Sicily is a land of many cultures. Over the centuries, attracted by the strategic location for control over the surrounding oceans, Sicily was conquered by many civilisations, all of which have left their mark on the island resulting in a unique mix of buildings, traditions, cooking styles and customs. Sicily owes it’s diverse culture to invasions by the Greeks, Normans, Romans, Arabs, French and Spanish as well as others.
Sicily has nine provinces, each with a major city bearing the same name as it’s province. Most of the provinces are dominated by the stunning views of Mt. Etna, Europe’s largest live volcano and the world’s most volatile. Circum Etneo is the road circumnavigating the base of Mt. Etna. The journey provides a kaleidoscope of views of the volcano while passing through picturesque little villages. An incredible trip by road or train.
Sicily is rich in archaeological wonders, breathtaking panoramic landscapes and world heritage sites. You’ll marvel at the well preserved history of the Greek theatres, Byzantine Cathedrals, breathtaking mosaics and ancient architecture.
Palermo is the capital and chief seaport of Sicily. It is known as the Conca d’Oro (Golden Basin or horn of plenty) where lush citrus plantations, palm trees and olive groves flourish.
The city of Palermo has the most amazingly diverse population. The museums, palaces and cathedrals testify to the rich cultural history. The open markets and piazze nightlife are famous.
Some of the must see locations are Monreale, considered to be the finest example of Norman architecture in Sicily, with a Bysantine Cathedral that is one of the most impressive creations of the Italian Middle Ages. Cefalù which is a charming fishing village, has beaches which are absolutely spectacular and attract many visitors who wish to enjoy complete rest in a heavenly setting. Another village is Mondello with its Art Nouveau pier, famous from the 19th century, attracting the rich and famous as well as jet setters.
Messina, is a vibrant city. Coming from Calabria on the mainland of Italy to Messina is a life changing experience. It is as though you are stepping into another world. The panoramas and glorious beaches at the tip of Capo Peloro and the Crypt of the Capuchin Monastery at Savoca are a must see.
At Taormina there are many upmarket boutiques and restaurants to enjoy and Taormina’s gorgeous churches are the most popular wedding venues in Sicily. For centuries its stunning architecture has seduced many writers and artists, aristocrats and royalty. An almost perfectly preserved medieval town.
Linked to Taormina by 1000 steps from one hilltop to another is the village of Castelmola. The remains of the spectacular Castle is the centrepiece of this intriguing and inviting town.
Nearby is Giardini-Naxos, founded in 735BC. The Naxos ruins provide amazing history in the archaeological digs.
The main island of the Aeolian Islands is Lipari. It is the centre of the archipelago. A delightful maze of pastel coloured houses are nestled around the soaring castle. It is a wonderful sight to see. The surrounding islands are Vulcano, Salina, Alicudi, Filicudi, Stromboli and the prestigious Panarea with a spectacular marina.
Catania is Sicily’s most vibrant and elegant city. Its lava stone buildings are dramatic against the blue skies. Its piazzas and boulevards are wide and inviting and the many bars light up the nightlife. “Via Crociferi” is regarded as Catania’s Baroque street with magnificent and unique buildings.
The city’s fish market is Sicily’s most impressive institution. An early morning visit to the market leaves a striking memory for tourists.
Riviera dei Cyclops is a scenic drive along the coast, North of Catania. It runs between Aci Castello and Acireale. Acireale occupies a magnificent position of the Ionian Coast and it is a masterpiece of Sicilian baroque, with thermal baths, wonderful food and morning markets.
A little further along is Aci Trezza which is famous for its surreal, jagged basalt rocks “Scogli dei Ciclopi”, that protrude from the sea along the coast. It is amazing to sit in a delightful piazza and watch the local kids fearlessly diving off the rocks.
The island of Ortigia is the spiritual and physical heart of Siracusa. It is a living museum of the Greek, Norman, Aragonese and Baroque periods of occupation. In recent years Ortigia has undergone major renovation, especially of the red Venetian palaces. Artists are drawn to the area for the manufacturing of the special paper made from the papiro plant, an ancient Greek custom brought to the region.
Every year Siracusa joins with Ortigia, to promote their international cultural festival of art, theatre, cinema and music. In this festival the archaeology park and Castello Maniace take on symbolic value. The archaeological park comprises most of the Greco-Roman antiquities of the city. The Roman amphitheatre dates from about the 1st century AD.
