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Sicily

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Sicily is the biggest island in Italy and in the Mediterranean Sea, an amazing land rich in history and traditions, where art and culture intertwine with wonderful natural beauties. From the sea to the mountains and countryside, from the volcanos to the fishing villages, there are really many reasons why to visit Sicily. As Frederick II, King of Sicily, once said: “I don't envy God's paradise, because I'm well satisfied to live in Sicily”.

 

Ancient Theatre of Taormina

Ancient Theatre of Taormina

 

Which are the stages you cannot miss in a trip to Sicily? The places to mention would be so many but the top ten of the most emblematic places in the region cannot but include:

 

1. Taormina: An asylum for artists, in a panoramic position between the sea and the mountains, it’s a refined town, that holds amazing treasures, like its incredible Greek Theatre

 

2. Ragusa Ibla: it’s the oldest quarter in the city of Ragusa, that rises from the top of a hill in the Hyblaean Mountains, boasting more than fifty churches and noble palaces

 

3. Scala dei Turchi: with its white cliff rising above the blue sea is among the most beautiful beaches all over Sicily

 

4. Aeolian Islands: seven islands, one different from another, with dreamy beaches and coves and two active volcanoes where to go trekking

 

5. Syracuse and the island of Ortigia: an extraordinary art city with one of the largest archaeological areas in the Mediterranean

 

6. Palermo: from the Norman to the Arab style, from the Greek to the Spanish attestations, the capital of the region is a melting pot of cultures and a place of lively street markets

 

7. Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples: the city is a popular destination thanks to its perfectly kept archaeological park, the biggest in the world

 

8. Noto: it’s the unquestioned capital of the Sicilian Baroque, with an artistic heritage made of stunning churches and palaces

 

9. Lampedusa: boasts a jaw-dropping sea and beautiful beaches, like the “Rabbit Island”, ranked among the most beautiful in the world

 

10. San Vito Lo Capo and the Zingaro Reserve: the western end of the island holds astonishing beaches, unique archaeological sites and a sensational nature, like the Zingaro Reserve

 

In the list of the Unesco's World Heritage sites there are seven Sicilian places: in addition to the Baroque cities Noto, Modica and Ragusa, the Aeolian Islands, the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento and Syracuse with the rock-cut Necropolis of Pantalica, this prestigious award was obtained also by mount Etna – being one of the most symbolic and active volcanos in the world -, the Villa Romana del Casale, in Piazza Armerina, e il Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral churches of Cefalù and Monreale, an itinerary through the Norman-Arab history of great artistic value.

In Sicily, you can devote yourself to a plenty of activities: spending time by the seaside or hiking on the mountains, taking part in traditional folklore events or enjoying daring sports. There are many entertainment opportunities anywhere in the region all year long.

 

Rabbit beach

Rabbit beach

 

The sea of Sicily and its beaches are some of the most beautiful of all the Mediterranean area: you just can’t help being tempted to enjoy life at the beach along its beautiful coastline and many islands. Often ranked among the most beautiful beaches is the beach of San Vito Lo Capo, the small beaches among tuff quarries of Cala Rossa, on the island of Favignana, the Rabbit Island in Lampedusa – ever-present in the list of the world’s top beaches -, the white cliff of Scala dei Turchi, in Realmonte, the small beach of Cala Capreria, within the Zingaro Reserve, Isola Bella in Taormina, the beach of Calamosche between Vendicari and Noto, the beach of Mondello, close to Palermo, and the fascinating Isola delle Correnti in Portopalo, the most southeastern tip of Sicily, where the Ionian Sea joins the Mediterranean Sea. Strongly recommended is an excursion by boat in the Islands of the Aeolian Archipelago or in the Aegadian Islands, or along the coastline of Pantelleria or Lampedusa.

