Sicily

Geographically separated from the mainland, Sicily is the largest Mediterranean island and also one of the most intriguing destinations in Italy. Sicily has it all; both mountains and sea, even volcanoes. This region, like most of Italy, also offers truly remarkable holiday opportunities, which include sights, arts and of course fantastic food and wine.

The island has a variety of beautiful towns all spread throughout the region which all worth seeing because of the difference in culture and scenery that there is around the region. Sicily’s long history has shown different inhabitants throughout the regions that ranged from Greeks and Romans to Arabs and Normans, the rich history of various cultures is part of what makes this a truly unique place to vacation. In some parts there will be churches with breathtaking Byzantine mosaics and in other parts there will be spectacular Greek ruins or even Roman ruins.

Located on the eastern seaboard is Taormina, a magnificent sight for all tourists because it provides impressive ruins as well as the beach and Volcanoes. These characteristics render Taormina truly unique because it offers the opportunity to relax on the beach, to hike around Mt. Etna or stare in awe at the Teatro Greco. Only a few kilometers from Taormina, Mt. Etna is one of the most beautiful natural sites in all of Italy and is the largest active volcano in all of Europe. Truly a sight to behold that cannot be found in too many other parts of the world. Taormina’s most visited site is the Teatro Greco, which are the ruins of a Greek theater. Although the invasion of the Arabs definitely destroyed parts of the theater, what remains is still a beauty.

On the Southern part of the eastern coast lies Siracusa, another beautiful and very historical city. Siracusa was by far the most important Greek city in all of Sicily. The ruins in Siracusa are truly remarkable as are those of Ortygia (the island directly in front of the city). One of the most popular sights to visit is the Catacombs of St. John, which contain around 20,000 ancient Roman tombs. On Ortygia Island, known as the “old part” of Siracusa, instead is where we find the majority of the ruins and ancient structures. Ortygia has a wonderful Duomo that was built over the ruins of the Temple of Minerva, but maintains the same style of Doric architecture. There are plenty of beautiful palaces and piazzas around Ortygia, so there is always somewhere to be at all times of the day, either to see sights or to experience the nightlife.

Inland, on the southeastern part of the island is Ragusa, recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site. There are various beautiful churches throughout Ragusa such as the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist. The old part of Ragusa is Ragusa Ibla and is a very pretty place to visit because of its Baroque architecture. Ibla has a lot of beautiful buildings in this Baroque style architecture that are very beautiful and most of them have been really well preserved. In the same “Val di Noto” area, the three Baroque towns: Modica, Noto and Caltagirone are all worth seeing because of their beautiful architecture and they were all named as UNESCO world heritage sites. Caltagirone, specifically, is known for its ceramics, which the town has been producing since the times of the Greeks.

On the Northwestern part of Sicily we find the regions capital, Palermo. Palermo is the most renowned city in Sicily and what many believe to be one of the most beautiful cities in all of Italy. Palermo has a wide variety of nice churches spread out around the city; the nicest ones and by far the most unique ones are the Duomo and the Cappella Palatina. Throughout history all the groups of people that have had possession of Palermo have wanted to leave their imprint on the Duomo and this has resulted in what is today a truly fascinating structure. The Duomo has various styles of architecture; Greek, Roman, Norman, Arabic and Islamic which make it chaos but a beautiful chaos nonetheless. In the Duomo are also the treasures of 17th century art, which have been wonderfully conserved. The Cappella Palatina has one of the most beautiful interiors of any church around the globe. The Byzantine style work on the inside of this basilica is bright and attracts the eye with all its gold and bronze murals. The Vucciria is a huge historical outdoor market in the heart of Palermo, which serves all different types of fresh foods. This is a great experience for any tourist that wants to experience some of the local life. “Vucciria” in Sicilian means confusion and that is exactly the case at the market with the yelling from behind the counters and how it is situated in the classic narrow Italian streets.

Right in the south of Sicily, on the Mediterranean Sea, is Agrigento that is known for its fabulous Greek ruins and its valley of temples. These ruins include the Temple of Hercules, the oldest one and it shows seeing that only eight pillars remain, the temple of Zeus (once the largest and the one with most substance remaining; the Temple of Concordia. The Temple of Concordia is incredibly well preserved and has maintained its 6 x 13 column structure; a true site to behold that was recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

In the central part of the island lies another Sicilian jewel and UNESCO world heritage site, the Roman Villa of Casale. Located in the old fashioned town of Piazza Armerina, this massive fourth century villa holds the biggest collection of Roman mosaics in the world, all of which have been preserved exceptionally and are sure to be loved by any Roman art lovers or by those who appreciate art in general.

On the west coast, the province of Trapani also has plenty to offer. The port city of Marsala is a beautiful place to go, it is the westernmost point of Sicily and was the port at which Garibaldi and his red shirts arrived. Marsala is known around the world mainly for it’s Marsala wine very similar to Port that is in many cases used for cooking. Also in the province of Trapani is Erice, situated on of Mount Erice overlooking the sea, which offers a beautiful view. The city also has wonderful castles too explore such as the Pepoli castle from the Saracen times. This part of Sicily also offers the Aegadian Islands, which have very beautiful beaches and some of the best tuna fish in the world, especially on the island of Favignana.

The Aeolian Islands, to the north of the main island, are also a big tourist destination because of their many nice beaches but also because of their volcanoes, some of which to this day are active. Regardless of the volcanoes being active, people have still resided on the islands for over 3,000 years. Stromboli is the island that is farthest away and has the most active volcanoes. The island provides beautiful sights of the volcano at night with the lava hitting the sea. With a three-hour hike (a popular excursion) one can reach the top and see inside the crater that is a truly unique and breathtaking sight.

Of course a preview of Sicily, like for all of Italy, would not be completed without highlighting some food. One of the foods that are most famous from the Sicilian cuisine is Canoli. Canoli are a wonderful dessert rolled up in fried dough and filled with ricotta cheese, sugar and various fruits. Sicily also has its very own refreshing watermelons, which are always a pleasant treat during those hot summer months. Arancina is another fantastic specialty from the region, which is a ball of fried rice with mozzarella and peas. Sicilian oranges, red ones in many cases, are some of the best in the world. Grapes in Sicily are also abundant and are the contributing factor to the excellent culture of wines. The region of Sicily has some of the best wines in all of Italy and no matter where you go in the region if you buy local, you are almost sure to have a good wine.