Travel guide to Sicily ?>

Travel guide to Sicily

sicily1The largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily is separated by the main land by the Strait of Messina. It is largely mountainous and hilly with its highest peak rising to 1800m above sea level in Mount Etna. Sicily boasts 1000 km of beautiful coastline which is predominantly rocky with secluded coves in the north, while the southern coast is flatter with amazing sandy beaches. The population is mostly concentrated in urban areas, Palermo is the Sicilian capital city sided by other important centres such as Catania, Messina, Syracuse, Trapani, Enna, Caltanisetta, Agrigento and Ragusa.

Sicily is an island with many facets, a great holiday destination for seaside resorts, but also for its historical ruins, the beauty of its scenery and the delicious food. Important destinations are Cefalu’, famous resort in the northern coast and Taormina, Castellamare del Golfo, Bronte and Marsala. In the southern part of the island Agrigento with the famous Valley of the Temples at its doorstep deserves a visit as much as the Active volcanoes of Mount Etna and Stromboli.

Sicily is a good destination for water sports such as snorkeling, diving, windsurfing and board surfing as well as hiking and even skiing in the winter months.
Check out our interactive maps on the side menu to help with your journey plan.

Sicily Events

This is only a selection of the many events taking place in Sicily every year

January – February

Carnival – The Carnival is celebrated all over the island, but the celebrations in Acireale, north of Catania, are the most spectacular. A weeklong celebration with colourful parades of masked participants and floats surrounded by music and festive atmosphere.

Feast of Sant’Agata in Catania – The feast in honour of the city’s patron saint is an all-night celebration including a procession of candle-bearers parading through the streets and accompanied by the mayor and his entourage in horse-drawn carriages. Firework and street parties surround the event.

April

The Dance of the Devils – This unique festival takes place during Easter in Prizzi, a medieval town 2 hours from Palermo. The event is centred around a grotesque dance of the devils representing the struggle between good and evil. In the end good prevails with the angels appearing to subdue the devils. The festival includes street parades, dancing and dramatic music.

May

Infiorata – This event taking place in Noto, a small town in the southeastern coast, consists of a splendid carpet of flowers laid in the historic centre. The festival also features crafts shows, exhibitions, street parades, dance and music.

June

Stella Maris, feast in the waters of the port of Augusta in the province of Syracuse.

Feast of the cherries taking place in the town of Granite in the province of Messina.

August

Palio dei Normanni taking place in Piazza Armerina is reminiscent of Sicily’s Normans past. Locals dressed in medieval clothes and knight attire re-enact a symbolic fight against the Saracens represented by a puppet.

September – October

International Couscous Festival, a 3 day event taking place outside Trapani.

The Fishermen’s Festival takes place every year in Porticello Santa Flavia a little fishing port outside Palermo. The event includes boat races and other competitions among fishermen as well as food, dances and parades.

Places of Interest

Influenced by Romans, Normans, Greeks, Byzantines and Arabs, the island is loaded with interest, from historic sights to spectacular natural landscapes.

Interesting destinations are the capital, Palermo, containing many of the island’s primary attractions, although it is somewhat polluted, crowded and anarchic, but still worth a few days, Siracusa for its Greek ruins, and the Temples Valley in Agrigento, a group of Greek temples overlooking the sea and the most interesting Greek ruins outside Greece. There you’ll see perfectly preserved Doric temples including the Temple of Jupiter Olympus, Hercules Temple and the Dioscuri Temple, which is the symbol of Agrigento.

Mount Etna, an active volcano, which with its 3300 m is the largest in Europe, dominates the island and is home to many outdoor activities. It even becomes a ski resort in winter.
Taormina, one of the most beautiful cities in Sicily is a famous holiday destination and a favourite stop for the rich and famous. It has a picturesque Greek theatre set on a cliff, and open to the night sky, the ancient arena offers majestic views over the Gulf of Naxos and the crumbling columns and arches of the back wall frame of Mount Etna. In addition, Taormina has a beautiful village with plenty of shops and restaurants. The small village is perched on top of a hill, the walk down to the beach can be quite tiring but there is a shuttle service to take people up and down.

The archipelago of the Aeolian Islands situated north of Sicily includes 7 islands of volcanic origins, which thanks to the uncontaminated sea and a considerable presence of thermal springs are popular tourist destinations. The main islands are Lipari, Salina and Volcano followed by the smaller Alicudi, Stromboli, Filicudi and Panarea.

As well as being one of the most spectacular of the Aeolian Islands, Stromboli is one of the best known active volcanoes in Europe. A trip to Stromboli is a must for visitors of the archipelago, the climb to the rim of the crater, where the volcano’s regular plumes of fire and smoke can be observed from close distance, is well worth it.

