Beautiful Sicily! I was surprised and pleased. Wasn’t sure what to expect beyond what we had read about things to do and see. It was one of those vacation spots that was picked on a whim and a bit of research. It is not the very clean and colorful architecture seen in other parts of Europe, it is rather dim and rusty, but so very old and full of history. The Baroque style cathedrals will have you astonished and amazed and there are plenty of them…anywhere you visit in Sicily. The food is amazing and you must try some of the famous Sicilian dishes and desserts such as the grandita and arancini (Sicilian rice balls). You may need to try a few places to find your favorite, but it’s worth it.
I suppose it is possible to get around Sicily easily by taking a bus or flying but we rented a car, and it was very convenient. Driving in Sicily and finding your way is very easy. We hardly used the map we’d bought. The roads and signs are well marked. I call this trip ‘The Adventures of E2.” Some very passionate Italians offered their feedback on our trip itinerary – I can just see them waving their hands as if we were two mad girls trying to cover Sicily in eight days. They warned us that Sicily requires 2-3 weeks. Well, yea maybe a European style vacation. I did have three weeks but like a true American traveler, I packed three countries in one trip. In any case, Sicily can be thoroughly enjoyed in 2-3 weeks but in our eight days, we got to see most of it and loved it.
Started the trip in the Amalfi coast of Italy and after three days flew to Taormino, the party destination of Sicily. But wait… in July the nightlife picks up on the weekends only but if you go in August, it’s every night. We loved Taormina but didn’t experience the full-blown Taormina party nights.
Taormino, is a charming city. The There is no driving within most parts of the enclosed old town and it’s not needed. The main square, Greek Theater, and shops and restaurants are all within a mile or two radius of each other. You can even walk down to the beach, Isola Bella (it’s a hike and takes a long time), take a bus, or the cable car that goes up and down the hill, though we never actually saw it working. Taormina’s beaches are rocky and rough, not a beach to enjoy for swimming or sunbathing, but the rest of the town is worth seeing.
We also drove to the Castelmola village but the castle itself was closed for construction. I climbed the gate and took a peek anyway, nothing in there worth seeing but nice to visit this hill above the city for the view. A hot tourist spot in Castelmola is bar di Turrisi. We weren’t sure why it was popular and when I saw the menu, I thought how strange. Why is there a shape of a penis on the menu?! Well, come to find out, this café is well-known for exactly that and the decorations, even the beer tap, was in the shape of a penis. The café is very conveniently located in the square where the cathedral is also located. As a matter of fact, if you sit on the 3rd floor balcony, you can sip your coffee or etc. overlooking the cathedral and the restaurants below. Try the grandita here, it was one of the best we had in Sicily.
We had an amazing dinner at Osteria Nero D’Avola. This restaurant was recommended by a chef in New York City and when we stopped by earlier in the day to see the menu, we met the chef. He invited us to the restaurant for dinner and the dishes did not disappoint. You must try the panna cotta. Yum!
We visited one of (if not the only) the nightclubs, as recommended by a PR agent whom we met while walking around the old square. He insisted we must visit the Morgana as it is somewhat happening on a Thursday night and it’s the only place to go. ‘Not everyone can get in’, he said. It was a cute lounge/bar with music from all decades. With a stylish crowd and good drinks, all in all, it was a fun place and we can now claim we had a night out in Sicily. We were also given a tour of a very famous restaurant that overlooks the Greek Theater, by the owner. This place is hustling and bustling on the weekends and especially in the month of August. It is the place to be and although we were invited to attend a party that was to be held there the next evening, sadly we had picked the wrong days to spend in Taormina. Next time!
After two days in Taormina, we headed for to Ragusa. We bypassed visiting a big tourist attraction, Mount Etna, the volcano, and some of the more popular cities, like Siracusa, but we just did not have the time and we did not want to make stops along the where we would have to leave our luggage in the car as we visited these areas along our route. Ragusa is a beautiful old city, rich with history. I recommend staying in or near the old town. This part of the city, like most parts of Sicily, was destroyed in the great earthquake of 1693, but the locals had an option to keep and resurrect what was left of the old city or destroy it completely and rebuild. Although a new city was also built around the old city, but the nobles, San Giorgians, decided to also salvage what was left of the old town. I’m glad they did. This picturesque area glows at nights and it’s beautiful by day as well. This area houses the famous San Giorgio XIV cathedral. There is a nearby garden, a few shops, and some restaurants and cafes. But if you plan on dining here in the evening, either make reservations or get there early. Not many choices here but there are locals and tourists trying to enjoy the evening in the old town. We, however, stayed in the new section of the town, across from the San Giovanni Battista Cathedral, at a very traditional five star hotel. I could almost picture the bourgeois of the early 19th century staying at this hotel. It had that kind of a feel and decor. Our room was called Violetta, and yes, it was purple. If you are driving, staying in the new city may be more convenient.