 

Trekking enthusiasts in Sicily will not be disappointed: in the region, you can hike along many panoramic trails or on the slopes of smoldering volcanoes. On the Aeolian Islands are Stromboli and Vulcano; just a few kilometers away from Catania you can go and climb mount Etna, that with its 3,350 meters is the highest volcano in Europe. You can get to the peak following trails of different duration and difficulty and sleep at high altitudes in one of the many mountain huts; alternatively, you can take part in off-road tours or take the cable car that takes you up to 2,500 meters (if you wish, from here you can continue by jeep until 2,900 meters of altitude).

 

There are many itineraries to cover on foot or going horse-riding: for example on the Peloritani and Nebrodi mountain range, in the north-east of Sicily, or in the Madonie Park, a protected nature area not far from Palermo, as well as the Alcamo Nature Reserve or the necropolis of Pantalica, the biggest European necropolis, passing through streams and limestone canyons. In the Alcantara Gorges, between Messina and Catania, it’s also possible to enjoy canyoning, hydro-speeding or body rafting. If you like to go hiking you can try the “Cammino Ibleo”, an interesting itinerary into nature winding for 150 kilometers in the Sicilian backcountry, on the Iblei Mountains, across the provinces of Ragusa, Siracusa and Catania, or you can go discovering the archaeological and nature area of Cava d’Ispica, a canyon dug by nature on the Iblei Plateau. If you’re looking for something different, you can experience trekking with donkeys in the Floristella Mining Park, an important example of industrial archeology in the surroundings of Piazza Armerina, or visit the Trapani and Paceco Salt Ponds, today a protected nature reserve entrusted to WWF, or the Vendicari Nature Reserve, a wildlife oasis stretching for eight kilometers of pristine beaches.

 

You can follow a cultural and food itinerary by car or bicycle along one of the thirteen Strade del vino e dei Sapori (“Wine and food routes”) in Sicily, among which stand out the “Strada del Vino Val di Noto”, the “Strada del Vino Erice DOC”, the “Strada del Vino e dei Sapori Val di Mazara” or the “Strada del Vino Terre Sicane”. Along the way, you can visit family-run wineries and enjoy local products in a union of history, nature and taste.

 

Thanks to its mild climate and the specific soil composition, Sicily also boasts an ancient thermal tradition. In Egesta there are the Acque Segestane, alkaline, sulphurous hyper-thermal baths waters highly mineralized where you can enjoy thermal baths, mud therapy and antrotherapy, as well as the natural baths on the isle of Vulcano and the free baths of Lake Specchio di Venere (“Venus' mirror”) on the island of Pantelleria.

 

If you're travelling with kids, an opportunity you cannot miss in Sicily is to attend to a pupi show, with the traditional Sicilian puppets: shows take place at the Teatro dei Pupi in Syracuse, at the Teatro Carlo Magno and Teatro dell’Opera dei Pupi in Palermo. Moreover, close to Catania, there is Etnaland, the biggest amusement park in southern Italy, the City of Science of Catania, and three waterparks: Etnaland in Belpasso (Catania), Scivolandia in Cammarata (Agrigento) and Acquapark Conte in Sommatino (Caltanissetta).

 

Among Sicily’s most important periodical events are the Carnival of Acireale, one of the most famous in Italy, with the parade of Carnival floats and floats with flowers, the Infiorata of Corpus Domini in the streets of Noto, in May; the Palio dei Normanni (“Palio of the Normans”), a representation with medieval costumes taking place in Piazza Armerina on 12, 13 and 14 August, and the Ballo dei diavoli (The devils' dance), a folkloristic and religious tradition connected to the Easter celebrations in Prizzi, in the province of Palermo. In Palermo the most important religious event is the Festival of Saint Rosalia, a very scenic parade occurring in July; in Catania the most important event in the year is the Festival of Saint Agatha, a religious festival that takes place every year from 3 to 5 February, on 12 February and 17 August, whose celebrations peak with the procession of the saint, the city’s patron. Between June and July In Taormina there is the international Taormina Film Fest; throughout the summer you can count on a packed schedule of concerts with contemporary music stars, opera and ballet shows; in early March in Agrigento there is the Almond Blossom Festival, with folkloristic parades and marching bands. In May in San Vito Lo Capo takes place the Festa degli Aquiloni, a kite festival with kite enthusiasts coming from all over the world, while in late September it’s time of Cous Cous Fest, a well-known couscous festival with concerts and shows too.

