Sicily is the largest of the Italian islands, separated from the Continent by the Strait of Messina and surrounded by the Ionian, the Tyrrhenian and the Mediterranean Seas.
It is one of the pearls of Southern Italy and can be discovered, understood and experienced through a series of itineraries dedicated to areas of interest ranging from nature to history and traditions.
Nature seems to have endowed all its wonders to this land: mountains hills and above all the sea, with its incredible colors, its crystal-clear water and the beauty of its seabeds, in no way inferior to those of other seas.
Here, the Mediterranean Sea, with its many little islands scattered around the coasts of Sicily – The Aeolians, Egadi and Pelagie Islands, Pantelleria and Ustica – offers unique and the intense sceneries, scents and flavors of uncontaminated nature.
Last but not least, its great volcanoes are symbols of the irresistible beauty and vitality of this incredibly charming region.
Fascination for this region grows with treasured archaeological sites that tell the story of the ancient origins of Trinacria (ancient name for Sicily).
The provinces of the region are:
Palermo (regional capital), Agrigento, Catania, Caltanissetta, Enna, Messina, Ragusa, Siracusa, and Trapani.
What to see
Etna the greatest active volcano in Europe, is on Sicily’s eastern coast and is one of the fundamental stops for those wanting to discover this region. Its spectacular eruptions have created unique landscapes over the centuries.
Visitors interested in breathtaking landscapes can choose from among the protected reserves in Etna’s natural parks. The Madonie and the Nebrodi parks, as well as the volcanic paradise of Pantelleria, are sprinkled with enchanting oases like that of “Pertusa di Notaro” (“Cold Cavity”), a grotto noted for the extremely fresh air that passes through i), and dammusi, the old stone houses typical of the island.
Valle del Bove (Valley of the Oxen), the walls of which reach up to 1000 mt; the Grotta del Gelo (Ice Cave), the only existing perpetual glacier at these latitudes; and the Gole dell’Alcantara (Alcantara River Park), a thick network of rocky channels of cold water – these gorges are just some of the wonders you can admire when visiting this natural paradise.
The many islands that “orbit” Sicily are all very charming, but above all the Aeolian Islands a UNESCO World Heritage Site, deserve to be mentioned. The archipelago comprises seven islands – Lipari, Vulcano, Stromboli, Salina, Filicudi, Alicudi and Panarea – as well as a series of islets and rocks of smaller dimension. The history of the Aeolian Islands are clearly bound to the Volcanoes, the “artists” of these splendid natural masterpieces; here you can plunge into the deep blue of the sea, make excursions to visit the many caves scattered along the coasts, relax on the small beaches lapped by crystal-clear waters and enjoy the delicious local food and fish dishes.
Another world treasure certified by UNESCO is the archeological area of Agrigento, one of the most important towns of Magna Graecia. The famous Valley of the Temples – surrounded by green olive groves, almond trees, citrus orchards and vineyards that stretch out to the sea with all its imposing and elegant monuments – fantastically evokes an atmosphere of 2500 years ago, when the ancient Akagras Agrigentum was a center of power and learning.
On Sicily’s southeastern coast stands Syracuse, joint UNESCO World Heritage Site with the Necropolis of Pantalica since 2005.
This ancient Greek colony fronts an evocative natural port that is blocked on its east by Ortygia, the oldest urban center here. Every corner and cranny of the city offers precious archaeological testimonies that recall the splendor of Magna Graecia.
Sicily is rich in UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Two other must-sees are the Late Baroque cities of the Noto Valley, and the Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina.
“If someone should spend just one day in Sicily and ask: What should I visit? I would answer without hesitating… Taormina… This small village is only a landscape, yet a landscape where you can find everything to seduce your eyes, your spirit, your imagination.” This is how the famous French writer Guy de Maupassant described Taormina, hitting on the essence of this little jewel midway between Messina and Catania.
The undisputed ruler of this ancient and beautiful land is undoubtedly the sea, that can be enjoyed in so many different ways: relaxing on one of the manycoastal beaches, exploring the wonderful seabeds, or windsurfing and kitesurfing with the waves and the wind.
Here, the power of the sea, together with that of the wind, allows for the opportunity to feel the thrill of “running” or even “flying” over the crystal-clear waters of the coasts of San Vito lo Capo, Mondello, Cefalù, Marina di Ragusa, Taormina, the Aeolian Islands, Pantelleria, Lampedusa, and Ustica, just some of the many places where one can practice these sports year-round.
