- Sicily is accessible by ferry from Genoa, Livorno, Naples and Cagliari.
Direct trains run from Milan, Florence, Rome, Naples and Reggio di
Calabria to Messina and on to Palermo, Catania and other provincial
Palermo is a large but manageable city. The intersection of Corso
Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda marks the Quattro Canti (Four Corners),
the centre of the oldest part of the town. Known locally as il teatro,
this intersection is the actual and ideal centre of the town. West
along Corso Vittorio Emanuele rises the fortress palace of Palazzo
dei Normanni, once the centre of a medieval court and now the seat
of the Sicilian parliament. Alberghiera is the location of Palermo’s
busiest street market, the Ballaro market. The centerpiece of the
quarter Il Capo is the imposing monastery of Sant’Agostino.
Northwards the alleys of Il Capo lead to Piazza Giuseppe Verdi and
the grand neoclassical Teatro Massimo. The arterial Via Alloro hides
Palermo’s best museum, the wonderful Galleria Regionale di Palazzo
Abatellis, full of treasures and paintings from the Middle Ages to
the 18th century. Behind the gallery is the Complessa di Santa Maria
dello Spasimo, the only example of Northern Gothic in Sicily.
Important festivals are the Carnevale in February, the Easter Holy
Week in April and the Opera Season from December until May. Palermo’s
most famous dishes are the pasta con le sarde and the cannoli. Northwest
of the city is the popular beach of Mondello. The Monreale Cathedral,
8km southwest of Palermo, is considered the finest example of Norman
architecture in Sicily. Almost 60km north of Palermo lies the island
of Ustica. This island (8,7 sq km) is ideal for snorkeling, diving
and underwater photography. Among the most rewarding dive sites are
the Secca Colombara and the Scoglio del Medico to the west.
The Parco Naturale Regionale delle Madonie between Palermo and Cefalù
incorporates the Madonne mountain range and some of the highest mountains
on Sicily after Mt Etna. In winter, Piano Battaglia is the only place
in Sicily, other than Etna, where you can ski.
The fishing village Cefalù has long been the north coast’s
favorite holiday spot. The village has sandy beaches and good nightlife.
From the Salita Saraceno you have stunning views of the town below.
Most people aiming for the Aeolian Islands pass through Milazzo. There
is good swimming at Capo Milazzo at the tip of the spit of land that
stretches out towards the Aeolian Islands.
Part of a huge volcanic ridge stretching 200km north from the coast
of Sicily near Milazzo, the seven Aeolian islands of Lipari, Vulcano,
Salina, Panarea, Stromboli, Alicudi and Filicudi represent the very
pinnacle of this 3000m-high outcrop. The rich volcanic soil fosters
a wilderness of flowers and plants, as well as an abundance of sea
life, making the islands a paradise for naturalists and scuba divers
alike. Lipari, the “capital” of the islands, has a quaint
harbor and the town is a delightful maze of pastel-colored houses.
North of Lipari town are the popular pebble beaches of Canneto and
Porticello. Lipari’s two harbors, Marina Lunga and Marina Corta,
are on either side of the cliff-top citadel. Snorkeling and scuba
diving are incredibly popular given the crystal-clear waters. Sunbathers
and swimmers head for Canneto, to bask on Spiaggia Bianca or on Spiaggia
della Papesca. Vulcano is worshipped for its therapeutic mud baths
and hot springs. Its weird steaming landscape and black beaches makes
the island an interesting day trip if you can overcome the vile smell
sulphurous gases. All the facilities are concentrated between Porto
di Levante and Porto di Ponente, where you will find the Spiaggia
Sabbia Nera. The top attraction on Volcano is the trek up the Gran
Cratere. Salina’s twin craters of Monte dei Porri and Monte
Fossa delle Felci are lushly wooded. Its high coastal cliffs plunge
into dramatic beaches. Don’t miss a trip to the beach at Pollara.
Panarea is exclusive and expensive and it is popular with the international
jet set. The beaches of Cala Junco and Spiaggia Fumarola are easily
accessible. Stromboli’s treacle-like lava oozing down the northwestern
flank creates special effects. Volcanic activity has scarred and blackened
one side of the island, while the eastern side is green and dotted
with white houses. Filicudi is arguably the wildest and the prettiest
of the Aeolian Islands, with crystal-clear waters and deep grottoes.
The most attractive of these is Grotta del Bue Marino. If you’re
trying to escape the summer crowds then Alicudi, home to a handful
of farmers and fishermen, is the place to come.
Messina is situated at the northernmost point of the Ionian coast.
Wide boulevards, a practical grid system and elegant belle époque
buildings make Messina an easy and pleasant city to navigate. The
Norman cathedral is one of the most attractive churches in Sicily.
The drive north along the coast from Messina to Capo Peloro and then
round to the east is pretty, and there are some reasonable beaches
between the Cape and Acquarone.
