Forget what you’ve heard about the Italian south and its mafia – which has never had any reason to deal with tourists – and join us on the largest island in the Mediterranean, where the sandy beaches are heavenly, the history is measured in millennia, the prices are by far the lowest you’ll find on its neighbour, and the cuisine marries Mediterranean and Arabic influences with the second largest, and most interesting, vineyard in Italian territory as best man.
A city to behold, reason enough in itself to be in Sicily, Syracuse is not only about its history – which you will see imprinted everywhere, from the ancient theatre to the where Aeschylus’ Persians premiered in his presence, to the ruins of temples in the city centre.
It is also a city that rests on the sea, full of baroque squares and cobbled streets flanked by mansions painted in the colour of honey, which beautifully reflect the sunset light. Grab a seat at one of the cafes that promise a view of this unique sunset (and deliver on their promise) to enjoy it as it deserves: with one of the amazing – and inexpensive – Sicilian wines.
The ancient city of Agrigento one of the largest and richest colonies of “Greater Greece” is today one of the most impressive archaeological sites you have ever seen. It includes, among other things, seven 5th century BC temples, all of them Doric in style, and with spectacular views of the valley that gave the archaeological site its name. The best-preserved of them, the Temple of Omonoia, is a UNESCO logo, note the lovers of useless information. In July and August, the archaeological site is also open to visitors at night, with moonlight and atmospheric lighting making the temples even more unreal.
For centuries at the crossroads of cultures as diverse as East and West, Phoenicians and Romans, Byzantium and Moors, the Spanish Empire and Arab civilisation, the capital of Sicily is a fascinating mosaic of the heritage left behind by these and so many others. The Panormos of the ancient Greeks is now a city of six hundred thousand inhabitants, steeped in history but also vibrantly modern, full of distinctive restaurants next to major landmarks, bars that stay up late alongside markets reminiscent of an oriental bazaar, Gothic palaces shaded by African palm trees and Baroque churches hidden among Renaissance palazzi.
Especially those of the southern part of the island, bordering the Mediterranean – the eastern part is considered the Ionian coast, and is surprisingly less impressive. Crystal-clear, turquoise waters that end in the vast majority of fine powdery sand, so pale as to seem exotic, can be found (in order of subjective preference) at San Lorenzo, near Marzamemi, at San Leone, and at Torre Salsa, which is a whole chapter in itself.
A secret of the locals that we take the responsibility of leaking, Torre Salsa is not something you’ll find in many travel guides: It’s a WWF-protected habitat, spread over some seven and a half square kilometres of pine forest, which ends in velvety dunes, which in turn dip into a dreamily empty (yes, even in August) sandy beach that stretches for six kilometres. Only dirt roads lead up to a parking spot within Torre Salsa, from which the beach is a ten-minute walk, and facilities of any kind shine here by their absence. Isn’t that how you imagined paradise on earth? All you’ll need to enjoy it is a beach umbrella.
Taormina, or “the pearl of Sicily”, is world famous for its magnificent views of the plain of Catania, Mount Etna and Isola Bella and is one of the most touristic cities in Sicily and is home to the Greek Theatre of Taormina, the second largest ancient theatre in Sicily. Don’t forget to climb the 300 steps leading to the Church of Madonna della Rocca to enjoy the panoramic view of the surrounding area and visit the small island of Isola Bella.
Cefalù is a beautiful settlement in Sicily. In this place, time has stopped and the stunning natural landscape harmoniously embraces the old houses that are worthy of the sea wave. With its sandy beach and medieval alleys , the place is definitely beautiful but quite crowded, especially in high season. However, it is worth visiting to swim in the crystal clear beach, walk through the medieval alleys and enjoy delicious traditional food.