We took a couple of side trips from Ragusa. One day to the nearby beaches, highly recommend, and one day to the small city of Modica. Some would argue that this city has more of the history and architecture that Syracusa is famous for, but since we didn’t make it to Syracusa, I have no opinion on the comparison. Modica is a small and charming town. Takes a couple of hours to cover the sight seeing on foot. There is a famous Sicilian chocolate that is made in Modica, this is a good souvenir option.
We also visited the town of Scili, another charming and old Sicilian town, where the elderly lounged around the main square and cathedrals and gossiped about the new tourists in town, as they eyed us head to toe and whispered in each other’s ears. Ha! There are about three main sights to see here and if you stop in any of them, you can buy a pass to get you into all of them. Not that it’s expensive by any means, but you can save yourself a couple of Euros and see these small but interesting points of interest. Seeing Scili will take not more than a couple of hours. What you will find interesting is that in just one corner of this small city, you can find at least three church/cathedrals. Of course Sicily is a very old Catholic country but good Lord, how many people lived here in 1600-1700s that so many cathedrals were needed to accomodate ?!
We hit the road after a couple of days and headed for Agrigento, about a two hour drive from Ragusa. The city of Corleone is near or along this path. Most people assume that the movie, the God Father, was filmed here (naturally because of the name), but that is not true. The movie was actually filmed in a city on the eastern coast of Sicily, in the town of Savoca, not too far from Taormina but headed north.
If you have not yet visited Greece, you may find Agrigento of interest. It is one of the cities in Sicily that has some Greek temples, very well intact. Since I’ve been to Greece, and the price to visit these temples in Sicily was a bit high, I opted to relax at a nearby cafe while my friend visited the area. You can walk part of it, the ruins, for free, but to walk to the two temples, you must pay. This was not one of my favorite or must see places in Sicily and in retrospect, should’ve skipped it. We did enjoy some time at a beach bar watching the World Cup: Netherlands vs. Argentina.
We departed Agrigento and headed to the capital of Sicily, Palermo. We spent three days here and stayed pretty central. We stayed at a 18th century plaza owned by a Duchess (Bureta28). I must say that it was a big two room apartment and offered a lot of conveniences such as washer and a kitchen. It was too much for two people who were only staying for three days. Although the place was ok, the furniture and beds especially were old and due for a major update. We never met the Duchess but she was sure to play mother to us on our emails exchanges in inquiring about the address, etc. Perhaps she thought we were two careless teenagers traveling for the first time in a foreign land. The Duchess balked at me on Trip Advisor when I provided a review of her ‘apartment.’ She argued that the furniture is antique… well I couldn’t reply, but there’s a difference between antique and old/uncomfortable beds, forget the rest of the furniture. The Duchess btw only accepts cash… how convenient for her, not so much for us. Moving on… I loved Palermo, so much to see.
Be sure to visit Monreal, a small city within the city. The most elaborate (this became the word for this trip and all the Baroque style cathedrals), cathedral is n Monreal, you can’t take your eyes of the gold interior. It is free to visit but pay a little extra and visit the observation deck and the interior rooms on the side. It’s worth it. The main center of Palermo offers many beautiful cathedrals, the biggest is in the center of the town and was built on top of a masque, the Palermo Cathedral. Some of the walls and structures of the Moorish masque can be seen from the exterior walls.
There’s not much nightlife in this area of Palermo and you have to travel to the outskirts and go where the locals go but there is a street nearby that has bars and coffeeshops and this is where you can enjoy an evening sitting outside and watching the locals and street crazies while having a American named drinks, like the b52… but you can’t say fifty-two because the waitress may not understand. You need to learn what fifty-two is in Italian, or just order another drink. I think I ordered the B52 because I had not seen it on a menu in at least a decade.
Visit the Fountain of Shame (Fontana Pretoria) and read about the history. The one place that did not make it to my must see list is the over-priced cathedral in the royal building – not worth it and it’s nothing unique. We didn’t get the chance to tour the royal building rooms, which we had preferred to do. Check the days and times of the tours so that you don’t miss out, like we did.
I also recommend a day trip to the city of Cefalu from Palermo. Small city with beautiful narrow streets full of shops and cafes. Enjoy the beach. It’s beautiful – see the featured image.
Sicily offers great food, history, and beaches. It does take about 2-3 weeks to fully enjoy ALL of Sicily and maybe even take a side trip to Malta, but you can still cover a lot ground in eight days as we did. Go explore Sicily.. you won’t regret it!