Comfortably situated in the heart of the Mediterranean, Sicily is proud to be the biggest island of all. The island has so many beauties and not only natural ones, made up of solitary beaches and spectacular cliffs but also the remains of civilizations thousands of years old that have left the island ornamented with many great masterpieces.
Sicily has so much to offer to its visitors; the Greek Temples of Agrigento, Segesta and Selinunte, the ruins of the Phoenician colony of Mozia, the Greek theatre in Taormina – which boasts an impressive natural backdrop in the form of Mount Etna, and the Norman architecture of Palermo.
MOST IMPORTANT SPOTS WORTH SEEING
Aeolian Islands: These delightful islands are especially appealing in warmer months, but expect crowds in August. The beaches are exceptional and the cuisine fantastic – especially, as you would expect, the seafood.
Agrigento: The “Valley of the Temples” is a large archeological site outside town surrounded by olive groves and almond orchards. It boasts several ancient Greek temples, including the Temple of Concord, one of only two completely standing ones in Sicily.
Cefalù: The design of the splendid Norman cathedral was based on a French one, but nothing else in this seaside town owes much to anything but Sicily’s own multicultural influences. There’s an ancient Sicanian temple on the rocky cliff overlooking the town, and the ruins of a castle. The town itself offers pleasant narrow medieval streets and interesting shops. There’s also a public beach.
Erice: This hilltop town was successively Elymian, Phoenician, Carthaginian and Roman. Its grey stone forms Punic walls, a castle, church and medieval streets that could almost be mistaken for ancient ones, bringing to the Good Friday passion procession an atmosphere rarely matched anyplace in Italy or Greece.
Mount Etna: Europe’s greatest natural wonder is a living, sacred mountain of legend and myth. This is Sicily’s highest mountain at approximately 3350 meters.
Monreale: Fascinating twelfth-century cathedral and cloister built on a hill in the eclectic Norman-Arab style with Byzantine artistic elements. No trip to Palermo is really complete without seeing Monreale, which overlooks the city and its vast valley.
Nebrodi Mountains: These 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. Much of Sicily looked this way when the first Phoenicians, Ausonians and Greeks arrived over two thousand years ago. Spots worth mentioning in this area are San Fratello and Sant’ Agata Militello, Villa Miraglia and Mount Soro.
Palermo: This is Sicily’s regional capital and largest city. You may find this bustling city chaotic and dusty yet interesting. The historic environment of this former royal capital is largely baroque with stunning medieval architecture. The Norman Palace, with its Byzantine Palatine Chapel is built upon Phoenician walls. There are a number of monasteries and castles, and a magnificent cathedral, as well as art galleries and a good archeological museum. Monreale is only a few kilometers outside town.
Piazza Armerina: The Roman villa outside town has the most extensive mosaic pavements of the ancient Roman world, composed of rural scenes, pictures of flora and fauna, and classical motifs. Most of it is in exceptional condition, looking as if it were completed yesterday. The structure was the home of a wealthy Roman who loved art.
Segesta: We mentioned that Agrigento has one of Sicily’s two completely standing Greek temples. The other is at Segesta. Out of justified pride, a few of today’s Greeks might disagree, but this is the best-preserved ancient Doric temple in what used to be the Greek world. The site’s ancient amphitheatre, set on a hill, boasts a magnificent position. If time is very limited, we suggest that you visit either Segesta or Agrigento.
Siracusa: Archimedes, Plato and Saint Paul loved Syracuse, and with good reason. It was one of the most important cities of the ancient Greek world, and the most important in Greek and Roman Sicily. The archeological park is extensive, while the old city, Ortygia, has some fascinating treasures. The columns of the ancient temple around which the cathedral was built are still visible on one side of the nave.
Taormina: This mountaintop town overlooking the Ionian coast is Sicily’s most famous resort, full of restaurants and shops, with beaches nearby. Its historical side is ubiquitous. The Greek amphitheatre, with its famous panoramic view of Mount Etna and the coast, is used for concerts and plays, and medieval walls enclose the town’s stone streets. There are several castles, including those in the Castelmola overlooking Taormina. Ignored by most visitors, Castelmola is well worth a visit.
Wine Country: Sicily’s viticultural region covers a large patch of the western part of the island. Marsala is the commercial center of this scenic region. You can sample Sicilian wines at virtually any restaurant in Sicily, but actually finding the most scenic viticultural landscape can be elusive. Here’s a clue.
The Baroque Southeast: An alternate selection to Piazza Armerina or Siracusa, the towns of Ragusa and nearby Noto, with their palaces and churches in the Sicilian Baroque style, are something truly representative of 18th-century Sicilian architecture and art. The landscapes of the Hyblaean Mountains, and even some of the architecture of these towns, are rather similar to what you encounter in Malta, which really isn’t very far away. Beaches and the coastal Vendicari Nature Reserve are an easy driving distance from both cities.