Sicilian dishes are popular and loved all over the world: a journey to go discovering Sicily is especially a trip through its food specialties that are a real blaze of color and taste.

 

Cannoli

Cannoli

 

A typical Sicilian meal best starts with a rich variety of starters: from a simple combination of olives, cheese and cold cuts to the classic caponata (fried vegetables with tomato and a sweet and sour sauce), involtini di melanzana (eggplant rolls) or parmigiana di melanzane, fried eggplant cooked au gratin in the oven with tomato, basil, garlic and one or more cheeses.

 

When you come to first courses in Sicily the choice is really wide, with many different specialties depending on the area. One that comes out on top is pasta alla norma, originating from Catania (usually maccheroni pasta with tomato sauce, fried eggplant and salted ricotta cheese), pasta con le sarde, made with bucatini pasta, fresh sardines and wild fennel, and busiate, a type of pasta typical of the area of Trapani, best combined with the local pesto alla trapanese prepared with tomato, basil, garlic, almonds and Pecorino cheese.

 

Among the Sicilian second courses fish is the most common: make sure to try sarde a beccafico, a tasty sardine roll with Pecorino cheese and raisins, polpette di alici (anchovy meatballs), or sword fish alla siciliana, with grape tomatoes and capers; if you prefer meat, you should taste falsomagro or bruciuluni, a large roll stuffed with cheese and vegetables.

 

Someone offers you a dessert? In Sicily, you’d better not turn down as desserts are real delicacies. The most famous is cannolo, a fried pastry dough filled with fresh sheep Ricotta cheese, chocolate chips topped with orange rind or pistachio nuts; no less famous is cassata, prepared with Ricotta cheese, chocolate chips, candied fruit and marzipan on a sponge cake, or almond paste sweets, something you can find in any pastry-shop in Sicily.

 

If instead you want to enjoy a meal on the fly, there are plenty street food options: like arancini, fried breaded balls of rice stuffed with tomato, meat sauce or fish; in Palermo very common is pane e panelle, a kind of chickpea flour pancakes, crocchè, croquettes made with potatoes and eggs, then coated in breadcrumbs and fried, and sfincione, similar to pizza but seasoned with tomato, onion, anchovies and oregano, and pane cunzato, bread seasoned with oil, fresh tomatoes, oregano, anchovies, salt and pepper as well as cheese and onions. Perfect any time of the day – even if in Sicily is typical for breakfast - is granita with brioche, to taste in many delicious variations (we suggest that you try almond or mulberry granita).

 

As to wines, the most famous are Nero D’Avola, the most typical red grape variety, originating of the south-east of Sicily, the wines from the Etna area, like Etna Rosso, Faro and Etna Bianco, Alcamo of the area of Trapani and Palermo, Moscato di Noto, Malvasia delle Lipari, and fortified wines like Marsala and Zibibbo di Pantelleria.

BY AIR

 

Sicily has four airports (Catania, Palermo, Trapani and Comiso) with direct connections to and from all major Italian and European cities and two minor airports (Pantelleria and Lampedusa).

 

The international Catania–Fontanarossa Airport is located about 8 kilometers away from the center of Catania and is the biggest airport in Sicily. From the airport, you can reach the city center by bus in about 40 minutes. It is also possible to reach many other localities in Sicily by coach:

 

AST: connects the airport to the districts of Avola, Caltagirone, Carlentini, Grammichele, Ispica, Lentini, Mazzarrone, Mirabella Imbaccari, Modica, Noto, Palagonia, Piazza Armerina, Pozzallo, Rosolini, S. Michele di Ganzaria, Scicli and Sigonella.