In the third week in May, the flowers of the baroque city of Noto are in full blossom. Music, exhibitions and cultural festivities light up the South-east district. The peak event is “Infiorata” with a spectacular carpet of flowers laid along Via Nicolaci, one of the most elegant streets of Noto. This beautiful festival draws crowds of florists and sightseers each year. Noto is an urban centre of endless charm with majestic buildings constructed from local limestone which over the years has developed a colourful gilded and pink patina. The entire city is watched over by a magnificent 18th century Cathedral. You can easily get lost in Noto and love every bit of it.
Ragusa is a quiet and dignified provincial town. It is amazing to walk from Ragusa Superiore (Upper Ragusa) down the curving streets and about 700 stairs to Ragusa Ibla (Ragusa’s old town) and count the baroque spires as you descend. It is a splendid setting on a plateau between deep ravines.
Monica is a village that appears to be dug out of the rock because of the caves, inhabited until a few decades ago. The Duomo (San Giorgio) rises in the distance with its towered facade on a flight of 250 steps in an impressive combination of architecture, spectacle and urban design. It is an exquisite baroque masterpiece. It is important to go to the Belvedere Pizzo, an exceptionally scenic spot overlooking the whole town.
Further along the coast is POZZALLO which is a sleepy hamlet with a long beach. From here it is an easy boat ride across to Malta.
Agrigento, founded on a plateau overlooking the sea and nearby rivers, was established by the Greeks from Gela. It soon became the richest and most famous Greek colony, which now is recognised for its extraordinary archaeological legacy. The famous Valley of the Temples are the best kept Doric Style temples outside of Greece. This is a world heritage site and wonderful attraction for visitors. There are wonderful festivals throughout Agrigento. A festival held during its hot summer nights at the temples includes musicals and operas as well as theatre and ballet, all featuring famous artists.
In July Menfi, a picturesque town with its wonderful landscape of small vineyards, farms and country houses celebrates a regional wine festival. A long weekend of tasting events, shows, cinema, conferences and wonderful food. The Carnivale in Sciatica is one of the most renowned in Italy and dates back to about 1616. The enormous floats are a work of art and the local people, in special costumes, let themselves go and party with abandonment.
Trapani is located between the sea and the mountains, in the west of Sicily. It boasts elegant baroque palaces or mansions and impressive churches. The medieval districts of the old town are situated on the headland developed by the Spanish. The oldest section was built in Moorish fashion around a network of interconnecting narrow streets which would have been originally enclosed by walls.
Nearby Erice takes the shape of a perfect equilateral triangle, whose symbolism has provoked mystery and endless argument. An intricate maze of narrow streets, each cobbled with rectangular stones, provides unexpected glimpses of churches and monasteries. There are over sixty scattered through the town. Erice is a marvellous medieval town worth a visit for its architectural and landscape beauty.
Segesta has been home to art for centuries. It’s temple has resisted the wear of time and its ancient theatres are extraordinary evidence of the extremely sophisticated civilizations of the past. Today Segesta is the natural home of quality theatre, hosting Greek and Latin classical playwrights in July and August. Another very touching event is Theatre at Sunrise, with spoken poetry as the sun rises.
In the southern part of Sicily, this province was an important ancient Greek civilation. Gela, set on the southern coast by the Mediterranean is the oldest town in Sicily after Siracusa, A visit to the city can start in Piazza Garibaldi, overlooked by the Cathedral, built between 1570 and 1622. The 18th century frescoes covering the vault of the nave form one of the most important works in southern Italy.
Mazzarina which is home to two ancient castles. The townships of Suteria and Santa Caterina Villarmosa have strong agricultural economies with wheat, olives and almonds as well as producing cattle and sheep. It is wonderful countryside to travel through.
SAN Cataldo attracts many visitors with its castles and churches. Most of the buildings date from the 17 century with history of occupation stretching back much earlier.
Enna is the Centre of Sicily. Its most used nicknames are “Belvedere” (Panoramic Viewpoint) and “Ombelico” (Navel) of Sicily. It is the highest Italian Provincial City. An ancient city established on a plain or tableland on the summit which is the most remarkable national fortress in the world. Archaeological findings dating from the 14th century BC. Castello di Lombardia is the most important example of military architecture in Sicily.
Aidone is Enza’s hometown. It is an ancient administrative centre of importance. Morgantina is a significant archaeological site and has a remarkable museum. The Lake Pergusa Valley also has archaeological sites with ancient temples dating back 2000 years.
Sperlingia has stunning landscape views. Its castle was carved out of the massive rock formations and the houses below were carved into the caves. Today, the houses are still lived in and are renovated and elaborately decorated. Sperlinga will stay in your mind and your heart forever.