Mesmerisingly beautiful and perfectly placed in the heart of the Mediterranean, Sicily has been singing her siren song to travellers since the time of legends. The home of Scylla, Charybdis and the Cyclops has been immortalised by poets since Homer onwards and fought over by many ancient cultures – Phoenician, Carthaginian, Roman, Greek, Byzantine, Norman, Spanish and Teutonic – all of whose remains still lie under the dusty, sun-baked soil and all of whom have left their mark on the cuisine, architecture, dialect and attitude of the native Sicani.
The result is that Sicily remains happily detached from the rest of Italy, which locals refer to as il continente—the continent. This insouciant resistance to the mainland lies behind perhaps the island’s most notorious export, the Mafia. But it’s also one of the reasons why Sicily is so refreshingly different.
Among the island's charms, you can look forward to Greek temples, Norman churches and Baroque palazzos, the pervading aroma of lemon trees, the incandescence of pure dawn light on ancient walls, the glorious dilapidation and vibrant colours of Palermo's markets, the dramatic spectacle of Mount Etna erupting against a dark blue velvet sky, the constant feeling that history is waiting just around the corner and the luminous marble light of Ortygia and Marsala streets late at night. For the adventurous outdoor type, there’s also plenty to enjoy: climbing Mount Etna in the summer or skiing down it in the snowy winter, diving off Cefalu, kitesurfing in Marsala or going fishing in Taormina, to name just a few.

People

Remarkably, for place that has a reputation for its people being secretive and insular (Cosa Nostra literally means ‘Our thing’, after all) Sicily is also home to some of the most outgoing and hospitable people you’ll find anywhere. With their history being filled with one conqueror after another coming to the island and taking over, perhaps dealing with outsiders has been part of Sicily’s complex history. The result is that people will really go out of their way to share the beauty, culture and food surrounding them. Even in the bigger cities, they’re happy to help you find your way, point out great things to see, and suggest places to see, shop and eat.
Be aware that rushing around, barely sleeping, or eating while talking on your phone are activities alien to Sicilian life. Things are more relaxed here, stores and restaurants close in the afternoon for a few hours and the islanders are experts at enjoying a long, slow meal with a simple walk or maybe a game of scopa afterwards. Also be aware that whilst the majority of Sicilians may not be "practising" Catholics, the Catholic Church remains a very strong cultural point of reference for most islanders - even for atheists.

 

Places

Frankly, you’re spoiled for choice: the historic cities of Catania and Siracusa, the Etna region with its volcanic landscapes, the fruitful wine region and the chocolate-box pretty Taormina; Ragusa, Modica and other honey-coloured Baroque southern towns; the Greek temples of Agrigento, Selinunte and Segesta; the ancient Roman city of Piazza Armerina, vast stretches of sandy beaches and a multitude of hidden rocky coves. Decisions, decisions. Perhaps these 5 destinations will help you make some…

Palermo
For a taste of full-on Sicily, spend a day or two in the capital, Palermo, an uncut jewel of a city, cloaked in uncertainty and adventure. Dark, enticing and gloriously bedraggled, it’s a blend of chaotic streets, astonishing architecture, flamboyant markets and eye-watering bling. The Cappella Palatina, Roger II’s chapel of 1132, for example, is awash with glittering gilt and mosaic, a perfect précis of Sicily’s tangled religious and political past.

Cefalù
The squares, streets and churches of this mediaeval town are so postcard-perfect that it's no mystery why director Giuseppe Tornatore chose to set parts of his acclaimed film Cinema Paradiso here. The town is ideally suited to slow, strolling exploration (the lungomare -seafront promenade - is very popular for the passeggiata or evening stroll), so take your time walking the narrow cobbled streets, admiring the honey-coloured stone buildings, mosaic-adorned cathedral and dramatic backdrop of La Rocca (the Rock). The little port is full of tapering fishing boats and, naturally, local fishermen who can be seen looking after their boats, repairing their nets and reviewing the day's catch.

Siracusa (Syracuse)
Archimedes had his eureka moment in a bath in Syracuse and chances are he’d still recognise a large part of it today - life goes on here much as it has for 3000 years. More than any other city on the island, Syracuse encompasses and reflects Sicily's ageless beauty. Ancient Greek ruins jut out of fragrant lemon gardens, cafe tables sprawl on to extravagantly rococo squares, the noisy markets resonate to the sound of stallholders promoting their wares and lanes dating back to the middle ages lead down to the gleaming azure sea.
  
Aeolian Islands
Smoking volcanoes, zesty mud baths and boiling volcanic vents make these seven (Vulcano, Lipar, Salina, Panarea, Stromboli, Filicudi and Alicudi) Unesco-protected islands off Sicily’s north coast a must-go-to destination. An amazing outdoor playground, offering adventure at every turn, there’s superb sport for swimmers, sailors and divers while hikers can climb steaming volcanoes and oenophiles can sip the wonderful local Malvasia wine.
  