Activities

Scuba-diving in Pantelleria is a definite must – the volcanic sea beds surrounding the island are spectacular. Many diving schools and centres offer trips around the island to discover different sub-aquatic landscapes. Popular diving spots are Cala Levante, Cala Gadir, Cala Tramontana, Punta Tracino and Punta Limarsi. The local waters offer a wide range of subaquatic wonders including corals, sponges, parrot fish and lobsters. All along the island’s shores, the sandy sea-bed suddenly turns an intense dark-green due to the posidonia, a marine plant known as the Mediterranean lung because it releases oxygen in the water.

Food

Sicilian food is rich of natural ingredients from the territory such as basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, saffron and rocket. Permanent features of Sicilian cuisine are flavours such as onion, parsley, wild fennel and garlic. Like most gastronomic traditions that come from a poor background Sicilian cuisine is rich in pasta recipes and breads that differ in shape, size and preparation methods. Famous pasta dishes are the pasta with sardines original of Palermo and adopted by the rest of the region, and pasta alla Norma with tomato, aubergine and salty ricotta, but also many variations of pasta with all types of vegetables and pulses. Aubergines are cooked in many different ways, the popular Aubergine Parmigiana is original of Sicily as well as the Caponata, chunks of Aubergine and peppers cooked in tomato sauce and herbs.

Washed by three seas, Sicily is rich with fish of all different kind with a preference for tuna, swordfish, sardines and octopus.
Meat dishes are also popular, particularly popular are pork and beef produced locally. The tendency of local meat to be quite tough is reflected in some of the most traditional recipes that tend to use minced meat such as the typical meatballs ragout and the famous “polpettone”, mince roll filled with ham, cheese, eggs and herbs.

Another typical recipe is “arancine”, fried rice dumplings filled with meat ragout and peas or with ham and cheese.

Cakes and desserts play an important part in local cuisine, the marzipan Martorana Fruits, “cannoli” hollow pastry filled with ricotta cream with candy fruit and chocolate chips, and “cassata siciliana” are among the most deliciously rich Italian desserts.

The favourable climate is fundamental in the quality of locally grown oranges and lemons, figs and other fruits that are the focus of regional agriculture.
Sicilian wines, once an unknown entity, in recent years have broken the regional boundaries so that rich and full bodied table wines such as Corvo, Regaleali and Etna Rosso are now appreciated by many. Marsala, the fortified wine is Sicily’s most famous drink and is to be enjoyed as an aperitif or at the end of the meal with a dessert.

Palermo is Sicily’s capital city and overlooks the homonymous gulf in the north-western region called Conca D’Oro (Golden Outcrop) rich in orange and lemon groves and surrounded by beautiful unspoilt bays. The province of Palermo includes about 82 towns including the famous Cefalù and Monreale.

Sights

Interesting sights are the Normans Palace, one of the most beautiful Italian palaces and a notable example of Norman architecture housing the famous Cappella Palatina, the Chiaramonte Palace and the Abatellis Palace dating back to the late 15th century built in typical Catalan style with Renaissance influences. The Regional Archaeological Museum in Palermo is one of the most important in Italy housing remains of Etruscan, Carthagian, Roman and Hellenistic civilisations.

The 12th century church of the Magione, officially Church of the Holy Trinity, is an ancient example of Norman architecture.
Quattro Canti is a small place at the crossing of the ancient main roads (now: Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda) dividing the town into its quarters. The palaces at the corner have diagonal baroque facades so that the place gets an almost octagonal form.

Palermo also has the largest Botanical Garden in Italy, which, dating back to 1785, covers a surface of over 10 hectares.
Close to the city is the fantastic promontory of Monte Pellegrino, 600 m above sea level with spectacular views of the city, its surrounding mountains and the sea.

Third largest city in Sicily and chief town of the homonymous province, Messina is situated near the northeastern corner of the island at the Strait of Messina that separate Sicily from the mainland.

Interesting sights are the 12th century Cathedral containing the remains of Conrad, King of Germany and Sicily in the 13th century, Palazzo Calapaj near the Duomo, an example of 18th century Messinese architecture which survived to the 1908 earthquake, the San Ranieri Lighthouse also knows as Tower dating back to 1555 and the 16th century fountains by Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli, the Fountain of Orion and the Fountain of Neptune. Other Churches worthy of note are the Annunziata dei Catalani dating from the late Norman period (late 12th century) for the external decoration of the transept and the dome area with a series of blind arches separated by small columns, and Santa Maria degli Alemanni (probably from the early 13th century), which belonged to the Knights of Malta.

A few kilometres from Messina are a series of seaside resorts with beautiful beaches with views over the Strait, the most popular are Lido di Mortelle, Lido del Tirreno and Lido Spiaggia d’Oro.
The Peloritani Mountain Range that surround Messina offer fantastic views over the coast and make a fantastic excursion for the nature lovers with good trekking routes.

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