Travel to: Sicily

Travel to: Sicily

15th May 2018

With its dramatic volcanic peaks, sun-washed baroque cities and tiny island vineyards, Sicily is an Italian region with a difference. We reveal which cities, sights and bites you should put on your to-do list.

Where:

Sicily

When:

Sicily sits in the far south, just off the tip of the Italian mainland's toe. This means that the weather tends to be mild year-long. Shoulder seasons like spring and autumn are great times to visit, boasting temperatures in the high teens and early 20s (although it's worth noting that on the slopes of Mount Etna it can be much cooler). Come summer, temperatures soar into the high 20s - perfect for spending time on the island's beaches.

Why:

Palermo - the Italian Capital of Culture

The capital of Sicily, Palermo, is a gold-hued mix of ancient palaces, galleries and opera houses that have won it the title of Italian Capital of Culture for 2018.

Peek into the city's Norman past at the Royal Palace of Palermo or make your way through the superb line-up of churches. Remember to peek into the Palazzo Chiaramonte-Steri, which hides away prison cells wallpapered with ancient graffiti.

Arab-Norman architecture

Both the Arabs and Normans ruled Sicily, leaving behind some spectacular architecture. Cefalu Cathedral stars two symmetrical towers and Byzantine mosaics. The rest of the city squeezes medieval streets and churches between the sea and a temple-topped rock.

Architecture from every period of history is visible in Erice - Photo: Alessandro Bonvino

Architecture from every period of history is visible in Erice - Photo: Alessandro Bonvino

Meanwhile, Noto retreats back from the south-east coast of Sicily, laying out a hilltop grid laid with wide boulevards, pristine piazzas, golden palazzos and domed churches.

Even Sicilian food shows Arab-Norman influence. A classic pasta dish is pasta alla Norma. It was invented in Catania, on the east coast, and sees short pasta tossed with aubergine, tomatoes, ricotta and fresh basil.

Sicilian street food

If you fancy eating like a local, then skip the restaurants and pick up lunch from one of the ubiquitous friggitorie (street vendors). The chickpea fritters called panella are a great place to start, while cannolo is the must-try dessert - a cone with a crispy shell filled with pistachio, lemon or hazelnut cream. You can wash it all down with an almond-milk granita.

You can find plenty of goodies in Ballaro, one of the oldest markets in Palermo. The trick is to go in the early morning when it's busy with chefs and no-nonsense nonnas (grandmas) stocking up on giant olives and pistachios.

Keep an eye out for the chocolate shops, too. Modica is the city for serious connoisseurs - the families here have used Aztec recipes for generations.

The ancient sights of Scicli are just 10km from the chocolate-lovers haven of Modica. Photo: Gianfranco Vitolo

The ancient sights of Scicli are just 10km from the chocolate-lovers haven of Modica. Photo: Gianfranco Vitolo

Coastline, countryside and islands

Cefalu comes with a wide sandy beach, along with an old-world harbour filled with fishermen who deliver their catch of the day straight to the nearby restaurants.

Fishing boats deliver their fresh catch directly to Sicily's Cefalu restaurants

Fishing boats deliver their fresh catch directly to Sicily's Cefalu restaurants

Easterly Syracuse - one of Italy's oldest cities - spreads its history through hundreds of atmospheric lanes and seafront promenades. Wander Latomia dei Cappuccini for mysterious caves, tombs and gardens.

In the south, Modica is a city split in two. Modica Bassa sits down in a valley, while the old town (Modica Alta) balances on the hilltop.

You've also got the Aeolian Islands to explore. Island-hop between Vulcano, Salina and Lipari by ferry - or stay overnight at one of the vineyard hotels that come with widescreen sunset views. Sicilian Malvasia grapes are an ancient variety that date back to the Ancient Greeks.

Taormina boasts stunning, 'widescreen' sunsets

Taormina boasts stunning, 'widescreen' sunsets

Mount Etna

Mount Etna is one of Sicily's star attractions. It's unmistakable, rising up on the east coast above Taormina. You could climb to the peak in a cable car, ramble up in a Jeep or just stick to exploring the volcanic vineyards of Gambino.

Teatro Greco is in Taormina.

Teatro Greco is worth a visit from Taormina

How:

Flights from the UK to Sicily head for Palermo (PMO), Catania (CTA) or Comiso (CIY). Flights to Palermo travel from London Gatwick and London Stansted, taking around 2 hours 50 minutes, while flights to Catania depart from Birmingham, London Gatwick, London Luton and Manchester. They take about 3 hours. Flights to Comiso jet off from London Stansted and take approximately 3 hours 15 minutes.

For more details and #HolidayInspirations, ask about Citalia at Baldwins Travel Group: baldwins.co.uk

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