The largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily is as rich in history and culture as it is in beauty, with evidence of human inhabitants dating back as far as 12,000BC. Despite being a region of Italy, Sicily has its own flair, no doubt cultivated by its exotic location between Europe and the tip of Africa.
From its ancient Greek temples and Baroque churches to its mesmerising beaches and the smoking summit of the island’s famous volcano, Mount Etna, Sicily is determined to put on a spectacular show every which way you turn.
Sicily is a huge island with countless archaeological sites, beaches and natural wonders to explore. Hiring a car is a great way to get around, although buses, trains and ferries will transport you around the island as well. Palermo, the island’s capital, is steeped in history dating back 8 millennia.
Must-see attractions include the Norman Palace, the spectacular La Martorana church with its intricate mosaics, and the strikingly beautiful Fontana Pretoria fountain, which commands all the attention in the charming Piazza Pretoria. Over on the east coast, join a tour to discover Europe’s tallest active volcano, the powerful Mount Etna. This once in a lifetime experience also offers the opportunity to take in the breathtaking scenery of eastern Sicily.
Nearby is Sicily’s second-largest city, Catania, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you can visit the bustling fish market, dine on excellent Sicilian cuisine, let your hair down in the many bars and clubs and stroll down the graceful Via Etnea boulevard, before visiting the Roman Amphitheatre and a host of other historic sites, museums and landmarks.
Eat and Drink
Greek, Arabic, Spanish and North African flavours have all influenced the region’s mouth-watering cuisine. The result is a new and delightful experience for the taste buds with each meal. Street food is very popular in Palermo, with a traditional snack to sample being arancini, a rice ball stuffed with mozzarella, meat or vegetables before being crumbed and deep fried. Seafood naturally features heavily on menus across the island, and cheeses such as pecorino and ragusano are proud specialties of the region.
Sicilians don’t muck about when it comes to sweets either. The delectable cassata, a cream-filled sponge cake, is a Palermo specialty, while Catania is the home of granita, a refreshingly fruity ice dessert. Cannoli, sweet ricotta-filled pastry tubes, are also very popular and not to be missed. Sicily delivers brilliantly on locally made wines as well, with a full-bodied variety to match every dish.
Where to Stay
Sicily’s main cities are where you’ll find big up-market hotels and resorts. In the capital of Palermo, staying in the centre is a safe and convenient option. The east coast town of Taormina, with its staggeringly beautiful mountain-meets-the-sea location, offers lovely beach resort accommodation. For a rustic Sicilian experience, you may prefer to stay in a rural agriturismo (country house B&B) where you can soak up the tranquillity of the countryside and delight in hearty home-style cooking.
A Sicilian holiday lends itself to lazing on the dreamy beaches and lapping up the historic sites and natural wonders, but there is always time for a little retail therapy. Sicily has some very notable open-air markets where you can enjoy browsing local handicrafts and ceramics along with antique curios to take back home and treasure. The city of Agrigento is the place to pick up locally made leather products, while the capital of Palermo delivers on luxury fashion boutiques as well as souvenirs.
Sicily Like a Local
This may sound too good to be true, but to experience Sicily like a local you’re going to have to eat gelato for breakfast. Specifically, brioche con gelato, which consists of a soft and delicious brioche bun stuffed with scoops of gelato. Wash it down with a coffee and you’ll blend right in.