples. Castelvetrano is a quiet city inland and the custodian of the temple treasures; the bronze statues of Efebo are found in the city Museum. The UNESCO world heritage site the Valley of Temples of Agrigento is further down the coast. Once known as Akrags, it was the largest Greek foreign settlement, after Roman defeat it was named Agrigentum, and hence, Agrigento. Today it is the sight of the most pristine vestige of Greek temples and constructions outside Greece. Columns rise high and far taking the visitor back to another era and time.
Further south in Val di Noto, Ragusa, and Modica are other cities included in the UNESCO world heritage listing for their Baroque architecture. Apart from an elaborately decorated cathedral, Modica in particular is known for its chocolate production. Spanish rule imported the cocoa plant and an ancient Aztec process, which is still in use today.
Heading back north-east, a visit to Siracusa and Ortigia Island is well worth the trip. An evening stroll through the charming lanes and open piazzas will spark romance even in the most prosaic. Have a traditional dish of pasta alla norma made with fresh eggplant and tomato. Take a walk after dinner to the southern tip of the island to see the Maniace Castle and the panoramic view out to sea.
To complete your tour around the island, head up to Catania, another large metropolis on the sea. It’s the only city in Sicily with an underground metro system. A bustling city of culture, art, nightlife and considered the economical business hub of Sicily nicknamed “The Milan of the South”. The beaches along the Catania coast vary; the popular Playa di Catania is a long stretch of soft sand, Fondachello Beach is pebbly and Aci Castello Beach offers a picturesque view of the castle atop the lava rock formations overlooking a lagoon of clear waters, perfect for snorkeling.
Europe’s Highest Active Volcano
Mt. Etna is the highest active volcano in Europe. When white smoke hovers over the peak, the locals are calm and tranquil, when the smoke is grey or black, it means she has woken up in a bad mood. Rocks, ash and lava occasionally erupt from Etna, the last eruption was as recently as April 2017. Cable cars bring visitors to the top of Etna and on a clear day you can even see as far as Malta.
At the foot of Mt. Etna the land is fertile for agriculture and conditions are optimal for both red and white wine production. Nero d’Avola is a full-bodied, aromatic red wine. Visit the vineyards or find an outdoor cafe to sit an enjoy an aperitivo (happy hour).
One of the most breathe-taking views of Sicily is in Taormina from the third century A.D. Greek Theatre, which was cut and carved directly out of the mountain. The relic overlooks stunning turquoise blue waters and a landscape of natural beauty. Downtown Taormina exudes elegance and luxury. The palatial plazas, elegant boutiques and mosaic pavements remind us of the grand nobility and rich cultural influence Sicily once had on the ancient world.
Despite which part of the island you choose to visit or which kind of traveler you are, you will certainly find the right vacation retreat that will fit your style in Sicily.
Don’t miss visiting:
- Palermo and the northern seaside towns
- Trapani and the Natural Reserve Park
- Greek temples Selinunte and the museum in Castelvetrano
- Valley of Temples of Agrigento
- Siracusa and Ortigia Island
- Taormina town center and the Greek Theatre
Foods to try:
- Fresh fish
- Fresh locally grown fruits, nuts, vegetables and olive oils
- Chocolate from Moidica
- Cannoli, pastries and marzapane
- Pasta alla norma
- Sicilian wines – red Nero d’Avola or a white Grillo