Nebrodi Mountains
An alternative destination to the wine region, the Nebrodi Mountains are the most lushly forested region of Sicily. Situated to the immediate north of Etna, the range boasts some of the island's highest peaks after the volcano itself. The unique appeal of the scenery is its complete departure from any common stereotype of "Mediterranean" and the realisation that much of Sicily looked this way when the first Phoenicians ,Ausonians and Greeks arrived over two thousand years ago.
 

Pleasures

Visitors to Sicily are usually keen to do a little shopping along the way. And there’s much to offer. Shopping here is best done outdoors - the outdoor markets are an experience in and of themselves. You can buy quality handicraft items, ceramics, artefacts and antiques; generally at lower prices than in traditional stores.
The island boasts several flea markets, two of which are famous throughout Italy. In Masculucia there’s an excellent flea market held every two weeks in the Piazza Trinità, where, among other things, you can snap up ornate ceramic food moulds. On the third Saturday and last Sunday of every month, there’s a market in Giardini Naxos where you can buy antiques and locally made handicrafts.
Plus, if you’re shopping for local produce, don't forget to check out Sicily's famous cheeses (usually made from sheep's or cow's milk) like caciocavallo and pecorino. Which leads us neatly on to the main event. The food. Oh, the food. It’s worth a trip for this alone.
Thanks to its complex history, Sicily’s cuisine represents a mishmash of cultures. In addition, the island itself is incredibly fertile; local produce includes olives, oranges, lemons, aubergines, tomatoes, pistachios, almonds, grapes, and more — not to mention the seafood, fished fresh out of the water. The result? A cuisine that’s fresh, varied, and utterly delectable.
Start with street food (amazingly good and remarkably cheap), and start with arancini. Bite into one of these fried rice balls and you could find anything from mozzarella to peas to meat ragu waiting inside like a tiny taste explosion. In Palermo, especially, try a Pane Ca’meusa. Its name means, literally, “bread with spleen”…but don’t let that put you off. Yes, it is bread (sesame-flavoured) and it is stuffed with chopped veal spleen and lung, but it’s also divine - promise. Next up , is Sfincione: like pizza, but better. Spongy and delicious dough, and delicious toppings including onions, caciocavallo cheese, breadcrumbs, and (naturally!) olive oil.
If you prefer the restaurant and café scene, the good news is that they’re everywhere. A much-loved Sicilian speciality you simply have to sample is the delicately flavoured Spaghetti ai ricci (spaghetti with sea urchin). Other must-try dishes include Involtini siciliani (these “Sicilian rolls” are made up of veal, with onions, tomatoes, raisins and pine nuts) and Polpo bollito (fish in Sicily is so fresh, it’s rarely served with sauces or even much seasoning. This classic is simply boiled octopus).
For an extra-special meal, renowned chef Giorgio Locatelli swears by Santandrea in Palermo. Usually packed with locals - always a good sign - you can sit at a table in the square, watch the world go by and enjoy Pasta con le sarde (pasta with sardines) as a starter, followed by beautifully fresh tuna steak. All washed down, of course, with a glass or two of Sicily’s famous wines.
 

Do

Rent a car if you’re planning to explore the island, and do check the paperwork is up to date.
Say “Hello” and “Goodbye” in social situations – including when entering or leaving shops, bars etc. A simple “buon giorno” in the morning or “buona sera” in the afternoon or evening goes a long way (and it covers both phrases).
Eat ice cream for breakfast. It’s what the locals do, and if you don’t do the same you’ll stick out as a tourist.
Harness the power of pistachios. Sicily is the home of the plumpest, sweetest pistachios in the world - enjoy them at every possible opportunity.
Show respect when entering religious buildings.
 

Don’t

Joke about the Mafia. it’s not a topic locals take lightly – no matter what side they’re on.
Forget that when driving outside built-up areas, you’re legally required to keep your headlights on at all times.
Be an easy target for pickpockets. Make yourself less appealing by leaving your expensive bags and jewellery at home.
Try to stick to your diet. Come hungry when you come to Sicily, eat your way through the magnificent food and enjoy every mouthful.
Rush. Sicilians aren’t in a hurry, and you shouldn’t be, either.

Best time to go

With parts of the island on the same latitude as the North African coast, Sicily has a mild climate that makes it a great destination for much of the year: spring and autumn are sheer delight and though high summer (July, August) temperatures soar, sea breezes in coastal areas take the edge off the heat.
In winter, Catania usually experiences snowfall allowing visitors to ski down Mount Etna.
 

Best way to go

As an island, it makes sense that one of the best ways to travel to and round Sicily is by boat.
Dock in Palermo, spend some time exploring the food, the bars, the markets and the sites, then decide where you go from here. Maybe you want to rent a car and drive inland to whichever destination you choose? No problem. Your boat can pick you up anywhere along the coast and drop you off wherever you decide, meaning your trip is completely customisable.
Your boat’s customisable too…just choose from any of the beautifully equipped vessels.
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Italy
Sicily