I just sighed like a teenage girl and in my mind teasingly squirmed around in bed as if advertising for a French perfume. But it’s not a boy’s voicemail I’m thinking about. It’s the thought of Sicily. Driving solo through the largest Mediterranean island off the toe of Italy’s boot for over two weeks was tender Tiff Time allowing for serendipitous splendours. Some stops pristine, others rugged, all truly characterful. Here are five towns in Sicily I recommend you to visit.
The Ioanian seaside town of Syracuse is known for its ancient ruins of the Archaeological Park Neapolis (Roman Amphitheater, Teatro Greco, Orecchio di Dionisio), but my heart grew fonder for this UNESCO World Heritage Site when exploring the casually chic corner of medieval Ortygia town. Packed with 2,500 years of history, I loved the lush gardens that’ve grown around remnants as well as its young, buzzing atmosphere. The lit up streets were empty at night because everyone was hidden inside a bar or restaurant.
My highlights: Watching Andrea Borderi put on a mean, expressive sandwich-making production with the freshest local ingredients, following a cheeky alfresco day wine next door. And grabbing homemade sweets from Angelina’s as well as local antipasto delights (their tuna pate!) from Sikello and Salvo’s down the road for a seaside picnic.
Where I stayed: Hotel Le Muse, Booking.com, approx. $53/pn.
Ragusa is split into new Ragusa Superiore and its historic centre Ragusa Ibla, the latter made of Baroque fairytales. Built on a 300m high limestone hill between two valleys, this ancient city boasts stunning squares of palaces and churches, and tangled alleyways of stone houses with elaborately sculpted balconies. Wander, just wander. It’s also a great base point for visiting neighbouring Modica, another eden of baroqueness.
My highlights: Meandering in awe of Baroque charm at dusk when the city begins to light up, eating the divine anchovy spaghetti at La Bettola Trattoria, and a day trip to picturesque historic Modica for dark, rich, crumbly chocolate eating.
Where I stayed: Eco B&B L’Abbraccio, Booking.com, approx $48/pn.
I’ve only ever fallen in love with a new city twice, and Palermo was one of them. Oh, Palermo. The grand Byzantine mosaics, Baroque churchs, Gothic palaces, Arabesque domes… There were architectural delights in every corner, where, if you dig a little deeper you’ll find a vibrant mix of eateries, bars, vintage stores and local happenings matched with fiery, friendly faces under the stars. Learn about the anti-mafia movement Addiopizzo and you might just feel the palpable community spirit of this Sicilian capital striving for freedom and dignity.
My highlights: Becoming acquainted with the warm owners of small, artsy wine bar Enoteca Buttice, devouring a pizza at Tondo and getting stopped by an Italian Dad while exploring residential lanes to join a family street BBQ.
My first stop in Sicily, and a gritty, warm welcome it was. As the island’s second biggest city that’s been reshaped several times from volcanic Mount Etnea, Catania was a great introduction to Sicilian culture through people watching from crumbling corners and the busy downtown. I couldn’t get enough of their bustling food, clothing and flea markets here. Remember to try granita and brioche!
My highlights: Shopping for local goods off via Etnea, a perfect dinner at the ambient, atmospheric Razmataz Wine Bar, and savouring every bite of a fresh, warm ricotta croissant with an espresso for breakfast at Prestipino dal 1976 (next to Caffe del Duomo) to the striking Duomo’s bells and choir.
Where I stayed: City-In Hostel B&B, Hostelworld, approx. $20/pn.
A much-needed road trip rest in a non-touristic part of Sicily led me to Custonaci, or The City of Marble, the island’s south-west small town of 5000 residents quietly going about their daily lives. There are caves of archaeological significance and impressive coastal trails to explore but I mostly just loved my authentic homestay here, while picking up a book and admiring Monte Cofano that dominates Castelluzzo Bay outside my door.
My highlights: One of my most warm and fuzzy travel experiences to date, a lovely homestay with a Sicilian family. I also won’t forget hiking the monolithic mountainous limestone headland of Monte Cofano.
Light and love,
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HOW TO GET AROUND
I found Avis Italy to be the most trustworthy, reliable and professional car rental company to hire from in Sicily, Italy. At the time of booking, I rented an automatic Ford Fiesta hatchback, ‘Group J’, with full cover for €102/day (excluding fuel), with pick up and return at Catania Port. Manual transmission cars cost much less. Check out Avis quotes here.