Taormina is spectacularly located on a terrace of Monte Tauro, dominating
the sea with views westwards to Mt Etna. Taormina is far removed from
the banal economic realities of other Sicilian cities. Taormina is
an almost perfectly preserved medieval town and it has a wealth of
small but perfect tourist sites. Many visitors to Taormina come for
the beach life. Lido Mazzarò is well serviced with bars and
Catania is the only city in Sicily that can really lay claim to be
an entrepreneurial town. Catania’s central square, Piazza del
Duomo, has been declared a Unesco Heritage Site. In the centre of
the piazza is Catania’s most memorable monument, the smiling
Fontana dell’Elefante. The best show in town is the bustling
La Pescheria, the bustling fish market and adjoining food market.
Catania has a reputation for great nightlife with dozens of bars.
Dominating the landscape in eastern Sicily between Taormina and Catania,
Mt Etna (3350m) is Europe’s largest live volcano and one of
the worlds most active. The volcano’s unpredictability means
people are no longer allowed to climb to the craters.
The main sights of Syracuse are in two areas: on the island of Ortigia
and 2km across town in the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis. The
island of Ortigia is the spiritual and physical heart of the city.
The Greek essence of Syracuse is everywhere in evidence. Walking through
the tangled maze of alleys that characterizes Ortigia is an atmospheric
experience, especially down the narrow lanes of Via Maestranza and
the crumbling Jewish ghetto of Via della Giudecca. Syracuse’s
treasures at the Neapolis archaeological park are summed up in one
image, that of the 5th-century-BC Teatro Greco. Other sights are the
Anfiteatro Romano and the Ara di Gerone II.
Noto is the finest and most coherent baroque town in Sicily and it
was recently added to Unesco’s list of World Heritage Sites.
The San Nicolò Cathedral stands centre stage in Noto’s
most graceful square, Piazza Municipio. Other sights are the Palazzo
Villadorata and the Giardino Pubblico.
Ragusa is a prosperous provincial capital and is virtually two towns
in one: Ragusa Ibla and the 18th-century “new” town, simply
known as Ragusa. The prosperous farming industry has sustained a fairly
happy and healthy local population. In October, Ragusa hosts a yearly
Busker’s Festival in Giardino Ibleo.
Enna dominates the centre of the island and is a rich agricultural
centre. Sights are the Castello di Lombardia, the cathedral and the
Agrigento is Sicily’s oldest tourist site. The town is one of
the most lively and aggressive in Sicily. The splendid Valle dei Templi
loses much of its immediate impact and it is only when you get down
among the ruins that you can appreciate their monumentality. Despite
its name the five Doric temples, Tempio di Ercole, Tempio della Concordia,
Tempio di Giunone, Tempio di Giove, Tempio di Castore e Polluce, stand
along a ridge, designed to be visible from all around and a beacon
for homecoming sailors. Agrigento’s big annual shinding is the
Sagra del Mandorlo in Fiore, a folk festival set on the first Sunday
The ruins of Selinunte are some of the most impressive ruins in Sicily
and are more atmospherically situated than those in Agrigento. No
visit to Selinunte is complete without a walk along the beach below
the city, from where there are marvelous panoramas of the temples.
Marsala is a surprisingly pleasant town with an interesting historic
centre. It’s a good alternative to Trapani as a base for exploring
Sicily’s northwest. Marsala’s finest treasure is the partially
reconstructed Carthaginian warship in the Museo Archeologico. North
of the museum is the partly excavated Insula Romana, which was a 3rd-century
AD Roman house.
Situated on an attractive curving spit of land, Trapani sits opposite
the Egadi Islands and is a good base from which to explore the northwest.
From the ancient Greek city of Segesta and the medieval town of Erice
to the beaches of the Golfo di Castellamare and the Riserva Naturale
dello Zingaro, this small corner is a smorgasbord of Sicily’s
main delights. Trapani’s major sight is the Santuario dell’Annunziata.
Remodelled in baroque style in the 17th century, it retains its original
Gothic rose window and doorway. The Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro
is the star attraction on the gulf. Mediterranean flora dusts the
hillsides with wild carob and bright yellow euphorbia, and hidden
coves, like Marinella bay, provide excellent swimming spots.
For centuries the Egadi islanders have lived from the sea but nowadays,
the waters around the islands have over fished and tourism looks set
to be the main earner. The largest of the islands is butterfly-shaped
Favignana. It is pleasant to explore on bicycle and around the costa
tufa quarries are carved out of the crystal-clear waters – most
notably around Cala Rossa and Cavallo. Closest to Trapani lies Levanzo,
the smallest island of the archipelago. The most distant is Marettimo.
The island’s beaches and its crystal-clear waters are the main
Pantelleria is Sicily’s biggest island and it is characterized
by jagged lava stone, dwarf vines and the Lago Specchio di Venere.
At Siba there is also a steaming natural sauna, Stufa del Bagno di
Arturo, at the summit of Montagna Grande. The island is famous for
its secluded coves, which are perfect for snorkeling and diving.