Sicily, in the southern tip of Italy, is certainly the most underrated part of the country. The island does not have a very good PR, because of the movie The Godfather and because of the mobsters of Sicily. The island offers some of the most beautiful beaches of the Mediterranean. It has a rich unique culture, in terms of art, music, literature and food. It is also home to some important archaeological sites and ancient ruins. The Sicilian food is tasty and healthy.
Sicily has an incredible history. The earliest human activity on the island dates back to 12,000 BC and both the Greek and the Roman Empire had settlements here at one point. It was a separate island until 1860, when Guiseppe Garibaldi unified it with Italy.
Sicily is an ideal destination for a family vacation and also a great place for couples. It is the largest island on the Mediterranean Sea, which is separated from Italy by a narrow strait of Messina. If you want to drive from mainland Italy, you will have to take a ferry to get to the island of Sicily.
You can either fly into Palermo or Catania to reach Sicily. I chose to fly into Catania, because it was close to some of the places I wanted to visit on the Eastern coast of Sicily. Catania is the seventh largest city of Sicily. It was founded 8th century BC. It was destroyed by catastrophic earth quakes several times throughout the history and it was also covered with lava seventeen times after the volcanic eruption of the nearby Etna. Under the present ground is the Roman city that preceded it and a Greek city before that. It is a culturally and historically important city. The first university of Sicily was founded here in the 14th century and it was one of the most important cultural centres of Italy during the Renaissance period. Today, it is home to many museums, theatres, parks, churches and restaurants.
The heart of the city centre is the Duomo Square, here you can find the famous elephant, which is the symbol of the city, in the middle of the main square. The elephant, called u Liotru in Sicilian or Fontana dell’Elefante in Italian. It has been around since the 18th century. It’s an ancient lavic stone elephant topped by an Egyptian obelisk. In the city centre there are many historical buildings and ruins. Behind the Piazza Duomo, is the famous fish market. It is one of the largest and most interesting fish markets of Europe. Here you can find a wide selection of sea creators from sea urchins to giant sword fish. The market is loud and smelly, but it is a very interesting experience to visit it. They also sell fruits, veggies, cheeses, breads.
Catania is a baroque city with fascinating architecture. The best way to see the entire city is by taking a small train that takes you around Catania and allows you to discover its history in an hour. During the tour, we saw some prestigious, beautiful buildings such as the Baroque Theatre, giant churches that were at least 500 years old.
We visited the Giardino de Bellini, which is a beautiful park in the middle of the city. Everything in town is named after Bellini. He was a composer, who was born in Catania. He even has a big statue erected in the middle of the city. We were fascinated by the fact that the city was built on top of Greek and Roman ruins. In the city center, we visited the archaeological park (Parco Archeologico Greco-Romano di Catania), where we could see the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre.
If you stroll down the main shopping street, Via Etna you can find great shops and some good gelato shops. If you are lucky, you may stumble into an open-air classical concert at night in the courtyard of an old abandoned building.
Taormina is only about an hour away from Catania towards the North. The city is famous for its ancient Greek Theatre and some incredible beaches. This town is perched on a cliff, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The ride up there was scenic but also pretty intimidating as the roads are winding and the cliff below looks very steep. However, it was an amazing, picturesque journey along the sea.
We stayed at the most romantic resort at the San Domenico Palace. The hotel is a 500 year old monastery that was converted into a hotel. It is on the top of the hill with the most incredible views of the sea. It is right near the main pedestrian street, behind the Piazza Duomo. Taormina also has a Duomo in the middle of the city, just like any other Italian city. The Duomo (cathedral) is in the centre of the city and it is rather small. As you walk down the main street,wich is only about 250 meteres long, there are many cool shops and restaurants to visit.
In the end of the main street is the ancient Greek Theatre of Taormina. After paying a couple of euros to enter, you will see the entire ancient theatre and you realize how breath-taking it is. It is still pretty well-preserved even today. The view from up there is spectacular. The beaches of Taormina are really beautiful! The water is crystal clear and the sand is white and soft. Bella Insola is one of the most amazing beaches around Taormina. The best way to get there is by taking a cable car from the centre of the city down to the beach.
For evening entertainment, check out the Opera in the middle of the city centre. The terrace of the Opera provides a beautiful view to the whole city and the sea. We saw some talented singers singing famous Italian Opera songs like O Sole Mio. Taormina is famous for being a cultural centre of Italy. They organize the annual Taormina Film Festival here as well as pop and classical concerts.
Taormina is a truly magical, romantic place. It is certainly my favorite city of Sicily.
Sicily’s most prominent landmark is Mount Etna. It is the tallest active volcano in Europe and one of the most active volcanos in the world. If you are planning to visit Sicily in the Summer, your best option is to take the night tour up to the Etna, to avoid hiking in the heat. You will leave Taormina in the early afternoon and will watch the sunset from the top of the Etna. It is recommended to take a jacket and long pants, because the temperature drops on the top at night. The jeep will drive you up to the top and drop you off. You will reach as high as 3000 m. They will not let you go closer to the top, because the volcano can be dangerous. Watching the sunset from above is very beautiful.
You will see many craters in the black sand that were shaped by nature. After the sun goes down, you have the option to have dinner at the nearby restaurant. Seeing the Etna is a great experience that I would certainly recommend everyone to do. The guides are well trained and they have interesting stories about volcano outbreaks in the past.
Siracusa is another very important and beautiful historical city in the Eastern coast of Sicily. It is also about an hour away by bus from Catania, to the South. From Taormina, you will need to take the bus back to Catania and then take another one to Siracusa for an hour. The city is famous, because of its Greek amphitheatre, architecture and it was also the birthplace of one of the first mathematicians in the world, Archimedes. Cicero called it “The greatest Greek city in size and the most beautiful of them all.”
The main street is aligned with beautiful blooming trees with large pink flowers during the Summer. The architecture is white and elegant. The city has a large historical neighbourhood on the island of Ortigia. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is full of beautiful buildings, great shops and nice local restaurants. In the southern tip of Ortigia, you can visit a large castle. The beach around the island is a great place to swim. The water is crystal clear.
The eye shaped main square is home of the Piazza Duomo. The building of the Duomo is a beautiful white church with a large statue in front of it. All the buildings around the main square are stunning. The island is full of historical buildings and churches. Il Parco Archeologico Della Neapolis is a huge park with ruins of Ancient Greece. The Teatro Greco is the largest theatre, built by the ancient Greeks. It is still well preserved today. The archaeological park is huge in Syracusa. Here visitors can also see the famous site, Orecchio di Dionisio, (Ear of Dyonysos).
Sicily is definitely an amazing island to visit for people who are interested in learning about history, enjoy beautiful beaches, enjoy nature and eat tasty Italian dishes. You need at least a week to visit these four destinations, but if you have more time, stay for another week and visit other beautiful places in Sicily, like the Aeolian Islands, Noto, Ragusa or Palermo.
Guest Writer Bio:
Barbara is a London based luxury travel and lifestyle blogger at Jetsettera. She left her country when she was 17 to conquer the World as a model. Ever since she has lived in seven countries and visited 68. She blogs about exclusive destinations and the some of the most prestigious events around the World such as Venice, Cannes, San Sebastian Film Festivals, Oscar Parties in LA, Fashion Weeks in Milan or Paris, yacht parties in St-Tropez as well as Prince Albert’s wedding in Monaco. She also writes about adventure travel across Asia, South-America and Europe. Read about her latest adventures to Indonesia on her blog.