Sicily – Paradise Found in Italy
How can you not like a place with very friendly people, charming villages and towns built on the side of a cliff, or atop a mountain with views of the Mediterranean Sea that go on forever. Oh yes, I forgot to mention the amazing weather. Well, that would be the beautiful island of Sicily. I absolutely love Sicily!
Now, I should mention that I am Sicilian (well one half Sicilian). My grandfather lived in Messina, Sicily until after the big earthquake of 1908. After that the town was devastated and my guess is he left for America like many Sicilians did during that time to find work and a better life.
It is hard to describe the beauty of Sicily, but it reminds me a lot of Hawaii with Greek and Roman ruins laying all around. Mt Etna dominates the sky from the eastern side of Sicily while rolling hills and mountains make up the rest of Sicily. Many of the smaller towns and villages are built either on the top of, or on the side of mountains. I assume it was for protection since Sicily has been occupied by Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Arabs. The Greeks came here in 500 BC and began building there temples. The Romans occupied Sicily for about 200 BC until the end of the Roman empire in 476 AD, then came the Byzantines. Sicily has always been an important island for its agricultural resources.
My Favorite Spots in Sicily
There is much to see in Sicily. It would be easy to fill up a wonderful two week vacation to see the majority of Sicily. One of my tours took me from the east coast to pretty close to the west coast of the island and that took about 3 hours. It is pretty easy to get around Sicily, as you can take a train to any of the destinations you would want to visit. While I did not visit all of Sicily, I did see some incredible sites that I want to share with you.
One of the most beautiful towns I have visited in a long time. I fell in love with Taormina. This charming town sits high atop a mountain overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. It is a major resort town only open from March through October. Most of the shops, restaurants and hotels are closed during the winter months. Stroll through the narrow streets that are built into the hillside.
You can choose to stay either on the hillside overlooking the sea (and it is hard not to have a magical view from any point in this town) or down on the water (I choose to stay there and was very happy I did). A convenient cable car will take you up and down the cliff for only 3 euros, making it very convenient to enjoy both parts of the town.
After you are tired of shopping or eating gelato, there are a few great things to see.
First, there is the open air Greek Theatre which is the icon of the town. Sitting high atop a mountain peak, the theatre was built in the 3rd century BC and seats 10,000 people and is still used today. The views from the theatre are absolutely amazing.
- Second, I suggest lunch, dinner or drinks at the Belmind Grand Timeo. This is clearly the best hotel in Taormina (well the Belmond Sant’Andrea is a close second and my favorite).
- Third, take a walk up to Madonna della Rocca. It is quite a hike up to the top of this peak but the views are unforgettable. I suggest taking the stairs all the way up. It is a good workout and rather intimidating, so don’t look up and you will be fine.
- Finally, take a walk around the public gardens. While it is not very big, it is great to walk around and the views are incredible.
Valley of the Temples (Agrigento, Sicily)
This should not be missed. A 2.5 hour drive from Taormina, this ancient city was built by the Greeks between the 5th century BC. Once you arrive you will be amazed to see some of the best preserved Greek temples. The Temple of Concordia is considered the best preserved Greek temple in the world. It stands as it did when it was built in the 5th century BC. This temple was turned into a church in the 6th century AD. You will also see the Temple of Juno, Temple of Heracles (not much remains) and the Temple of Zeus. Just imagine how spectacular this valley was when the Greeks occupied it. The Valley of the Temples is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Villa Romana del Casale (Piazza Armerina)
If you want to see the largest and richest collection of mosaics in the world, well look no further. Just visit Villa Romana del Casale and there you will find a Roman palace built in the 4th century AD. Every floor and every room in this rather large palace is covered in mosaics each depicting unique scenes and all telling a different story. The most famous mosaic is called the Bikini girls that depicts women in bikinis performing different sporting events. This is another UNESCO World Heritage site.
Soaring approximately 3300m (10,800ft), Mt Etna is an active volcano that dominates the eastern part of Sicily. Travel right to the top of this massive volcano (the largest in Europe) and watch the power of mother nature at work. If it is not erupting that day, you can still see the crater and lava flows from past eruptions. It is an experience that should not be missed. I have a separate blog post on this so just click on the link.
The gateway to the mainland, Messina is mainly an industrial town. While it is the hometown of my grandfather, I don’t necessarily recommend you visit it. Palermo is the capital city and many more interesting things to see there. I did not visit Palermo on this trip so I can’t comment the town.
A Special Note to YOU Travelers out there
So many people hit the top spots in Italy (Venice, Florence and Rome) but for a one hour flight you can add the island of Sicily to your Italy vacation pans and I assure you that you will not be disappointed. While I know most travelers might not be able to stay for two weeks to see all of Sicily, I think if you add 5 days to your vacation plans, that is plenty of time to see many of the special sites in Sicily and still have time to enjoy the beach and warm weather.
A few more travelers notes. It can get very hot (up to 40c / 104f) and humid in Sicily during the summer months, so I suggest May or June (the weather was near perfect the days I was there in May). Also, I highly recommend staying in Taormina. It is beautiful and you can access most of Sicily from this point. There really is no central point in Sicily to see everything.
Sicily is a special place and one that should not be missed.
Ciao from Sicily