 

Circumetnea: connects the airport to Adrano, Misterbianco, Paternò, Randazzo, Linguaglossa, Fiumefreddo and other neighboring districts.

 

Etna Trasporti: connects the airport to Aidone, Fiumefreddo, Gela, Giardini Naxos, Recanati, Licata, Piazza Armerina, Ragusa, Marina di Ragusa, S. Croce Camerina, Taormina, Valguarnera and Vizzini.

 

Giuntabus: from April to September connects the airport to the port of Milazzo in connection with ferries and hydrofoils to the Aeolian Islands.

 

Interbus: connects the airport to Agira, Avola, Catenuova, Leonforte, Nicosia, Nissoria, Noto, Pachino, Portopalo, Priolo, Regalbuto and Syracuse.

 

SAIS Trasporti: connects the airport to Agrigento, Caltanissetta and Canicattì.

 

SAIS Autolinee: connects the airport to Enna, Messina and Palermo.

 

Autolinee Giamporcaro: connects the Catania Airport to the Comiso Airport.

 

The international Palermo Airport is the second airport in the region, located 35 kilometers away from Palermo. You can reach the city center by bus or with the Trinacria Express train (travel time about 45 minutes). It is possible to reach other localities by coach:

 

Segesta Autolinee: operates connections from the Palermo Airport to Trapani and Marsala.

 

Sal Autolinee: operates connections from the Palermo Airport to Agrigento and Porto Empedocle.

 

Autolinee Gallo: operates connections from the Palermo Airport to Menfi, Ribera, Sciacca.

 

The Trapani Airport is about 20 kilometers away from the city center of Trapani. It offers connections by coach to Trapani all other destinations in Sicily:

 

AST: operates connections between the Trapani Airport and downtown Trapani.

 

Autoservizi Salemi: operates connections between the Trapani Airport and Palermo.

 

Autolinee Lumia: operates connections between the Trapani Airport and Agrigento.

 

The Comiso Airport, opened in 2013, is 5 kilometers away from the town of Comiso and 15 kilometers from Ragusa. It operates connections by coach to all major destinations in Sicily:

 

Tuminobus: operates connections to Ragusa, Marina di Ragusa, Casuzze, Punta Secca, S. Croce Camerina.

 

Autolinee Giamporcaro: operates connections to Vittoria, Comiso, Lentini, Catania and the Catania Airport.

 

Etna Trasporti: operates connections to Gela, Vittoria, BV Chiaramonte Gulfi.

 

Autolinee SAL: operates connections to Agrigento, Porto Empedocle, Palma di Montechiaro, Licata, Gela.

 

BY SEA

 

Many companies operate ferry services to/from Sicily and other Italian regions:

 

SNAV: the Snav ferries to Sicily are high-speed ferries that operates on the routes Naples-Palermo and Civitavecchia-Palermo.

 

GRANDI NAVI VELOCI: operates connections to Palermo from Genoa, Rome-Porto di Civitavecchia and Naples.

 

TIRRENIA: operates connections between Cagliari and Palermo and from Naples to Palermo.

 

SIREMAR: operates connections by ferry and hydrofoil from Milazzo to the Aeolian Islands, from Palermo to Ustica, from Trapani to the Aegadian Islands and to Pantelleria, from Porto Empedocle to Lampedusa and Linosa.

 

GRIMALDI LINES: operates connections from Livorno to Palermo and from Salerno to Catania and Palermo.

 

TTTLINES: operates connections from Trapani and Marsala to the Aegadian Islands, from Messina, Milazzo, Naples, Palermo, Salerno, Reggio Calabria and Vibo Valentia to the Aeolian Islands and from Porto Empedocle to Linosa and Lampedusa.

 

BY TRAIN

 

The Trenitalia trains connect Sicily to the rest of Italy. Local trains connect all Sicily’s provinces. The Ferrovia Circumetnea manages the railway line Catania-Randazzo-Riposto.