Trekking lovers can go on a guided excursion along the routes of Sicily’s natural parks, while those who prefer other means can choose to explore these wonderful places on a horse’s back or riding a mountain bike.
It should be mentioned that in recent years Sicily has even become an important destination for lovers of golf. Several new courses have made their home on the island, which is host to the by-now famous Sicily Open.
The Belpaese has always been considered one of the most sought-after destinations for thermal cures, a form of natural medicine existing in Italy since the Roman ages. Sicily is a region of water and volcanoes and it offers a wide range of treatments for those who wish to unwind from stress and daily life by “spa-ing”. In thermal spas and wellness centers one can find various regenerating, therapeutic and, without a doubt, beauty treatments. The most renowned spas are Sciacca, with its famous Stufe di San Calogero, caves where the high concentration of steam reaches a temperature of about 40° C, or the Thermae of Acireale, where underground seawater mixes with sulphur water from Etna.
For enthusiasts of cultural tourism, Sicily is a source of knowledge, history, art and culture. It is here, this island with its mild climate and enchanting surroundings that famous writers such as Salvatore Quasimodo, Giovanni Verga, Luigi Pirandello, Leonardo Sciascia, and Tomasi di Lampedusa found their inspiration to write great works including The Leopard and The House by the Medlar Tree. Today, anyone who travels here can still plunge into everything the island has to offer. Embarking on a journey of “spaces” where these legendary writers lived, one can better understand the social, political and historical conditions that became the setting of their novels.
Those wanting to travel even further back in time will be content to see the Greek Temples of Selinunte and Syracuse, as well as those of Agrigento and of Imera. Not to be forgotten is the Greco-Roman theatre of Taormina and the cathedrals left by the Normans, especially the Martorana, San Giovanni degli Eremiti and San Cataldo Churches.
If it’s customs and traditions you’re looking for, a visit to Acireale is practically obligatory; there one can see the Opera of Marionettes and the story of Orlando Furioso.
There is plenty of choice for those who enjoy festivals and cultural events, too. Countless events take place every year in the amazing scenery of Taormina’s Ancient Theater, including the well-known Cinema Festival, an award ceremony for the best films.
The warmth and joie de vivre of the Sicilians can be seen during the celebration of Carnival, the happiest and most colourful festival of the year. Acireale Carnival is defined as “The most beautiful Carnival in Sicily”, for the creativity and originality of its allegorical papier-mâché or flowered floats that parade along the streets with their cheerful and colorful masks.
Many festivals are dedicated to the Patron Saints of Sicily as well, mixing faith, folklore and tradition into a display of the Sicilians’ profound religious devotion. The Festival of Saint Rosalia in Palermo, the Festival of Saint Agatha in Catania and the Festival of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle in Giarratana (Ragusa) are just a few of the many events that take place every year throughout the region.
What to Taste
The exuberance and warmth of the island of Sicily is evident in its food as well, which tells of Sicilians’ passion and care for good food and genuine flavors.
A wide array of appetizers to whet your appetite, from rice croquettes to cazzilli and crispeddi of Catania, before tasting rich first courses and fish or meat dishes.
And finally, one should not pass up the famous Sicilian pastries, mainly prepared with ricotta cheese and almond paste.
Many Sicilian products are protected by DOP and IGT quality marks, making Sicily one of thecore diets of Mediterranean; it is famous the world over for the genuineness of its ingredients.
Extra-virgin olive oil, juicy red oranges and the sweet grapes of Canicattì, Pachino tomatoes, Giarratana Onions,Pantelleria capers, prickly pears and the olives of Nocellara del Belice are some of the excellent products that distinguish Sicilian food.
Yet, we cannot forget the most famous cheeses, like Ragusano and pecorino, or tasty sausages, like Sant’Angelo salami, or the different types of crispy bread, like the loaves of Dittaino.
And pour a glass of one of the island’s exquisite, strong and full-bodied wines, ideal when partnered with its unbeatable cuisine.
Finally, do not miss the goodness of Sicilian desserts: i cannoli, la cassata, il biancomangiare, la torta setteveli, Modica’s chocolate, Giarratana’s white nougat, and many other specialties….