Destinations / Italy / Sicily
Looking for all the world as if Italy had kicked it unceremoniously into the sea, Sicily sits almost touching the toe of the mainland. The Italian mainland is separated by the Straits of Messina, only 3 km away. With such a strategic position in the Mediterranean, it is little wonder it was plundered, pillaged and conquered over the years.
Ruled by Europeans, Africans and Asians, the island is historically cosmopolitan, to say the least. Holidays to Sicily are a melting pot of cultures, teeming with art and archaeological treasures, making it a colourful and deeply fascinating destination. Some beautiful baroque architecture can stand side by side with less attractive modern influences. But head to the coast where pretty villages slope to the sea; where almond trees and orange and lemon groves scent the air and where you dip a toe in the sea and you are captivated for ever by the magic of this land.
One cannot ignore the long time struggle with Mafia-led corruption and feel curious about it, but a holiday to Sicily is far more about natural beauty, dramatic scenery, great weather and wonderful cuisine. Everywhere, the deep pride of the Sicilians is palpable and their genuine hospitality is heartwarming. Holidays to Sicily must include Mt Etna, one of the most active volcanoes in the world where incredible sights of spewing smoke plumes can frequently be spotted.
The largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily is hugely contrasting - by times rocky, coastal, lush, hilly, vibrant and dreamily sleepy, it can offer very diverse experiences. The bustling resorts of Taormina, Giardini Naxos and Letojanni are all located on the east side of the island and offer great holiday amenities. One of Sicily's best welcome phrases is: "Come visit our sunny island. We've been expecting you for three thousand years!"
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1. Sicily has the tallest active volcano in Europe. Mt Etna is even visible from the moon!
2. Palermo has some of the best markets on the island for authentic Sicilian ingredients, like fresh fish, fruit, veg, rustic local breads, meat and cheese.
3. Taormina has an ancient amphitheatre dating back to the 1st Century AD. Due to its proximity to the volcano it also makes a great base for ascending Mt Etna.
4. Sicilian's eat ice-cream for breakfast! Granita is a sweet, frozen dessert, which is stuffed inside brioche for early morning indulgence. Try the deliciously nutty flavours of pistachio or almond for the ultimate holiday treat.
5. Don't mention the Mafia! Locals hate to be reminded of the island's murky past. Addiopizzo is an organisation set up to fight organised crime through ethical consumerism. They promote businesses that take a strong stance against the Mafia by refusing to bow to the mob.
1. Palermo - the bustling capital city dating back to medieval times is well worth a visit. Stroll the narrow, winding streets, shop in the bustling markets and enjoy the faded grandeur of the numerous palaces and churches.
2. Syracuse - Home to famous mathematician and engineer, Archimedes, this ancient city dates back to 734 BC. Many traces of the civilisations that once occupied the historical UNESCO city remain, like a working Greek theatre, a Roman amphitheatre, remnants of the Greek temple of Minerva, now part of the Duomo cathedral, and Ortigia, the ruins of the Temple of Athena.
3. Corleone - Visit the Mafia museum in the famous origin town of the Godfather movies. Climb a rocky outcrop to the east, where a Saracen castle once stood, and enjoy spectacular views of the local waterfall - La Cascata delle Due Rocche.
4. Tindari - Mentioned in a poem written by Quasimodo, this Greek-Roman archaelogical site was founded by Dionysus in 396 BC. Housed in the local abbey, a cloak of mystery surrounds the statue of the Black Madonna - one of the many Byzantine relics smuggled out of Constantinople in the 8th and 9th Centuries.
5. Aeolian Islands - the volcanic archipelago located off Sicily's north-eastern coast consists of 7 islands and 5 small islets. With numerous ferries from the mainland, its an easy hop to exotic Vulcano, bustling Limpari or beautiful Stromboli.