I visited Sicily a few years ago and it remains one of my favorite destination. I had the chance to plan my trip in September during the off-season, when all the tourists are gone and the temperatures are very pleasant (between 25 and 28°C). During the summer months from June to August, the temperatures can climb up to 40°C and it makes it difficult – at least for me – to enjoy going out when it’s so hot.
If you’re looking for unforgettable memories, Sicily really has it all: great landscapes, beautiful beaches, historical sites, picturesque villages and amazing food. If I could do it all over again, I would mainly focus on the east cost of the island as there are more beautiful places to discover.
I’ve listed the cities I’ve visited during my 10-day trip in chronological order but if you’re staying for a shorter amount of time, I recommend you land in Catane on the east cost and go directly to the crown jewels of Sicily: Taormina and Siracusa.
Palermo: After landing in Palermo, I took my rental car – a tiny Fiat Panda – and headed to the city center. I quickly had to learn the Sicilian way of driving. When watching the other drivers on the highway, I realized that a lot of them were frantically speaking with their hands to the other passengers. That’s the proof that some old cliché faithfully reflects the reality! I really have to say “hat off” to those skillful drivers as I rarely have less than one hand on the wheel. Palermo is the “capital city” of Sicily and is a very interesting city architecturally speaking. Most of the Italian cities are open-air museums and Palermo makes no exception. Wandering in the streets, I admired the beautiful facades of several hundred years old palaces and the churches marked by the patina of time. When visiting Palermo, you must see the Cathedral, the Botanic Garden, the “Massimo” Theater, the “Quatro Canti” district and the Palazzo dei Normanni.
Cefalù: Situated on the north shore of Sicily, Cefalù is a well-known seaside resort and with good reason. The small city is incredibly picturesque with its small alleys and boutiques of regional products. Cefalù is built at the foot of an enormous rock called “la Rocca” which is 244m high. I spent a day here, enjoying typical food in a small restaurant, getting lost in the maze of streets and fiding my way back to the beach where I belong.
Castelmola & Taormina: My favorite place in Sicily. The combination of two lovely little cities constructed one above the other, a fabulous view over the coast and most importantly, a beautiful sandy beach. I stayed at the hotel Villa Regina in Castelmola as it was more intimate. The charming hotel has the great idea of serving the breakfast outside on the terrace with the view over the ocean. It may not have been a 5-star hotel, but starting the day by enjoying a cup of tea surrounded by 50 shades a blue, that is sheer luxury.
If you spend your time between the beach, a visit at the ancient theater of Taormina and a stop at an ice-cream vendor, you’ll probably feel like in heaven. And if you feel like exploring further, go to the main street of Taormina called “Corso Umberto I” from where you’ll be able to admire the medieval buildings. Then continue with a visit to the gardens of the “Villa Communale”. And when it’s time for you to run away from the crowd of tourists or if your feet are hurting from walking, head to Castelmola and find yourself a sunny terrace to enjoy a glass of almond wine. When visiting Castelmola and Taormina, the only thing that you should be careful about are the winding and narrow streets that fooled more than one smart driver. When in doubt, just honk.
Mount Etna: If you pay attention, you can see the Mount Etna from Castelmola and take a few great pictures from there. Going on top of the volcano is quite impressive as the landscape is suddenly all black. Culminating at 3’300 meters, Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. The presence of a lot of vineyards and orchards at the foot of the volcano indicates very fertile volcanic soils. A cable car takes you almost to the top where you will fine a small museum with photo archives of the latest eruptions. Very intimidating! For the adventurous ones, you can continue on foot until you reach the top of the volcano and with a little bit of luck, you’ll witness some volcanic activity on your way.
Siracusa: Heading south, you’ll find the mythical city of Siracusa, whose city center was classified as part of the world’s common heritage in 2005. Sicily was invaded by the Greeks, the Normans, the Egyptians and other nations and the architectural variety of Siracusa is a beautiful illustration of the blend of influences. I was particularly impressed by the cathedral square where the white stones reflect the midday sun so brightly that you better put a pair of sunglasses on. When you’re done visiting the citadel “Castello Maniace” and you’re looking for a little bit of coolness and calm, head to the numerous hidden churches around almost each corner. Their interior decoration will blow your mind.
Ragusa: Smaller than all the other cities I’ve mentioned before, Ragusa is worth a stop on your way to Agrigente. The city is built on a hill between two deep valleys, splitting it in two parts: the higher and the lower city. This particular layout gives the city a very special touch and a lot of stairs to climb up and down. I didn’t visit anything in particular, what I love above all is wandering in the streets and letting my intuition guide me and lead me to an interesting fountain or a sculpted facade.
Agrigente: The final but most majestic stop of my trip! Agrigente is situated on the south coast of Sicily and you can tell right away as the weather is warmer and the climate drier. A few kilometers away from the city is a gigantic archeological site baptized “Vallee dei Tempi” or Valley of the Temples in English. The site protects the remains of 7 temples that have been restored in a masterly fashion. Some of the temples like the Temple of Concordia are in a very good state of preservation. The area belongs of course to the Unesco World Heritage Site list and is one of the most magnificent examples of Greater Greece art and architecture. Spending an entire day walking through the remains, the columns and the olive trees is a good investment of your time.
Finishing on a practical note, agritourism is quite developed in Sicily and I really recommend booking your accommodations in a farm or a ranch. Not only will the food be outstanding but you’ll really get to know the island from the inside and learn more about its people and the land. Also the quality-price ratio is unbeatable. Saying that I’ve loved my trip to Sicily is un understatement and I wish I can go back one day!