It’s hot and dirty but nonetheless it will charm you with its historic architecture, narrow streets and queen Etna. Be prepared for noise, maniac drivers and insane traffic. The island is known for notorious mob business and it will give you an offer (an adventure) you cannot refuse – this is Sicily.
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean so you need at least a week to cover all major sights. If you have time or you like to travel in a slower pace, plan your time accordingly. Busiest airports are located in Trapani, Palermo and Catania, so you will probably arrive via one of them.
In means of transportation, Sicily has very well organised public transport connecting larger cities – by both buses and trains. We chose this option as it was cheaper but looking back, now I would probably go for a car rental. This is mainly because all the beautiful beaches are located outside city centres so you have to use a bus every time you want to go to the beach. Looking from the other perspective – narrow streets, insane drivers and a lack of parking spaces – public transport is a way to go.
There are some things you just have to do when in Sicily and on top of the list is definitely climbing Mt. Etna. Etna is the highest active volcano in Europe and it is very much magnificent. If you will spend more than just one day in Catania or Taormina you will notice that sky around the top of the volcano is never completely clear, some clouds will always stick around. This is also the reason that a climb from 3000m up to the top is prohibited without a certified guide as weather can change very fast. Even the drive up to the starting point for tours to Etna is spectacular. Everything around is covered in black rock, solidified lava, erupted during previous volcano eruptions. If you are using public transport there is connection between Catania and Rifugio Sapienza or so called starting point for Etna tours. One bus a day that goes in the morning from Catania and the same bus returns in the afternoon. There is no connection between Taormina and Rifugio Sapienza, but you can book a tour with the travel agency, that can pick you up in Taormina. The negative side of using public transportation is that a bus returns to Catania around 4 o’clock, so you really don’t have time to go up to the very top. When arriving in Rifugio Sapienza you have various options – you can just walk up to the 3000m above sea level mark (you don’t need guide for that) or you can get a ticket for a cable car, which gets you to 2500m above sea level. The last option is a combined ticket for cable car and 4×4 vehicles that gets you to the 3000 m above sea level. So now I completed the part that covers planning the climb so I will focus more on the climb itself.
I would say climbing Etna was definitely highlight of our trip to Sicily. The entire Mount Etna covers a very large area and is very wide. When you are walking up it feels very special, my feeling was like I was walking on the moon. Everything around you is covered in small black grains so it feels like you are walking on sand, you get a lot of this small grains in your shoes. Everywhere around you are older, now inactive, craters so you can look into them and see gases erupting from them. Another thing though, if you touch the ground near a crater it will feel warm. As I already said, without guide you can get up to 3000m above sea level. There are some craters created during recent eruptions.
Taormina is the poshest city in Sicily. It is located near Mount Etna, so in the evening there are magnificent views of the queen. Accommodation there is rather expensive in comparison with other Sicilian cities. For low budget travellers I would recommend another day of accommodation in Catania and a day trip to Taormina. If you do that, be careful and use transport by bus as train station is located far outside Taormina’s city centre. During the high season (July – September) be prepared for crowds of people. Historically important ruins, as Teatro Greco, can be found in this city. Get lost in the narrow streets full of souvenir shops or sit down in some square and just watch people wander around the place.
Another city that you have to visit while in Sicily is definitely Syracuse. Charm of Syracuse’s historical centre, located on the island and named Ortigia, will leave you speechless. Especially Piazza del Duomo, which is truly impressive. I would recommend some wandering around Ortigia in the evening and enjoying beautiful sunsets. It is very easy to get lost in these streets, which form quite a maze. Buildings are high and narrow, this architecture style was often used in the past. The most important sight in Syracuse is Parco Archeologico della Neapolis that contains Teatro Greco, Amfiteatro Romano and cave Orecchio di Dionisio. The cave is very high and somehow unique. The Park offers some nice walks and trees provide badly needed chill during hot summer.
Sicily was, for some time in the history, also occupied by Arabs. They had the most significant influence on the city of Palermo. Their legacy can be mostly observed in the architecture but also in the city’s nowadays population and shops. Two major sights that you really must not skip are grande Teatro Massimo and impressive Cattedrale di Palermo. They are both my favourite, architectural beauties. Especially grandiose Cattedrale di Palermo is highly influenced by Arab’s architectural style and is decorated using arabesques. Palermo is also the capital of Sicily and the parliament is housed in Palazzo dei Normanni. Among Arabs, Normans also occupied Sicily once.
Their most known legacy is Pasta de Normani – the most important ingredient for this is eggplant. For desert I would recommend canolli, which also originate from Sicily.
With tasting their delicious food our trip around Sicily has ended, so I wish you all the best. Until my next post!